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Ranking AFC West safeties: Newcomer Marcus Epps leads the way for Raiders

Former Eagle keeps Raiders on the board

Las Vegas Raiders Introduce Free Agent Signings
Marcus Epps
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Compared to the other teams in the AFC West, the Las Vegas Raiders’ safety room is pretty lackluster. However, offseason free agent signing Marcus Epps does add some value to the position group and helps keep the Raiders afloat in the division as the top five players heading into the 2023 season are listed below.

1) Derwin James

For four years now, Derwin James has established himself as one of the most versatile players in the NFL. Of his 835 snaps last season, 330 came in the box, 270 were at free safety and he was over the slot for 154 while mixing in a handful of reps on the line of scrimmage and as a wide corner. The results are there as well as he recorded the highest PFF run defense grade (74.1) of any AFC West safety in 2022 and was No. 2 in coverage (minimum 175 coverage snaps) with a mark of 74.4. James also ranked tied for second league-wide at the position with a stingy 7.0 yards per catch surrendered.

2) Justin Simmons

Justin Simmons was injured and had a down year last season, missing five games and recording the second-lowest overall PFF grade of his career. However, the latter was still impressive at 70.7 and ranked fourth among AFC West safeties (minimum 275 snaps), he just set a high bar for himself in the past. The seven-year veteran was also a turnover machine for the Broncos a year ago with a career-high six interceptions—tied for the most among NFL safeties—and three forced fumbles. That’s a big reason why he was a second-team All-Pro, an honor he’s earned in three out of the last four campaigns.

3) Justin Reid

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
Justin Reid
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last year was Justin Reid’s first season in the division after spending the previous four with the Houston Texans, and he quickly ascended as one of the top safeties in the AFC West. He earned the second-highest overall grade (73.2) in the group and had the second-most defensive stops with 25, the latter being a career-high as well. Reid also forced seven incompletions with the Chiefs—tied for the third-most in the NFL—and proved to be a valuable emergency kicker, booting in an extra point and five touchbacks on seven kickoffs.

4) Kareem Jackson

There’s no doubt that Kareem Jackson isn’t the player he used to be, but he is still a quality run defender. The 13-year veteran posted the second-highest PFF run defense grade (71.3) among AFC West safeties and tied for the most defensive stops with 13. The latter was also good enough to tie for 15th at the position league-wide. Also, Jackson’s 6.3-yard average depth of tackle against the run was 0.8 yards better than any other safety in the division (minimum 115 run defense snaps).

5) Marcus Epps

Similar to the player above him on the list, Marcus Epps was excellent against the ground game a year ago. His 84.4 mark in that department was good enough for eighth place among all NFL safeties and would have been over 10 points higher than anyone in the AFC West. He also would have led the division’s position group in solo tackles as a run defender (34) and ranked fourth with 10 stops. The only reason why Epps doesn’t rank higher is his coverage numbers were ugly with a 44.7 grade and a 141.2 passer rating when targeted.