GREEN BAY, Wis. – Who has the best personnel in the NFC North?
We took that question to a high-ranking scout whose focus is pro personnel. He ranked each team’s position groups. Part 9 of this 10-part series focuses on the safeties.
No. 1: Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings might have the best safety tandem in the NFL with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris.
Smith has been picked for five consecutive Pro Bowls. He is an all-around weapon. Need a big play in the secondary? He’s got 23 interceptions in eight seasons, including 11 the past three seasons. Need a big play at the line of scrimmage? He had three sacks and nine tackles for losses in 2018 and three forced fumbles in 2019. He’s the heart and soul of the defense and a potential Hall of Famer.
In his first four seasons, Harris started 17 games. Last season, he started 14 games and led the NFL with six interceptions. According to PFF, he didn’t allow a touchdown pass and he missed only two tackles. He’s playing this season under the franchise tag. There is literally no proven depth.
No. 2: Green Bay Packers
General manager Brian Gutekunst successfully remade the safety corps last offseason, moving on from the likes of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice and adding Adrian Amos (free agency) and Darnell Savage (first round). They were a key reason why Green Bay finished in the top 10 in points allowed for the first time since 2010.
Amos, who had a huge interception at Chicago to help preserve last year’s season-opening win, played exactly to his scouting report. He didn’t make a lot of big plays but he was in the right place at the right time and generally got his man to the turf. Savage has the potential to be a big-play performer. He had two interceptions and two forced fumbles but missed a boatload of tackles. The depth is minimal. Raven Greene, whose first two seasons ended on injured reserve, is a natural for the dime linebacker role that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine loves. Green Bay played six-plus defensive backs on a league-high 52 percent of the defensive snaps.
No. 3: Chicago Bears
In 2018, Chicago had Eddie Jackson and Amos. In 2019, Chicago went with Jackson and Clinton-Dix following Amos’ departure in free agency. Now, with Clinton-Dix signing with Dallas, the Bears will roll with Jackson and Deon Bush.
Jackson is one of the best in the business. He is a ball magnet and big-play machine. In three seasons, Jackson has 10 interceptions (including six in 2018, when he was an All-Pro), four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and five defensive touchdowns. It’s incredible production. For all the big plays, the Bears will swallow some of his missed tackles. Bush will get the first crack to replace Clinton-Dix. A fourth-round pick in 2016, he has eight starts, zero interceptions and three passes defensed on his resume. As a potential challenger, the Bears added Tashaun Gipson, who has 104 starts and 23 interceptions in eight seasons.
No. 4: Detroit Lions
The Lions went with a lot of three-safety looks last season and figure to do so again with Tracy Walker, Will Harris and Duron Harmon. Walker’s the best of the bunch. Last season, he had 100 tackles, six tackles for losses, one interception and eight passes defensed. However, according to Pro Football Focus, he gave up five touchdown passes and 0.95 yards per coverage snap, the latter figure ranking 71st of 75 safeties to play 240 coverage snaps. Harris, a third-round pick last year, started six games as a rookie.
The Lions acquired Harmon from the Patriots for a draft pick. In seven seasons, Harmon has started only 29 games but played in 111 of a potential 112 games. After back-to-back seasons of four interceptions, he had two last year. In a lot of part-time duty, he’s been strong in coverage. Last year, among safeties with at least 240 coverage snaps, he was No. 1 in yards allowed per snap, according to PFF.