Nowadays, perhaps more so than ever before, if you want to win a Super Bowl, you must have a very good secondary. The NFL has become a pass first league and without good corners and safeties, your defense will not stand a chance, especially in the games that matter or the games against top quarterbacks.
Just look at the Pittsburgh Steelers as an example. Everyone thought they had turned their defense around during the 2016 season, as their secondary stringed together a few good games. However, when it was time to play a good team in the playoffs, their secondary was shredded apart. Electing to not press the New England receivers, Tom Brady stood back in the pocket and picked the Steelers apart en route to another AFC Championship. The Steelers will not be able to win a Super Bowl without improvement in this area, and no other team will win with a weak secondary. Of course, a secondary can improve from a good pass rush, but when you are playing quick passing offenses, I am not sure how much a good pass rush really helps.
Overall, the goal of this article is to rank the eight best and seven worst secondaries for the upcoming 2017 season.
15. Best – Atlanta Falcons
I know many people will remember the Atlanta defense for their part in an epic collapse against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. However, I look at their roster and see only improvement in the future. Atlanta has some young and upcoming players in their secondary such as Jalen Collins, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen. With a defensive minded coach like Dan Quinn, the Falcons can expect defensive improvement.
Also do not forget that they were missing their number one cornerback in Desmond Trufant for much of the season. With a top three corner depth chart in Trufant, Collins, and Robert Alford, Atlanta should be able to take the next step up, defensively. It is now just a matter of the young players developing.
14. Worst – Dallas Cowboys
It is tough to put a Rod Marinelli led defense on this list, but at the end of the day the Dallas Cowboys lost too much talent in their secondary. Brandon Carr, a starter for the past five seasons, left for Baltimore. Former sixth overall pick, Morris Claiborne, is now a New York Jet. Safety Barry Church has signed with Jacksonville. Reliable backup safety J.J. Wilcox left for Tampa Bay. So as you can see, the Cowboys have lost a lot of players.
To be fair, the Cowboys did stock up on defensive players in the draft and sign veteran Nolan Carroll in free agency. However, it is unfair to expect rookies to step in and be dominant right away. Unless Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott can stay on the field for most of the game, the Cowboys secondary is in trouble.
13. Best – Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings secondary had a tremendous start to the 2016 season before tailing off in the middle to end. However, much of this can be blamed on their poor offense and injuries. You cannot expect a defense to stay dominant all season when there is no help from the offense. Time after time the Vikings defense would have to try and bail out the offense, and eventually being on the field so much caught up to them. It did not help that safety Harrison Smith was also battling injury.
This season, I expect the Vikings offense to improve. simply because Sam Bradford will be more comfortable. The offensive line cannot be as bad, can it? This will tremendously help the defense and they will be able to sustain success for longer periods of time.
12. Worst – Green Bay Packers
Is it just me, or do the Packers always have a bad secondary? Last year was even worse than the norm because of injuries. If you look at the Packers defensive backfield depth chart, there is reason to be concerned again. Sure, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett are very good safeties, but the cornerback position is not looking so sharp. LaDarius Gunter is an undrafted corner, and I do not know if he is ready to be a full time starter. Damarious Randall is a former first round pick, but I do not know if he is “that guy” just yet.
The Pack also did draft Kevlin King with the 33rd pick, so he may help too. In the end, I do not think these players are enough to improve the secondary. I don’t get why the Packers are so reluctant to sign a big name corner free agent. They are wasting Aaron Rodgers’s prime.
11. Best – Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs have a very good secondary and the Chiefs ensured their secondary was going to remain strong by locking safety Eric Berry into a long term contract. Marcus Peters is also a very good corner and is only 24 years old. We can expect more improvement from Peters next season.
The Chiefs also have one of the best secondaries when it comes to creating turnovers. It is still hard to believe that they recorded six interceptions in one game, even if it was against Ryan Fitzpatrick. Overall, the Chiefs secondary has shown the ability to be superb at times. However, there are other times when the backfield gambles too much by going for a big play. If they can find a little more consistently, they will be much better.
10. Worst – Pittsburgh Steelers
You probably had a feeling the Pittsburgh Steelers would make this list. Yes, they showed improvement last season during the regular season, but like I said whenever there is a big game their secondary falls apart, typically against the New England Patriots. The way Brady tore them apart in the post-season last year should show everyone that their secondary is nowhere near where it needs to be to win a Super Bowl. Especially with the Patriots being their primary obstacle in reaching the big game.
While I do think the Steelers have some young talent in their defensive backfield, I do not think 2017 will be the year they put everything together and take the next step. Third round selection Cameron Sutton will help, but not enough.
9. Best – Houston Texans
The Houston Texans secondary will not be as good with A.J. Bouye, but they will still be one of the best in the league. If you recall, the only reason Bouye received playing time last season was because there were tons of injuries to players ahead of him on the depth chart. These players will now be healthy going into 2017 and the Texans should expect quality defensive backfield play this season.
For instance, according to Pro Football Focus, Kevin Johnson was the fifth highest ranked corner before going out with injury for the entire season in 2016. Jonathan Joseph also dealt with multiple injuries in 2016 and should be able to bounce back in 2017. Houston is looking like a contender for the Super Bowl next year.
8. Worst – Indianapolis Colts
The Colts secondary was a mess in 2016. They started tons of different players and the unit was never able to find a rhythm. It did not help that the pass rush was terrible, but overall, the Colts gave up the sixth most passing yards. We should see some improvement this year, as the Colts made some nice moves by improving their pass rush and using draft picks on defensive players, but it is not to the point where they can get off this list.
Another team that is wasting a superstar quarterback. Although I must admit, firing Ryan Grigson was the best move the Colts have made in a long time. Their new GM seems to have tons of football knowledge and I expect him to turn the team around sooner than later.
7. Best – Seattle Seahawks
Although the Seattle Seahawks secondary is not as dominant as it once was, it is still the Legion of Boom and one of the best defensive backfields in football. The key for this backfield, like many others is to stay healthy. It seems that if just one of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, or Richard Sherman goes down, the whole secondary falls apart. Remember, when Chancellor was holding out? The defense was not at the same dominant level. You can say the same thing about the 2016 season after Thomas broke his leg. The defense got exposed and teams were aggressively attacking them with the passing game.
6. Worst – New Orleans Saints
I must admit, I like some of the moves the New Orleans Saints made this offseason to improve their secondary. Some people may argue that Saints should have been more aggressive in their pursuit of Malcolm Butler, but an 11th overall pick is a lot to give up. Instead, the Saints improved their pass rush, which will undoubtedly improve their secondary. They went with corner Marshon Lattimore with that 11th overall pick. Also, safety Marcus Williams was a great second round pick. He will be a good centre fielder/roamer and is a long term fix.
Despite these positive moves, I still expect the Saints to struggle in defensive backfield next year. The newcomers are going to need time to gel in the system and we cannot expect rookies to improve the secondary right away. Long term, I see improvement but next season.
5. Best – New York Giants
The New York Giants have done a great job in building a top secondary. Jerry Reese revamped the secondary by signing Janoris Jenkins, which was a brilliant move. He then drafted Eli Apple and the coaching staff then proceeded to move Dominique Rodgers-Cromarties to the inside, which has been a great fit (there has been rumor that Cromartie may be a cap casualty, but we have not seen that yet). Add in star safety Landon Collins, is becoming one of the best defensive players in the game and the rest, as they say, is history.
4. Worst – Chicago Bears
Have we seen a worse secondary over the last two years than the Chicago Bears? To make matters worse, the Bears struck out in free agency. The Bears’ plans to sign defensive backs such as A.J. Bouye, Stephon Gilmore, or Tony Jefferson did not go to plan. As a result, the Bears settled on free agents Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara. I actually like the Amukamara pickup as he can be a nice one year holdover before the Bears try to make a splash in next year’s free agency.
However, other than that, I am not sure Bears fans can expect much from their secondary. The Bears did not draft anyone that can instantly improve their secondary. Poor Bears fans. John Fox better have something up his sleeve.
3. Best – New England Patriots
On paper, the New England Patriots may have one of the greatest corner tandems of all time in Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore. Their number three cornerback, Eric Rowe is also a very good player. Safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung are also great.
So why do I have the Pats as number two and not number one? Well, we have seen good things on paper before that do not come into fruition. Also, the loss of former number two corner Logan Ryan is being underrated. Ryan was one of the best tackling corners I have ever seen and I am not sure if New England can replace that right away. While they will still be very good, I do think there will be a better secondary in the NFL. Stay tuned.
2. Worst – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles actually have a very respectable safety core, however their corner back play has been brutal and not much was done to instantly improve it. The Eagles gave up 57 plays of 20 or more yards and 27 plays of 30 plus yards in 2016.
The Eagles did take long term steps to improve their secondary via the draft. They drafted a defensive end with the 14th overall pick, which will certainly take some of the pressure off of the secondary. They also drafted Sidney Jones with their second round pick. Many people actually graded Jones as a first round pick, but injuries are a concern. He should slide into a starting role with the Eagles, but I just cannot rely on his health/lack of experience to expect improvement in the Eagle secondary.
1. Best – Denver Broncos
Many people will want the New England Patriots as number one. However, I have too much respect for the Denver Broncos secondary. How often have we seen teams win a Super Bowl with practically zero offense? The Broncos secondary carried them to that tile and they were excellent in 2016 as well. The drop off came because of the loss of key defensive linemen. You can expect the defense to be all around dominant again as we head into the 2017 season.
Overall, Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. are superstars at their position and Bradley Roby is well on his way to the same status. The Broncos also have two hard hitting safeties in T.J. Ward and Darien Stewart. It’s one of the best secondaries of all time.
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