College News & Analysis

Top 10 returning safeties in college football for the 2023 season

Los Angeles, California, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive back Calen Bullock (7) runs the ball after an interception against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second half at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

It’s officially time to hit the reset button.

Now that we know who will continue playing on Saturdays next fall, let's take an early look at the top returning players at every position.

Here are the top 10 safeties returning to college football next season. Please note that NFL projection is not taken into account here. 

More PFF draft content:

LIVE Draft Tracker | Mock Draft Simulator | 2023 NFL Draft Guide
Top 200 Big Board | 
PFF Mock Drafts | Measureables & Workout Data
NCAA Premium Stats | Draft Rankings By Position | Prospect Superlatives

With a PFF+ Annual subscription, you can gain access to premium football insights to get ahead of the game this football season. Use promo code DRAFT40 to sign up for as little as $47.99. Sign up today!

1. Calen Bullock, USC Trojans

Bullock was a PFF first-team All-American in 2022 thanks to his dominance in coverage.

The sophomore’s five interceptions were tied for fifth among all safeties in the country. He was also the third-most valuable safety in the country according to PFF’s wins above average metric

2. Kamren Kinchens, Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Kinchens broke out as a sophomore on his way to becoming a second-team All-American for PFF, as he led all safeties in the country with a 90.0 grade and a 90.7 coverage grade. Kinchens’ six interceptions were also tied for the most in the Power Five.

3. Malaki Starks, Georgia Bulldogs

Starks was thrust into a starting role on a national championship team as a true freshman. In fact, the former top-10 recruit’s 847 snaps this season led all Georgia defenders, regardless of position. 

His 72.1 run-defense grade this year ranked third among Power Five true freshmen safeties. Starks registered eight combined interceptions and forced incompletions, which was tied for fifth among SEC safeties this season. He’ll return next season as one of the leaders in the Bulldogs’ defense.

4. James Williams, Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Between Kinchens and Williams, Miami has the best safety duo in the country heading into next season.

Both Williams and Kinchens have recorded 89.9 coverage grades over the last two seasons — tied for first among returning Power Five safeties. At 6-foot-5, Williams has unbelievable length for a safety, which he used to force six incompletions in 2022. 

5. Rod Moore, Michigan Wolverines

Moore is arguably the most well-rounded safety in the country heading into next season and was an honorable mention All-American for PFF in 2022.

He was one of two Power Five safeties in 2022 who earned 80-plus grades both in coverage and as a run defender. The other, Alabama’s Brian Branch, is a top-10 prospect on PFF’s 2023 NFL Draft big board. Moore’s four interceptions were tied for seventh among Power Five safeties. 

6. Andrew Mukuba, Clemson Tigers

Mukuba had a very disappointing sophomore season with just a 50.2 grade.

However, he was battling injuries and was coming off a stellar freshman year. Over the last two seasons, the sophomore’s 17 coverage stops were tied for eighth among Power Five safeties while his 10 forced incompletions are tied for ninth.

7. Aubrey Burks, West Virginia Mountaineers

Among returning Power Five safeties, only Kinchens posted a higher grade in 2022 than Burks (84.9). 

The sophomore’s 12 coverage stops this past season was also tied for the most among that same group. He was named first-team All-Big 12 by PFF for his work this year. 

8. Demani Richardson, Texas A&M Aggies

Richardson is heading into his fifth season as a starting safety for the Aggies. Over the last two years, the senior’s 29 run-defense stops are tied for ninth among Power Five safeties while his 18 coverage stops are tied for fourth.

9. Cole Bishop, Utah Utes

Bishop is arguably the best downhill safety in college football. This past season, he led all Power Five safeties with 20 pressures. The sophomore’s 35 run-defense stops and 14 tackles for loss/no-gain over the last two years were also top-five marks among that same group.

10. R.J. Mickens, Clemson Tigers

The second of two Clemson safeties on this list, Mickens is the underrated star in the Tigers’ secondary.

The junior’s 87.2 grade over the last two seasons is second to only Kinchens among Power Five safeties. In that span, he’s only given up 0.28 yards per coverage snap, tied for seventh in the Power Five.

Safety worth way more than 2 points. Help protect your family with fast, free will.

College Featured Tools

  • Power Rankings are PFF’s NCAA power ratings based on weekly player grades in each facet of play. These power rankings are adjusted based on coach, quarterback and the market each season.

    Available with

  • PFF's exclusive metrics provide matchup previews, position rankings, grades, and snap counts.

    Available with

  • Our exclusive database, featuring the most in-depth collection of NCAA player performance data.

    Available with


Unlock the 2023 Fantasy Draft Kit, with League Sync, Live Draft Assistant, PFF Grades & Data Platform that powers all 32 Pro Teams

$31 Draft Kit Fee + $8.99/mo
$89.88/yr + FREE Draft Kit