Kerry Rhodes, O.J. Atogwe, Earl Thomas, and Dashon Goldson - the NFC West teams possess some the best free safeties in the league, and they're average age is only 26-years old. So where do they fall within our Best of the NFC West rankings? I was stuck with the unfortunate challenge of ranking these players from top to bottom. Try not to lash into me.
O.J. Atogwe - 2009 stats: 90 tackles, 2 ints, 1 sack
This was a tough choice for me, but ultimately, Atogwe has put up outstanding play on some horrible St. Louis Rams' teams during his career. He was a highly sought after safety this offseason for a reason: Atogwe has dynamic speed and agility to play deep but also demonstrates the ability to defend against the run. He has knack to make plays happen out of nowhere as well. Even though he didn't produce the best season last year, he remains the Rams' best defender.
Dashon Goldson - 2009 stats: 112 tackles, 4 ints, 2 sacks
Goldson put up monstrous numbers last season for a free safety, but I'm still waiting for him to do it year after year. For now he'll have to occupy the second spot in the rankings. With a good nose in coverage and secure tackling technique, Goldson serves as a top defender on the 49ers' defense. He has the benefit of playing behind the best inside linebacker in the game as well - Patrick Willis - and he gives Mike Singetary and the fans something to look forward the next few years.
Kerry Rhodes - 2009 stats: 63 tackles, 3 ints
As Cardinals' fans slowly pull the dagger from their hearts, understand it was difficult for me to list Rhodes third. Last season he was benched in Rex Ryan's defense because he didn't fit in, not because he doesn't have the talent. Rhodes can be a Pro Bowl safety in the NFL. Perhaps teaming up with All Pro Adrian Wilson will push him over the edge. Some have questioned his commitment to football, but so far he's said all the right things this offseason. Rhodes was the perfect replacement for Antrel Rolle, and we'll see why in 2010.
Earl Thomas - 2009 stats: none
The Seahawks struck oil this past April when Earl Thomas fell to their feet in the draft. He was considered the best safety entering the draft and most wouldn't have believed he'd fall to the midround. He did, and with talent that will surrounding Thomas, we'll likely see a lot of big plays out of the star in the making. In the end however, he hasn't proven anything yet in the NFL, which is why he slipped to the bottom of our list.
I took an unbiased approach to these rankings, so I'm sure some of you homers out there will hate them. I want Rhodes to be atop the list but that may not happen until we see him play this season. I do think he's the better safety then Rolle though, and it's not because I'm bitter either. We all grew accustomed to Rolle getting burnt in the secondary, and he nearly blew the overtime win against the Packers last season. If you completed these rankings, where would you list Kerry Rhodes?