NFL Draft: Are Safeties Worth a Top Five Draft Pick?

Atlanta and Kansas City general managers Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli worked together in New England. This March during the NFL Owners’ Meeting, the two were discussing the Chiefs’ options at No. 5.

Dimitroff brought up Berry in a conversation logged by Peter King.

“Scott, this guy’s your pick,” Dimitroff said.

Pioli apparently didn’t agree. “You know how I feel about safeties that early.”

Pioli’s not the only one. There has been only one safety chosen with a top-five NFL Draft pick since 1992 (Sean Taylor). The last time a safety was selected in the top three was Eric Turner back in 1991.

Ironically, the two top safeties in recent memory, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, weren’t even taken in the top 15.

Why is this? Why do safeties fall on Draft Day? Quite simply: The safety position is not really that important. In fact, it’s quite insignificant when compared to quarterbacks, left tackles and pass-rushing defensive ends.

Of course, we’ll need numbers to back this claim up. Let’s take a look at every single safety drafted in the top 15 picks since 1991. I’m going to list whether each player was a hit or bust, as well as the original team’s record with each player on the roster. These players are listed chronologically, starting from the most recent:

Draft No.
Original Team’s Record
Hit, OK or Bust
LaRon Landry
2007, No. 6
OK – Has played fine at times, but blows tons of coverages. Not nearly the player the Redskins thought they were getting at No. 6.
Michael Huff
2006, No. 7
OK – Has had an up-and-down career, but he’s been benched in the past. Again, not the great player the Raiders were expecting at No. 7 overall.
Donte Whitner
2006, No. 8
OK – A decent strong safety, but not anything special.
Sean Taylor
2004, No. 5
Hit – What a shame his life ended so early.
Roy Williams
2002, No. 8
Bust – Became famous with his hard hits, but was torched in coverage week in and week out.
Patrick Bates
1993, No. 12
Bust – Not a great pick by Al Davis; lasted only four years in the NFL. Amazingly, there were no top-15 safeties from 1994 to 2001.
Eric Turner
1991, No. 2
Hit – A 2-time Pro Bowler.
Stanley Richard
1991, No. 9
OK – A solid safety who played eight years. No Pro Bowls.
Hits: 2; OK: 4; Busts: 2

No team that drafted a safety in the top 15 since 1991 has won a Super Bowl with that player on its roster. And as you can see, teams that spent top-15 picks on safeties were 242-284 (.460) with that prospect on the roster.

Furthermore, if you exclude the records of Roy Williams and Patrick Bates, who didn’t contribute much to their team’s success (Williams struggled when the Cowboys went 13-3 in 2007 – thus his bloated record), teams that used top-15 picks on safeties were 160-219 (.422) with that prospect on the roster. And here I thought top-15 picks were supposed to help each team improve.

But wait a second. Eric Berry is obviously going to be better than Donte Whitner and LaRon Landry, correct? We can only speculate, but it’s pretty much safe to say that Berry will be a great safety in the NFL. Does that change things?

Well, let’s look at the two hits. The (both) late Sean Taylor and Eric Turner were Pro Bowl-caliber safeties. The Redskins and Browns were a combined 62-77 (.446) with them on the roster. Moreover, Taylor and Turner helped their teams reach only two playoff appearances in nine combined seasons in Washington and Cleveland, respectively.

Now, you may exclaim, “It’s not Taylor’s fault the Redskins were 21-27 with him on the roster; they had tons of other holes!” And that’s precisely the point of this article – as good as Taylor was, he just didn’t impact the result of Washington’s games. The safety position is just not important.

For Kansas City fans who still want their team to select Berry: If you’re content with the Chiefs winning 44.6 percent of their games, then by all means, ask Pioli to change his mind about taking safeties that early.

But Eric Berry Is Supposed to Be the Next Ed Reed! I’ve received a few e-mails about this, so I feel this should be addressed as well. Yes, Berry is being compared to Reed. Two problems with this though:

1. There is no guarantee that Berry will be as good as Reed. Wasn’t Glenn Dorsey supposed to be the next Warren Sapp? Wasn’t Vernon Gholston supposed to be the next DeMarcus Ware? Wasn’t the late Gaines Adams supposed to be the next great pass-rusher? There are no guarantees in the NFL Draft. None. Anyone who believes otherwise is fooling themselves. Any prospect can bust.

2. Let’s say Berry is the next Reed. How has Reed done for the Ravens? Well, since he was drafted in 2002, Baltimore is 70-58, which is a winning percentage of 54.7 – equating to something less than a 9-7 average (9-7 is 56.3 percent).

It’s worth noting that Reed’s record with the Ravens before they added Joe Flacco (i.e. a franchise quarterback) was 50-46 (.521).

In other words, if the Chiefs draft Berry, and Berry actually becomes the Hall of Fame player he’s expected to be (which is definitely not a guarantee; see those busts I’ve mentioned), Kansas City will average anywhere between eight or nine wins with him on the roster.

For more, check out the NFL Draft Mailbag, which contains five e-mails/Facebook posts about this article.


2025 NFL Mock Draft - May 21

Fantasy Football Rankings - May 9

NFL Power Rankings - Feb. 22

NFL Picks - Feb. 12