6) Eric Weddle, San Diego Chargers: When I scouted Weddle at Utah, I believed he was destined to be a ball magnet in the NFL, based on his remarkable production as the two-time Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Weddle routinely came up with interceptions and fumble recoveries while playing a variety of roles for the Utes. He has continued to display his versatility and athleticism with the Chargers as a do-it-all playmaker in the back end. Weddle will roam the deep middle as a center fielder hunting for interceptions on errant passes and overthrows while also lurking around the box as an extra defender against the run or a selective pass rusher on blitzes. Last season, Weddle notched 115 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and one forced fumble in a hybrid role. Those latter numbers could improve in 2014, with a better supporting cast allowing him to be more of a playmaker in the secondary.
Six? Six!? By the Beard of Zeus how was Weddle left out of the top five? While I am happy he is on there, Weddle deserves to be much higher. It’s undoubtedly a slap in the face he’s ranked No. 6 overall. Players that are in the top five: 5. Kam Chancellor (SEA) 4. Jairus Byrd (NO) 3. Antrel Rolle (NYG) 2. Eric Berry (KC) 1. Earl Thomas (SEA).
I thought maybe it was based off last season’s performance. After ranking 15th overall in Pro Football Focus’ Top 101 in 2012, Weddle dropped all the way to 96. In his defense, a porous job by his supporting cast–or lack thereof–led to his fall, as he was unable to have the freedom he was used to playing with. Weddle did have a staggering 15 missed tackles, but he still led the Chargers in tackles with 115. He also did not allow a single touchdown into his primary coverage all year, per PFF.
But then I saw Brooks list Byrd’s 22 CAREER interceptions in his summary. I assumed he based this list off players’ production over the past few years. Well that assumption quickly went to shambles when I glanced at 31-year-old Antrel Rolle’s stats. After having five combined interceptions the previous three years, Rolle had career-highs in interceptions (6), pass deflections (12) and sacks (2) in 2013. Regardless, I found it funny Brooks mentioned career statistics for other safeties, but when it came to Weddle all you read was what he did last season.
I guess he forgot to mention that Weddle led the league with seven interceptions in 2011. Or that he helped the Chargers hold the No. 1 passing defense in 2010 (only 2,845 yards allowed). “He’s also been a first or second-team All-Pro selection the last four years–the only player at his position who can say that,” said Eric Williams of ESPN.
His 18 interceptions in seven seasons aren’t spectacular, but the amount of interceptions shouldn’t instantly make you a hot commodity/top safety.
“In 2011, he was challenged by quarterbacks at the very low rate of 1.6 times per game. When he’s challenged, Weddle allows just over 40 percent of passes to be completed, which is the lowest of any starting safety.” - Tajh Jenkins, fanspeak.com
Following the 2012 season, PFF took the time to go back and analyze safety play and created the Page of Fame: Safeties. They graded and ranked the safeties with the best overall regular season performances from 2007-2012. Guess who graded out to be the best all-around safety?
1. Eric Weddle, SD, 2012: +28.1
Pass Rush: +2, Coverage: +14.9, Run Defense: +9.6, Penalties: +1.6
“Another big year from Weddle who used 2012 to establish himself as the league’s top all-around safety. Capable of playing the single high role, dropping down into the box or matching up with a tight end, he does more than any stat can state. Grading positively in every area on his way to the top spot in our safety rankings is not easily done.” – Khaled Elsayed, Pro Football Focus
Byrd, who ranks No. 4 on Brooks’ list, was fourth on PFF’s list of best overall grade with his 2012 performance as well. He had the best coverage (+19) of any safety that year. Byrd was recognized higher in Brooks’ list the same way peers viewed him in 2012, selecting him to the Pro Bowl while nobody seemed to acknowledge Weddle’s 2012 (snubbing him from the Pro Bowl). Wait wait, but Byrd had five interceptions and four forced fumbles that year!..I guess Weddle’s three interceptions, two forced fumbles and defensive touchdown were in Byrd’s shadow. It goes to show you that the perception of a player is usually based on stats and not what the individual brings to an entire team when on the field.
In June PFF projected the roster for the upcoming 2014 season, using different color codes for each players’ status: blue=elite; light green=good starter; yellow=average starter; orange=below average starter; purple=rookie; grey=not enough information on the player. As you can see, Weddle is the Chargers’ lone elite player on the defense (and offense).
The clip above is about as dynamic as it gets; a guy calling an audible into a fake punt on fourth down in the Chargers’ own territory in OVERTIME. Weddle’s consistency and ability to come up with the big play gives him great credibility. For everything Weddle has done since being drafted in 2007, he should absolutely be in the top five–and he’s still in his prime at 29 years old. I’m not taking anything away from Thomas, but having Richard Sherman (who led the league in interceptions) as your teammate–and an above average pass rush–sure does help. If I had to choose the two best safeties in the NFL regardless of rank, I’m going Earl Thomas and Eric Weddle. The floor is yours.