The Miami Dolphins will head into free agency in just a few short weeks looking to upgrade the safety position. Evaluating safety play is much harder than many of the other positions on the field because of just how much they are responsible for. In addition, they are so far back that it's hard to accurately gauge whether or not they were the primary man responsible on a play. That's why we've employed the help of Pro Football Focus to help with our analysis. Using their grades along with my own formulas to calculate various skill-sets on the field, I’ve come up with seven players in free agency who I believe would be upgrades over Louis Delmas.
Before we continue and start getting locked into whether or not the Dolphins should target a FS or SS, it's important to note that Jones has played both throughout his career and appears to be comfortable in either. Therefore, if the Dolphins were to sign anyone below, Jones can simply switch to the other side if the free agent is locked into one position. In addition, you see many more safeties these days able to be flexible and rotate in and out of each spot throughout the game. That's why I'm not going to get locked into to who is who and what is what.
Since there are so many numbers that go into this analysis, it’s best to simply show you charts with a preface about what all the numbers mean. We are all familiar with the overall and pass/run coverage grades that Pro Football Focus provides. We also looked at the average of the two coverage grades because I am looking at players who are well rounded in all areas of the game. The higher all of those grades are, the better it is. You’ll also see NFL rating, which is the standard rating for passes into the player’s coverage was 96.5. The lower that number is, the better it is so keep that in mind reading the remainder of the article.
We are going to look at run stop percentage. That is the percentage of a player's run defense snaps where he was responsible for a stop. You’ll see two of these grades on the chart – one that’s an overall look and one that looks at the stop percentage when that safety was within at least eight yards of the line of scrimmage. The higher the percentage, the better it is.
The players that are listed above are those who I believe would be an upgrade over Delmas, with Devin McCourty being the best option. If the Dolphins can't land any of these guys, it would be best to bring back Delmas if doctor's feel comfortable with his long history of injuries.
My rankings didn't take each individual chart into consideration. Instead, it was an overall look at both charts combined. There are two exceptions though. Delmas is listed up top so we can easily compare him to the others since he is the one we are looking to upgrade. The other exception are the names on the bottom highlighted in blue. That's because they played a much lower amount of snaps (the number in parenthesis by their name) than the others not highlighted in blue. It's hard to get a good reading on them but they've done well enough in their limited time that they are worth looking at as someone who may be ready for a full-time role.
The overall and coverage PFF grades are what they are. You can see that McCourty is great all across the board while the rest of the players have a mix of negative and positive grades. There were many players I left off the list but that's because one of their grades was poor enough that their positive grade didn't do enough to offset it. That's why you won't see a guy like Antrell Rolle listed here. He's someone who has been talked about by numerous Dolphins fans but in reality, he is on the decline and is only a stop-gap at this time.
Speaking of stop-gaps, Mike Adams who is listed second, would be an option for the team if they wanted to go in that direction and get someone who can still play at a high level. He's 34 years-old but as you can see, he still has what it takes to make an impact on the playing field. He would be a good option for a year or two.
One of the most important things for me was the player's NFL rating. Remember that I said the lower it is, the better it is. You'll see that reflected above in the rankings. If a safety can't stop their primary responsibility from catching a pass, it's not a good thing. You can see that Delmas' rating was significantly higher, although one may argue that this number is inflated due to his lower amount of snaps. With that said, I do believe that his number still would've been the highest even if he got to 1,050 snaps, which is what Dwight Lowery had, the lowest on the list for full-time players.
The overall run stop percentage wasn't a huge factor for me as there are a lot of variables that go into it. However, the run stop percentage within eight yards of the line of scrimmage was an attractive number as that gives us an idea as to whether or not the player can be tough up front when going up against the biggest players on the offensive side of the ball. One player that sticks out is Da'Norris Searcy with a whopping 13.3%. Again, he had a low number of snaps but a number like that makes you go back to the tape to get another look at the player.
In the second chart, we start with tackle efficiency, which is the total number of attempted tackles a safety made per each missed tackle in that particular coverage - either pass or run. The higher that number is, the better it is. Then, you’ll see the average, which helps me the find the players who are the most well-rounded.
Coverage snaps per target are the amount of times a safety is the primary man in coverage relative to how many times his receiver is targeted. Yards per coverage snap is the amount of yards a safety allows while in primary coverage relative to how many snaps he is in coverage. Of course, the lower that number is, the better. Coverage snaps per reception are the amount of times a safety is the primary man in coverage relative to how many receptions he allows. Again, the lower that number is, the better. Then, the percentage of receptions allowed is my calculation that correlates the number of snaps they were in primary coverage against the number of receptions they allowed. As with the others, the lower that number is, the better.
In this chart, I took a primary look at the average efficiency because it helped me get a good look at how well-rounded that player was. We can see that McCourty, Adams and Searcy dominated this area with average efficiency grades in the double digits. With the exception of Danieal Manning, everyone had a better average grade than Delmas.
I took a bigger look at the percentage of receptions allowed. Although that number could be skewed if the player wasn't in as many primary coverage snaps as others, it gives us a nice foundation to work from. Again, you see that Delmas has the second highest percentage at 72%. Searcy sticks out once again with a low 47%. Of course, with a higher number of snaps, that percentage would go up but it would still likely be in the range what everyone has listed. You can see that the others are all comparable to each other.
From there, I then looked at yards allowed per coverage snap. Of course, we wanted to see a low number here. Lowery sticks out with a whopping 1.11 yards per coverage snap. While this may not seem like a lot, you realize it's a lot when you look at the other players. McCourty leads the way here by far but again, Searcy sticks out like a sore thumb with only 0.23 yards allowed per coverage snap.
It's important to know the history of each player, especially if the Dolphins are going to give one of these guys a multi-year contract. We know about Delmas, who has a long history. He was on injured reserve a little more than halfway through the 2014 season and was banged up in all of 2013 with a knee injury. He missed time in 2012 due to his knee and has battled ankle, foot and groin injuries dating back to 2009.
McCourty has battled shoulder injuries throughout his career but hasn't missed a game since Week 17 of the 2013 season. Adams has been playing since 2005 and has only missed a few games due to injuries. He's been pretty durable over that time and hasn't missed a game since 2010. Lewis has battled a wide variety of injuries over the years - hamstring, shoulder and ankle - but hasn't missed many games because of it and hasn't missed a game since 2012. Finally, to cap off our full-time players, Lowery has battled many injuries over his career, including a concussion that landed him on injured reserve for the 2013 season. He did play in 16 games in 2014 though.
Moving onto our rotational players, Searcy hasn't had many injuries. He's dealt with ankle and hand problems but those are your normal bumps and bruises. He hasn't missed a game due to injury since 2012. Darian Stewart has battled hamstring, knee and thigh injuries and has missed a few games over his career. However, he played in every game in 2014. Manning has the longest list of injuries, including a broken fibula that knocked him out for the 2013 season. He also missed several games in 2011 due to an ankle injury.
In regards to the players who will actually hit the market, it seems that everyone with the exception of McCourty and Lewis will get there. The others are expected to test the market and see what kind of money and long-term security they can bring in for themselves and their families.
With all of this in mind, it's time to give you my final rankings and tell you who I'd rather see the Dolphins instead of bringing Delmas back. Going from my top preference to the last guy before the Dolphins should bring back Delmas is as follows: McCourty, Searcy, Stewart, Lewis, Adams, Manning and Lowery.
This column was written by Matthew Cannata. Follow him on Twitter: @PhinManiacs