One of the less appreciated positions in football is the safety position. That’s why the highest-paid safety is paid less than the highest-paid of any other position on defense. Eddie Jackson leads all safeties at $14.6 million per season, which ranks 33rd amongst defensive players in the NFL.
The Chiefs made a huge move, signing Tyrann Mathieu during the 2019 offseason. In his first season with the team, he had a first-team All-Pro performance with 75 tackles, 12 passes defended, and four interceptions.
In coverage, he has not disappointed by any means. He held quarterbacks to a 56.3 percent completion percentage and a 57.8 passer rating.
Mathieu has been one of the leagues best safeties, and arguably the best coverage safety in the league for some time. He is like a cornerback with better tackling that plays safety.
Dallas has a rising star safety in Xavier Woods. He is evolving into a great free safety after making 77 tackles, defending five passes, and intercepting two passes in 2019. He is maybe a season or two from becoming a Pro Bowl talent.
In coverage, his stats don’t look too good. This is the direct result of the old defensive philosophy of playing for the tackle rather than playing the ball. This resulted in Woods giving up a 72.7 percent completion percentage and a 79.1 passer rating.
When you have a hole at safety, signing Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a great way to fix it. He spent the 2019 season with the Chicago Bears, making 78 tackles, defending five passes, and intercepting two passes with one returned for a touchdown.
He had a strong season defending against the pass. Quarterbacks were held to a 59.1 percent completion percentage and a 67.0 passer rating.
The Chiefs 2019 second-round pick, Juan Thornhill had quite the impressive rookie season. He started in all 16 games and ended the season with 58 tackles, five passes defended, and three interceptions.
His play in coverage was very good as well. He held opposing quarterbacks to a 46.4 percent completion percentage, and a 43.0 passer rating. It must be frustrating when you try to avoid Mathieu and still get stopped by a rookie safety.
Third on the depth chart for the Cowboys is Darian Thompson. With only 39 percent of the defensive snaps, he made 45 tackles, defended three passes, and sacked the quarterback 1.5 times.
His coverage stats are one extreme to the other. He held quarterbacks to a solid 62.5 percent completion percentage, albeit a 134.4 passer rating. The passer rating is as high as it is because two of the 10 completions he gave up were touchdowns.
The second-year pro, Daniel Sorensen stepped in well when he had to. With only 50 percent of the defensive snaps, he managed to make 57 tackles while defending four passes and intercepting two passes.
In coverage, he played solid, rounding out a great top three coverage safeties. He held quarterbacks to a 66.1 percent completion percentage and a 74.1 passer rating.
Both teams have a veteran presence with a young up and coming player, and a third option. What would you rather have? An All-Pro with a great rookie and good backup, or a former Pro Bowler with a soon to be Pro Bowler and a good backup?
I gotta give this one to the Chiefs. Mathieu’s big-play ability accompanied by the great play of Thornhill is hard to beat. Thornhill’s ability to hold quarterbacks under a 50 percent completion percentage is a huge way to compliment Mathieu’s four interceptions.
Unfortunately for quarterbacks, avoiding Mathieu doesn’t mean you will make the play. The Chiefs have one of the better groups of safeties in the league, and their young age means they will only get better.