Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries this season

Analyst Matt Claassen ranks all 32 NFL secondaries following the 2016 regular season.

| 1 month ago
Barry Church

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries this season


With the 2016 regular season and Wild Card round in the books, it’s now time to revisit Pro Football Focus’ secondary rankings for all 32 teams. Once again comes the reminder that a team’s secondary still has a role in run defense—these are not solely coverage rankings, and a team’s overall performance in pass defense also includes the front-seven in coverage.

Next to each team name, we’ve noted the unit’s ranking entering Week 7 in parenthesis.

1. Dallas Cowboys (Rank entering Week 7: 4)

Top overall grade: S Barry Church, 86.2 (No. 9 among safeties)

Top coverage grade: CB Morris Claiborne, 85.1 (No. 12 among CBs)

Top run-defense grade: S Barry Church, 86.0 (No. 11)

Most snaps: CB Brandon Carr, 1,013

One of the biggest reasons for the Cowboys’ success this season has been the turnaround of the secondary. After having just one defensive back with an above-average coverage grade last season, all eight players with at least 100 snaps in 2016 earned average or above-average overall and coverage grades. Although they lack an elite-caliber player, this group has played consistently well as a unit. Byron Jones, Barry Church, Morris Claiborne, and J.J. Wilcox have all earned career-high overall and coverage grades this season, while rookie Anthony Brown has played well down the stretch in Claiborne’s absence.

2. New York Giants (8)

Top overall grade: S Landon Collins, 91.7 (No. 3)

Top coverage grade: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 90.3 (No. 5)

Top run-defense grade: S Landon Collins, 95.8 (No. 3)

Most snaps: S Landon Collins, 1,176

The Giants’ ranking may feel high after their performance against the Packers in the Wild Card game on Sunday, but they were also without their top-graded cornerback, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who we recently named as PFF’s second-team All-Pro defensive back. Rodgers-Cromartie finished the year as the sixth-ranked corner in the league, but he wasn’t the only Giants DB to play well. In his first year with the team after a big free-agent deal, Janoris Jenkins had by far the best season of his career and also finished among the top 10 cornerbacks in the league. Safety Landon Collins was a revelation in his second year after greatly improving in coverage and establishing himself as one of the best run defenders in the league, which led to his PFF first-team All-Pro selection. The Giants do have some weakness further down the depth chart, though, as we saw against Green Bay when Trevin Wade and rookie Eli Apple were forced into bigger roles.

3. New England Patriots (16)

Top overall grade: CB Malcolm Butler, 90.8 (No. 4)

Top coverage grade: CB Malcolm Butler, 91.1 (No. 3)

Top run-defense grade: S Devin McCourty, 83.1 (No. 16)

Most snaps: S Devin McCourty, 1,021 

The Giants weren’t the only team to feature multiple All-Pro selections in the secondary. Devin McCourty continues to be one of the top safeties in the game, earning the highest coverage grade of any at the position this season. Malcolm Butler had a breakout year at cornerback with a combined 16 interceptions and pass breakups, and the third-highest coverage grade among corners. Logan Ryan is still a solid No. 2 cornerback and played much better over the last half of the season. The one real weakness in the secondary has been Patrick Chung, who after earning career-highs in overall and coverage grades last season, ranks 81st out of 91 safeties in overall grade in 2016.

4. Denver Broncos (7)

Top overall grade: CB Chris Harris Jr., 92.9 (No. 1)

Top coverage grade: CB Chris Harris Jr., 92.7 (tied for No. 1)

Top run-defense grade: CB Aqib Talib, 83.2 (No. 4)

Most snaps: CB Chris Harris Jr., 1,092

Denver features unquestionably the best cornerback pairing in the league right now in Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. Both players made our All-Pro first team, with Harris Jr. finishing the year as our top-graded cornerback, and Talib just two spots behind. Both players also ranked among the top five corners in yards allowed per coverage snap. The biggest differences between last year’s elite unit and this season’s version were the slight drop-offs in play from the safeties. Worth noting, also, was the play of CB Bradley Roby, who fell from the 25th ranked corner in 2015 to 92nd in 2016.

5. Seattle Seahawks (5)

Top overall grade: S Kam Chancellor, 91.8 (No. 2)

Top coverage grade: S Kam Chancellor, 86.6 (No. 6)

Top run-defense grade: S Kam Chancellor, 94.2 (No. 4)

Most snaps: CB Richard Sherman, 1,105

Kam Chancellor missed some time this season, yet is still having maybe the best year of his career. His 22 run stops are the second-most in his career, and his overall tackling efficiency is easily his personal best. Losing Earl Thomas has made things a bit more difficult for the secondary; on deep passes targeted 20-plus yards downfield, opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 112.0 since Thomas’s injury, compared to just 61.3 with Thomas on the field. It doesn’t seem to have affected Richard Sherman, though, whose 14.9 snaps in coverage per reception allowed is the best rate among NFL cornerbacks this season. This group also plays the run about as well as any, with four players ranked among the top-10 at their positions in run-stop percentage.

6. Atlanta Falcons (13)

Top overall grade: CB Jalen Collins, 83.7 (No. 17)

Top coverage grade: S Keanu Neal, 90.3 (No. 3)

Top run-defense grade: CB Desmond Trufant, 83.1 (No. 5)

Most snaps: CB Robert Alford, 1,082

Atlanta lost No. 1 cornerback Desmond Trufant for the year midway through the season, but Brian Poole and Jalen Collins played well in increased roles. The rookie Poole was targeted once every 8.5 snaps in coverage while lined up in the slot, the least-frequent rate among slot cornerbacks. Collins intercepted or broken up 18 percent of his targets, the fifth-highest percentage among cornerbacks. Rookie first-round safety Keanu Neal has given up the second-most receiving yards among safeties, but he also has 13 defensive stops and five forced fumbles while in coverage. At the other safety position, Ricardo Allen improved in his second season as a starter and allowed a reception as the primary coverage defender once every 71 snaps in coverage.

7. Minnesota Vikings (1)

Top overall grade: CB Terence Newman, 86.4 (No. 9)

Top coverage grade: CB Terence Newman, 85.7 (No. 9)

Top run-defense grade: S Harrison Smith, 90.3 (No. 6)

Most snaps: S Harrison Smith, 894

Minnesota was our top-ranked group when we last released secondary rankings around Week 7, but their play has since dropped off a bit. Harrison Smith did not fare as well in coverage after that point, as he dealt with injuries and recorded eight missed tackles in his last seven games. Despite being the oldest cornerback in the league by roughly five years, Terence Newman has continued to not only be the Vikings’ best corner, but a top-10 cornerback in the league. He allowed just 0.57 yards per snap in coverage, the lowest average for any cornerback this season. Xavier Rhodes also boasted league-bests among cornerbacks in completion percentage (48 percent) and passer rating (47.0) allowed into his coverage.

8. Houston Texans (3)

Top overall grade: CB A.J. Bouye, 92.5 (No. 2)

Top coverage grade: CB A.J. Bouye, 92.7 (tied for No. 1)

Top run-defense grade: S Quintin Demps, 83.0 (No. 17)

Most snaps: S Andre Hal, 881

The Texans dealt with injuries at cornerback for much of the season. Kevin Johnson was lost for the year after six weeks, and had earned the fifth-highest overall grade at the position until that point. One of last year’s highest-graded coverage corners, Johnathan Joseph, dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season, leading to his fewest snaps played and lowest grade in seven years. However, those injuries opened the door for A.J. Bouye to see more playing time; he quickly blossomed into an elite coverage defender. Bouye recorded 11 pass breakups on the year and (including the Texans’ Wild Card game) is tied with Chris Harris Jr. for the highest coverage grade for corners.

9. Arizona Cardinals (6)

Top overall grade: S Tony Jefferson, 88.6

Top coverage grade: S D.J. Swearinger, 85.9 (No. 7)

Top run-defense grade: S Tony Jefferson, 98.0 (No. 2)

Most snaps: CB Patrick Peterson, 1,034

One of our runners-up for Defensive Player of the Year last season, Tyrann Mathieu—by no fault of his own—clearly was not the same caliber of player in 2016. He returned from an ACL injury suffered late last season and dealt with a shoulder injury before being shut down for the year. Patrick Peterson had another good year, although not quite to the level he performed in 2015. Still, his 14.0 coverage snaps per reception allowed was third-most for cornerbacks this season. Safety Tony Jefferson was one of the best run-defending safeties in the league, and led the position with a 7.8 run-stop percentage. At the other safety spot, D.J. Swearinger’s turnaround has been quietly impressive, considering where he was at a couple years ago (cut after just two seasons after being drafted in the second round).

10. Baltimore Ravens (2)

Top overall grade: S Eric Weddle, 92.4

Top coverage grade: S Eric Weddle, 90.4 (No. 2)

Top run-defense grade: S Eric Weddle, 90.7 (No. 5)

Most snaps: S Eric Weddle, 1,031

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from Eric Weddle with his new team following a 2015 performance that left him with his second below-average run-defense grade of his career and his lowest coverage grade since 2010. That said, Weddle was nothing short of spectacular in his first season with Baltimore, and earned a first team All-Pro selection from us. Despite a few early struggles, Lardarius Webb actually transitioned pretty well from cornerback to safety, and earned a top-five coverage grade at the position over the final nine weeks of the season. Outside of rookie Tavon Young, cornerback play was fairly average, while Jimmy Smith once again missed significant time due to injury.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (22)

Top overall grade: CB William Gay, 85.8 (No. 10)

Top coverage grade: CB William Gay, 85.6 (No. 10)

Top run-defense grade: S Mike Mitchell, 74.8 (No. 50)

Most snaps: CB Ross Cockrell, 1,088

The Steelers’ secondary was a much-improved unit sans Antwon Blake this year. Mike Mitchell and William Gay both earned the highest coverage grades of their respective careers. Including the playoffs, William Gay has allowed just 0.71 receiving yards per snap in coverage when lined up in the slot, behind only Chris Harris Jr. among slot cornerbacks. Out of Pittsburgh’s top five defensive backs, only Sean Davis earned a below-average grade this season, and that was due to his 18 missed tackles as much as anything else.

12. Kansas City Chiefs (19)

Top overall grade: S Eric Berry, 87.8 (No. 7)

Top coverage grade: S Eric Berry, 88.7 (No. 4)

Top run-defense grade: S Eric Berry, 85.0 (No. 14)

Most snaps: S Ron Parker, 1,102

At the top, Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, and Ron Parker have all played very well this season, even if they’ve been just shy of the best players at their respective positions. Parker leads all safeties with eight pass breakups, and Peters’ 17 combined interceptions and pass breakups are second-most among cornerbacks, despite being targeted 64 fewer times than last season. Beyond that group, though, Steven Nelson has been average at best, while Phillip Gaines was the second-lowest graded corner in coverage when on the field. Daniel Sorenson, while good in coverage, has been a liability in run defense as the lowest-graded defensive back in the league playing the run. Terrance Mitchell is a player to watch moving forward, though, having graded well in very limited time the past two seasons, despite being with three different teams in the last 16 months.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars (9)

Top overall grade: S John Cyprien, 87.8 (No. 7)

Top coverage grade: CB Jalen Ramsey, 82.5 (No. 22)

Top run-defense grade: S John Cyprien, 98.8 (No. 1)

Most snaps: S John Cyprien, 1,071

Prior to this season, John Cyprien was not coming anywhere close to the level of play one would expect from a second-round draft pick. However, he completely turned his play around as a run defender, as he tied for the league-lead among safeties with 27 run stops. His coverage ability is still a work in progress, but he’s slowly improved, even if only to average at best. First-round draft pick Jalen Ramsey was the highest-graded rookie in coverage, and if his end to the season is a sign of things to come, then he was worth the top-five selection. Over the final five weeks, Ramsey recorded a combined 11 interceptions and pass breakups versus 17 receptions allowed, and an opposing passer rating of 37.8.

14. San Diego Chargers (11)

Top overall grade: CB Casey Hayward, 88.9 (No. 7)

Top coverage grade: CB Casey Hayward, 88.7 (No. 7)

Top run-defense grade: S Jahleel Addae, 85.5 (No. 13)

Most snaps: S Dwight Lowery, 1,003

The Chargers’ free-agency additions worked out very well for them in 2016. Dwight Lowery, earned his highest coverage grade of his past three seasons as a starter, albeit not nearly to the level of the departed Eric Weddle. Bringing in Casey Hayward turned out to be one of the best moves by any team. Hayward led the league with seven interceptions and allowed a passer rating of 53.4 into his coverage, third-lowest among all cornerbacks. Unfortunately, San Diego had to deal with season-ending injuries to their other top corners, Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers. Their primary replacements in Trevor Williams and Craig Mager did not perform well, with the pair ranking 107th and 115th, respectively, out of 120 qualifying cornerbacks in overall grade.

15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (25)

Top overall grade: CB Brent Grimes, 90.8 (No. 4)

Top coverage grade: CB Brent Grimes, 89.9 (No. 6)

Top run-defense grade: CB Brent Grimes, 83.5 (No. 3)

Most snaps: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, 1,038

Switching teams in the offseason apparently revitalized the elite Brent Grimes we last saw in 2013. Grimes led the league with 18 combined interceptions and pass breakups, helping him to the fifth-highest grade among cornerback in 2016. Unfortunately for Vernon Hargreaves III, Grimes’ exceptional coverage meant more passes thrown his way—to the tune of a league-high 113 targets and 80 receptions. With that sort of volume, Hargreaves unsurprisingly gave up more receiving yards than anyone, as the only player to top 1,000 yards allowed (1,069). Chris Conte looked more like the player we saw during his last season in Chicago before Keith Tandy took over at free safety. The swing in performance from Conte to Tandy was about as big as it could have been. Conte ranked 90th out of 91 safeties in overall grade, while Tandy was the highest-graded safety over the final five weeks of the season, allowing a passer rating of just 34.3 into his coverage.

16. Cincinnati Bengals (29)

Top overall grade: S Shawn Williams, 80.6 (No. 32)

Top coverage grade: S George Iloka, 79.2 (No. 31)

Top run-defense grade: S Shawn Williams, 79.5 (No. 27)

Most snaps: CB Adam Jones, 1,058

Cincinnati’s secondary wasn’t nearly as good as it was in 2015, but it wasn’t a major issue, either. Only No. 4 cornerback Darqueze Dennard earned a below-average grade on the season, as he allowed an 86 percent completion percentage into his coverage. However, no one else really graded much above-average either. The Bengals’ highest-graded played turned out to be Shawn Williams in his first year as a starter, as he took over for the departed Reggie Nelson (Oakland). Dre Kirkpatrick also played better as the season wore on; he finished with the eighth-lowest yards per cover snap allowed for cornerbacks. Outside of Adam Jones, though, the Bengals have a relatively young secondary that could potentially work its way back up the rankings in the near future.

17. Oakland Raiders (15)

Top overall grade: CB Sean Smith, 82.5 (No. 22)

Top coverage grade: CB Sean Smith, 82.3 (No. 24)

Top run-defense grade: S Reggie Nelson, 78.5 (No. 34)

Most snaps: S Reggie Nelson, 1,121

After a really poor start to the season, free-agent pickup Reggie Nelson played much better from Week 6 and on. Still, it didn’t match the level of play from either him or Charles Woodson (the player he replaced) in 2015. David Amerson had another 12 pass breakups this year, but his regression led to more yards and touchdowns allowed, and opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating when targeting Amerson ballooned from 66.3 in 2015 to 102.2 this year. Sean Smith had another solid season, and strong safety Karl Joseph impressed as a rookie before missing time due to injury.

18. Detroit Lions (14)

Top overall grade: CB Darius Slay, 83.4 (No. 18)

Top coverage grade: CB Darius Slay, 83.0 (No. 20)

Top run-defense grade: S Tavon Wilson, 87.6 (No. 9)

Most snaps: S Glover Quin 1,099

Darius Slay was having a solid year through the first seven weeks of the season, with seven pass breakups and an interception compared to two touchdowns allowed. He injured his hamstring in Week 7, though, and he was not as consistent the rest of the year as he dealt with the injury. Nevin Lawson had a bounce-back performance after a below-average first year as a starter. Both safeties ranked among the top 25 at the position in overall grade, with Glover Quin not missing a snap and Tavon Wilson proving as a stout run defender. It was beyond their regular base starters where the Lions were lacking. The seven other defenders that played at least 60 snaps all earned below-average coverage grades. In fact, Slay’s 97.4 passer rating allowed (including the Wild Card game) was the lowest for any Lions defensive back in 2016.

19. Green Bay Packers (28)

Top overall grade: S Morgan Burnett, 85.3 (No. 12)

Top coverage grade: S Morgan Burnett, 80.0 (No. 25)

Top run-defense grade: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 88.9 (No. 8)

Most snaps: S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, 1,092

The Packers may have been hampered by injuries more than any other secondary this season. No. 1 cornerback Sam Shields missed basically the entire season, and No. 2 and No. 3 corners Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall have been banged up for most of the year and struggled because of it. Ladarius Gunter has had struggles with certain receivers, but he’s preformed pretty well for a No. 4 cornerback that has been thrust into the starting lineup. The Packers’ safety pairing has performed very well, with both players finishing among the top-20 graded safeties for a second-straight year. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is one of only two defenders at any position in the entire league to play every defensive snap this year.

20. Miami Dolphins (18)

Top overall grade: S Reshad Jones, 88.5 (No. 6)

Top coverage grade: S Reshad Jones, 88.5 (No. 5)

Top run-defense grade: S Reshad Jones, 82.9 (No. 18)

Most snaps: S Isa Abdul-Quddus, 952

Reshad Jones has been among PFF’s top-graded safeties for a few years now, yet he was on pace for what may have been his best season before going down with a shoulder injury. Through six games, he allowed a passer rating of 42.8 and had 11 run stops. At corner, Byron Maxwell had his best year in coverage since 2013, and had a career-high 10 pass breakups. Tony Lippett ended up starting opposite Maxwell for most of the year, and while he held his own for much of the season, the wheels fell off towards the end as he faced better passing offenses. Over the final six weeks of the Dolphins’ season, a span that included games against the Bills and Jets, Lippett allowed a passer rating of 119.3.

21. San Francisco 49ers (10)

Top overall grade: CB Tramaine Brock, 81.8 (No. 26)

Top coverage grade: CB Tramaine Brock, 81.4 (No. 27)

Top run-defense grade: CB Tramaine Brock, 78.8 (No. 21)

Most snaps: S Antoine Bethea, 1,125

Even though he allowed six touchdowns on the year, Tramaine Brock was still the best defensive back for the 49ers’ defense. Opposing quarterbacks completed 50 percent of their passes into Brock’s coverage, the second-lowest rate allowed by a cornerback with at least 500 snaps played. Former first-round picks Jimmie Ward and Eric Reid both missed games, and when they were on the field, both graded around average in coverage. Antoine Bethea’s performance, relative to his career standards, dropped a bit, but he did record the sixth-most defensive stops among safeties.

22. Los Angeles Rams (17)

Top overall grade: S Maurice Alexander, 83.4 (No. 19)

Top coverage grade: S Maurice Alexander, 84.5 (No. 9)

Top run-defense grade: S Maurice Alexander, 73.3 (No. 56)

Most snaps: S T.J. McDonald, 1,072

Los Angeles’ secondary is a difficult unit to gauge. Among the Rams’ four players with at least 699 snaps, their lowest-graded player in coverage was Lamarcus Joyner, at 78.3. But beyond those four, five of their other six defensive backs to see significant playing time graded under 45.0 in coverage. Troy Hill and E.J. Gaines allowed passer ratings over 130.0, recording the second- and fourth-highest passer ratings allowed among all NFL cornerbacks, respectively. The group as a whole was also tied for the league-lead for missed tackles by defensive backs, with 65. Los Angeles certainly has some pieces to work with, but needs to improve its starting base corner and depth.

23. New York Jets (31)

Top overall grade: S Marcus Gilchrist, 77.1 (No. 53)

Top coverage grade: S Marcus Gilchrist, 75.5 (No. 46)

Top run-defense grade: S Calvin Pryor, 79.3 (No. 29)

Most snaps: CB Darrelle Revis, 922

The biggest note here is the absence of Darrelle Revis among the secondary’s top-graded players, as it looks like his decline has officially begun. Prior to 2016, Revis’ career passer rating allowed to opposing quarterbacks was 60.4. This year, opposing quarterbacks had a rating of 104.2 when targeting Revis, and Revis’ five combined interceptions and pass breakups was a career-low (excluding his injury-shortened season). Now, he still earned a near-average coverage grade for the year, but it’s clear he is no longer the elite corner he used to be. At the other corner position, Buster Skrine actually posted similar coverage stats, but five more penalties left him with a lower grade.

24. Buffalo Bills (12)

Top overall grade: S Corey Graham, 80.0 (No. 37)

Top coverage grade: CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, 79.1 (No. 31)

Top run defense grade: CB Ronald Darby, 86.3 (No. 2)

Most snaps: S Corey Graham, 1,054

Despite missing more tackles than any other defensive back in the league, with 16, Corey Graham managed to finish the season as the top-graded defender for the Buffalo secondary. Graham cut his touchdowns allowed from six to three while allowing only 22o receiving yards on the year. The longest pass he gave up was 25 yards, and he never allowed more than 50 yards in a game. Nickell Robey-Coleman had a pleasantly surprising season, with his best year since his rookie campaign in 2013. Overall, though, it was a fairly mediocre year for the Bills’ starters. As for further down the depth chart, six of the seven players that had between 50 and 500 total snaps earned below-average overall grades.

25. Tennessee Titans (27)

Top overall grade: S Kevin Byard, 79.0 (No. 42)

Top coverage grade: CB Brice McCain, 78.6 (No. 34)

Top run-defense grade: S Daimion Stafford, 78.9 (No. 32)

Most snaps: CB Brice McCain, 844

The Titans’ secondary was brought down by Perrish Cox, who, before getting cut towards the end of the season, was in the running to be the league’s lowest-graded cornerback. Brice McCain tied a career-high six touchdowns allowed, but overall, it was still an improvement over his recent seasons on a per-snap basis. Tennessee did get good play out of rookie safety Kevin Byard, who recorded the second-fewest yards allowed per snap in coverage among safeties.

26. Washington Redskins (26)

Top overall grade: CB Josh Norman, 82.0 (No. 24)

Top coverage grade: CB Josh Norman, 84.0 (No. 14)

Top run defense grade: CB Josh Norman, 79.5 (No. 17)

Most snaps: CB Josh Norman, 1,059

Big-money free agent Josh Norman didn’t quite match his 2015 season, but was still a considerable improvement for the Washington secondary. In fact, Norman actually made plays on the ball more often than he did last season; the former Panther intercepted or broke up 20 percent of his targets, the highest percentage in the league. Beyond Norman, injuries definitely did not help the Redskins’ secondary. However, Will Blackmon played well when given a chance, and Bashaud Breeland played better as the season progressed. Missed tackles were an issue for Washington’s defensive backs. Their 61 missed tackles were fifth-most among NFL secondaries, and Duke Ihenacho recorded the second-most for a defensive back, with 15.

27. Carolina Panthers (32)

Top overall grade: CB James Bradberry, 82.6 (No. 20)

Top coverage grade: CB James Bradberry, 82.6 (No. 21)

Top run defense grade: CB Daryl Worley, 81.0 (No. 12)

Most snaps: S Kurt Coleman, 966

The Panthers had their work cut out for them from the start, with little experience at cornerback on the roster after letting Josh Norman walk. Rookie James Bradberry emerged as Carolina’s top cover corner, and fellow rookie Daryl Worley played much better over the last half of the season, showing some promise. The safeties, too, improved as the season progressed, but depth was certainly an issue overall. Leonard Johnson missed more tackles (11) than the number of games he saw action (10), and Robert McClain was not far behind, with nine. Michael Griffin’s five missed tackles all came in one game.

28. Cleveland Browns (20)

Top overall grade: CB Jamar Taylor, 82.8 (No. 19)

Top coverage grade: CB Jamar Taylor, 83.2 (No. 18)

Top run defense grade: S Ed Reynolds, 85.9 (No. 12)

Most snaps: CB Jamar Taylor, 921

Coming off the worst season of his career (2015), Jamar Taylor performed significantly better with his new team. While he did still allow five touchdowns, he had a combined 13 interceptions and pass breakups after recording just one pass breakup in his first three pro seasons combined. Meanwhile, Joe Haden earned a below-average coverage grade for a second-straight year, and had a career-high 10 missed tackles. Really, mostly everyone was below-average in coverage outside of Taylor, but they did play well against the run as a group. The 65 tackles missed by defensive backs, tied for the league-lead with the Rams, is definitely something that needs shoring up next year the Browns want to improve on defense.

29. New Orleans Saints (24)

Top overall grade: S Kenny Vaccaro, 79.9 (No. 38)

Top coverage grade: S Kenny Vaccaro, 77.0 (No. 41)

Top run defense grade: S Vonn Bell, 87.0 (No. 10)

Most snaps: S Jairus Byrd, 900

Delvin Breaux’ injury in Week 1 put the Saints in a bind at cornerback, and even when he returned, he wasn’t up to the same caliber we saw last season. Ken Crawley and B.W. Webb couldn’t sustain periods of good play, and both finished the season with passer ratings allowed of over 100.0. Safety play was a slight improvement from last year; Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro both cut down on their missed tackles, while earning better overall grades than in 2015. Rookie Vonn Bell was a force against the run, but was a liability in coverage at times, as he allowed five touchdowns on 30 receptions (120.8 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks).

30. Chicago Bears (21)

Top overall grade: S Adrian Amos, 81.7 (No. 27)

Top coverage grade: S Adrian Amos, 78.4 (No. 34)

Top run defense grade: S Adrian Amos, 81.0 (No. 23)

Most snaps: CB Tracy Porter, 944

For the second-consecutive year, safety Adrian Amos was the Bears’ best defensive back. But beyond Amos, there was little to be excited about from the secondary after Kyle Fuller missed the entire season. Harold Jones-Quartey was able to sustain his average play in an increased role at safety. Tracy Porter had the worst year of his career, and his sixth-consecutive season with a below-average coverage grade. Rookie Cre’Von LeBlanc had an outstanding game against the Lions in Week 14, with an interception and three pass breakups. Unfortunately, he followed it up the next week against Green Bay with his worst outing of the season, allowing 106 yards.

31. Indianapolis Colts (23)

Top overall grade: S Mike Adams, 83.3 (No. 20)

Top coverage grade: CB Darius Butler, 83.2 (No. 18)

Top run defense grade: S Clayton Geathers, 90.3 (No. 6)

Most snaps: S Mike Adams, 997

The Colts’ secondary received little help from the front-seven’s pass rush this season, but they also did little to help themselves at times, with 62 missed tackles from defensive backs (third-most in the league). Vontae Davis earned a below-average coverage grade for the first season in his career; he actually only had two above-average games in coverage, coming against Brock Osweiler in Week 6 and Blake Bortles in Week 17. Safety T.J. Green had a terribly rough rookie season, as he finished dead-last (91st) among safeties in overall and coverage grades. On the positive side, Mike Adams bounced back well from a down year in 2015, and Darius Butler played really well in coverage as the Colts used him more in the slot and as a safety than previously in his career.

32. Philadelphia Eagles (30)

Top overall grade: S Malcolm Jenkins, 81.4 (No. 29)

Top coverage grade: S Rodney McLeod, 79.3 (No. 29)

Top run-defense grade: S Malcolm Jenkins, 82.1 (No. 20)

Most snaps: S Malcolm Jenkins, 1,018

To the credit of the Eagles’ safeties, both played better than the Philadelphia secondary’s overall ranking might indicate. However, that shows just how bad the Eagles’ cornerbacks were. All three of the team’s top corners ranked in the top eight for total receiving yards allowed among all defenders in the league. It really wasn’t skewed by a seeing a higher volume of as passes, either, as Leodis McKelvin and Jalen Mills ranked first and third, respectively, in yards allowed per snap in coverage. Ron Brooks wasn’t much better before he suffered a season-ending injury. Had he played enough snaps to qualify, his overall grade would have also been among the bottom dozen cornerbacks (out of 120 players).

| 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.

  • DEEZLENUTS

    Hahahaa….Cowboys 25th ranked passing defense is #1…and they don’t have an elite playmaker….come on maaahnnn

    • Byu Tech

      pff….are you serious???????? i think you need to rethink the way you analyze your data……..this result is really funny

    • Woody

      Yeah, pretty ridiculous how the Broncos aren’t #1, and this is coming from a Chiefs fan. Sometimes PFF should just toss out their formula for distributing grades and ask themselves: based on this season of play, would we trade the entire Broncos secondary for the Cowboys secondary. The answer should be an easy one.

  • anon76returns

    This sort of thing seems like more of an indictment of PFF’s ranking system than anything. The Broncos’ coverage unit allowed 5.0 NY/A this season- only the 2013 LOB was better from the last 5 seasons. The Broncos were #1 in DVOA vs #1 WRs, #1 in DVOA vs #2 WRs, #2 in DVOA vs “other” WRs, and #4 in DVOA vs TEs. The only thing they couldn’t do at an elite level was cover RBs, which is generally the only job of the front 7 in pass coverage in Phillips’ aggressive pass defense scheme.
    It’s absolutely ridiculous to have them ranked as the #4 secondary, when they have the #1 & #3 CB, and decent safety play (4 of Ward’s 14 games graded in the 80s while 4 of Stewart’s 16 games graded 75 or better), and good depth from CBs Roby/Webster/Doss (86.4 grade in his only significant action on the season).

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      two words, missed tackles. roby, stew and tj were both very sloppy in that regard this year.

      • anon76returns

        I think TJ had his best season in Denver in terms of % of missed tackles, and his pass defense was probably the best of his 3 seasons.
        And even if TJ’s tackling was a problem (and I don’t think it was), the Broncos still gave up the lowest completion %, the least yards/passing attempt, the least # of TD receptions, the lowest opponent passer rating, the least passing yards per game, and the second lowest adjusted yards allowed/attempt of the last 7 years (behind only the 2013 LOB). And it’s not even all a function of the low completion % allowed- even if you only look at completed passes, they gave up the 4th least yards/completion (0.2 yards/completion behind the leader).
        By DVOA they not only had the best pass defense this year, they had the 7th best pass defense of the last 27 years. To say that they are only the 4th best secondary THIS SEASON is ludicrous, no matter how bad the tackling was (and again, I don’t think it was that bad outside of Roby, who’s always had a bit of an issue).

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          it’s overall grades not just coverage grades on this list

          • anon76returns

            Sure, but it’s not a 50-50 weighting between coverage and run defense, either. The primary job of the DBs is coverage, and the Broncos’ secondary was miles ahead of every other secondary in that facet.
            For them to not be the best overall secondary, they’d have to be terrible in run defense, and that wasn’t the case. Talib was the 4th best CB in the league against the run. Harris was above average. TJ missed some tackles, but on a very high volume of attempts, so his miss tackle % was improved over previous years (when he graded as one of the best run-defending safeties in the league). My feeling was that Stewart had many good games in run defense and a couple of poor ones (@ KC being the worst), which should leave him as average or slightly better than average in run defense.
            They’re not the best run defense secondary in the league, but they’re above average, and with how much better they are in coverage it shouldn’t even be a contest as to who is the best overall secondary.

          • DippyD

            It’s not as simple as looking at stats. Although I agree broncos secondary is kickass, a lot of it has to do with the pass rush

          • anon76returns

            Sure, I’d agree with that if the stats were close. But the stats aren’t close. The Broncos secondary was SO much better in coverage than any other unit that it’s insulting to put them in 4th place. Even the Broncos pass rush tailed off a bit in the back half of the season (several other teams got higher rates of pressure and more sacks over the season), but the coverage units still held up, giving up only 170 yards receiving (only 70 of which went to WRs) over the last 4 games.

  • Mike J.

    The Bucs’ secondary was a tale of two halves as it took the players about 8 games to figure out the new scheme. Atrocious coverage early on went to pretty darn good later.

  • Natrone Means Business

    How is Phili’s secondary ranked last by you but 2nd by football outsiders in pass defense per DVOA?

  • jasonp

    The Cowboys are ranked 5th in points allowed. Best run defense. They’ve developed what people would like to call a bend but don’t break defense. Doesn’t matter how many passing yards you get if you can’t score. Rod Marinelli is a conservative blitzer and likes to make his opponents work for points. The Cowboys defense has certainly proved a lot of people wrong, and surprised a few too. I’m glad they’re finally receiving recognition, especially All-Pro Sean Lee.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I get that this is based on grades but how can the Jags who had the fewest INTs in the league (7) be ranked equal with the Chiefs and Chargers who were tied with the most INTs (18).

  • McStudly

    Question: Did you just average the Pass Cov. grades over the season? Because that DOES put the Cowboys HIGHER than the Giants, but you’re also including guys like Michael Hunter (Practice Squad), Darian Thompson (IR), and Nat Berhe (inj) whose scores bring DOWN the average.

    Why not run an aggregate weighted average to define a better data set?

  • dlund6cutler

    30TH!!!! NO WAY MY BEARS SHOULD BE THAT HIGH, THEY SHOULD BE 32. But realistically we have an awful secondary that needs some upgrading over this offseason, I’d hope we try and make a push for Tony Jefferson.

  • DaStrongSKRAWN

    Factor in this weekend and I bet Cowboys wouldn’t be #1. No way they had the best secondary this season.

  • FalconPhil

    So that Rodgers guy had to put up his numbers against most of the top ten pass defensive units in the league (w/no running game)…

    OVerrAted! matty Ice Bro!

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      lol

  • Chris

    This article is subjective, garbage and a complete waste of time.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    terrance mitchell’s emergence in KC has transformed their defense