Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries entering Week 7

How have all 32 secondaries performed this season? Analyst Matt Claassen ranks the league's units top to bottom.

| 2 months ago
Vikings S Harrison Smith

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries entering Week 7


With six weeks of the NFL season down, it’s time to take a look at Pro Football Focus’ secondary rankings for all 32 teams. With that comes the reminder that a team’s secondary still has a role in run defense, these are not solely coverage rankings—a defense’s overall performance in pass defense also includes the front-seven in coverage.

1. Minnesota Vikings (Preseason rank: 7)

Current nickel package: CB Terence Newman, CB Xavier Rhodes, SCB Captain Munnerlyn, S Harrison Smith, S Andrew Sendejo

Heading into the season, we knew this group would be good, but through five games, they are exceeding even high expectations. Harrison Smith is still arguably the best overall safety in the game. Despite having a plethora of young talent at cornerback, Terence Newman has graded the highest in coverage out of the CB group, and his 0.54 yards per cover snap allowed is the second-lowest mark among corners with at least 100 snaps in coverage this year.

2. Baltimore Ravens (24)

Current nickel package: CB Jimmy Smith, CB Shareece Wright, SCB Tavon Young, S Eric Weddle, S Lardarius Webb

After seeing his performance dip a bit last year, Eric Weddle has regained his elite form with his new team to earn the highest coverage grade among all safeties in the league through Week 6. At the other safety spot, Lardarius Webb has held his own in his transition from cornerback. Shareece Wright is the only Baltimore secondary defender with a below-average coverage grade, surrendering five touchdowns in as many games.

3. Houston Texans (10)

Current nickel package: CB Johnathan Joseph, CB A.J. Bouye, SCB Kevin Johnson, S Andre Hal, S Quintin Demps

The surprise out of this group has been former UDFA A.J. Bouye, who has certainly earned his playing time. He currently just edges out Chris Harris Jr. for the top coverage grade among cornerbacks this season, and has yet to surrender over 100 receiving yards on the year. Oddly enough, Johnathan Joseph has the lowest coverage grade in the Texans’ secondary after ranking among the best coverage cornerbacks in the league last season. The Houston secondary has also not had the benefit of J.J. Watt’s seemingly constant pressure on quarterbacks this season.

4. Dallas Cowboys (30)

Current nickel package: CB Brandon Carr, CB Morris Claiborne, SCB Anthony Brown, S Byron P. Jones, S Barry Church

Dallas owned one of the worst secondaries in the league last season, but through six weeks, they have turned it around with largely the same cast. Byron Jones was the only player to earn an above-average grade in coverage last year; now, Jones has continued to play well, while Barry Church and Morris Claiborne currently own career-highs in terms of coverage grades, and Brandon Carr is right around his best grade since joining the Cowboys. It’s been a remarkable turnaround thus far, but we’ll see if Dallas can sustain this level of play for the rest of the season.

5. Seattle Seahawks (4)

Current nickel package: CB Richard Sherman, CB DeShawn Shead, SCB Jeremy Lane, S Earl Thomas, S Kam Chancellor

The Legion of Boom is a perennial group among the best secondaries in the league, and regardless of their multiple coverage busts this past week, they remain one of the best units. We all know about their three elite players, but the fourth starter, DeShawn Shead, is the guy to keep an eye on. He understandably struggled last year, as teams tried to stay away from the other Seattle coverage defenders, but he’s been left at outside cornerback and away from the slot much more often this season, and it seems to have made a positive impact on his performance.

6. Arizona Cardinals (2)

Current nickel package: CB Patrick Peterson, CB Marcus Cooper, SCB Tyrann Mathieu, S Tony Jefferson, S D.J. Swearinger

The Cardinals initially played Tyrann Mathieu far more as a free safety than they had in the past, but he just wasn’t having the same kind of impact. After playing 165 snaps at free saftey over the first four weeks, though, Mathieu lined up there just twice in the past two games. On the outside, Patrick Peterson continues to be one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He’s currently surrendering a catch once every 19 snaps in coverage, the lowest frequency of any cornerback that has played at least half of his team’s pass-defense snaps.

7. Denver Broncos (1)

Current nickel package: CB Aqib Talib, CB Bradley Roby, SCB Chris Harris Jr., S Darian Stewart, S T.J. Ward

Last year’s top secondary has dropped in the rankings; however, it isn’t because of a drop in play by their top cornerbacks. Entering Week 7, Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib rank second and third, respectively, in overall grade. Opposing quarterbacks have a 29.6 passer rating when targeting Talib, the second-lowest rating against a cornerback this season. Bradley Roby has been the weak spot in coverage, and the safeties have not played as well against the run as they did last season.

8. New York Giants (19)

Current nickel package: CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, SCB Leon Hall, S Landon Collins, S Andrew Adams

Safety Landon Collins was mostly a disappointment as a rookie, but he’s made great strides from his position-worst coverage grade a season ago. Receiving stats into his coverage are down across the board, and busted coverages haven’t seemed like an issue this year. Leon Hall has also played well in the slot, and has been a valuable addition after sitting on the free-agent market for months.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars (22)

Current nickel package: CB Prince Amukamara, CB Aaron Colvin, SCB Jalen Ramsey, S John Cyprien, S Tashaun Gipson

Jalen Ramsey hasn’t played as well the past two games as he started off the season, but he’s clearly going to be a valuable impact-player for Jacksonville’s defense. Prince Amukamara has been great in coverage when on the field, allowing a 35 percent catch rate into his coverage—a league-low among cornerbacks. For the most part, the entire secondary has played well outside of Davon House, who owns the third-lowest overall grade among cornerbacks this year. The Jaguars wisely made the move to bench him for Aaron Colvin this past week, though, and it worked out well.

10. San Francisco 49ers (17)

Current nickel package: CB Rashard Robinson, CB Tramaine Brock, SCB Jimmie Ward, S Eric Reid, S Antoine Bethea

The 49ers have struggled at most positions and areas of play this season, but the secondary is probably the one exception. Rookie Rashard Robinson is the only cornerback in the league with at least 100 snaps in coverage to surrender fewer than 0.5 yards per coverage snap. Only 13 out of 112 qualifying cornerbacks are allowing a completion percentage of 50 percent or lower into their coverage this season; the 49ers have two such players, in the form of Robinson (50 percent) and Tramaine Brock (44.1 percent).

11. San Diego Chargers (14)

Current nickel package: CB Brandon Flowers, CB Craig Mager, SCB Casey Hayward, S Dwight Lowery, S Adrian Phillips

Jason Verrett’s injury will undoubtedly have a lingering effect on the Chargers’ defense this season. Fortunately for them, the Casey Hayward signing has panned out well so far. Hayward currently ranks 10th in both overall and coverage grades at cornerback. At safety, Dwight Lowery isn’t playing as well as former Charger Eric Weddle is this season, but he is performing at a level similar to Weddle last season. Over the past four weeks, Lowery has surrendered two catches for 16 yards and recorded a pass defense on a 182 coverage snaps.

12. Buffalo Bills (6)

Current nickel package: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Ronald Darby, SCB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Corey Graham, S Aaron Williams

Performances have flipped a bit this season for the Bills. Ronald Darby was their highest-graded defender in coverage last season, but now has the lowest coverage grade among their top five defenders. Meanwhile, slot cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman looks more like the player we saw as a rookie. Opposing quarterbacks have a measly 19.1 passer rating when targeting him, the lowest for any cornerback in the league. Out of their normal nickel package, the Bills have allowed just two touchdowns (both on Darby), and have a combined 22 interceptions and pass breakups.

13. Atlanta Falcons (26)

Current nickel package: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Robert Alford, SCB Brian Poole, S Ricardo Allen, S Keanu Neal

Desmond Trufant still hasn’t reached the level of play from his first two years in the league, but is still among the better players at the position. Rookie Keanu Neal has fit the strong safety position well, and has yet to miss a tackle on his 25 attempts. While that may not sound all that impressive, only five safeties have attempted at least 10 tackles without missing one this season. If not for Robert Alford, who has a position-high eight penalties and the second-lowest grade against the run among all cornerbacks, Atlanta could easily be higher up the list.

14. Detroit Lions (23)

Current nickel package: CB Darius Slay, CB Nevin Lawson, SCB Quandre Diggs, S Glover Quin, S Tavon Wilson

Darius Slay is once again performing among the best cornerbacks in the league, earning an overall grade of 86.6 that ranks fourth at the position. He’s also near the top of the league in combined pass breakups and interceptions, at seven. The issue for the secondary has been nickel corner Quandre Diggs’ regression. Diggs is allowing a 87.5 completion percentage that ranks as the highest among NFL cornerbacks, and opposing quarterbacks have a 146.5 passer rating when targeting him, good for the third-highest rating.

15. Oakland Raiders (9)

Current nickel package: CB David Amerson, CB Sean Smith, SCB D.J. Hayden, S Reggie Nelson, S Karl Joseph

David Amerson has given up the third-most receiving yards this season, but he’s also tied for the league lead with nine combined interceptions and pass breakups. Teammate Sean Smith has allowed the most receiving yards this season, with 414, but the 98-yard touchdown he gave up in Week 1 somewhat skews that metric compared to his overall performance. Nickel cornerback D.J. Hayden has improved to at least a serviceable level this year after giving up the second-most receptions (70) last season.

16. New England Patriots (3)

Current nickel package: CB Malcolm Butler, CB Logan Ryan, S Devin McCourty, S Patrick Chung, S Duron Harmon

One of the best secondaries last season has not performed quite as well this year. Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler are still playing at a high level, with the latter tied for the league-lead with eight pass defenses. Instead, Logan Ryan and Patrick Chung have brought down the group’s rank. Ryan has surrendered a league-high 35 receptions for the second-most receiving yards (375), while also earning the lowest grade in run defense for cornerbacks. Chung has already surrendered two-thirds of the receiving yards he allowed over all of last season through just six games this year. He also has just five tackles that resulted in defensive stops, nowhere near the pace to match his 34 stops from last season.

17. Los Angeles Rams (27)

Current nickel package: CB Trumaine Johnson, CB Troy Hill, SCB Lamarcus Joyner, S Maurice Alexander, S T.J. McDonald

Most of the Rams’ secondary has actually performed well this season. Maurice Alexander and T.J. McDonald rank 10th and 26th in overall grade, respectively, out of 82 qualifying safeties. Lamarcus Joyner leads all defensive backs with 19 defensive stops and a position-best 9.1 run stop percentage. Unfortunately, Troy Hill has been the worst cornerback in coverage this season. His 336 yards allowed on 155 snaps in coverage measures out to one of the worst rates in the league.

18. Miami Dolphins (18)

Current nickel package: CB Byron Maxwell, CB Tony Lippett, SCB Bobby McCain, S Reshad Jones, S Isa Abdul-Quddus

Reshad Jones continues to be the best player in the Dolphins’ secondary, and is actually having one of his best seasons in coverage. Byron Maxwell’s addition had been somewhat of a wash the first few weeks compared to Brent Grimes, but he’s coming off a four-pass-breakup performance against the Steelers on Sunday. Tony Lippett didn’t fare well against Bengals WR A.J. Green in Week 4, but he did have two pass breakups in that game and has been more reliable the past two weeks.

19. Kansas City Chiefs (13)

Current nickel package: CB Marcus Peters, CB Phillip Gaines, SCB Steven Nelson, S Eric Berry, S Ron Parker

Marcus Peters has done a nice job to cut down on the touchdowns allowed and penalties while still being able to make plays on the ball in coverage. He is once again leading the league in interceptions, with five, and has another four pass breakups. Beyond Cooper at cornerback, Phillip Gaines and Steven Nelson rank 99th and 77th out of 112 qualifying corners; D.J. White hasn’t played enough snaps to qualify for a ranking, but he has a similar grade to Gaines thus far.

20. Cleveland Browns (25)

Current nickel package: CB Joe Haden, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, SCB Jamar Taylor, S Jordan Poyer, S Ibraheim Campbell

The Browns’ secondary hasn’t been very good in coverage this season. Jamar Taylor is much-improved compared to his performance last year with the Dolphins, and Joe Haden has played well when on the field, but four of the five other players with significant playing time have earned below-average coverage grades. However, this group has been one of the best in run defense, which is even more important when playing with one of the worst linebacker units against the run.

21. Chicago Bears (31)

Current nickel package: CB Tracy Porter, CB Bryce Callahan, SCB Cre’von LeBlanc, S Adrian Amos, S Harold Jones-Quartey

Even though he doesn’t make a lot of plays on the ball in coverage, Adrian Amos has quietly been the best player in the Bears’ secondary this season. Tracy Porter, meanwhile, is on his way to earning a below-average grade in coverage for the sixth-consecutive season. Bryce Callahan has fared well enough, considering that he wasn’t supposed to have a big role, but still hasn’t played much better than average. It hasn’t helped not having Kyle Fuller, either, who played much better in his second pro season last year.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (21)

Current nickel package: CB Ross Cockrell, CB Artie Burns, SCB William Gay, S Mike Mitchell, S Robert Golden

The Steelers’ rookies have been a disappointment thus far. Artie Burns and Sean Davis have combined for 11 missed tackles overall and surrendered 33 catches for 419 yards in the passing game. On the positive side, Robert Golden and Jordan Dangerfield have both played well at the safety spot opposite Mike Mitchell, and along with William Gay, are the highest-graded players in coverage for the Steelers.

23. Indianapolis Colts (20)

Current nickel package: CB Vontae Davis, CB Rashaan Melvin, SCB Patrick Robinson, S Mike Adams, S Clayton Geathers

Indianapolis has been forced to play too many different players in the secondary. At cornerback, pretty much everyone to see the field beyond Vontae Davis and Rashaan Melvin as a third or fourth corner has had issues in coverage until Darius Butler this past week. Davis is coming off his best game after a slow start to the season; he held Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins to 31 yards on eight targets, coming up with an interception and a pass breakup.

24. New Orleans Saints (15)

Current nickel package: CB Ken Crawley, CB Sterling Moore, SCB B.W. Webb, S Kenny Vaccaro, S Jairus Byrd

Delvin Breaux’s injury was a setback for the defense, and neither Ken Crawley nor Sterling Moore have been all that impressive during his absence. However, B.W. Webb has been a pleasant surprise after the Saints signed him following Breaux’s injury. On 80 coverage snaps, Webb has surrendered seven catches while breaking up four passes an intercepting another. Jairus Byrd is the only other defensive back with an above-average coverage grade for New Orleans.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (28)

Current nickel package: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Brent Grimes, SCB Jude Adjei-Barimah, S Chris Conte, S Bradley McDougald

It seems like we’ve seen two different versions of Brent Grimes this season. In games against Arizona and Denver, he allowed a combined 12 catches on 22 targets for 167 yards. In the other three games, he surrendered just three catches for 26 yards. But overall, the signing has panned out so far for Tampa Bay. Vernon Hargreaves III has had rookie moments at times, but looks like he’s going to be a good player for the Bucs’ defense. Once again, safety play is bringing Tampa Bay’s defense down. Chris Conte looks more like the player from a few years ago, and ranks dead last in overall grade out of 86 qualifying safeties.

26. Washington Redskins (8)

Current nickel package: CB Josh Norman, CB Bashaud Breeland, SCB Kendall Fuller, S Will Blackmon, S Duke Ihenacho

Signing Josh Norman has definitely helped improve Washington’s No. 1 cornerback spot, but it hasn’t had the overall impact for the defense the Redskins had hoped, especially with multiple injuries in the secondary. Bashaud Breeland has regressed to his rookie form from 2014, and before getting injured, David Bruton missed eight tackles in four games, which still remain the most by a defensive back two weeks later. Duke Ihenacho is the highest-graded defensive back after Norman, but still isn’t being given ample playing time.

27. Tennessee Titans (29)

Current nickel package: CB Jason McCourty, CB Perrish Cox, SCB Brice McCain, S Daimion Stafford, S Rashad Johnson

Jason McCourty has bounced back this season and currently sits as the 14th-highest-graded cornerback in the league. He has yet to surrender a score, and has a combined seven pass breakups and interceptions. It has been a lackluster performance from the rest of the secondary, though; Perrish Cox has allowed the seventh-most yards by a cornerback (333) this year, and quarterbacks have a 141.8 passer rating when targeting slot corner Brice McCain. In total, the unit has missed a combined 28 tackles through six games.

28. Green Bay Packers (5)

Current nickel package: CB Ladarius Gunter, CB Demetri Goodson, SCB Micah Hyde, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S Morgan Burnett

Injuries have decimated a secondary that was expected to be one of the better units in the league again this season. The Packers have lost Sam Shields—possibly for the year—and Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have both missed significant time and will not play again this week. Instead, Green Bay has been forced to turn Ladarius Gunter as their current No. 1 cornerback, when he was likely expected to be their fourth CB, at best. The group has still been very good in run defense, but seven of the nine defensive backs who have played at least 30 snaps have earned below-average grades in coverage.

29. Cincinnati Bengals (11)

Current nickel package: CB Adam Jones, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, SCB Joshua Shaw, S George Iloka, S Shawn Williams

The Bengals have owned one of the best coverage secondaries for several years, but it seems that streak may have come to an end this season. Now without Reggie Nelson, play has dropped off at both safety spots. Both George Iloka and Shawn Williams are allowing a perfect 158.3 passer rating into their coverage to opposing quarterbacks. Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t improved much from last year, and Darqueze Dennard has surrendered 11 catches for 185 yards on 12 targets in very limited time.

30. Philadelphia Eagles (12)

Current nickel package: CB Nolan Carroll, CB Jalen Mills, SCB Ron Brooks, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Rodney McLeod

Safety play for the Eagles has been good, as both players rank in the top third of safeties in terms of overall grade. However, cornerback has been beyond poor so far. Philadelphia’s top three corners rank 93rd, 101st, and 108th in overall grade out of 112 qualifying players. Jalen Mills has surrendered 2.61 yards per coverage snap this season, the highest mark in the league, and has been targeted once every 3.5 coverage snaps.

31. New York Jets (16)

Current nickel package: CB Darrelle Revis, CB Marcus Williams, SCB Buster Skrine, S Marcus Gilchrist, S Calvin Pryor

Not much has gone right for the Jets this season, and that certainly applies to the secondary, as well. Darrelle Revis is allowing an 80.8 completion percentage into his coverage, over 30 percentage points higher than his career completion percentage going into the year. Opposing quarterbacks against the New York secondary as a whole have a 74.0 completion percentage and a 121.2 passer rating.

32. Carolina Panthers (32)

Current nickel package: CB Daryl Worley, CB Zack Sanchez, SCB Robert McClain, S Kurt Coleman, S Tre Boston

Unsurprisingly, the Panthers stay in the bottom spot of the rankings. Letting Josh Norman walk has proven to be too much for the secondary to overcome. It has gotten so bad that they decided to cut Bené Benwikere after he surrendered a whopping 228 receiving yards to Atlanta. Rookie Zach Sanchez was given a starting opportunity this past week, only to give up 183 yards and two touchdowns to the Saints. Even Kurt Coleman, who finished last season as the 17th-highet-graded safety, has dropped all the way to 75th in that regard this year.

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • Samuel Myers

    Jalen Ramsey doesn’t play in the slot in the Jags’ nickel defense, Aaron Colvin does.

  • Samuel Mazzini

    Seeing my Niners ranked 10th briefly stopped my crying.

    • Mats Jacobsen

      mine aswell,just need that whole defense to not give up 100+ rushing yards every time

  • Chirho

    Raiders secondary is not that good, not by a long shot.

  • dave

    current Rams nickle Gaines, Hill, McDonald, Alexander and Joyner(broken toe)

  • A.J.

    Joe Haden has given up four touchdowns in four games, three on man coverage and one on a blown zone coverage. How is that “played well when he is on the field?” That’s the games he’s actually played, otherwise he’s taking his usual fake injury games off. Once he got that ridiculous undeserved contract with that fat guarantee, he knew he could get away with murder. The guy is a hyped up self-promoting suck machine.

  • Todd R

    The 2016 Detroit Lions are currently on pace to break the NFL record for the ‘worst defensive passer rating allowed by a team in an NFL season as opposing QB’s have posted an eye popping 117.7 quarterback rating against them so far this year. They’ve also allowed an unheard of 74.1% completion percentage as well this season which again is easily the worst ever by an NFL team.

    The saddest part about this is that these games have come against: Case Keenum, Andrew Luck, Carson Wentz, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, the post-2014 Aaron Rodgers and Marcus Mariota.

    So with that said PFF comes out with their secondary rankings today and despite the Lions horrific start to the season defensively they are currently ranked (drum roll please)…………….as being the 14th best secondary in the NFL thus far, huh? what?

    I’m a big NFL and even bigger Detroit Lions fan of 35+ years. I have watched every single play from this god awful defense this season and with that said I can’t even fathom that I’ve what I’ve just watched was what anyone would call ‘above average secondary play’ from an NFL defense.

  • http://www.leadpointe.com Inferno2ss

    Cowboys got steal landing Anthony Brown in the 6th round.