Posted: Tuesday August 30, 2005 11:31AM; Updated: Tuesday August 30, 2005 11:31AM
5. Troy Polamalu, strong safety, Steelers: Though he's not gifted in coverage, few safeties have his combination of speed and tenacity. The Steelers use him as an extra linebacker in their 3-4 defense and he's needed only two seasons in the league to find his niche as a Pro Bowl talent. "This guy is a hammer," says one AFC scout. "He's a big-hit, big-play defender who brings a lot of energy to that defense. He plays with so much velocity that he'll run right through blocks to make plays."
6. Michael Lewis, strong safety, Eagles: This fourth-year player is a rising star. He's improved his coverage skills and already possessed the range and the vicious hitting ability that make him the perfect complement to Dawkins. "Lewis is just like Dawkins because he loves to get up in the box and he's not afraid to cover people," says Giants running back Tiki Barber. "Having those two together really makes their defense tough because you can never get a good read on who's doing what back there."
7. Donovin Darius, strong safety, Jaguars: He was known mostly as a banger until the last couple years, when he started catching 100 balls a night on his Juggs machine in order to improve his play-making skills. The result: Last season he set career-highs with five interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
8. John Lynch, free safety, Broncos: Age is catching up with him -- he turns 34 in September -- but he still made his sixth Pro Bowl last season after his first campaign as a free safety. He loves rattling receivers who stray into his area and is rarely out of position. The only major knock on his game is his lack of coverage skills. He's never intercepted more than three passes in any of his 12 NFL seasons.
9. Darren Sharper, free safety, Vikings: Minnesota is excited by his presence in its secondary. Until Reed came along, Sharper was the game's best ball-hawking safety, a player with great range, ball skills and the ability to bait quarterbacks. Green Bay thought his game was slipping enough that they had to cut him for salary-cap relief, but so far the Vikings think they have a prize. He'll team with Corey Chavous to give Minnesota one of the savviest safety combinations in the league.
10. Tony Parrish, strong safety, 49ers: Yes, he struggled in 2004. But he also intercepted 16 passes during his first two seasons in San Francisco ('02 and '03), which is all the more impressive because he's known for his hitting. New head coach Mike Nolan will find ways to get Parrish back to top form. As Reed's defensive coordinator in Baltimore over the past three years, he knows how to put talented safeties in position to make big plays.