August 9, 2022

College Football’s 20 best returning safeties

College Football's best safeties

Iowa State safety Greg Eisworth addresses reporters at the Cyclones' Media Day Thursday August 1, 2019 at Jack Trice Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They are the last line of defense.

A safety has the responsibility of cleaning up the mistakes made in the front seven. To be successful at the position an individual has to be a field general and often times the most physical defender on the team. Rather it’s providing run support or dropping back in coverage, these players have displayed what it takes.

Some are captains, leaders, while others have tremendous skill set and all are poised to make more noise this fall.

20. Tiawan Mullen, Indiana: The former four-star prospect was one of the Hoosiers’ top recruits last season and he made an immediate splash, with eight starts. Mullen generated 29 stops, including 3.5 tackles for loss and broke up 13 passes, which was first in the Big Ten. The Florida native had a career-high, eight total tackles, including six solo in the win over Purdue. He also broke up four passes on the road against Michigan State. Mullen will still be looking for his first career interception when the upcoming season starts.

19. Jammie Robinson, South Carolina: He is another former four-star prospect who had a fabulous true freshman campaign last season. Robinson tallied 62 tackles, hauled in an interception and broke up four passes to earn Freshman All-SEC honors. The Georgia native had a career-high, 15 tackles, including 12 solo against Texas A&M. He also picked off his first pass against Florida. Robinson also had 11 stops against Clemson and nine tackles against Tennessee. Robinson along with corner Israel Mukuamu form one of the best tandems in the SEC.

18. Cory Trice, Purdue: He’s a safety with great size, standing six-foot-three and weighing 215 pounds. Trice started five games last season, tied for first on the team in interceptions and generated 35 tackles. The Kentucky native picked off two passes against Maryland, including one he returned 37 yards to the house for a touchdown. Trice’s other interception came in the win over Nebraska. The former three-star prospect also had six tackles apiece against Penn State and Wisconsin. With George Karlaftis, Derrick Barnes and Trice, the Boilermakers have a stud at every level of the defense.

17. Jermaine Waller, Virginia Tech: The Washington D.C. native was one of the most active members of the Hokies secondary and started 10 games last season. Waller showed his versatility all over the field and broke up 13 passes, which tied for seventh in the ACC. He also had an interception in the season-opener against Boston College and two others in the win at Miami. The six-foot-one, 180-pounder had a career-high seven tackles in the win over Old Dominion and five in a shutout victory at Georgia Tech.

16. Tae Daley, Vanderbilt: The Georgia native started nine games at safety, led the Commodores in interceptions and finished with 57 tackles last season. Daley picked off two passes at Florida and had a career-high, 16 tackles at South Carolina. Not to mention he had 11 total stops against Missouri and seven tackles against Georgia. The six-foot, 202-pounder has been consistent with his production and has 106 career tackles. Daley could be flying under the radar, but he’s poised for an All-SEC caliber senior year this fall with Vanderbilt.

15. Eric Burrell, Wisconsin: He tied for first on the team, with three interceptions, tallied 55 tackles and broke up six passes last season. Burrell had an interception against South Florida, Michigan and Purdue. The former three-star prospect had 11 tackles at Ohio State, including six solo. Burrell also had eight total stops and broke up three passes in the win over Minnesota. Over the past two seasons with the Badgers Burrell has generated 97 tackles and hauled in four interceptions. Now the Maryland native is approaching his senior year filled with high expectations and has yet to reach his ceiling.

14. Demani Richardson, Texas A&M: The former four-star prospect was one of the Aggies’ top recruits last season and started 11 games as a true freshman. Richardson finished third on the team in tackles and earned Freshman All-SEC honors. He racked up 11 tackles and picked off a pass against Alabama. Not to mention he had eight tackles apiece against Clemson, Georgia and bowl win over Oklahoma State. The Texas native also had seven tackles apiece against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas.

13. Donovan Stiner, Florida: The Gators are never short on stars in the secondary and Stiner is the latest edition. The former three-star prospect started six games last season and led Florida in interceptions. The Houston native picked off two passes in the win over Vanderbilt and his four total interceptions tied for second-best in the SEC. Stiner has been one of the best ball hawks in the league and has 79 tackles and six interceptions over the past two seasons. The Gators are one of three programs that can claim the Defensive Back U title and Stiner will carry on the legacy.

12. Greg Eisworth, Iowa State: He’s a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 performer and was named the league’s Newcomer of the Year in 2018. Eisworth is a team captain, the heart and soul of the Cyclones’ secondary and made nine starts last season. The former three-star recruit tallied 65 tackles and broke up 10 passes, which tied for first on the team. The Texas native had a career-high, 15 tackles against Iowa, plus six solo stops and an interception at Kansas State. Over the past two seasons with Iowa State Eisworth has generated 152 total stops, 7.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and broke up 15 passes.

11. Ar’Darius Washington, TCU: The former three-star prospect had a breakout season in 2019 as a redshirt freshman and started four of the final five games. Washington finished third on the team in tackles and led the Horned Frogs in interceptions. Washington picked off a pass in two of TCU’s first three games. The Louisiana native also had an interception in the win over Texas and two in the season-finale against West Virginia. The five-foot-eight, 179-pounder had a career-high, 14 tackles, including nine solo at Oklahoma. Washington’s production earned him Freshman All-American honors and he was named the Big 12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year.

10. Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame: He was Notre Dame’s top recruit last season and had a promising true freshman campaign. Hamilton tallied 41 tackles, broke up six passes and led the Fighting Irish in interceptions. The Atlanta native picked off a pass and returned it 34 yards to the house in last season’s home-opening win over New Mexico. Hamilton also had an interception in wins over West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Standing at six-foot-four and weighing 210 pounds, Hamilton has rare size that gives him range and he earned Freshman All-American honors. With Tony Pride Jr. and Jalen Elliott off to the NFL, Hamilton will be the enforcer of the secondary.

9. Trevon Moehrig, TCU: Gary Patterson keeps the talent brewing on defense and the Horned Frogs will boast the best secondary in the Big 12. Moehrig tallied 62 tackles, broke up 11 passes and hauled in four interceptions last season. He had an interception against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Purdue, Oklahoma State and Texas. The former three-star prospect had eight solo tackles and forced a fumble at Iowa State. The six-foot-two, 208-pounder also had seven stops and forced a fumble against Oklahoma. Moehrig success on the field didn’t go unnoticed and he earned first-team All-Big 12.

8. Skyler Thomas, Washington State: He started 12 games, finished second on the team in tackles and led the Cougars in interceptions last season. Thomas was a legit ballhawk, with an interception against Colorado, UCLA, Stanford and Air Force. The former three-star prospect had a career-high, 11 tackles against Utah. The California native also had six stops in the win over Houston, to go along with 10 tackles in the Apple Cup. Over the last two seasons with Washington State Thomas has 148 total tackles and six interceptions.

7. Joey Blount, Virginia: The Atlanta native started 11 games last season, finished second on the Cavaliers with 95 total tackles and earned third-team All-ACC. Blount had an interception in wins over Pittsburgh, Duke and Georgia Tech. Not to mention he tallied two sacks in the opener against the Panthers. The former three-star prospect had 11 tackles in the ACC Championship against Clemson. He also had 10 stops apiece against Notre Dame and Duke. The six-foot-one, 190-pounder had a sack at Louisville and eight tackles apiece against Miami and the win over rival Virginia.

6. Talanoa Hufanga, USC: The former four-star recruit is an animal on the field, built like a linebacker and can fly from sideline to sideline. Hufanga started 10 games, finished second on the team with 90 total stops and excelled in run support and pass coverage. However, he didn’t have no interceptions, but still earned second-team All-Pac-12. Hufanga plays with physicality and because of it he has sustained several injuries throughout his career. Still, the Oregon native is one of the most productive defensive backs in the Power Five when healthy. He had a jaw-dropping, 18 total tackles in the win over UCLA, 14 apiece against Utah and Iowa, plus 10 other stops against BYU.

5. Hamsah Nasirildeen, Florida State: He was an absolute tackling machine for the Seminoles last season, with 101 stops, which was the most since 2014. Nasirildeen has long range and flexibility with his six-foot-five frame and had an interception against Alabama State and Clemson. The former four-star prospect had 12 tackles and forced two fumbles in the season-opener against Boise State. Nasirildeen also had double-digit stops against Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse, Alabama State and a career-high, 22 tackles in the win over Boston College. The North Carolina native has 192 tackles over the last two seasons and earned second-team All-ACC in 2019.

4. Paris Ford, Pittsburgh: He led the Panthers in tackles, interceptions and earned first-team All-ACC honors last season. Ford is a devastating hitter, who’s also elite in coverage. He tied for second on the team with 11 passes defended, including four against Miami. The hometown product had an interception in the win over Georgia Tech. The former four-star prospect had a career-high, 12 tackles and picked off two passes in the win over Duke, including one he returned 26 yards to the house. Ford also had double-digit tackling performances against Penn State and Virginia Tech. The six-foot, 190-pounder is arguably one of the most feared defenders in the ACC.

3. Andre Cisco, Syracuse: The former three-star prospect has two years worth of starting experience and led the ACC in interceptions the past two seasons. Despite missing three games, Cisco generated 65 tackles, earned second-team All-ACC last year and enters 2020 as the FBS active leader in interceptions. The New York native picked off a pass in the first two games on the road. Cisco also had an interception in Syracuse’s last three games, including one he returned 48 yards for a touchdown in the road win at Duke. The six-foot, 206-pounder had nine tackles apiece against Maryland, Boston College and Louisville, which were all career-highs.

2. JaCoby Stevens, LSU: He’s a former five-star prospect who had a monster for the National Champs in 2019 and earned second-team All-SEC honors. Stevens finished with 92 tackles, nine stops from behind the line of scrimmage, five sacks and three interceptions. The Tennessee native has massive size at safety, standing six-foot-one and weighing nearly 230 pounds. He picked off a pass in wins over Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Stevens had 10 tackles against Auburn, nine against Ole Miss and eight against Texas. He always finds a way to get to the ball and will help assemble the best secondary in all of College Football this fall.

1. Kolby Harvell-Peel, Oklahoma State: The former three-star prospect tallied 71 tackles, hauled in five interceptions, which ranked seventh nationally and broke up 13 passes last season. Harvell-Peel picked off a pass at Texas and had two interceptions apiece in wins over TCU and Kansas. The six-foot, 210-pounder set a school record when he broke up six passes in the road win at Iowa State. He also had a season-high, 10 tackles in the win over Tulsa. Harvell-Peel was also a three-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week and earned second-team All-Big 12. He’ll no doubt be named to the Thorpe Award Watch List entering fall camp and poised for an All-America caliber junior season.

Honorable Mention

Nick Cross, Maryland: He was the Terrapins No. 1 recruit last year and started five games as a true freshman. He finished with 45 tackles and had an interception against Nebraska and Penn State.

Marquel Dismuke, Nebraska: The Compton native started every game last season, finished third on the team in tackles, with 67 stops and broke up four passes. The former had six or more stops in the Huskers’ first six Big Ten games.