Strong Safety Vs Free Safety In Football

Many fans of football are familiar with what a safety is. But most are not sure what the difference is between strong safeties and free safeties. Luckily this article is on hand to break everything you need to know about strong safety vs free safety.

Some differences between strong safeties vs free safeties include their build, positioning, and responsibilities on defense. Strong safeties tend to be slightly larger, line up on the side of the formation with the tight end and are more prevelant in the run game.

Free safeties are slightly smaller, line up on the weak side of the formation and primarily focus on stopping deep passes from being completed.

Responsibilities SS vs FS

Traditionally strong safeties were known as the larger of the two safeties and were more responsible for stopping the run. While free safeties were more commonly responsible for pass coverage. Though in todays NFL pass friendly teams have forced both safeties into playing large amounts of pass coverage.

Strong safeties are also more commonly known to cover tight ends. This is because they line up on the strong side of the formation. But as tight ends have become more similar to wide receivers both safeties have picked up this responsibility.


The reason strong safeties typically played against the run is because they lined up on the strong side of the football. The strong side is determined by which side of the formation has more players on it. Meaning if the tight end is on the right side of the line then the right side would be considered the strongside.

At the beginning of most plays, the strong safety will line up on the strong side of the field while the free safety will line up on the weak side of the play.


Nowadays the traits of safeties are very similar this is also due to the increase of passing in the sport. You may find that the strong safeties are the better tacklers. And that free safeties are a little better at breaking up passes.

Though it is not always the case you may also find the strong safety is the big hitter of the two. Typically carrying a little more weight this safety is more likely to come down and deliver a big hit on a running back or receiver.


The build of these two positions is one of the largest differences in these safety positions. The strong safety is going to be the bigger of the two. This goes back to his run defense duties and his tendency to play more in the box.

Strong safeties will also be relied on to beat blocks of tight ends on running plays. This is common because tight ends line up on the strong side of the formation. To beat blocks from tight ends you typically need to have some decent size to you. This is another reason why strong safeties have a larger build.

The free safety on the other hand is going to be lighter and a bit faster than a strong safety. Both safeties need speed to cover in today’s NFL but you will find the Free safety is typically faster.

The free safety will need to rely on this speed in order to stay over the top of speed receivers. Free safeties are often the player deep in the field making sure the deep passes aren’t completed. They will also need to rely on this speed to move laterally across the field.

We hope you enjoyed our guide to strong safety vs free safety. If you have any more questions about these positions please reach out in the comments.

What Do Safeties Do In Pass Defense?

When it comes to pass defense safeties are going to play a major role in both man and zone coverage.

When in man coverage the most common position for a safety to cover is going to be the tight end. This is especially true for the strong safety. Since they line up on the same side of the field of as the tight end it is common for them to be matched up in coverage.

The strong safety will often line up in front of a tight end prior to the play. If the play is a run he will try and fight off the tight ends block and if its a pass he will cover the tight end.

The free safety tends to have more responsbility on stopping deep passes from being completed. These players tend to line up far from the line of scrimmage deep in the defensive backfield.

This defensive back will usually be assigned a portion of the field. In cover three there will be three deep defensive backs breaking the field into thirds. In a cover two the two safeties will split up the deep portion of the field in half.

Meaning one safety is responsible for deep passes on the right and the other is responsible for deep passes on the left.

Due to the fact they play so much pass coverage this position tends to be one of the most likely to intercept a pass from the opposing teams quarterback.

What Do Safeties Do In Run Defense?

The usage of safeties in the run defense can vary greatly from game to game. When a teams run defense is playing great they are often able to keep their safeties back from the line of scrimmage in order to stop deep passes.

Though when a team is failing to stop the run they may ask their safeties to come into the box. This will result in more defensive players being around the line of scrimmage when a running play occurs.

Since the strong safety is often matched up with the tight end they will often find themselves matched up on run plays. The tigth end will attempt to block the strong safety and the strong safety will look for ways to beat the block to get to the running back.

Oftentimes the free safety is the lone player in the defensive backfield on a running play. This allows them to act as a sort of safety valve for the defense. If the running back gets past the linebackers this player is tasked with bringing him down before he gets to the end zone.

If a teams free safety is making the majority of a defenses tackles against the run this is probably not a good sign for your defense.

How Well Do They Get Paid?

The safety position in football is one in which the top tier players get paid well but the average is not incredibly high.

The top paid safeties in the league actually make just as much or more than the top few cornerbacks in the league.

Tyronn Mathieu is a safety and the highest paid defensive back in the NFL with a salary of 19.7 Million dollars.

This is over three million dollars yearly than the top cornerback. But once you start to compare the 10th, 20th, or 30th highest paid player at each position you’ll find that cornerbacks tend to make more.

This position is one of the lower paid starting poistions on a defense.

Additionally on average full safeties tend to make more money than strong safeties. This may be due to the increased usage of passing in the NFL and the role a free safety plays in stopping that style of offense.

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