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Top 10 NFL Strong Safeties of All Time Rankings

Ranking the best Strong Safeties in the history of the NFL such as Ken Houston , Troy Polamalu, and many more

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By Fan Rankings | November 22, 2021 - 06:51 AM

The strong safety position much like the free safety position is a versatile position that can meet the needs of any defensive coordinator much like owning a swiss army knife. 

While the traditional role of the safety position was to support both the pass and run but being the last line of defense before allowing the opposing team from scoring. 

The role has evolved over the years for the safety position, especially the strong safety position.



Strong safeties are as athletic as nearly anyone on the defensive side of the ball and are possibly the biggest hitters on the entire defense. 

With the evolution of the game, strong safeties have the ability to play the line to stop the run, blitz the quarterback but also have the talent to cover both running backs and tight ends within the passing game. 

Over the years the game of football has seen many great strong safeties including the likes of Troy Polamalu, Ken Houston and John Lynch to name a few.



With that said, here is our list of the Top 10 Best Strong Safeties of All-Time in the National Football League




Honorable Mention

Kenny Easley

Team(s): Seattle Seahawks

One name that is well worth mentioning among the Top 10 Strong Safety All-Time list is the former Seattle Seahawks and Pro Football Hall of Famer strong safety Kenny Easley. 

As Easley is often looked past due to his short career in the NFL, his play on the field was at a top level and one that had in the elite group of safeties during his playing days. Easley recorded 32 career interceptions, eight sacks and defensive touchdowns during his playing days with the Seahawks. 

His level of play earned him First-Team All-Pro honors in four straight seasons as well as the 1984 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. If it wasn’t for kidney disease that shut his career down early, Easley could be much higher on this list.




Emlen Tunnell

Team(s): New York Giants & Green Bay Packers

It’s hard to put what exact position the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers great Emlen Tunnell should be classified as. During his playing days he had the combination of size and speed to play nearly any position on the defense while being classified as a safety. 

While the strong safety and free safety was played differently during his days, Tunnell played both positions when asked. Tunnell was a six time First-Team All-Pro, nine time Pro Bowler and two time NFL champion. 

During his career Tunell recorded 79 career interceptions. Only thing holding him higher on this list is the fact he wasn’t just a strong safety.



 

Top 10 Strong Safeties

  1. Donnie Shell

Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers

As you look around at the Top 10 Strong Safety All-Time, the Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Donnie Shell is worth considering. While Shell played with some great defensive players with the Steelers “Steel Curtain” defense, he was no slouch himself. 

Over his career, Shell racked up 51 interceptions while being named a First-Team All-Pro in three different seasons while helping the Steelers win four Super Bowl Championships.

 

 

 

  1. Tim McDonald

Team(s): St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals & San Francisco 49ers

When looking at the statistics, it is easy to slot Tim McDonald on this list as he was one of the top strong safeties in the NFL during his playing days. McDonald racked up 1,263 career tackles to go with 40 interceptions and 16 career fumble recoveries. 

His play on the field helped earn him six trips to the NFL Pro Bowl and to be named First-Team All-Pro during the 1989 NFL season. McDonald had a knack to make a big play and read opposing offenses before the play occurred.




  1. Rodney Harrison

Team(s): San Diego Chargers & New England Patriots

Rodney Harrison was a force to reckon with on the defensive side of the ball over his entire NFL career spanning between the San Diego Chargers and the New England Patriots. 

Over his career, Harrison recorded 1,205 career tackles to go with 34 interceptions and 30.5 sacks. His 34 interceptions and 30.5 sacks earned him the first player in the history of the NFL to record at least 30 sacks in both categories while also holding the record for most sacks by a defensive back. 

Harrison finished his career as a two time Super Bowl champion, two time First-Time All-Pro and a two time NFL Pro Bowler.




  1. Darren Woodson

Team(s): Dallas Cowboys

When any team had the success that Dallas Cowboys had over a ten year stretch to begin the 1990’s, it is easy to see the list of talented players that helped form those teams. 

One player that helped solidify the defensive side of the ball is Darren Woodson, who played his entire NFL career for the Cowboys. During his career, the Cowboys won the Super Bowl three times while Woodson was named First-Team All-Pro in four different seasons including three straight from 1994 to 1996. 

Woodson recorded 1,350 career tackles over his career to go with 11 sacks, 23 interceptions and 17 forced fumbles.




  1. Brian Dawkins

Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles & Denver Broncos

When it comes to talented safeties, it is hard to look past Brian Dawkins. Dawkins who spent his career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos was a pure playmaker who was used in a wide range of positions early on his career before completely transitioning to a true strong safety. 

While Dawkins could be classified as a free safety as well, his play and ability to make a game changing play makes him worthy of a spot on the Top 10 Strong Safety All-Time List. 

Over his career, Dawkins was a nine time NFL Pro Bowler, four time First-Team All-Pro and was named to the NFL 2000’s All-Decade team.




  1. LeRoy Butler

Team(s): Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers longtime strong safety LeRoy Butler was as versatile as nearly any to play the position and an anchor for the Packers defense. 

Butler, who spent his entire NFL career with the Packers racked up 889 career tackles from 1990 to 2001 while adding 38 interceptions, 20.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles. His play on the field helped Butler earn First-Team All-Pro honors in four different seasons including three straight from 1996 to 1998 while also allowing him to make four Pro Bowl teams. 

Butler was a member of the 1990’s All-Decade team as well as a member of the Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI.




  1. Dennis Smith

Team(s): Denver Broncos

Dennis Smith was the 15th overall pick during the 1981 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. Once selected, Smith was a viable weapon within the Broncos secondary during his 15 year NFL career. 

While not all the accolades can show up on paper, Smith was possibly the hardest hitting safeties in the NFL during his career while making opposing receivers, tight ends and running backs fear him. Smith racked up two First-Team All-Pro honors, six Pro Bowl trips while posting 30 career interceptions and 15 sacks.




  1. John Lynch

Team(s): Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Denver Broncos

When looking for a safety that could do it all and one that would be suited up week in and out, John Lynch met that mold during his entire NFL career. Lynch, who was known as one of the smartest and physical safeties during his playing days, played a key role within the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that won Super Bowl XXXVII. 

Lynch had a knack for understanding the play before the play broke down. When his career was completed, Lynch was a nine time NFL Pro Bowler, two time First-Team All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion while recording 1,058 tackles, 13 sacks, 16 forced fumbles and 26 interceptions.




  1. Troy Polamalu

Team(s): Pittsburgh Steelers

With these next two strong safeties, it could easily be reversed with Ken Houston at number two and Troy Polamalu at number one. 

Despite the ranking, Polamalu is still regarded as one of the Top 10 Strong Safety All-Time. Polamalu who was known for his aggressive striking ability including a key sack jumping over a lineman to get to Joe Flacco in the AFC Championship game, was a game changer and one offensive coordinator attempted to game plan for. 

Polamalu racked up 12 sacks, 32 interceptions, three defensive touchdowns and 107 pass deflections over his career while winning the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Additional attributes include a two time Super Bowl champion, four time First-Team All-Pro and a member of the NFL 2000’s All-Decade team.




  1. Ken Houston

Team(s): Detroit Lions & Washington Football Team

Coming in at number one is the 12 time All-Pro Ken Houston of the Detroit Lions and Washington Football Team. Houston, who helped evolve the position, was a playmaker who was known for his ability to go after the ball while also being able to shut down a play before it happened. 

Houston racked up 49 career interceptions over his career while also scoring 12 touchdowns and recovered 12 fumbles. Houston was also named to Pro Bowl teams and was a member of the NFL 75th and 100th Anniversary All-Time teams.



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