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Derwin James Leads the Pack With Minkah Fitzpatrick Close Behind



Modern NFL teams are moving to coverage-first defenses and are replacing linebackers with safeties, making it all the more important that NFL teams figure out who the best safeties in the NFL are. With the explosion of dime and penny defenses, a versatile, high-level safety can change the character and effectiveness of a defense.

That’s why the top safeties in the NFL can play more than one role — gone are the days of true box safeties and single-high centerfielders. Now, the best safeties in the NFL need to rush the passer, stop the run, win in man coverage, and patrol a deep third of the field. That’s why the best safety in the NFL can do all of those things, enabling the defense around him to do anything they want.

Who’s the Best Safety in the NFL?

Given all the things he’s capable of, Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James is the best safety in the NFL. James is simultaneously an elite pass rusher and man-coverage defender as a safety, complemented by high-level performance as a run defender and in zone coverage. His size, fluidity, and speed give him range and a remarkable capacity to take on blockers in the run game or clog up passing lanes.

Not only that, James’ skill set makes him a matchup-eraser. Instead of the defense being subject to the whims of a superstar tight end, pass-catching running back, or big-slot receiver, they can focus on what they do best while James locks down the opposing offense’s biggest threat.

In 2022, James ranked in the top 10 among safeties in sacks, pressures, run stops, and yards allowed per target. That final feat is remarkable, given how often he’s matched up against the opponent’s top target. His versatility has become a skeleton key that allows the coverage and front to do some truly interesting stuff that can throw offenses entirely out of sync.

The top safeties in the NFL going into 2023.

Safety Rankings 2-10

2) Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers

Moving from Miami to Pittsburgh seemingly has turned Minkah Fitzpatrick from a good safety to a great one, and he’s found consistency between highlight plays. Before, Fitzpatrick was good for some elite stretches of play surrounded by some mediocre snaps. Now, Fitzpatrick brings it every single snap and has been unstoppable this year.

MORE: Defensive Back Free Agency Rankings 2023

Though the Steelers’ defense struggled at points in 2022, especially without T.J. Watt up front, Fitzpatrick has played at a high level regardless of the supporting cast around him. He ranks second in the NFL in forced incompletion rate when targeted, and his four interceptions this year have made it tough for even elite passers to look his way.

3) Micah Hyde, Buffalo Bills

The Bills faced incredibly poor injury luck at defensive back, and an early-season loss of Micah Hyde was a significant one. One of the best safeties in the NFL in 2021, Hyde demonstrated an ability to close down against the run and blitz, but he primarily specialized in coverage.

His role as a deep safety helped the rest of Buffalo’s defense play aggressively without too much worry. They had to change that approach after the first two games of the season and couldn’t sustain it after the Von Miller injury. Hyde was, in a big way, a big part of the Bills’ defensive structure and his impact was enormous.

4) Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans

Despite making two All-Pro teams, it seems like Kevin Byard has flown under the radar. The 2017 NFL interceptions leader proved in subsequent seasons that his coverage capability wasn’t a fluke — he’s been a high-level centerfielder every year he’s been in the NFL.

But what puts him up here — aside from being the best centerfielder in the NFL — is his increasing capability against the run. Byard doesn’t enter the box often, typically playing the force player instead of the cleanup defender. But when he does approach ball carriers, he rarely misses. Byard has one of the lowest missed tackle rates among safeties over the last three years.

5) Antoine Winfield Jr., Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Following in the footsteps of his father (a cornerback who played for both the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings on the outside and in the slot), Antoine Winfield Jr. has done an excellent job manning up against slot receivers while still playing as a traditional safety who hits harder than many linebackers in the NFL. Those hard hits don’t come at the cost of missed tackles.

In previous years, Winfield played many more snaps as a rangy centerfielder than a slot defender. And he was excellent at keeping the deep middle clean, only rarely allowing deep receptions and often demonstrating perfect coverage in those moments.

But the Buccaneers had him play in the slot much more often in 2022 — and he thrived. This is both because it highlights another one of Winfield’s many skills and also allows his pass-rush prowess to shine.

6) Justin Simmons, Denver Broncos

Justin Simmons could thrive at safety in any era, whether that’s the hard-hitting run defenders of the 1970s and 1980s, the deep Cover 2 safeties of the 2000s, or rangy single-high defenders in the 2010s. In the 2020s, where safeties are asked to change roles almost every play, Simmons excels. Denver has asked him to play all those roles and hasn’t had any problems adapting to those demands.

Still, he’s best as a high safety given his prowess in coverage. Over the last three years, Simmons is tied for first place with Harrison Smith and Quandre Diggs in total interceptions generated when playing as a high-coverage zone defender. That insurance allows the Broncos to feel comfortable putting together dynamic rush plans and allow Patrick Surtain II to shine as a man-coverage corner.

7) Talanoa Hufanga, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers’ Talanoa Hufanga might have been the most impactful safety in the league in 2022. His play gave San Francisco the ability to field premier players up front, in the second level, and in the secondary.

Hufanga’s knack for finding the ball, whether in the air or the hands of a ball carrier, has been tremendous for the 49ers, as their defense manufactures ways for them to win despite season-ending injuries to two quarterbacks.

Hufanga is an excellent defender after only two years in the league. His consistency has been an issue, and he played better in the first half of 2022 over the second half. Between his highlights are some miscues and occasional mistakes. They’re certainly worth it, but there’s room for improvement.

8) Jordan Poyer, Buffalo Bills

At the beginning of 2022, Buffalo sported the best safety tandem in the NFL, with Jordan Poyer and Hyde holding down the fort. However, an injury to Poyer took him off the field for a period of time.

Poyer’s ability to click-and-close in zone coverage is up there with the best in the NFL. His turnover production in 2022 didn’t match his 2021 season, but that’s not a big deal. He still had four picks, forced quarterbacks to throw short, and had the highest forced incompletion rate in the league at the position. He’s a great run defender too, but we don’t see much of that given how high up the Bills ask him to play.

9) C.J. Gardner-Johnson

After finishing the year tied for the interception lead — after missing five games — C.J. Gardner-Johnson re-established himself as a force in the NFL as a versatile slot cover corner and safety hybrid. His ability to alter the nature of Philadelphia’s defense was evident when he was forced to miss games, and the Eagles took missteps despite their phenomenal pass rush.

MORE: The Pittsburgh Steelers Should Sign C.J. Gardner-Johnson in Free Agency

Gardner-Johnson can play multiple roles at safety and play them all well, but his ability to erase normal offensive matchups remains the biggest reason he lands on the list.

10) Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

After signing an enormous deal with the Cardinals, Baker turned on the jets and played better after his contract was signed than before it. Baker might be the best example of what the Cardinals have been trying to do defensively, with several players capable of playing multiple positions and confusing the defense with their roles and alignments.

While many of those players didn’t work out, Baker has demonstrated that the right technique, athleticism, balance, and willingness can produce that kind of versatile defender that can play a deep zone, line up on the line of scrimmage, or stop the run from the box. He’s still best in the box, and his range isn’t quite that of a high-level centerfielder. But his value isn’t limited because of that. The fact that the Cardinals can ask him to do anything means they always have a tool in their toolbox.

Top Safeties Remaining

11) Tyrann Mathieu, New Orleans Saints
12) Marcus Williams, Baltimore Ravens
13) Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings
14) Jessie Bates III, Cincinnati Bengals
15) Kyle Hamilton, Baltimore Ravens
16) Jevon Holland, Miami Dolphins
17) Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks
18) Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears
19) Marcus Maye, New Orleans Saints
20) Jimmie Ward, San Francisco 49ers
21) Quandre Diggs, Seattle Seahawks
22) Duron Harmon, Las Vegas Raiders
23) Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
24) Xavier McKinney, New York Giants
25) Rodney McLeod, Indianapolis Colts
26) Jaquan Brisker, Chicago Bears
27) Jayron Kearse, Dallas Cowboys
28) John Johnson III, Cleveland Browns
29) Adrian Amos, Green Bay Packers
30) Donovan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
31) Richie Grant, Atlanta Falcons
32) Kareem Jackson, Denver Broncos

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Fantasy Outlook, Value, Projections, and Rankings




As we inch toward the new season, the ever-changing NFL landscape has player fantasy values constantly on the move. Whether you’re used to the dynasty platform or are still learning the dynasty rules, let’s dive into the latest dynasty value of Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup.

Michael Gallup’s Dynasty Outlook and Value

Gallup’s outlook is quite different now than it was a year ago. As the Cowboys’ WR2, Gallup was always going to have some value. However, even coming off an ACL tear from late in the 2021 season, last year was an obvious disappointment for Gallup.

In Week 4 last year, Gallup returned and looked pretty good — catching a touchdown from Cooper Rush in his first game back. Unfortunately, that would end up being his best fantasy outing until Week 13.

Gallup was running a lot of routes and just not seeing targets. His targets-per-route-run rate was just 18.8%, outside the top 60. He wasn’t getting open well, and his contested catch rate went from being in the top 30 to outside the top 80. It was a rough year.

With all that said, it was still Gallup’s first year back from his knee injury. It was an injury bad enough that Gallup wasn’t ready for the start of the season. Historically, players don’t really get back to their pre-injury level until the year after they return.

Michael Gallup’s Fantasy Ranking

The Cowboys elected not to roll with Gallup as their WR2. At 27 years old, he’s not exactly young, but he’s certainly not old, either. Gallup signed a five-year deal ahead of last season, so he’s not going anywhere. But trading for Brandin Cooks, which relegates Gallup to the WR3 role, made a ton of sense.

As a result, Gallup’s fantasy value takes a hit. Although Dak Prescott can support three fantasy-relevant receivers, Gallup isn’t exactly a splash-play WR. Last season, he had a 16.7% target share, and that will need to get closer to 20% for Gallup to maintain fantasy value.

MORE: Dynasty Rankings 2023 — Top Fantasy Options at Wide Receiver

Can that happen in 2023? Not with Cooks around. As the WR2 on an elite offense, Gallup might’ve been a sneaky addition for fantasy managers. As the WR3, I’m far less interested.

We have Gallup at WR54 (No. 145 overall) in our dynasty Superflex rankings. He’s really not a desirable target in dynasty startup drafts.

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Who Will Sign DJ Chark? Possible Landing Spots for Detroit Lions Wide Receiver




After signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Detroit Lions last offseason, DJ Chark posted 30 receptions for 502 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. Chark battled an ankle injury that cost him six games, but he provided a deep threat for Jared Goff and posted a career-high 16.7 yards per reception.

Now that Jakobi Meyers has signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, Chark and Odell Beckham Jr. are the two best wide receivers remaining on Pro Football Network’s free agent rankings. Where are his best landing spots around the NFL?

Who Will Sign DJ Chark in Free Agency?

Detroit Lions

The Lions have been active in free agency, but most of their additions have come on the defensive side of the ball. C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Cameron Sutton, and Emmanuel Moseley are in town to help solve Detroit’s secondary woes, while the Lions also re-signed linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive lineman John Cominsky.

On offense, Detroit added David Montgomery to replace Jamaal Williams, but they haven’t done any work on their receiving corps. If the season started today, the Lions would line up Amon-Ra St. Brown and 2022 first-round selection Jameson Williams as their starting receivers, but they still need a third option.

MORE: 2023 NFL Free Agency Tracker

Lions general manager Brad Holmes indicated earlier this year that re-signing Chark was on the table, and Chark seems to have enjoyed his time in Detroit.

“One thing I can say about the coaches in Detroit, they really — they know your kid’s names, and they’re really into like who you are as a person,” Chark said. “Whereas that’s not always the case. A lot of different personalities that mesh well.”

The Lions still have more than $22 million in remaining cap space. Given that he missed time last season, Chark is unlikely to command another $10 million price tag, so a reunion in Detroit could make sense.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are the only team known to have met with Chark, having hosted him for a free agent visit last week. Carolina has since signed former Minnesota Vikings receiver Adam Thielen to a three-year deal, but the club is still interested in Chark. In regards to adding Chark, general manager Scott Fitterer said this week that the Panthers have “gotta let that [situation] play out.”

Bringing in Thielen represents a starting point for Carolina, but they still need more pass catchers. The Panthers sent DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears as a part of a trade to land the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, leaving their depth chart bereft of options.

Thielen will be a guaranteed starter. At present, former second-round pick Terrace Marshall Jr. and trade acquisition Laviska Shenault would likely line up as Carolina’s next-best receivers. The Panthers have a few intriguing options, like ex-Miami Dolphin Preston Williams and 2021 sixth-rounder Shi Smith, but they could use a proven wideout in the mix.

Given that Carolina will draft its franchise quarterback with the No. 1 pick, the club needs to ensure that the rookie signal-caller is surrounded with weapons. The Panthers have already built a solid offensive line and signed Miles Sanders to buoy their running game. Bringing in (at least) one more receiver is the next logical step.

New England Patriots

Jakobi Meyers, the Patriots’ leading receiver in each of the last three seasons, departed for the Las Vegas Raiders this offseason. Free agent signing JuJu Smith-Schuster will replace Meyers in the slot, but New England could stand to add another outside receiver like Chark.

The Patriots acquired DeVante Parker from the Dolphins last offseason, but he’s only topped 800 yards once in his seven-year NFL career. He managed just 539 yards last year while missing time with injuries.

MORE: Remaining 2023 NFL Free Agents by Position

New England could expect more from 2022 rookie Tyquan Thornton, but Kendrick Bourne was largely removed from the club’s offense last season.

The upcoming campaign is shaping up as a critical one for third-year New England quarterback Mac Jones. New offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien should help, but Chark would bring an explosive element to a Patriots offense that has struggled to create chunk yardage.

Minnesota Vikings

Thielen’s departure has created a wide receiver void for the Vikings. Justin Jefferson is the best receiver in the league and can singlehandedly take over games, but Minnesota needs to add competent pass catchers around him.

K.J. Osborn looks like the best bet to take over Thielen’s snaps, while the Vikings could also give more reps to 2022 sixth-round pick Jalen Nailor or trade pickup Jalen Reagor. However, neither of those options is as accomplished as Chark.

There are issues with the fit. Minnesota already has tight end T.J. Hockenson as its No. 2 receiver, so Chark might want to find a landing spot where he’d have more opportunities. And the Vikings have the least cap space in the league, so finding the funds to even add Chark could prove difficult.

But if Minnesota were able to create a bit more cap space, they might consider signing Chark. At the very least, his addition would mean the Vikings wouldn’t be locked into selecting a wide receiver early in the 2023 draft.

Green Bay Packers

Let’s stick in the NFC North, where the Packers could use another receiver — regardless of who’s playing quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers looks to be on his way to New York, leaving Jordan Love under center in Green Bay. Love has received plenty of praise from the Packers’ decision-makers this offseason, but the former first-round pick has attempted just 83 passes at the NFL level.

Green Bay has an excellent offensive line, while Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon headline a productive rushing attack. But the Packers’ receiving depth chart leaves a lot to be desired.

MORE: Does Aaron Rodgers Make the New York Jets Super Bowl Contenders?

2022 draft choices Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs both flashed in their rookie years and will likely be Green Bay’s starting wideouts, but the Packers need more depth, especially given that they no longer have a proven tight end after losing Robert Tonyan to free agency.

Samori Toure, Jeff Cotton, and Bo Melton currently project as Green Bay’s backup wide receivers, and they have 10 career targets between them (all Toure’s).

The Packers rank fifth in the NFL with $23+ million in cap space. While they’ll take on some dead money by trading Rodgers, they should have enough room to add another receiver. Chark would give Love a receiver with a significant track record of experience who could make an impact in 2023.

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USFL Team-by-Team Schedules 2023: Matchups, Dates, Times, and TV Channels




What are the USFL team-by-team schedules for the eight squads competing in 2023? We’ve got you covered.

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