Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries entering the 2016 season
Analyst Matt Claassen reveals PFF's ranking of every NFL secondary, with Chris Harris Jr. and the Denver Broncos at No. 1 overall.
Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries entering the 2016 season
Earlier this week, the PFF analysis team ranked the NFL’s defensive front-sevens from best-to-worst, and today we are finishing off the back half of the defense with rankings for each secondary. Our analysts took both top talent and depth into account when ranking each group. With the use of nickel packages continuing to be more prevalent, we’ve listed five defensive backs for each team as “projected starters,” regardless of whether or not the specific team uses nickel personnel more than its base package.
As we near the 2016 NFL season, here’s how all 32 secondaries stack up.
1. Denver Broncos
Projected starters: CB Aqib Talib, CB Bradley Roby, SCB Chris Harris Jr., S T.J. Ward, S Darian Stewart
Other names to know: CB Kayvon Webster, CB Lorenzo Doss, S Shilo Keo, S Justin Simmons, S William Parks
Key stat: All five Denver starters ranked among the top 30 players in overall grade at their respective positions last season, the only team to do so.
Not only do the defending Super Bowl champions boast the top front-seven, but they also possess the league’s best secondary. Denver’s top three cornerbacks are the best trio of corners in the league, with all three finishing among the top 30 at the position in the NFL last season. Harris continues to be one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, and excels in the slot. With Ward and Stewart at the safety positions, it’s tough for quarterbacks to find a weakness anywhere in the Broncos’ secondary.
2. Arizona Cardinals
Projected starters: CB Patrick Peterson, CB Justin Bethel, SCB Tyrann Mathieu, S Tony Jefferson, S Tyvon Branch
Other names to know: S D.J. Swearinger, S Chris Clemons, CB Brandon Williams, CB Asa Jackson, S Marqui Christian
Key stat: Patrick Peterson allowed a reception once every 19.5 snaps in coverage last season, the best rate among cornerbacks.
Whether he’s considered a cornerback or safety, Mathieu was one of the five best defensive backs in 2015, and his versatility cannot be overstated. In fact, he was the top-ranked cornerback in both coverage and run-defensive grades before his season ended prematurely. Peterson bounced-back from a down year in 2014 to reclaim his spot as one of the league’s lockdown corners. The rest of the secondary is not as consistent, but Bethel and Jefferson did produce their highest-graded seasons in coverage of their respective careers last year.
3. New England Patriots
Projected starters: CB Malcolm Butler, CB Logan Ryan, SCB Justin Coleman, S Devin McCourty, S Patrick Chung
Other names to know: S Duron Harmon, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Darryl Roberts
Key stat: On nearly 750 snaps in coverage over the past two seasons, Harmon has more interceptions (five) than receptions allowed (three).
After the Patriots moved on from Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, Butler and Ryan stepped up as full-time starters last season. The duo combined for six interceptions and 27 passes defensed, as they both ranked among the top 25 cornerbacks in overall grade. McCourty and Chung have blossomed into one of the best safety pairings in the league, while Harmon has excelled in his sub-package role. The secondary’s biggest weakness is their third cornerback, but they hoped to have improved at the position with the selection of Cyrus Jones (Alabama) in the second round of the draft.
4. Seattle Seahawks
Projected starters: CB Richard Sherman, CB Jeremy Lane, SCB DeShawn Shead, S Earl Thomas, S Kam Chancellor
Other names to know: CB Tharold Simon, S Brandon Browner, CB Michael Burley, S Kelcie McCray
Key stat: Sherman allowed just 48.4 percent of passes into his coverage to be completed, fourth-best in the NFL in 2015.
The “Legion of Boom” isn’t quite what it was a couple of years ago, but that’s due solely to not having the caliber of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks that they used to own. Sherman is still one of the few truly elite NFL corners, while the Thomas-Chancellor pairing at safety remains one of the league’s best duos. Last year, Sherman and Thomas both ranked third in overall grade at their respective positions. Chancellor had one really poor game in coverage versus Cincinnati, but otherwise fills the strong-safety role better than most. Beyond that trio, Jeremy Lane has shown glimpses of good play, but due to either injury or being a role player, has not seen more than 356 defensive snaps in a single season in four years. There is also the question of who will be the No. 3 corner between Shead, who struggled last year, and Simon, who struggled in the 2014 playoffs before missing last season due to injury.
5. Green Bay Packers
Projected starters: CB Sam Shields, CB Damarious Randall, SCB Quinten Rollins, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Morgan Burnett
Other names to know: S Micah Hyde, CB Demetri Goodson, S Chris Banjo
Key stat: Quinten Rollins allowed a 58.1 passer rating into his coverage last season, tied for third-lowest among cornerbacks.
Ever since losing Nick Collins to a career-ending injury in 2011, the Packers have gone through numerous players searching for his replacement. Clinton-Dix made huge strides in run defense in his second year as a pro. He still has a little room for improvement in coverage, but clearly looks to be an ascending player. Burnett earned the highest grade of his career last season, despite missing several early games, and both safeties ranked among the top 10 in overall grade at the position in 2015. At corner, the Packers lost Casey Hayward (Chargers) in free agency, but Quinten Rollins was impressive in limited playing time as a rookie and may very well step in without the secondary missing a beat.
6. Buffalo Bills
Projected starters: CB Ronald Darby, CB Stephon Gilmore, SCB Nickell Robey, S Corey Graham, S Aaron Williams
Other names to know: CB Sterling Moore, CB Corey White, S Robert Blanton
Key stat: Darby and Gilmore were each targeted once every 5.1 snaps in coverage, tied for the fourth-most frequent rate in the league last season.
Darby had a stellar rookie season that led to him winning our Defensive Rookie of the Year award. On the opposite side of the field, Gilmore has put together back-to-back solid seasons in coverage in two different defensive schemes. The biggest question for the group at this point is what to expect from Robey going forward, or if Sterling Moore can beat him out for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. Robey had an impressive rookie season a couple years ago, but his performance has since dipped, as he ranked 90th in overall grade out of 111 qualifying cornerbacks in 2015. Aaron Williams should also be a welcomed return if he doesn’t have any adverse effects from his neck injury.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Projected starters: CB Xavier Rhodes, CB Terence Newman, SCB Captain Munnerlyn, S Harrison Smith, S Andrew Sendejo
Other names to know: CB Mackensie Alexander, CB Trae Waynes, CB Marcus Sherels, S Michael Griffin, S Jayron Kearse
Key stat: Over the first nine games of 2015, Xavier Rhodes allowed 38 receptions for 460 yards and six touchdowns. Over the Vikings’ final eight games, he allowed 24 receptions for 257 yards, one touchdown, and eight passes defensed.
After yet another outstanding season, Smith has earned the right to be called the best overall safety in the league. Rhodes really struggled early on last season, but was one of the best NFL corners after Week 10 last year. Terence Newman has done well enough defying Father Time thus far, and the Vikings are already prepared with first-round picks from the last two years in Waynes and Alexander (Clemson) waiting in the wings. With as much stock as Minnesota has invested in the secondary, the group may be even better than seventh overall in 2016 if their young players pan out.
8. Washington Redskins
Projected starters: CB Josh Norman, CB Quinton Dunbar, SCB Bashaud Breeland, S DeAngelo Hall, S David Bruton
Other names to know: CB Kendall Fuller, CB Will Blackmon, CB Greg Toler, S Duke Ihenacho
Key stat: Josh Norman allowed a league-low 54.0 passer rating into his coverage during the regular season.
What a difference a couple of years can make. Washington made the big splash to sign Norman (Panthers) after his unexpected availability. Breeland made a significant improvement in year two, with 11 passes defended (tied for ninth-most in the league last season). With six touchdowns allowed, he still needs to get a little more consistent, though. It will be interesting to see how Hall performs at safety with an entire offseason to get adjusted to the position. He was beaten a few times in his first games at safety last year, but improved over the last three games of the season.
9. Oakland Raiders
Projected starters: CB Sean Smith, CB David Amerson, SCB Travis Carrie, S Reggie Nelson, S Karl Joseph
Other names to know: CB D.J. Hayden, CB Keith McGill, CB Neiko Thorpe, S Nate Allen
Key stat: David Amerson allowed a 62.7 passer rating into his coverage last season, down from a league-high 140.2 rating in 2014 (with Washington).
Amerson’s turnaround after getting to Oakland was one of the biggest surprises of the season. He will need to prove going forward that he can continue his level of performance that earned him the 14th-best overall grade among corners, and that last year wasn’t just an aberration. The addition of Smith (Chiefs) should solidify the outside positions, leaving the slot as the one possible weakness on the back end. Nelson (Bengals) may be turning 33 later this year, but he’s coming off one of his best coverage seasons and should mitigate Charles Woodson’s retirement short-term.
10. Houston Texans
Projected starters: CB Johnathan Joseph, CB Kevin Johnson, SCB Kareem Jackson, S Andre Hal, S Quintin Demps
Other names to know: S Kurtis Drummond, S Eddie Pleasant, S Antonio Allen, CB A.J. Bouye
Key stat: Johnathan Joseph’s 16 passes defended were second only to Marcus Peters’ 17, and Joseph collected them on 47 fewer targets.
Joseph is arguably coming off his best season as a pro in terms of coverage. In fact, he was the highest-graded cornerback in coverage after Week 2 and on. Johnson had his ups and downs a rookie, but showed that he’s a capable cornerback. Jackson graded average last year, and is a season removed from a pretty good 2014 showing, while the pair of Houston safeties both graded above-average in coverage in 2015.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
Projected starters: CB Adam Jones, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, SCB Darqueze Dennard, S George Iloka, S Shawn Williams
Other names to know: CB William Jackson III, CB Chris Lewis-Harris, CB Josh Shaw, S Taylor Mays
Key stat: Rookie cornerbacks have taken just 278 snaps for the Bengals since 2010.
The Bengals will be going into the season with their least amount of continuity in the secondary in years, with Reggie Nelson (Raiders) and Leon Hall (UFA) no longer with the team. Jones turns 33 in September, but he was a top-15 cornerback last year, and has never finished a season with a below-average coverage grade. Kirkpatrick had a rough time in his first year as a starter, grading as the 103rd ranked corner out of 111 qualifying players. Cincinnati should have plenty of opportunities to get Dennard and this year’s first-round draft pick, William Jackson III (University of Houston), involved if they want to get the younger players more playing time.
12. Philadelphia Eagles
Projected starters: CB Nolan Carroll, CB Leodis McKelvin, SCB Ron Brooks, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Rodney McLeod
Other names to know: CB Eric Rowe, CB JaCorey Shepherd, CB Jalen Mills, S Ed Reynolds
Key stat: Only 47.2 percent of passes into Leodis McKelvin’s coverage were completed last season, second only to Darrelle Revis among cornerbacks.
The Eagles signed Jenkins, who was one of the top safeties in the league last year, to an extension this offseason, but a couple other personnel changes means we will likely see a few new faces on the field. Free-agent addition McLeod played well for the Rams the last few seasons, and should prevent the Eagles from missing Walter Thurmond too much following his retirement. McKelvin (Bills) hasn’t been quite the same player the last two seasons as he had been pre-injury. Now seemingly fully healthy and presented with a fresh start in Philadelphia, 2016 will present a good opportunity for a bounce-back season. Rowe may get a shot at playing time, but will need to improve following his underwhelming rookie year.
13. Kansas City Chiefs
Projected starters: CB Marcus Peters, CB KeiVarae Russell, SCB Phillip Gaines, S Eric Berry, S Ron Parker
Other names to know: S Marcus Cooper, S Jamell Fleming, CB Steven Nelson, CB Eric Murray
Key stat: Marcus Peters’s 25 combined interceptions and pass defenses were the most in a single regular season since Darrelle Revis’s 29 in 2009.
Peters was somewhat a boom-or-bust player for the Chiefs as a rookie. While he led the league with eight interceptions and 17 passes defended during the regular season, he also led the league in targets (137), tied for second in touchdowns allowed (eight), and was third in yards allowed (939). He has proven to be terrific playing the ball in man-coverage, but needs to shore up his overall consistency. Berry played true to his elite form to grade as a top-five safety last season, winning PFF’s Comeback Player of the Year award.
14. San Diego Chargers
Projected starters: CB Jason Verrett, CB Brandon Flowers, SCB Casey Hayward, S Dwight Lowery, S Jahleel Addae
Other names to know: CB Steve Williams, S Darrell Stuckey, CB Craig Mager
Key stat: Brandon Flowers allowed 1.71 yards per snap in coverage last season, the third-highest average in the league.
When healthy, Verrett can be among the top cover cornerbacks in the league. He tied with Tyrann Mathieu for the highest coverage grade among corners last year, but he’s only played 965 defensive snaps over his two pro seasons. Flowers had an abysmal year as he struggled in the slot. However, if he takes care of his self-admitted physical issues, he may be able to regain his form from his first season with San Diego and during most of his time with Kansas City. Hayward (Packers) gives the defense a legitimate slot corner that they were missing last year.
15. New Orleans Saints
Projected starters: CB Delvin Breaux, CB Keenan Lewis, SCB Damian Swann, S Kenny Vaccaro, S Jairus Byrd
Other names to know: CB P.J. Williams, S Vonn Bell, S Roman Harper
Key stat: Delvin Breaux’s 15 passes defensed were third-most in the league last season.
Breaux put together a good year in which he ranked among the top 20 cornerbacks in yards and receptions allowed per coverage snap. However, a few too many lapses led to a league-high 10 touchdowns allowed. Vaccaro and Byrd both bounced back from sub-par 2014 seasons, though they still have not reached the level of play we have seen from them earlier in their careers. A full offseason with a new defensive coordinator and system may help get them there. The Saints should also benefit from Brandon Browner’s absence, who easily earned the lowest overall grade for a cornerback in PFF’s nine years of grading.
16. New York Jets
Projected starters: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Marcus Williams, SCB Buster Skrine, S Marcus Gilchrist, S Calvin Pryor
Other names to know: CB Dee Milliner, CB Juston Burris, S Dion Bailey, S Rontez Miles
Key stat: Opposing quarterbacks completed just 46.5 percent of passes when targeting Revis, the lowest rate versus a cornerback in the league last season.
Revis is coming off the lowest coverage grade of his career, but even that is still well above-average for most NFL cornerbacks. Beyond Revis, the Jets should be concerned. Skrine allowed a 101.1 passer rating into his coverage last season, and Milliner has been a disappointment thus far and is recovering from an Achilles’ tendon injury. Marcus Williams has had limited playing time up until this point. On the plus side, Both Pryor and Gilchrist produced their best seasons in coverage in 2015.
17. San Francisco 49ers
Projected starters: CB Jimmie Ward, CB Tramaine Brock, SCB Chris Davis, S Antoine Bethea, S Eric Reid
Other names to know: S Jaquiski Tartt, CB Dontae Johnson, CB Will Redmond, CB Rashard Robinson, CB Kenneth Acker
Key stat: Tartt allowed 1.18 yards per snap in coverage, the highest average for a safety in 2015.
Much of the 49ers’ roster struggled last year, but the secondary fared well for the most part. Recent draft picks Ward and Reid have performed above-average, even though they may have not yet shown enough to live up to their first-round status. Brock didn’t come close to his career-year of 2013, but had a solid season after missing most of the 2014 season. Having Bethea back will solidify the safety position and give Tartt more time to develop after being forced into the lineup last year.
18. Miami Dolphins
Projected starters: CB Byron Maxwell, CB Tony Lippett, SCB Bobby McCain, S Reshad Jones, S Isa Abdul-Quddus
Other names to know: CB Xavien Howard, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, S Michael Thomas, S Walt Aikens
Key stat: Bobby McCain allowed just 0.27 yards per coverage snap when in the slot last season, by far the lowest average in the league.
Maxwell’s time with the Eagles did not go well, allowing a career-high 100.7 passer rating into his coverage last season. He will again need to prove that he can perform outside of the Seattle system. Rookie Xavien Howard (Baylor) has plenty of upside, and should push Lippett for the starting corner position opposite Maxwell. Jones is one of the best run-stopping and pass-rushing safeties, and generally is reliable in coverage as well.
19. New York Giants
Projected starters: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB Janoris Jenkins, SCB Eli Apple, S Landon Collins, S Nat Berhe
Other names to know: S Darian Thompson, CB Trevin Wade, S Cooper Taylor
Key stat: Jenkins has given up over 700 yards and five touchdowns in each of his four seasons, with a total of 22 touchdowns during that time.
The Giants decided to move on from the oft-injured Prince Amukamara (Jaguars) to sign former Rams CB Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins is coming off his best season as a pro, but injuries aside, Amukamara has actually played better when on the field. The safety position is still a major concern for New York; last year’s first-round pick, Landon Collins, had the lowest coverage grade of any NFL safety, while the other position is still up in the air without a proven option on the roster.
20. Indianapolis Colts
Projected starters: CB Vontae Davis, CB D’Joun Smith, SCB Patrick Robinson, S Mike Adams, S Clayton Geathers
Other names to know: S T.J. Green, S Winston Guy, CB Darius Butler
Key stat: Robinson allowed 0.78 yards per coverage snap when aligned in the slot, tied for the third-lowest average among slot cornerbacks.
Davis couldn’t duplicate his career-year from 2014, but still had a positive season overall in 2015, even if he allowed seven scores. Robinson should be a welcome addition who can play both on the outside and in the slot. The No. 3 cornerback spot remains a question mark, though, with Smith the likely favorite at this point, playing only 20 snaps as a rookie last year.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected starters: CB Ross Cockrell, CB Artie Burns, SCB William Gay, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden
Other names to know: S Shamarko Thomas, S Sean Davis, CB Senquez Golson, CB Doran Grant
Key stat: Mike Mitchell allowed just four catches on 627 snaps in coverage last season, the lowest receptions-per-snap ratio in the league.
Antwon Blake (Titans) was the primary issue in the Steelers’ secondary last year, and with him no longer on the roster, they should be set to do better in 2016. Cockrell performed well in the first significant playing time of his career. Veterans Gay and Mitchell, while not great players, are dependable pieces in this DB unit. Artie Burns (University of Miami), however, will likely see significant playing time as a rookie—PFF analysts were not high on the CB’s draft value this offseason, and feel he’s not the best fit for Pittsburgh’s system.
22. Jacksonville Jaguars
Projected starters: CB Prince Amukamara, CB Davon House, SCB Jalen Ramsey, S Jonathan Cyprien, S Tashaun Gipson
Other names to know: CB Aaron Colvin, CB Dwayne Gratz, S Josh Evans
Key stat: John Cyprien led all safeties with 21 missed tackles last season.
The Jaguars were fortunate to grab Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) in the draft, and he alone should be a significant asset to the secondary. Amukamara has graded positively in each of his last four seasons with the Giants. His problem has been his inability to stay on the field; if he can manage to avoid injury in 2016, the Jaguars could have a solid group of cornerbacks. Despite the improvements at cornerback, safety may still be a concern, depending on how exactly they use Ramsey. One question is which version of Tashaun Gipson is going to show up this season; after earning the 15th-best overall grade in 2014, he dropped all the way to 83rd out of 88 qualifying safeties in 2015. Cyprien was not much—if any—better, with a negative grade that ranked 85th.
23. Detroit Lions
Projected starters: CB Darius Slay, CB Nevin Lawson, SCB Quandre Diggs, S Glover Quin, S Rafael Bush
Other names to know: S Miles Killebrew, S Tavon Wilson, CB Alex Carter, CB Crezdon Butler, CB Johnson Bademosi
Key stat: Slay allowed 20 or fewer yards in six games last season.
Darius Slay has really come into his own the last couple of years, and ranked among the five best cornerbacks last season. Yet as good as Slay has been, this placement on the list reveals the many questions marks throughout the Lions’ secondary. Diggs has shown potential as a slot corner, but likely-No. 2 corner Lawson played poorly enough to rank 101st out of 111 at the position last season while filling in for now-retired Rashean Mathis. Quin is a an average starter, and Bush is said to have the lead in the competition for the other safety spot. Bush missed almost all of last year due to injury, and his last season with a positive grade was 2013, on only 599 snaps.
24. Baltimore Ravens
Projected starters: CB Jimmy Smith, CB Shareece Wright, SCB Jerraud Powers, S Eric Weddle, S Lardarius Webb
Other names to know: S Matt Elam, S Kendrick Lewis, CB Tavon Young, CB Maurice Canady, CB Kyle Arrington, CB Will Davis
Key stat: Smith allowed as many touchdowns in 2015 (six) as he did in his first four seasons in the league combined.
In 2014, Jimmy Smith looked like he was finally becoming the No. 1-caliber cornerback the Ravens had hoped for when drafting him. Injuries have since hindered him, however, and he took a step back last year. Wright, Powers, and Arrington have all shown brief glimpses of solid play, but have never been able to sustain it for an extended period of time. The Ravens signed Eric Weddle (Chargers) this offseason and moved Webb from cornerback to address the safety position.
25. Cleveland Browns
Projected starters: CB Joe Haden, CB Tramon Williams, SCB K’Waun Williams, S Jordan Poyer, S Ibraheim Campbell
Other names to know: S Rahim Moore, S Derrick Kindred, CB Pierre Desir, CB Justin Gilbert, CB Trey Caldwell
Key stat: Despite playing in just five games in 2015, Haden’s four touchdowns allowed were as many or more than three of his other five pro seasons.
Last year, Haden looked far from the top-tier cornerback that he may have been a few years ago before missing the second half of the season, and his status for the start of the year remains in question. Tramon Williams has continued to be a consistent defender since coming over from Green Bay, while K’Waun Williams put some good stuff on tape as a role player in his two years. The Browns will need Poyer and Campbell to step into larger roles at safety, but the team also brought in Rahim Moore (Texans) as competition and depth.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Projected starters: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Akeem King, SCB Robert Alford, S Keanu Neal, S Ricardo Allen
Other names to know: CB Jalen Collins, S Charles Godfry, S Robenson Therezie
Key stat: Trufant’s 0.73 yards allowed per snap in coverage ranked seventh in the league last season.
Atlanta still has one of the better young cornerbacks in the league in Trufant, who ranked 13th in overall cornerback grades last season. Robert Alford had his best year yet in 2015, with a slightly above-average grade in coverage. The team has high hopes for rookie safety Keanu Neal (Florida) to fill the Kam Chancellor-like role of the defense, but the No. 3 cornerback spot is a concern, with Akeem King being the favorite after playing just 16 snaps as a rookie.
27. Los Angeles Rams
Projected starters: CB Trumaine Johnson, CB E.J. Gaines, SCB Lamarcus Joyner, S T.J. McDonald, S Maurice Alexander
Other names to know: S Cody Davis, CB Coty Sensabaugh, CB Marcus Roberson, CB Troy Hill
Key stat: Johnson allowed a 55.0 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks, the second-lowest rating among NFL cornerbacks in 2015.
With the Rams choosing Trumaine Johnson over Janoris Jenkins (Giants) this offseason, the former now becomes their No. 1 cornerback. Beyond Johnson though, they have Joyner—who graded out as average in coverage last season, and was a bit of a liability against the run—and Gaines, who made some good plays as a rookie in 2014, but missed the entire 2015 season due to a foot injury. At safety, McDonald has put together some good stretches of play, particularly during the second-half of the 2014 season. The Rams also have to replace Rodney McLeod (Eagles) with Maurice Alexander, who earned negative overall grades in four of his five fill-in starts last year.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projected starters: CB Vernon Hargreaves, CB Brent Grimes, SCB Alterraun Verner, S Brad McDougald, S Chris Conte
Other names to know: CB Josh Robinson, CB Jonathan Banks, CB Jude Adjei-Barimah, S Major Wright, S Keith Tandy
Key stat: Grimes has allowed 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons after giving up a total of 14 in the seven seasons prior to 2014.
Looking to shore up their pass defense, the Bucs brought in Brent Grimes (Dolphins) and drafted Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) in the first round. For a few years, Grimes was among the best corners in the league, but has since been fairly average over the past two seasons. Similarly, Verner has not been the same caliber of player since leaving Tennessee. Tampa Bay hopes that new defensive coordinator Mike Smith can help the pair regain their prior form.
29. Tennessee Titans
Projected starters: CB Jason McCourty, CB Perrish Cox, SCB Brice McCain, S Da’Norris Searcy, S Rashad Johnson
Other names to know: CB Kalan Reed, CB B.W. Webb, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB Cody Riggs, S Daimion Stafford, S Kevin Byard
Key stat: Perrish Cox allowed a 124.2 passer rating into his coverage last year, the second-highest rating among cornerbacks with at least 500 snaps .
About the only thing that went right for the Titans’ secondary last year was the addition of Searcy, who finished the season with a career-high coverage grade. At corner, pretty much everyone that saw the field had issues, with Cody Riggs as the only one to allow a passer rating of less than 100.0. Cox graded at almost exactly average in coverage, and has yet to produce an above-average pro season. McCourty will be back after missing most of last year due to injury, but he also graded negatively in each of the past two years when on the field.
30. Dallas Cowboys
Projected starters: CB Brandon Carr, CB Morris Claiborne, SCB Orlando Scandrick, S Byron Jones, S Barry Church
Other names to know: CB Josh Thomas, CB Anthony Brown, S J.J. Wilcox, S Jeff Heath, S Kavon Frazier
Key stat: The Cowboys’ returning starters above allowed a combined 14 touchdowns in 2014, and did not intercept a single pass.
Getting Scandrick back following his knee injury should provide a boost for the Dallas defense if he can play at the same level he was at in 2014, when he earned the NFL’s eighth-highest coverage grade. Byron Jones lived up to his first-round draft pick as a rookie, and proved to be a valuable addition. We will need to see if he can sustain that level of play as he transitions to safety full-time, though. It remains status quo for the rest of the secondary. Over the past three seasons, Carr, Claiborne, and Church have combined for just one full-season coverage grade that was not below-average.
31. Chicago Bears
Projected starters: CB Kyle Fuller, CB Tracy Porter, SCB Bryce Callahan, S Adrian Amos, S Harold Jones-Quartey
Other names to know: S Deon Bush, CB Deiondre Hall, CB Sherrick McManis, S DeAndre Houston-Carson
Key stat: From Week 3 on, Kyle Fuller earned the 14th-highest coverage grade among corners last season.
Last season, Fuller improved upon his poor rookie year, and was the only Bears defensive back to finish the 2015 with a positive coverage grade; he still has a ways to go, however, to live up to his status as a first-round draft pick. Porter is not the answer for the Bears, who in his first season with Chicago earned a negative grade in coverage for a fifth-consecutive season. Amos was a pleasant surprise as a fifth-round rookie, but the secondary overall still lacks both proven performance and consistency.
32. Carolina Panthers
Projected starters: CB James Bradberry, CB Robert McClain, SCB Bené Benwikere, S Tre Boston, S Kurt Coleman
Other names to know: CB Zack Sanchez, CB Daryl Worley, S Trenton Robinson, S Colin Jones
Key stat: Nearly 69 percent of the Panthers’ cornerback snaps in 2015 will need to be replaced this season.
With Josh Norman (Redskins) now gone, there will be some significant changes to the back end of the Panthers’ defense. Kurt Coleman and Bené Benwikere will be the only two of the team’s top five defensive backs returning from last year. Coleman had a career-year in his first season with Carolina, but Benwikere actually fared worse than his impressive 2014 rookie season. The Panthers will also be relying on rookie James Bradberry (Samford) to play significant snaps.