PFF Ranking all 32 NFL secondaries: Packers rank #5
From Pro Football Focus, Matt Claassen
~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. (Remember this one?)
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/CB Micah Hyde, CB Ladarius Gunter, 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 all 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.
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