As we start to come towards a close on our AFC East positional rankings, we shift our attention to the safeties in the division.
After stating that the AFC East could be the division with the best cornerbacks, the same sentiment may very well hold true for the safety position. The division likely boasts the best secondary out of any division in football. This sentiment also means that there is a lot of room for debate and discourse with a lot of really talented names.
Names such as Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips from the New England Patriots, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer from the Buffalo Bills, Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain from the Miami Dolphins, and Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye from the New York Jets fill these rankings.
Without further ado, let's rank the aforementioned safeties in the AFC East from worst to first.
8. Eric Rowe
All Patriots fans remember Rowe, unfortunately probably most for his less than stellar performance in Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. That was Rowe's last game in New England. He would later go south to Miami and spend time at both cornerback and safety. Due to a lack of true talent at the strong safety spot, Rowe is currently projected to be the starter there.
Rowe has found much more success in his time at safety (after all, he played the position in college). His niche last season was covering big and talented tight ends like Zach Ertz man-to-man.
While Rowe has not exactly done anything to prove worthy of a higher spot on the list, he can be a really valuable piece to the Dolphins if he continues to cover tight ends well.
7. Bobby McCain
McCain is another true corner for Miami, playing safety next season. There has been a lot of talk about how McCain is better suited in a nickel cornerback role. However, McCain is filling a void at safety for the Dolphins moving forward.
McCain is serviceable at safety and can excel on passing downs. However, his run support is spotty, much like Rowe's. Both Miami safeties earn spots at the bottom of this list as their are a lot of real good names ahead of them and both are playing positions that they are not fully accustomed to playing full time.
6. Adrian Phillips
Any chance I get to talk about Phillips, I take it. Phillips is going to be the signing of the offseason for the Patriots. With all his versatile traits, the defensive minds of Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick, Jerod Mayo and more will be able to get creative with Phillips and give him tasks that should confuse opposing quarterbacks.
Phillips will be in a battle for snaps, especially against Patrick Chung. While Chung could end up getting starts, especially early on in the season, Phillips, at this point, might be the better all-around player. Not only did Phillips finish last season with an 87.6 rating from PFF (pretty impressive), he finished a whole 32.7 points higher than Chung (received a 54.9 on the season).
5. Marcus Maye
In another division, Maye would be near the top of the list. Unfortunately, for this severely underrated safety from New York, some guys stand above him for the moment.
At this point in time, Maye's coverage skills and run support are both pretty solid. But they aren't strong enough to put him in the top four of this list. Another solid season from him might stir up a conversation as to why he should be there and who needs to move down in place of him.
4. Jordan Poyer
It's a little tough to figure out which Bills safety is better than the other. Especially since both are better with each other on the field. In fact, an analytical piece by NFL.com's Cynthia Frelund actually illustrates this:
Also, fun fact: The combination of Poyer and fellow Bills safety Micah Hyde increases the value of both players. When I put them on different teams (dorky things data scientists do), they don't drive as much individual value.
Poyer ranks just slightly lower due to his lack of ability in comparison to Hyde. Both safeties are great safeties, but Poyer ranks just slightly lower than Hyde for that very reason alone.
3. Micah Hyde
Again, Poyer is not far behind Hyde, it's just Hyde's cover skills that push him above his teammate. Hyde received an 80.9 rating in coverage by PFF and a 79.5 rating overall. By PFF, he was also deemed the highest rated player on the Bills and along with that, they said this, "Hyde continues to fly under the radar as one of the NFL’s best safeties".
Hyde switched over from strong safety to free last season, and while his numbers dipped a tiny bit from usual, he still played at a very high level. Expect him to improve even more after another year of playing free safety.
2. Devin McCourty
Despite being on the verge of his 33rd birthday in August, the former first round pick for New England is still playing at an extremely high level. He was an important guy to keep around this offseason, as he agreed to a rather team-friendly deal to stay with New England and his brother, Jason.
McCourty stands as the leader of New England's defense and the Patriots as a whole. He is a sure-tackler, always in the right spot, and the former cornerback is a stud in coverage.
Some regression is on the way, as his biggest challenge now is time. How long can McCourty continue to play at such a high level? With Tom Brady now gone, both him and Julian Edelman become the focus of this never-ending struggle with time and how it will impact players that occupy the nucleus of the six-time Super Bowl champions.
1. Jamal Adams
Adams could very well be the very best safety in football. He does everything so well and he would really be a dream fit in the RPO-defense I proposed back in May for the Patriots. However, he currently resides in New York and poses as a huge threat to New England twice every season.
Back when the Patriots had Rob Gronkowski, I remember watching one play in which Adams turned the future Hall of Fame tight end into a ragdoll. He took a blocking Gronkowski, threw him away, and made a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, on the other side of the field. Those are the kinds of things Adams can do. He can excel in run support, pass coverage, and rushing the passer.
To paint a clearer picture, Adams has posted PFF ratings above 87 overall the last two seasons. For a safety who only missed two games during those last two years, that number is outrageous.