by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
November 19th, 2020
We’re pretty much done with the standard players that we work with on nearly every down of a football field so we’ll start having some more unique scenarios from here on out. It’s been a wildly irresponsible and wild in general football season so far and while that’s generally a good thing. The SEC didn’t play very many games this week so the changes to the rankings are minimal, but the players on this list make big changes to the game. Safeties are the glue, the handymen of the formation, sometimes the most valuable player on the field. They’re our brief topic of discussion this week, so let’s quit wastin time.
14. Vanderbilt (0-6)
The Commodores haven’t been very good this season. They have yet to win a game, they’re not going to win a game, and they had one of the biggest virus messes in the country. It’s pretty fitting that their safeties haven’t made much of an impact, but between the starters, Dashaun Jerkins and Max Worship, have forced a single turnover and lay claim to just a single half sack between them. A bad season is fitting for a bad team and the safeties are no exception.
13. Kentucky (3-4)
Kentucky, for all of their terrible football, actually have a pretty good scenario going on at the back of the defense. The strong safety is Tyrell Ajian who’s done a good job cleaning up whatever leaks through the cracks, plus has a pick. The other half of the pairing is one of the most underrated free safeties in the country, Yusuf Corker. Corker has a couple of TFLs and a pass breakup this season, but his value comes everywhere else. He does everything on the planet and though Jamin Davis is the leading tackler, Corker is second and he’s the glue guy. This defense is pretty bad but it would be far worse without Corker holding it together like Spiderman held that train on the tracks. Toby Maguire style. He’s the best one.
12. Mississippi State (2-4)
When Mike Leach brought the Air Raid to Starkville, Mississippi, he also decided to bring the ideal defense to play against with him and made them all starters. It’s not possible that Mississippi State has worse safeties than Vanderbilt, it’s just a reality. Londyn Craft and Fred Peters have done little more to affect the game than make an infrequent tackle, though I suppose Mississippi State needs to be thankful for that.
11. South Carolina (2-5)
Let’s just all make sure to laugh together that Will Muschamp was fired before we jump in here. HA! Okay, R.J. Roderick has done his job as a strong safety and is a pretty good deep ball disruptor for the most part. Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu limit his production, but he’s been good back there. The other half of the formation is Jammie Robinson. He pounds the line of scrimmage and does a nice job disrupting pass plays to the middle of the field. The lack of turnovers hurts but the defensive line isn’t good enough for consistent opportunities at the second level.
10. Ole Miss (3-4)
Ole Miss is one of the worst defenses on the list but their safeties actually make life a lot easier for everyone else. A.J. Finley and Jon Haynes are the starters and they’re legitimately good football players. Finley is a playmaking machine at the free position with three turnovers, a fumble recovery, and four pass defenses. He’s the reason they’re 3-4 instead of something much worse. In fact, Haynes does his fair share as well. THe corner coverage leaves Haynes pretty exposed at the back and the fact he doesn’t get caught giving up touchdowns every week is enough evidence that he’s good. Haynes has a pick and half sack as well. Tip to Ole Miss, don’t play single high and send a safety blitz? Something to ponder when your corners are terrible.
9. LSU (2-3)
The LSU safeties get overlooked because the corners are legitimate shutdown players and most teams choose to run on them, but Todd Harris Jr. and JaCoby Stevens are both really talented players. Stevens is something of a Johnny-On-The-Spot, making four TFL with 2.5 sacks and a couple of fumble recoveries this season. He’s been really effective as a container and leads the team in tackles. Harris hasn’t scored the opportunities that Stevens has but his pick and forced fumble were both meaningful additions when they came.
8. Tennessee (2-4)
The only really good player on Tennessee’s defense is Henry To’oto’o, but were there to be a second best it would be Trevon Flowers who’s done an okay job at free safety. He’s not a great player but he’s adequate when playing the not-great teams. Jaylen McCullough is pulling in a pretty standard stat line at strong safety and might actually be a baseline level for a WAR-based football stat.
7. Missouri (2-3)
Joshua Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie are the safety duo for Missouri and they’ve actually been decent this season. They’re both more pass-oriented players with Missouri preferring a two-high scheme where both players drop back and just play the wide receiver routes, but they’re fine players. They break up passes consistently and though the turnovers forced are kept to a minimum they’re not a bad team to have on the field.
6. Arkansas (3-4)
Arkansas also has a suspect defense (there’s an SEC theme this year, it just means more… to be trash on defense) but if you’re pointing fingers you’d best keep them away from Joe Foucha and Jalen Catalon. Both safeties are legitimate ballhawks and have kept Arkansas in some games they had no business being in this year. They’ve combined for five picks this season, one returned for a touchdown, and a pair of forced fumbles. Outside of the blue chip schools Arkansas has the best safeties in the SEC and they’re probably up there on a national level as well.
5. Auburn (4-2)
Auburn has a couple of starting safeties like any team around but I’m just going to get Jamien Sherwood out of the way because he’s less interesting. He’s good. Not enough? Eugh. Okay, he’s a really good play disector and does a lot to kill plays before they even begin. He gets upfield to make plays behind the line of scrimmage and reads quarterbacks very well. Good? Good. SMOKE DAMN MONDAY. The free safety’s name for Auburn is Smoke Monday. He’s not a necessarily great player, but he probably has the best name in college football and I love him.
4. Texas A&M (5-1)
Leon O’Neal Jr. and Demani Richardson are two of the better players on Texas A&M’s defense, though that competition has become a lot stiffer since the beginning of the season. They’re both pretty versed playmakers with good enough hands to pick off three passes and take another two out of commission. They’re third and fourth on Texas A&M in tackles and I would say that’s exactly where your safeties ought to be. Good on Texas A&M for fielding a decent product in this messed up season.
3. Georgia (4-2)
Now we’re getting to the big boys. You probably haven’t heard much of Tyrique Stevenson or Lewis Cine and Georgia prefers to keep it that way. The safeties you know the name of are one of two things. They’re either really bad, or they’re the only good players on a bad defense. Cine and Stevenson are really good players on a really good defense and that counts for a lot to NFL teams. They’re great tacklers, they don’t allow big plays, and the only reason they don’t post ridiculous stats is because the players in front of them are being selfish. These guys are great, trust me.
2. Florida (5-1)
The Gators were the only decent team to play football this weekend and they were rewarded by not moving in the rankings at all because Bama is better. The starting safeties in a moderately broken defense are Shawn Davis and Donovan Steiner. Steiner is a pretty normal player and the fact that he gets regular snaps at this program kind of tells why they’re bad. I’m sorry if that’s harsh, but it’s true. On the other hand, we have Shawn Davis. Davis could probably start anywhere in the country. He’s big, strong, fast, super intelligent, and makes a ton of plays. He tracks in the open field, he can cover running backs and tight ends, he can rush the quarterback, he can do it all. A great player with “NFL” written all over him.
1. Alabama (6-0)
The safeties at Alabama are unnaturally not great this season. That being said they’re probably better prospects than any player that ever went to your favorite school. Why? Because they’re at Alabama and that’s the way life is, son. It’s not fair. Battle has a ton of tackles at strong safety which is something of a concern, but when you realize it’s because he sees plays coming so well and reacts so quickly it becomes much less of a concern and much more of an asset. Easily confused. Also, we have Daniel Wright. Wright is more of a big play maker and has a couple of picks with a return touchdown this season. He’s a fantastic player and again, he’s better than anyone on your team.