what does a safety do in football

What Does A Safety [Position] Do In Football?

You’ve probably heard that safety is one of the most challenging positions in football. Safety can mean several things in football. But, a safety position is one of the most versatile positions.

Safety is a hybrid position between a linebacker and a cornerback. So, what does a safety do in football?

A safety in football makes sure no offensive player makes a run and scores a touchdown. Safeties need to be strong and have good coverage. On the two sides of the field, there is strong safety and free safety.

In a football game, safety is the deepest player, lining 10-15 yards from the scrimmage line. Safety is the most important position in defense, stopping both run and pass plays.

Join me below as I discuss more the safety position in football.

What Is A Strong Safety

A stronger safety is one of the two safeties on the defensive sides in football. He is versatile in the two safeties and is tasked with stopping both run and pass plays.

While he will always line at the back with a free safety, you can sometimes see him line up with a linebacker.

They are named a strong safety for a reason. This is because he lines up on the strong side of the field, facing tight ends. He usually faces the tight end at the line of scrimmage.

What Does A Strong Safety Do In Football

A stronger safety needs to be big and fast. He is responsible for covering the running end or tight end.

Overall, a stronger safety is versatile and has more freedom where needed. They usually have a bigger chance of scoring after a sack. Stronger safeties get opportunities for a sack and score when lining up against linebackers.

They are usually given specific tasks in zone coverage. When playing a cover 2 zone, they will mark the hash mark. But when in a Tampa 2 zone, a stronger safety covers the hash-to-sideline.

What Is A Free Safety

On the opposite end, we have free safety with a big role in pass coverage. In a football game, the free safety is the true last man in defense. Rarely will you see them at the scrimmage line?

football player in white jersey waiting for play

This is a lone safety position in defense. They are called free safeties because they are free to cover the deepest part of the field. Free safeties cover a lot of ground. They need specific skill sets to perform their tasks.

What Does A Free Safety Do In Football

Their main task is to pass coverage. But, free safeties can also stop run plays. When a defense realizes a run play and the free safety is unblocked, he can stop it. The free safety usually gets an open run to attack the running back.

Free safeties are the last man in the line of defense and cover any player in the opposing team that breaks through.

You’ll find free safeties sitting back and surveying proceedings in the field. A free safety will often be unblocked. Therefore, they get to pick their fights in a careful manner.

Free safeties can also play zone converge when the rest of the defense is man-marking.

Simply put, free safeties are also versatile and play different roles depending on the defensive formation. In certain defense packages, a free safety can play man-to-man coverage. In such cases, you’ll see him at the line of scrimmage playing in a similar manner to a cornerback.

How Many Safeties Are On A Football Team?

A football team can have 2-5 safeties on their team roster. In the NFL, teams have a permanent roster of 53 players. On the roster, they will keep a certain number of players for different positions.

For the safety position, most teams keep between 2-5 players. The positions are for strong and free safety. The exact number of safeties a team keeps depends on their defensive scheme. 

How a coach wants to run the defense hugely determines the number of safeties in a team. The number can also change from week to week.

Why Is It Called Safety?

It’s called a safety because it’s the last line of defense in football. Any opposing player going behind safeties will likely score a touchdown. Safeties are the deepest player on the field and provide safety deep in the field.

What Makes a Good Safety in Football?

Good safeties need a specific set of skills to perform their tasks to perfection. Below are some traits that make good safety.

player tackles the player carrying the football

Body Type

The best safeties need to have a big body type. However, this does not mean having bigger bodies than linebackers and defensive linemen.

A good safety should be at least 6 feet tall and a little heavier in the range of 200 pounds or more. This is the average body type for safeties in professional leagues.

A taller safety is needed to help cover wide receivers and tight ends. Height is important in preventing quarterbacks from lobbying passes over.


Safeties need specific skills to execute their roles. Some of the skills of good safety include speed, agility, visitation, and good game reading. In addition, safeties need excellent tackling skills to deal with tight ends and wide receivers. 

Game Play

The ability to read and understand gameplay is a crucial trait for safety. Unlike linemen with singular roles, safeties are versatile. This requires them to have a good understanding of the game.

A good safety needs to see a game developer, read it well and react accordingly. Safeties need good instincts in gameplay.


Speed is another essential trait for wide receivers. Safeties will always run all over the field, and this requires speed.

Positioned 15 yards off the line of scrimmage, safeties can read the game well. However, this also means covering a lot of ground to catch with wide receivers and tight ends.

After reading the game, safeties can only catch their man by being fast.

Tough & Strong

Safeties also need to be strong and tough to deal with wide receivers. Simply put, wide receivers need to be athletic and agile. Strength and toughness are needed as safeties make a lot of contacts.

smiling football player with muscular arms flexed

You’ll see safeties making tackles in open fields. Tackling tight ends and wide receivers requires strength and toughness.

Best NFL Safeties of All-Time

There have been several safeties in the NFL. But who are the best safeties of all time?

It’s not like there is a list that ranks the best safeties in the NFL. But through time, some safeties have been outstanding and become popular in this important position.

Let’s look at some of the most popular safeties in the NFL in no specific order from stats provided by ESPN and Pro Football HOF.

  1. Larry Wilson: Was one of the best, playing 169 games with 7 touchdowns, 52 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, and one safety.
  1. Ed Reed: Ed played 174 games and had 644 tackles, 11 forced fumbles, 6 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries, 3 touchdowns, 64 interceptions, and 4 blocked kicks.
  1. Troy Polamalu: Has 164 games with 771 tackles, 14 forced fumbles, 12 sacks, 7 fumble recoveries, 3 touchdowns, 32 interceptions, one blocked kick, and 47 stuffs.
  1. Paul Krause: paul played 266 games and had 81 interceptions. He also had 6 touchdowns, 19 fumble recoveries, and a passing touchdown.
  1. Ronnie Lott: Last on the list is Ronn, with 192 games and 63 interceptions. He also had 17 fumble recoveries, 5 touchdowns, and 8.5 sacks.

How Much Do Safeties Make in the NFL?

A look at the current NFL player salaries sees safeties earning pretty good amounts. Top-ranked safeties in the NFL earn over $10 million a season. Eddie Jackson ranks top with a pay of $14.6 million a season.

Overall, safety is a well-paid position in football. Positions that earn less than safeties in football are tight ends, kickers, fullbacks, long snappers, and punters.

On the other hand, if you’re wondering how much do nfl refs make we also wrote an article about it.

Why Safety Is Important

Safety is an important position in football that ensures big plays don’t happen. It’s the last man on defense that ensures no opposing players go to the end zone and makes a touchdown.

football defense stopping a play

High plays, also known as impact plays, have high chances of scores. The safety position is crucial in stopping such plays.

A Safety Position in Football FAQs

Is Safety A Hard Position To Play?

Safety is a hard position to play and one that requires certain skills. It is a crucial position in football that requires players with speed, agility, strength, toughness, big body type, and a good understanding of the game.

What Is A Defensive Safety In Football?

A defensive safety in football is a position of the defensive backs with a free and strong safety. In the position, a safety player will line 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage.

What’s The Difference Between A Free Safety and A Strong Safety

The main difference between strong safety and free safety is the position they take on the field. A stronger safety will line on the stronger side of the field facing tight ends, while a weaker safety will line on the weaker end.


Well, that wraps everything from me! You now know the safety position in football at its crucial role. A safety position is different from a safety score. Safety is the last line of defense in football, lining 10-15 yards from the line of scrimmage. 

In football, there are free and strong safeties to cover the stronger and weaker side of the field. While the term safety can be confusing, I hope the article clarifies things.

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