With so many talented quarterbacks and wide receivers in the NFL, secondary play is essential to defensive success. These rankings were challenging to compile with so much talent at cornerback and safety in the league, but I used a combination of last season’s metrics and this offseason’s moves to put together these rankings.
*Advanced metrics are from Pro Football Focus (PFF), Football Outsiders, and Sharp Football
#1: Buffalo Bills
Starters: CB Tre’Davious White, CB Kaiir Elam, NB Taron Johnson, FS Micah Hyde, SS Jordan Poyer
Key Additions: CB Kaiir Elam
Key Departures: CB Levi Wallace
Despite former All-Pro cornerback Tre’Davious White missing six games last season, the Bills still ranked first in the NFL in pass defense DVOA and fifth in PFF’s coverage grades. Buffalo also allowed just a 71.1 passer rating against, the lowest in the NFL. White’s recovery from a November ACL tear is significant for the Bills’ secondary’s success this season, but they should hold up as a top unit, thanks to their elite safety duo. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde were both top three in coverage grades among safeties on PFF last season (min. 350 snaps). Taron Johnson is also one of the better slot corners in the NFL. Rookie Kaiir Elam’s transition to the NFL will be aided by this elite unit overall, and as soon as White returns from injury, this should be the best secondary in the league.
#2: Baltimore Ravens
Starters: CB Marcus Peters, CB Kyle Fuller, NB Marlon Humphrey, FS Marcus Williams, SS Kyle Hamilton
Key Additions: S Marcus Williams, S Kyle Hamilton, CB Kyle Fuller
Key Departures: CB Jimmy Smith, CB Anthony Averett, CB Tavon Young, S DeShon Elliott
The Ravens had an uncharacteristically poor defensive season with the 28th-ranked secondary in PFF coverage grades and the third-worst defense in pass DVOA. Per PFF, no team lost more WAR due to injuries last year. Marcus Peters missed all of last season, but he’s one of the best playmakers at the cornerback position in the NFL. Marlon Humphrey is one of the league’s best slot defenders, and the arrival of Kyle Fuller will allow him to fill that role this year. This offseason, the Ravens added Marcus Williams, who ranked top-seven on PFF in the last three seasons. Kyle Hamilton was a steal where the Ravens got him in the draft as a consensus top-five player in the class who only fell due to positional value. Chuck Clark is still a high-level starter, as well. New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has an embarrassment of riches in the secondary.
#3: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Starters: CB Carlton Davis, CB Jamel Dean, NB Sean Murphy-Bunting, FS Antoine Winfield Jr., SS Logan Ryan
Key Additions: S Logan Ryan, S Keanu Neal
Key Departures: S Jordan Whitehead, CB Richard Sherman
The Buccaneers went through some severe attrition in the secondary last season, but they still allowed the seventh-lowest passer rating and ranked third in PFF’s team coverage grades. Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting missed a combined 15 games. Tampa has done an excellent job of drafting and developing its secondary talent, particularly as none of Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Dean, or Winfield were taken in the first round. Winfield has quickly become an elite safety as he ranked second in PFF’s overall grading for safeties last season. The Buccaneers are inserting Logan Ryan, their one new starter in the wake of Jordan Whitehead’s departure, but Mike Edwards was very successful last season. This unit’s overall depth, experience against top talent, and versatility make it a uniquely great group.
#4: Green Bay Packers
Starters: CB Rasul Douglas, CB Eric Stokes, NB Jaire Alexander, FS Darnell Savage, SS Adrian Amos
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: CB Chandon Sullivan, CB Kevin King
Despite Jaire Alexander missing most of last season, the Packers still ranked eighth in PFF’s pass coverage team grades and allowed the eighth-lowest passer rating. Alexander earned a hefty extension this offseason to make him the highest-paid cornerback, and he was worth every penny as the leader of one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Rasul Douglas’s play was a revelation as he allowed the lowest passer rating in coverage among cornerbacks and allowed just two touchdowns to his five interceptions. Eric Stokes was stellar in his rookie season, and his continued development will be beneficial. Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage make up a stellar safety tandem with great chemistry. Their versatility to play over the top or in the box is crucial for defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s Cover 3-heavy defense.
The Jaire Alexander INT is just as absurd on All-22 as you'd think it was.
Quarters coverage. Jaire lined up at top of the screen.
Watch him read that throw and track it all the way across the field. That's an All-Pro play. pic.twitter.com/l2eR0Q8JRp
— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) September 28, 2021
#5: Los Angeles Chargers
Starters: CB J.C. Jackson, CB Asante Samuel Jr., NB Bryce Callahan, FS Nasir Adderley, SS Derwin James
Key Additions: CB J.C. Jackson, CB Bryce Callahan, S JT Woods
Key Departures: CB Chris Harris Jr.
The Chargers gave J.C. Jackson a big contract in free agency after ranking third in the NFL in PFF grades among cornerbacks. He ranked second with eight interceptions, fifth with a 51% completion rate allowed, and third with a 47.8 passer rating allowed (min. 500 snaps). Derwin James finally stayed healthy last year after playing just five games across 2019 and 2020. A First-Team All-Pro safety for the second time in 2021, James is one of the best in the league at his position as long as he can stay healthy. If Asante Samuel Jr. can take a step forward this year and Bryce Callahan can remain healthy, the cornerback room should be among the league’s best this year. Nasir Adderley and JT Woods join Derwin James in a solid safety group with the versatility to handle several coverage styles.
#6: Miami Dolphins
Starters: CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones, NB Nik Needham, FS Jevon Holland, SS Brandon Jones
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: CB Justin Coleman, CB Jason McCourty
On paper, the Dolphins have one of the strongest secondaries in the NFL, but they didn’t play to that level last season. Xavien Howard and Byron Jones combined to allow 102 receptions for 1,372 yards and ten touchdowns in coverage last year. Still, Howard got a massive new extension this season and was very deserving as he’s only a year removed from finishing as PFF’s second-best cornerback in 2020. Nik Needham proved himself as a quality starter last year with a third-year breakout. In his rookie season, Jevon Holland hit the ground running and was graded as the third-best safety on PFF. Eric Rowe has also been solid in his most common box/slot alignment. The Dolphins allowed a 10% explosive play rate last season, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL, but if they can tune down that rate this year, they should return to being one of the best secondaries in the league.
#7: Los Angeles Rams
Starters: CB Jalen Ramsey, CB David Long, NB Troy Hill, FS Taylor Rapp, SS Jordan Fuller
Key Additions: CB Troy Hill
Key Departures: CB Darious Williams
The Rams had the sixth-graded pass defense in DVOA last year, which had much to do with Aaron Donald, but the secondary is still elite, with the 12th-ranked secondary in pass coverage on PFF. Jalen Ramsey was PFF’s top-graded cornerback in 2021, and his elite coverage buoyed the back-end for the Rams on their way to the Super Bowl. The loss of Darious Williams this offseason is significant, but former third-round pick David Long Jr. was solid last year in increased snaps. Troy Hill returns from one year with the Browns as a top-notch slot defender who ranked fourth among slot corners in 2020, his last season with the Rams. Taylor Rapp and Jordan Fuller are great examples of the Rams fostering solid home-grown talent, and Nick Scott was pivotal the previous year during the team’s Super Bowl run.
JALEN RAMSEY. HOW???
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 9, 2022
#8: Cleveland Browns
Starters: CB Denzel Ward, CB Greedy Williams, NB Greg Newsome II, FS John Johnson III, SS Grant Delpit
Key Additions: CB Martin Emerson
Key Departures: CB Troy Hill
Last season, Cleveland ranked first in PFF’s team coverage metric, and opposing quarterbacks had just a 71.8 passer rating when throwing at the Browns’ outside cornerbacks. Denzel Ward agreed to a well-deserved five-year, $100.5 million extension with $71.5 million guaranteed, making him the second-highest-paid cornerback in the league. Greedy Williams has been solid in coverage, while Greg Newsome II played excellent football in his rookie season. The level of success of those two made the Browns confident enough to move on from Troy Hill this offseason. John Johnson III wasn’t as good in his first season with the Browns as he was in his breakout contract year in LA, but he and Grant Delpit form a solid safety tandem. The level of success of those two made the Browns confident enough to move on from Troy Hill this offseason. Overall, this should be one of the better secondaries in the NFL once again.
#9: New Orleans Saints
Starters: CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Paulson Adebo, NB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, FS Marcus Maye, SS Tyrann Mathieu
Key Additions: S Tyrann Mathieu, S Marcus Maye, S Daniel Sorenson, CB Alontae Taylor
Key Departures: S Marcus Williams, S Malcolm Jenkins
The Saints were one of the pass defenses in the NFL last season as they ranked fourth in DVOA and allowed just an 81.7 passer rating, the fifth-lowest in the league. However, their starting safeties are no longer with the team as Marcus Williams left in free agency and Malcolm Jenkins retired. Williams has graded better than Tyrann Mathieu in coverage in the last three seasons. Marcus Maye’s Achilles recovery will prevent him from making a significant impact early in the season. However, Marshon Lattimore was the second-most valuable cornerback per PFF Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Paulson Adebo should improve in his second season. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson also allowed the second-lowest passer rating among slot corners last year. Alontae Taylor provides excellent depth at several positions.
#10: Cincinnati Bengals
Starters: CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Eli Apple, NB Mike Hilton, FS Jessie Bates III, SS Vonn Bell
Key Additions: NB Daxton Hill, CB Cam Taylor-Britt
Key Departures: CB Trae Waynes
The Bengals’ pass defense took a significant step forward in 2021, and it was a huge catalyst for their run to the Super Bowl. Chidobe Awuzie had a career year in his first season in Cincinnati, and he was PFF’s second-graded cornerback. Mike Hilton was the seventh-graded cornerback in coverage per PFF. Eli Apple was inconsistent as ever and was roasted on social media after the playoffs, but he’s underrated at this point as a solid enough starter. Jessie Bates had a mediocre regular season, but he was pristine in the playoffs and was PFF’s top-graded safety in 2020. Both Bates and Vonn Bell are slated to hit free agency after this season, which partially explains the first-round selection of Daxton Hill. Still, the Bengals will run plenty of coverage concepts with six defensive backs this season, and they surely have the talent to do so.
#11: Denver Broncos
Starters: CB Patrick Surtain II, CB Ronald Darby, NB K’Waun Williams, FS Justin Simmons, SS Kareem Jackson
Key Additions: CB K’Waun Williams
Key Departures: CB Kyle Fuller, CB Bryce Callahan
Patrick Surtain II is a superstar in the making. The 2021 first-round pick allowed just 60 yards in coverage once all of last season, including holding the Bengals’ elite duo of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins to 2 catches for 21 yards. Surtain ranked ninth in the NFL with a 69.7 passer rating allowed. With his all-around contributions, Justin Simmons is also a top talent at his position, and he allowed just a 59.4 passer rating, the eighth-lowest among safeties. K’Waun Williams should also raise the floor of the team’s slot defense. With Ronald Darby and Kareem Jackson rounding out a solid starting five, the Broncos also have some exceptional depth with Cade Sterns, Michael Ojemudia, and rookie Damarri Mathis all capable of making a significant impact. Denver should take a big step forward in pass defense this year.
Against Darren Waller, Terry McLaurin, Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, Patrick Surtain II allowed just 60 yards and 4 receptions on 10 targets (32 of 60 on one play).
Cincinnati didn't target Surtain once when he was matched up against Chase.
— AJ Schulte (@AJDraftScout) May 23, 2022
#12: Minnesota Vikings
Starters: CB Patrick Peterson, CB Cameron Dantzler, NB Chandon Sullivan, FS Lewis Cine, SS Harrison Smith
Key Additions: S Lewis Cine, CB Chandon Sullivan
Key Departures: S Xavier Woods
The Vikings spent their first two draft picks on secondary players after giving up the third-most yards on the outside and tying for the third-fewest plays on the ball per PFF. Lewis Cine will be a starting safety as an elite athlete and dynamic playmaker in zone defense. Andrew Booth Jr. would have been selected much higher if not for injury concerns and has massive upside. Patrick Peterson had a rough start to the year, but he improved down the stretch and allowed more than 50 yards just once in his last ten games. Cameron Dantzler continues to improve in his young career, allowing the tenth-lowest passer rating (70.3) last year. Chandon Sullivan and Cine help shore up the team’s slot play. With Harrison Smith returning as a two-time All-Pro safety, this secondary should be one of the most improved in the NFL.
#13: Atlanta Falcons
Starters: CB A.J. Terrell, CB Casey Hayward, NB Isaiah Oliver, FS Erik Harris, SS Jaylinn Hawkins
Key Additions: CB Casey Hayward
Key Departures: CB Kendall Sheffield, S Duron Harmon
In the blink of an eye, A.J. Terrell has ascended to being one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Last season, he ranked fourth on PFF as he allowed just 29 catches for 200 yards and ranked first in passer rating allowed (47.5) and completion percentage against (43.9%). The Falcons brought in Casey Hayward Jr. to play opposite him this season, and he ranked 12th among corners on PFF last year. Isaiah Oliver had an excellent start to last season before a season-ending knee injury in Week 3. The Falcons have far less surefire talent at safety, but it wouldn’t be crazy to see that trio of cornerbacks become the best in the NFL as soon as this season. Atlanta’s secondary will be well above-average this year with at least average play from Erik Harris and Jaylinn Hawkins.
#14: Tennessee Titans
Starters: CB Kristian Fulton, CB Caleb Farley, NB Elijah Molden, FS Kevin Byard, SS Amani Hooker
Key Additions: CB Roger McCreary
Key Departures: CB Jackrabbit Jenkins
The Titans had rookie Caleb Farley miss the entire season, and injuries across the board were prevalent, but Kevin Byard held down their defense as they ranked sixth in PFF’s team coverage grades. Last year, Byard was PFF’s top-ranked safety and earned his second All-Pro nod. Amani Hooker was also excellent at safety in the 12 games he played, and he ranked fourth at the position on PFF. Farley will hopefully hit the ground running this year and join Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden in a young, ascending cornerback room. Last year, Fulton allowed a 48.4% catch rate, while Molden provided great play out of the slot. Rookie Roger McCreary will push him for that role this year, but that competition will benefit this team as it looks to continue its defensive success this season.
#15: Dallas Cowboys
Starters: CB Trevon Diggs, CB Anthony Brown, NB Jourdan Lewis, FS Malik Hooker, SS Jayron Kearse
Key Additions: N/A
Key Departures: S Damontae Kazee, S Keanu Neal
The Cowboys led the NFL with 26 interceptions, and only one other team had more than 20. Dallas used that turnover success to propel them to the second-ranked pass defense in DVOA, but they still allowed the 12th-most passing yards in the league. Trevon Diggs came down with 11 interceptions last year on his way to an All-Pro nod, but he allowed over 1,000 yards in coverage as one of the most boom-or-bust cornerbacks in recent memory. He also led the NFL with 11 penalties. Jayron Kearse ranked 15th in PFF’s coverage grade among safeties with 350+ snaps and had the second-lowest missed tackle rate at 3.2%. Jourdan Lewis ranked third in the NFL in passer rating allowed among slot corners last year. However, I have a hard time seeing the Cowboys as efficient in pass defense this season, with their turnovers likely to regress.
#16: Kansas City Chiefs
Starters: CB L’Jarius Sneed, CB Rashad Fenton, NB Trent McDuffie, FS Juan Thornhill, SS Justin Reid
Key Additions: S Justin Reid, CB Trent McDuffie
Key Departures: CB Charvarius Ward, S Tyrann Mathieu
The Chiefs wanted to get younger and faster in the secondary this offseason. They accomplished that goal by replacing Tyrann Mathieu with Justin Reid and Charvarius Ward with Trent McDuffie. Questions will arise about Reid’s ability to fill Mathieu’s box-heavy role. Still, I actually think McDuffie will be asked to be a full-time starter in the slot and fill Mathieu’s shoes while Reid can fill his more natural position over the top. Juan Thornhill has shown plenty of promise in his young career, and he joins Reid and McDuffie as elite athletes who can fill versatile roles. Rashad Fenton earned PFF’s seventh-ranked coverage grade on PFF, and L’Jarius Sneed allowed the sixth-lowest passer rating among slot corners last year. The introduction of new players is something to watch, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Chiefs land inside the top ten of PFF’s team coverage grades again.
#17: Philadelphia Eagles
Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB James Bradberry, NB Avonte Maddox, FS K’Von Wallace, SS Anthony Harris
Key Additions: CB James Bradberry
Key Departures: CB Steven Nelson, S Rodney McLeod
Darius Slay is coming off an excellent season with the highest coverage grade from PFF of his career and the fourth-best at his position last season. Slay will be joined by James Bradberry in what stands to be one of the best cornerback duos in the league this season. Bradberry is coming off a down season, but he was PFF’s sixth-graded cornerback in 2020. With Avonte Maddox allowing the eighth-lowest passer rating among slot corners last year, the Eagles have a dynamic trio at cornerback. The Eagles are hoping K’Von Wallace is ready for a more significant role with Rodney McLeod leaving in free agency. Still, Anthony Harris’s solid versatility will allow Wallace some breathing room in his development. The Eagles allowed the lowest rate of explosive pass plays in the NFL last year, and the secondary should remain a solid unit.
#18: Washington Commanders
Starters: CB William Jackson III, CB Kendall Fuller, NB Benjamin St-Juste, FS Bobby McCain, SS Kamren Curl
Key Additions: S Percy Butler
Key Departures: CB D.J. Hayden, S Landon Collins
The Commanders had a very disappointing defensive season in 2021, and it was primarily due to their struggle in coverage as they ranked just 27th in PFF’s team coverage grades. However, Kendall Fuller is one of the most underrated defensive players in the NFL, as he allowed just 29.4 yards per game in coverage over the final nine games of the season. Fuller also had 14 pass breakups, tied for the second-most in the league. William Jackson struggled in his first season with the Commanders, while Benjamin St-Juste provided solid play but couldn’t stay healthy. Bobby McCain and Kamren Curl both ranked inside the top-30 safeties in the NFL in PFF grade, and the loss of Landon Collins likely won’t be felt terribly by the team. Improved play from this secondary should be a part of a defensive resurgence in Washington this season.
After signing a big deal in 2020 Kendall Fuller struggled in YR 1. Fuller low key bounced back in 2021 grading as the #5 CB in the NFL(PFF). A+ eyes in zone coverage & a strong willingness to tackle.
— Nathan Coleman (@CommandersStats) January 17, 2022
#19: San Francisco 49ers
Starters: CB Charvarius Ward, CB Jason Verrett, NB Emmanuel Moseley, FS Jimmie Ward, SS George Odum
Key Additions: CB Charvarius Ward, S George Odum
Key Departures: CB K’Waun Williams, S Jaquiski Tartt
Jason Verrett only played in one game last season, and his absence tested the depth of a 49ers’ secondary that became one of their most significant weaknesses and held back an otherwise stacked defense. The arrival of Charvarius Ward in free agency was massive as he provides stability and plays with the best pass-rush presence of his career. From Week 7 on last year, Ward allowed 50+ receiving yards just once. Emmanuel Moseley was the team’s top-graded coverage player on PFF the previous season, and he allowed just a 57.4% completion rate and a 72.1 passer rating. It will help return him to his more comfortable position in the slot. Whether he’s playing in the box or over the top, Jimmie Ward has become one of the best safeties in the NFL, and he was the team’s highest-graded defensive back in coverage and had the lowest missed tackle rate in the league at 2.6%.
#20: New England Patriots
Starters: CB Malcolm Butler, CB Jalen Mills, NB Jonathan Jones, FS Devin McCourty, SS Adrian Phillips
Key Additions: CB Malcolm Butler, CB Terrance Mitchell, S Jabrill Peppers, CB Marcus Jones, CB Jack Jones
Key Departures: CB J.C. Jackson
The Patriots suffered the most significant departure of any secondary this offseason with J.C. Jackson, PFF’s third-graded cornerback from last season. In Malcolm Butler’s final season, he led the NFL with 73 receptions allowed in coverage, and Jalen Mills was hit-or-miss in coverage. Still, the Patriots had the lowest passer rating allowed in the slot last season at 71.1. Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty are an elite safety tandem as they combined to allow just 37 catches for 345 yards in coverage. Phillips and Kyler Dugger both ranked inside the top-seven in passer rating allowed among safeties. Alongside that depth at safety, the Patriots have rookie cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones rounding out the depth chart. What the Patriots lack in top-end talent, they make up for with depth, and Bill Belichick should coach this team to solid enough results this season.
#21: Carolina Panthers
Starters: CB Donte Jackson, CB C.J. Henderson, NB Jaycee Horn, FS Xavier Woods, SS Jeremy Chinn
Key Additions: CB Rashaan Melvin, S Xavier Woods
Key Departures: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB A.J. Bouye
The Panthers allowed the eleventh-highest passer rating as a team last season and ranked just 19th in PFF’s team coverage grades, but there are significant reasons for optimism. Jaycee Horn was electric as a rookie before breaking his foot in Week 3, as he allowed just a 39.6 passer rating in coverage before that injury. C.J. Henderson struggled to adjust after being traded to Carolina, but the former first-round pick has undeniable upside. Donte Jackson’s extension was deserved as a consistent presence on the boundary. Jeremy Chinn continues to improve and excels in his box role. Xavier Woods will allow Chinn to play that role more frequently as he takes on the single-high role in their defense. This secondary is loaded with young talent, and it’s conceivable that this group could rank much higher next season.
#22: New York Jets
Starters: CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB D.J. Reed, NB Michael Carter II, FS Lamarcus Joyner, SS Jordan Whitehead
Key Additions: CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB D.J. Reed, S Jordan Whitehead
Key Departures: S Marcus Maye
The Jets ranked as the worst pass defense in DVOA last season and the third-worst in pass coverage per PFF. They addressed their secondary in a massive way this offseason. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner never allowed a touchdown in coverage at Cincinnati and surrendered just 131 yards in 14 games in 2021. If any rookie can be great right away at corner, it would be him. D.J. Reed was also brought in after a breakthrough season in which he allowed the seventh-lowest passer rating in the league. Michael Carter II showed great flashes of potential as a rookie. Lamarcus Joyner is a savvy veteran with proven experience in the slot and over the top at safety. Jordan Whitehead ranked 15th among safeties on PFF last year and is a significant addition. The Jets should have one of the most improved secondaries in the NFL this year.
#Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner in 2021
80.8 PFF grade
12 catches allowed on 25 targets
87 yards allowed
17 passer rating allowed
79.8 run defense grade
He’s 6’3 with 3 years of great production. Draft him pic.twitter.com/hLz5sQGHtl
— Jake Sirkus (@JakeSirkus) November 15, 2021
#23: Pittsburgh Steelers
Starters: CB Levi Wallace, CB Cameron Sutton, NB Ahkello Witherspoon, FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, SS Terrell Edmunds
Key Additions: CB Levi Wallace, S Damontae Kazee, S Karl Joseph
Key Departures: CB Joe Haden
The Steelers ranked eighth in pass defense DVOA last year primarily due to their elite front seven, but this secondary has improved. Pittsburgh ranked middle-of-the-pack in many metrics, but PFF had them ranked just 29th in overall coverage grade. The Steelers struggled when their front seven wasn’t generating pressure. Minkah Fitzpatrick is coming off a down year, particularly in coverage, but the two-time All-Pro safety should bounce back. Levi Wallace was an underrated free agency signing who will provide solidity at cornerback next to Cameron Sutton and Akhello Witherspoon. While Witherspoon played just nine games, he was the tenth-ranked cornerback in coverage per PFF in those limited snaps. Terrell Edmunds excelled in coverage in his box role and had just a 9.3% missed tackle rate.
#24: Indianapolis Colts
Starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Brandon Facyson, NB Kenny Moore II, FS Julian Blackmon, SS Khari Willis
Key Additions: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Brandon Facyson, S Rodney McLeod
Key Departures: CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Rock Ya-Sin, S George Odum
The Colts’ pass defense on the back-end wasn’t good enough last year, and they ranked middle-of-the-pack in most respects. The arrival of Stephon Gilmore should help considerably. The former two-time All-Pro cornerback Gilmore was a hot commodity among contenders, and he allowed two or fewer catches in six of his eight games with Carolina last year. Brandon Facyson allowed six touchdowns in coverage in his one year with the Raiders and is less of a sure thing. Kenny Moore II allowed 844 yards and a 90.9 passer rating in coverage. Julian Blackmon is working through Achilles rehab and looked poised for a breakout season last year before his injury. Last year, Khari Willis struggled in coverage but played well when asked to fill a box role. Overall, this secondary isn’t anything to write home about, but the arrival of Gilmore should help.
#25: Las Vegas Raiders
Starters: CB Rock Ya-Sin, CB Trayvon Mullen, NB Nate Hobbs, FS Trevon Moehrig, SS Johnathan Abram
Key Additions: CB Rock Ya-Sin, CB Anthony Averett, S Duron Harmon
Key Departures: CB Casey Hayward, CB Brandon Facyson
The Raiders’ secondary was aided considerably by an all-world season from Maxx Crosby, and opposing quarterbacks rarely had time in the pocket as the team allowed the fifth-lowest rate of explosive pass plays. Still, new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley brought stability to this unit. Rookie Nate Hobbs was PFF’s top-graded slot corner last year, while safety Trevon Moehrig had an excellent rookie season in his single-high role in their Cover 3 defense. Trayvon Mullen played in just five games last year, but he’s taking steps forward in his young career, as is Rock Ya-Sin, who the Raiders acquired in the rare player-for-player trade. Jonathan Abram was solid in his box-heavy role, as well. Despite losing Casey Hayward, the team’s best cornerback from last year, the Raiders should continue to be a solid secondary with Bradley at the helm.
#26: Arizona Cardinals
Starters: CB Marco Wilson, CB Jeff Gladney, NB Byron Murphy, FS Budda Baker, SS Jalen Thompson
Key Additions: CB Jeff Gladney
Key Departures: CB Robert Alford, CB Malcolm Butler, S Chris Banjo
The Cardinals’ fifth-ranked pass defense in DVOA was surprising given their lack of talent in the secondary, as they ranked 22nd in PFF’s team coverage grades and allowed a 96.4 passer rating, the ninth-highest in the league. Fourth-round rookie Marco Wilson allowed a 129.8 passer rating in coverage, the second-highest in the NFL among corners with 600+ snaps. Jeff Gladney, a 2020 first-round pick by the Vikings, didn’t play last season as he was arrested and later acquitted, but Arizona likes his upside. Byron Murphy is a solid slot corner, but the position overall is troubling. Budda Baker is a three-time All-Pro safety, and Jalen Thompson has come on strong as a former UDFA, but the successes of the Cardinals last season in pass defense speak much more to Vance Joseph’s brilliance than the talent of this group.
Budda Baker's closing speed is absolutely unreal. No wonder they call Cone so much… pic.twitter.com/mwpTMDia2D
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) January 13, 2021
#27: New York Giants
Starters: CB Adoree’ Jackson, CB Aaron Robinson, NB Darnay Holmes, FS Xavier McKinney, SS Julian Love
Key Additions: S Dane Belton
Key Departures: CB James Bradberry, S Jabrill Peppers, S Logan Ryan
With James Bradberry heading to Philadelphia, the Giants have a fair amount of uncertainty in their secondary, even as they bring in a successful defensive coordinator in Don “Wink” Martindale. Adoree’ Jackson was one of the team’s best defensive players last year, and he allowed just a 73.4 passer rating in coverage, ranking 15th among corners with 500+ snaps. Darnay Holmes and Aaron Robinson will step into more prominent roles this year as they progress in their young careers, as will safeties Xavier McKinney and Julian Love. All of them were drafted in the last few years. The Giants had a very successful secondary in 2021, notably as they allowed the third-lowest rate of explosive passes per Sharp Football. Still, the transition overall in personnel in coaching is a lot to overcome, especially with so much reliance on youth.
#28: Jacksonville Jaguars
Starters: CB Shaquill Griffin, CB Tyson Campbell, NB Darious Williams, FS Rayshawn Jenkins, SS Andrew Wingard
Key Additions: CB Darious Williams
Key Departures: CB Nevin Lawson
The Jaguars ranked 29th in team coverage grade per PFF last season, and their poor back-end play led to their second-worst defense in pass DVOA. Of the six cornerbacks who played 200+ snaps for the Jaguars last year, Shaquill Griffin was the only one who graded above-average in coverage per PFF. However, Griffin still allowed a 110.6 passer rating, the tenth-highest in the NFL. Rookie second-round pick Tyson Campbell had some excellent moments down the stretch last season, and he could be set for a significant step forward this year. Darious Williams joined in free agency on a lucrative deal, and Jacksonville will be hoping he can regain his 2020 form when he was PFF’s fifth-ranked cornerback. Neither Rayshawn Jenkins nor Andrew Wingard inspires much confidence at safety, and they might be the worst safety tandem in the NFL.
#29: Detroit Lions
Starters: CB Amani Oruwariye, CB Mike Hughes, NB Jeff Okudah, FS Tracy Walker III, SS DeShon Elliott
Key Additions: CB Mike Hughes, S DeShon Elliott, S Kerby Joseph
Key Departures: N/A
The Lions have struggled in the secondary for years, and they ranked as the second-worst coverage unit in the NFL last year. Amani Oruwariye broke through in his second year as a starter with six interceptions, the third-most in the NFL, and just a 60.2 passer rating allowed in coverage. Mike Hughes provides some stability on the boundary while Jeff Okudah recovers from his Achilles injury, and his best fit might be in the slot long-term. The other option would be to have Will Harris start in the slot as he did for much of last season and place Okudah on the boundary. Tracy Walker and DeShone Elliott provide stability as the starters, while rookie Kerby Joseph figures to factor in on sub-packages and could compete for a starting role in time.
#30: Chicago Bears
Starters: CB Jaylon Johnson, CB Kyler Gordon, NB Tavon Young, FS Eddie Jackson, SS Jaquan Brisker
Key Additions: CB Kyler Gordon, SS Jaquan Brisker, CB Tavon Young
Key Departures: CB Artie Burns
The Bears might have the youngest secondary in the NFL as Kyler Gordon, and Jaquan Brisker are both rookies, and Jaylon Johnson is entering his third season. Eddie Jackson is the veteran in the group, and while he has never regained his elite 2018 All-Pro form, he’s been a solid contributor every year. Tavon Young started seven games for the Ravens as they dealt with injuries in their secondary, but he allowed a below-average 107.6 passer rating in coverage. Jaylon Johnson allowed just a 56.9% completion rate last year, but that went for 541 yards and six touchdowns. Gordon could become the team’s top cornerback over time, and Brisker could thrive as a heavy-hitting tackler in a box safety role. However, the youth and inexperience in this secondary will lead to some growing pains this season.
#31: Houston Texans
Starters: CB Derek Stingley Jr., CB Steven Nelson, NB Jalen Pitre, FS Terrence Brooks, SS Eric Murray
Key Additions: CB Derek Stingley Jr., CB/S Jalen Pitre, CB Steven Nelson, S M.J. Stewart
Key Departures: S Justin Reid, CB Terrance Mitchell
There wasn’t much to get excited about with the Texans’ defense last year, and their secondary was among the league’s worst as they ranked last in PFF’s team coverage grades. Tavierre Thomas was the team’s only defensive back who graded above average in coverage for PFF, but he likely lost his starting spot after the draft with Jalen Pitre set to take over the slot role. Pitre was a force at Baylor, and Derek Stingley Jr. has the upside to become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, so this draft significantly raised the potential for this team’s secondary. The loss of Justin Reid hurts, though, despite him not grading very well on PFF recently. Steven Nelson is a solid, experienced cornerback, but the lack of talent at safety and the overall youth of this group will hold them back this season.
#32: Seattle Seahawks
Starters: CB Sidney Jones, CB Artie Burns, NB Justin Coleman, FS Quandre Diggs, SS Jamal Adams
Key Additions: CB Artie Burns, CB Justin Coleman, CB Coby Bryant
Key Departures: CB D.J. Reed
Last year, Seattle ranked 26th in pass-defense DVOA, and their secondary ranked just 24th per PFF’s team coverage grades. The Seahawks lost D.J. Reed Jr. in free agency, which is quietly a massive loss as he ranked seventh in the NFL with just a 66.0 passer rating allowed last year. Artie Burns was signed as a presumed starter, but if rookies Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen show out in camp, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Burns not make the team. A former first-round pick, Burns has struggled to stay healthy and hasn’t been very productive when on the field. Quandre Diggs was rewarded for another solid season while Jamal Adams still excels in his box role. Still, the questions at cornerback are significant and will hold back this secondary this season.