Safeties serve a vital role as the last line of defense on the football field, and no position on the football field requires more versatility. The best safeties in football can make plays in coverage as well as close to the line of scrimmage, relying on instincts and a complete skill set to do whatever is required to help a defense in a given situation.
The SEC is loaded with talented safeties capable of making big plays, and those safeties left their mark on the conference during the year. Here are the conference’s 10 best safeties following the 2014 regular season:
Just made the list
10. Alan Turner, Arkansas
9. Nick Perry, Alabama
8. Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn
Even the guys who barely cracked the list are super talents with plenty of responsibility on their respective defenses. Arkansas’ Alan Turner didn’t set the world on fire with his numbers this season (62 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and four passes defended) but he was as sturdy and reliable as any safety in the SEC. Turner was routinely in the right place at the right time for a Hogs defense that began to dominate by season’s end, and his lack of numbers actually indicate opposing offenses’ desire to avoid him. … Alabama’s Nick Perry had some big shoes to fill following the departure of HaHa Clinton-Dix to the NFL, and he’s filled them admirably. Perry recorded 74 tackles this season, sixth-most by a defensive back in the SEC, and added 3.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, five pass breakups and a quarterback hurry. Perry made plays in the secondary and behind the line of scrimmage, making him a difficult player to game plan against. … As far as playing the ball in the air is concerned, few players in the SEC were better than Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead this season. Whitehead was third in the SEC with four interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) and although the rest of his numbers were more or less average the impact he made in pursing balls in the air affected how opposing offenses approached the Auburn defense (Alabama being the exception). Whitehead was a true ball-hawk this season, better in that role than perhaps anyone else in the SEC
Beasts from the East
7. Brison Williams, South Carolina
6. Brian Randolph, Tennessee
South Carolina’s Brison Williams was a rare bright spot on an otherwise putrid Gamecocks defense in 2014. Spending most of his time in coverage, Williams only made 33 tackles, which are among the fewest of any player to make this list. However, he pulled in four interceptions and recorded six passes defended, ranking in the top 10 in the conference in both categories. He returned two of those four interceptions for touchdowns, and proved himself to be an exciting playmaker buried in a defense still seeking an identity. … Tennessee’s Brian Randolph is just as talented as Williams, but he provides a completely different set of skills to the Vols defense than Williams does to the Gamecocks. Randolph recorded a whopping 86 tackles in 2014, second-most of any defensive back in the SEC, and he also pulled in two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Randolph’s ability to play in the box as well as cover over the top made him a tremendous asset for a Tennessee team that won six games this season for the first time since 2010.
The “under the radar” guys
5. Ronald Martin, LSU
4. Braylon Webb, Missouri
.LSU’s Ronald Martin is another guy with tremendous abilities in coverage as well as in the box near the line of scrimmage. He registered 66 tackles and two forced fumbles on the year, but also recorded two interceptions and eight passes defended from his place at the back-end of the secondary. With Martin serving as a security blanket at the rear of the defense, the rest of the Tigers were able to play more aggressive in front of him, resulting in one of the most exciting defenses in the SEC this season. … Missouri’s defensive line drew plenty of attention this season, and for good reason, but Braylon Webb was an undervalued star in the Tigers secondary all season. He matched Whitehead with four interceptions, but also added 69 tackles (top 10 among SEC defensive backs) and 1.5 tackles for loss. Webb was able to make plays from sideline to sideline, making him a tough player to avoid even, especially behind one of the best pass rushes in the nation.
The Landshark tank
3. Tony Conner, Ole Miss
2. Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
Ole Miss super sophomore Tony Conner might be the most versatile safety in the SEC, effortlessly flipping back and forth between linebacker and defensive back all season long. Conner recorded 64 tackles, nine tackles for loss (most by an SEC defensive back), a sack and three quarterback hurries this year when playing in the box, but added an interception and a pair of passes defended as a safety. His numbers in the box are certainly gaudier than his numbers in the secondary, but his opportunities in the secondary were limited this year thanks to some talented teammates (Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, just to name a couple). He’ll be asked to do more in coverage next year, but in 2014 he did a little bit of everything, and did all of it exceptionally well. … Another Ole Miss safety comes in at No. 2 on the list in senior Cody Prewitt, an All-American last year who might have been even better this year. Prewitt, like Conner, did a little bit of everything as a senior leader on the best defense in the conference. He recorded 60 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, but also intercepted two passes (returning one for a touchdown) and recorded two passes defended. Few safeties hit as hard or played as fearless as Prewitt this season, which is why he was able to make plays in so many different ways.
Best of the best
1. Landon Collins, Alabama
Alabama’s Landon Collins was the obvious choice as the No. 1 safety in the SEC. He was chosen as a finalist for the Nagurski and Jim Thorpe awards, was a first-team All-SEC selection by the league’s coaches and the media, and served as one of the most complete football players at any position in the nation in 2014. His 90 tackles ranked top 10 in the SEC and led all defensive backs in the conference, and his 3.5 tackles for loss and forced fumble only further proved how physical he plays the position. However, he also recorded three interceptions and six passes defended from the back-end of the defense, making him as dangerous in coverage as he was in the box. Collins will be making plays on Sundays sooner than later, and he has the complete skill set required to be a star at football’s highest level.