NFL Power Rankings: Who's Got the Best Group of Backups on Defense?
Talking about a football team’s second-string defense might not be at the top of every football fan's list. Still, backups can play an important role on any team or in any game.
With that said, which teams have the best group of backups on defense?
That question is hard to answer and was even harder to try to break down. Not every team utilizes backups the same way. For example, even though Osi Umenyiora is labeled as a second-string defensive end, he gets rotated in enough to basically be a starter.
How, then, can we fairly judge each team’s second-stringers?
Some teams would also feel more of an impact if their backups were required to take the place of injured starters.
By using the depth charts from last year over at ESPN.com and comparing backups to their respective starters, and other backups on other teams, this list was created.
Each team’s second-stringers are broken down into three parts: the defensive line, the linebackers and the secondary, which consists of cornerbacks and safeties.
Then, each team was ranked by how effective each part of their second-string defenses was. Some teams lacked linebacker backups, while others had solid defensive linemen and backup linebackers.
Does any team have a perfect backup defense? No, they don't. But the better the backups compared to the starters and other second-stringers, the better the team was ranked.
Statistics for each team are linked in each individual slide, and all come from ESPN.com
1. San Francisco 49ers
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The second-stringers on the 49ers defensive line are average at best. Ricky Jean Francois recorded 15 tackles last season, and Demarcus Dobbs had just two. Both are still relatively young, but when compared to their starting counterparts, these backups lack the stats Ray McDonald or Isaac Sopoaga put up.
While they may not have had as many tackles as the starting linebackers, all three backups are still young and will more than likely develop even further. All three could be considered starters if they were on other teams.
Secondary backups for the 49ers are also solid when it comes to the cornerback position. While Tramaine Brock might not have the stats of Carlos Rogers, he was able to get two interceptions in 11 games.
The 49ers lost both backup safeties in the offseason, so hopefully they can get two more who are on the same level before the season starts.
Regardless of the lack of safety backups, the 49ers have solid second-string cornerbacks, and some fantastic second-string linebackers.
2. Houston Texans
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Aside from Bulman, the other second-stringers were dominant and were on par with the starters. Tim Jamison and Earl Mitchell had solid stats last season, better than most second-string defensive linemen.
Would Houston feel the effects of losing one or more of their starting linebackers? Absolutely, but their backup linebackers could pick up the slack more than other backups could.
The secondary backups for the Texans are better than most teams. Safety wise, while second-stringer Shiloh Keo didn’t do anything spectacular, Quintin Demps, who has four years of experience, ended the season with two interceptions.
Cornerback wise, backup Brice McCain had a solid year with two interceptions.
Compared to a lot of teams, the Texans have a great amount of solid backups to rely on in case they need one or more to step up during the regular season.
3. Cincinnati Bengals
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While some pieces of the defense left, and more than likely these two could easily end up being starters themselves, the Bengals have a solid defensive front and a great set of backup defensive ends and defensive tackles.
The Bengals lack linebacker second-stringers. They had two solid backups last year, better than most linebacker second-stringers, but they lost one during the offseason. While Brandon Johnson might be with the Steelers now, but he had a decent year last season forcing two fumbles and recording 31 tackles.
It might be hard for the Bengals to find a backup LB that can equal that, but fellow second-string linebacker Dan Skuta recorded 31 tackles and one forced fumble. While not as good as their starter counterparts Thomas Howard and Rey Maualuga, when compared to other teams, those are pretty good results for backups.
In the secondary the Bengals are a bit mixed up but still better than most teams. For example, backup Kelly Jennings recorded 33 tackles, which isn’t too bad compared to starting cornerback Adam Jones, who recorded 28 tackles. Jennings also has seven years' experience.
However, neither backup safeties Jeromy Miles or Gibril Wilson put up anywhere near the stats that Reggie Nelson did. Also, cornerback Nate Clements also put up good stats, which neither backup cornerbacks would even come close to.
Still, the Bengals are a lot better off with their backups than most other teams. While Clements and Nelson are key parts to the secondary, all the backfield second-stringers each have three or more years of experience.
Compared to most other teams, the Bengals seem to have a reliable group of backups, which is a blessing in disguise.
4. Atlanta Falcons
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The Falcons have a solid group of second-string players that make up their defensive line. Clearly the Falcons rotate their defensive ends and tackles, making the second-string players much more important than those on other teams.
If a starter were to have to sit out for awhile, the second-string players would more than likely be able to successfully fill in and still deliver positive results.
Compare second-string defensive end Kroy Biermann to starter Ray Edwards, and you can see that both played the full 16-game regular season and also were close statistically. The biggest impact might be if John Abraham was to get sidelined, but the Falcons seem to have the defensive end position covered when it comes to backups.
Linebacker seems to be where the Falcons lack backups. The only real backup with any statistics is Spencer Adkins, and when compared to Sean Weatherspoon, the Falcons were clearly relying on starters in the linebacker position for the 2011 season.
Like several other teams, if one of the backup linebackers needed to play as a starter, it would hurt the Falcons, since they lack second-string linebackers with any real experience.
The Falcons have a decent secondary of second-stringers. Dominique Franks saw more playing time than Darrin Walls did, and really the weakest backup seems to be in the safety position with Shann Schillinger.
Schillinger, though, is still somewhat of a rookie and could be much more reliable next season. Cornerback Chris Owens also had a decent amount of tackles for a backup.
The Falcons have a pretty good group of backups. While slightly thin when it comes to linebackers, to have good second-stringers on the defensive line, and solid backups in the secondary, the Falcons are much better off than most teams when it comes to backups.
5. Denver Broncos
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Ryan McBean, who the Broncos lost in the offseason to the Ravens, ended his season with 33 tackles and four sacks. While neither could match Elvis Dumervil and his 9.5 sacks, they were both effective second-stringers with several years of experience behind them.
Losing Ryan McBean will only weaken the defensive line backups.
Did they match the numbers that starter Von Miller had? No, they didn't, but for linebacker backups, they put up good numbers, especially when compared to other backups throughout the league.
In the secondary, Chris Harris was recorded as second-string but had a solid year as a cornerback and outperformed listed starter Andre’ Goodman. Harris could easily be the starter next year, and with only two years of experience, he has room for improvement.
Safety Rahim Moore didn't outperform starter Quinton Carter but still had a good year.
It’s hard to have a solid second-string in every aspect of a defense. The Broncos, though, seem to have covered enough of the field so that if a starter were to go down, he could be replaced with a second-string player who can keep things moving.
The only area that might hurt them would be the second-string players on the defensive line. If one of the starting d-line players went out with an injury, it would more than likely open up a weak point in the d-line where the second-string player would be placed.
Still, with the offseason underway, the Broncos could build up a strong enough second-string defensive line to match the rest of their backup defense.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
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While they might not have put up the same amount of tackles as the Steelers starting d-line, they still had a forced fumble between the two of them and also had one sack each. They did better than most second-string defensive lineman do.
The Steelers have solid backup linebackers in Jason Worilds and Larry Foote. Both are on par with some of the other linebackers, besides for James Harrison. That would be the biggest problem with the linebackers on the Steelers, if Harrison were to go out; it’s unlikely a backup could match what he does on the field.
They would still be effective, but just not as effective as Harrison is.
The Steelers have pretty good second-string linebackers, something a lot of teams just don’t have.
The Steelers have a weak second-string secondary. Besides cornerback Keenan Lewis, the other backups did relatively nothing. This would more than likely show if Troy Polamalu or Will Allen had to sit out.
The Steelers don’t have solid backups at safety, and it would show if they needed to fill in.
Going back to second-stringer Keenan Lewis, he could be a solid replacement for corner Ike Taylor. While not as experienced as Taylor, Lewis did solid for a backup cornerback. He would match up nicely if chosen to be a substitute for Taylor.
7. New York Jets
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The New York Jets so far don’t have many backups for their defensive line. In fact, the only second-stringer they do have is defensive end Marcus Dixon. When compared to starter Mike DeVito, Dixon’s stats are solid.
But is one defensive end second-stringer enough to rely on? The Jets will more than likely increase their defensive ends by the time the season starts, but will it be enough? What about a backup for nose tackle Sione Pouha? A lack of backups could prove troublesome for the Jets.
The Jets seem to thrive at the linebacker position and have decent backups to match it. Aaron Maybin, for example, ended the season with four forced fumbles.
The weakest backup LB in the group would be Nick Bellore, who ended the season with 19 tackles but is still inexperienced. They also have Josh Mauga, who recorded 25 tackles and one interception last season.
The Jets have young second-string linebackers, which could be a good or bad thing. While they have room to grow, not having any experience in the backups could always hurt the Jets if the younger linebackers were needed to start.
As far as the Jets secondary backups are considered, the only one that really stood out last season would be Kyle Wilson. Wilson ended his season with 41 tackles and two interceptions.
With a secondary dominated by starter cornerback Darrelle Revis, Wilson put up impressive numbers for a second-stringer. Fellow backup Isaiah Trufant had a mere eight tackles at the end of the season.
The Jets have a couple of really good backups in Kyle Wilson and Aaron Maybin. While they could fill in for starters and still deliver on the same level, if the Jets had to deal with multiple starters getting sidelined, they might begin to have problems with their defense.
Still, the Jets have some second-stringers who could easily be starters, something not many teams have.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The defensive line second-stringers on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers all match up pretty well with their respected starters. Clearly Tampa rotates its backups into almost every game. The weakest defensive line backup, Nick Reed, only had seven tackles that came from his time on the Bears. Reed has joined up with the Vikings now.
While Tampa’s defensive line may not be anything special, the backups were able to stay on par with the starters, which is something rarely seen by other NFL teams.
Similar to what they do with their defensive line backups, Tampa Bay successfully rotated in their two second-string linebackers.
While in general Tampa's linebackers did nothing special, the idea that the second-stringers were able to stay on the same level helps elevate Tampa's second-string defense. Geno Hayes, for example, joined the Bears during the offseason but was able to outperform starter Adam Hayward.
The problem with the second-string defense in Tampa clearly lies with its secondary. Compare backup cornerback Myron Lewis to starter EJ. Biggers, and you can see how the secondary isn't set up the way the defensive line and linebacker second-stringers are.
Still, whether you think Tampa's defense is good or bad, they have managed to do what few other NFL teams could do with backups. They were able to get second-stringers who could successfully rotate in at the defensive line positions and linebacker positions.
While the secondary backups leave a lot to be desired, the rest of Tampa's second-string defense is almost on par with its starting defense.
9. Baltimore Ravens
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On the Baltimore Ravens' second-string defensive line, the only player who really stands out is Pernell McPhee, who had one forced fumble and six sacks. The problem, however, is Cory Redding went over to the Colts, and McPhee could always end up being the starter.
With Haloti Ngata dominating last season, it’s hard for other backups like Arthur Jones to be able to fill in in case a starter ends up on the bench. This could always be a problem too, because of how dominant a role Ngata played in making the Ravens' defense as good as it was last season.
Still, just looking at last season, the Ravens have decent backups for their defensive line.
Linebacker second-string players are a problem for the Ravens when they get compared to their starters. The backups simply haven’t performed anywhere near the level of Ray Lewis or Terrell Suggs, when based solely on their stats. Linebackers like Brendon Ayanbadejo did decently well with 35 tackles at the end of last season.
The problem, though, will be evident next year when Suggs will be sitting on the bench, and if the Ravens don’t get anyone in the offseason to match what Suggs was able to do, the second-string linebackers will be called on to step up, and more than likely they won’t be able to do what Suggs did for the Ravens' defense.
After the 2011 season ended, and during the offseason, the Ravens lost most of the secondary backups they had, besides the best one, Jimmy Smith. Smith, who plays cornerback, ended his season with 78 tackles and two forced fumbles. Not too bad for a second-stringer.
The Ravens will have to do some rebuilding in the second string. They have some backups who could step up and deliver on a starter level if need be. The biggest problem is the linebacker position, and this will become even clearer once the season starts and the Ravens are without T-Sizzle.
10. Kansas City Chiefs
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Compared to some of the starting defensive line players, the second-stringers on the Kansas City Chiefs seem to hold their own, depending how you look at it. While Allen Bailey and Amon Gordon might not have had as many tackles as their starting counterparts, they did get more sacks than them.
Bailey had his first year last year, so he is still new, but if the Chiefs sign Gordon back, he would bring eight years of experience with him. The Chiefs clearly needs work when it comes to stopping the rush, as they ended up 26th overall in the opp rushing yards category, but when comparing the backups on the line with the starters, they might be able to perform on the same level.
Like a lot of other teams, linebacker seems to be the weak spot when looking at KC’s backup players. Backups like Andy Studebaker and Cameron Sheffield would have a hard time being able to match starters Derrick Johnson or Tamba Hali. The Chiefs would suffer defensively if they needed to rely on a backup linebacker during the upcoming season.
The secondary backups seem to be a mixed bag for the Chiefs. While second-string cornerback Travis Daniel ended the season with two interceptions, he only managed 14 tackles, and when compared to starter Brandon Flowers, he leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, Daniels does have eight years of experience, which is always good for a backup to have. Second-stringer Javier Arenas also had a solid year, playing in 15 games and recording 33 tackles and two interceptions.
Safety wise, second-stringer Donald Washington outperformed starter Reshard Langford. Other backup safety Sabby Piscitelli, if he does end up back on the Chiefs, would be a solid backup because of the experience he brings.
The Chiefs are like several other NFL teams that are weak in the backup linebacker position. However, KC has a decent group of secondary backups, and their defensive line second-stringers were almost performing on the same level as the starters last season.
11. San Diego Chargers
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The Chargers' second-string defensive line players seem to have enough experience to be able to rotate in with the starters. For example, take a look at Vaughn Martin’s stats compare to his second-string counterpart Tommie Harris from last season.
The problem with the second string begins in the linebacker position for the Chargers. With a weak second-string group of linebackers, a group that looks even weaker when compared to starters Takeo Spikes, Shaun Phillips, and Donald Butler, clearly the Chargers would take a major blow if a second-string linebacker were required to fill in for one of their starters.
Cornerback seems like a relatively safe position for the Chargers if they needed to rely on second-stringer Marcus Gilchrist. When compared to starter Antoine Cason, both had almost the same stats, Cason having more tackles than Gilchrist but playing two more games.
Safety seems like a really weak spot in the Chargers' second-string group. Comparing safety Eric Weddle to last year’s second-string players Pat Oliver and Darrell Stuckey, Weddle seems far more skilled than either of those two. If Weddle were to go out for several games, the Chargers would definitely see the difference at the safety position.
All in all, the Chargers have a solid second-string defensive line and seem to have a second-string cornerback in Marcus Gilchrist who can almost match what the starters did last season. The biggest area of concern would be at linebacker, where the Chargers lack even decent second-string players.
12. New Orleans Saints
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The Saints' defensive line backups were not as strong as their starters. Still, when looking at what they did compared to other second-stringers, they had decent stats.
Tom Johnson, for example, had 15 tackles and one sack last season.
The Saints are now thin on backups for their defensive line. More than likely, this problem will be fixed by the time the season starts, but how good will the new second string be?
The linebacker position for the Saints is going to be devastating this year in both the starters and the second string. With Johnathan Vilma looking at one-year suspension and Jo-Lonn Dunbar no longer on the team, the Saints have a lot of work to do at the linebacker position.
Would the second-string linebackers be enough to step up and do what Vilma and Dunbar did last year? Based on stats alone, Ramon Humber, who hasn't been re-signed yet, and Martez Wilson wouldn't even come close to what Vilma and Dunbar were able to do.
With the Saints in need of solid linebackers, if they choose to utilize the second string, then not only will the Saints be low on backups on their defensive line, but at the linebacker position as well.
The Saints' saving grace comes when discussing their backups in the secondary. They probably have the best overall secondary second-stringers. Patrick Robinson had a pretty good year as a backup, ending the season with 47 tackles and four interceptions. Clearly Robinson was playing on a starter level.
What the Saints lack in defensive line and linebacker backups they make up for in their second-string cornerback and safety positions.
13. New York Giants
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The Giants' defensive line backups last season were pretty solid. While Dave Tollefson might be with the Raiders now, he had a pretty solid year subbing in for some of the Giants defensive-end starters. Tollefson had 21 tackles, two forced fumbles and five sacks.
Osi Umenyiora is also listed as a second-stringer but clearly played like a starter when he was sidelined with injury. Osi ended the season with 25 tackles, two forced fumbles and nine sacks.
The weakest backup on the Giants' defensive line was defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy who only had four tackles in six games.
Like a lot of other teams across the league, the Giants last season lacked when it came to linebacker second-stringers. While Jacquian Williams ended the season with 78 tackles compared to starter Michael Boley's 93 tackles, Williams also saw action in two more games than Boley.
Williams would do the best out of the backup linebackers for the Giants. The best linebacker on the Giants last year was clearly Mathias Kiwanuka. If one of the second-stringers needed to replace Kiwanuka, the Giants would definitely feel it.
Secondary backups saw some ups and downs for the Giants. Backup cornerback Prince Amukamara ended his first season with only 14 tackles and one interception. Backup safety Deon Grant, though, ended his season with 64 tackles and one interception.
Other than Grant, though, the Giants secondary backups were really nothing special.
The Giants stand out with their dominant defensive line. It carries over into the backups on the d-Line as well. They had some weak backup linebackers like a lot of teams did last year, and their second-stringers in the secondary were average at best.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
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The only defensive end backup left after the 2011 season came to an end was Phillip Hunt. Hopefully the Eagles plan to increase their second-stringers on the defensive line, but even still they will have a problem.
It’s a similar situation to the one in Chicago, where you have two dominant defensive ends, and if either one were to get sidelined, the Eagles' defense would suffer majorly.
The Eagles seem to be stable at the linebacker position. Unlike most teams, their backup linebackers, Casey Mathews and Keenan Clayton, recorded similar stats to starters Brian Rolle and Akeem Jordan.
While the stats themselves are nothing that really stand out, it is still impressive to have strong enough backup linebackers that almost match the starters.
The secondary backups on the Eagles are lacking when compared to their starter counterparts. For example, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie played in 13 games last year, and only had 28 tackles. Clearly it was his worst season. Brandon Hughes played 13 games and recorded 16 tackles. He still wasn’t able to match a injured Cromartie.
Joselio Hanson did better than Hughes, recording 30 tackles and playing in all 16 games. Still, if the Eagles had also had Nnamdi Asomugha struggle as much as Cromartie did, they could have easily been a lot worse last year.
Safety is also a weak spot with the Eagles, with just Tom Nelson being recorded as the only backup, leaving much to be desired.
It's hard to get backup cornerbacks who could be suitable replacements for the two dominant starters that the Eagles have. Overall, though, with such a dominate defensive line and backfield, it would be hard to get backups to even come close to matching the starters.
15. Detroit Lions
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The Detroit Lion's have solid backups on their defensive line. Even when compared to the starters, the backups are clearly rotated in and almost put up similar numbers.
The weakest of the backups is Nick Fairley, who played in 10 games and had 15 tackles and one sack. Still, putting Fairley's recent offseason trouble aside, he played on par with several other second-string defensive linemen.
Other backups, like Lawrence Jackson, had a better year, recording 26 tackles and 4.5 sacks. The Lions have a solid group of backups up front, especially when compared to other teams around the league.
While the may have a solid d-line, the Lions are lacking in their linebacker backups. Asher Palmer might have four years of experience, but he recorded just eight tackles last season. Former backup Bobby Carpenter is now on the Patriots.
The Lions would have a hard time being able to match their starting linebackers, and if they needed to start a second-stringer, their defense would suffer.
In the secondary, the only backup to really have a good year was cornerback Alphonso Smith. Smith ended the season with 27 tackles, one forced fumble and three interceptions. Smith could end up starting next year since starting cornerback Eric Wright went to Tampa Bay.
Other than Smith, though, the backups in the secondary saw little playing time, and if they had to fill in as a starter, they would more than likely impact the defense negatively.
The Lions have a solid group of backups up front, but throughout the rest of their defense, their backups are lacking any real experience. Still, the Lions have more current backups than several other teams.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
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The second-string defensive linemen for the Jacksonville Jaguars are mediocre at best, which can still be considered a good thing. They seem to have enough experience. CJ. Mosley has eight years of experience, and George Selvie has three years.
Their stats are really nothing notable, but they seem like they could easily fit in if needed to start. They might not put up as good as stats as the starters, but they might not struggle as much as other backups would.
Jacksonville lacks linebacker backups. Jammie Kirlew has no recorded stats, and Stephen Franklin has just two tackles. Compared to the starters, who have much more experience, having to rely on two inexperienced back linebackers would prove disastrous to the Jacksonville defense.
While a lot of teams have weak second-string linebackers, Jacksonville has completely inexperienced ones who haven’t shown if they can even do anything.
The secondary backups for the Jaguars are riddled with holes because of the trades and free agency during the offseason.
David Jones could get re-signed, but he only had four tackles last season, nothing special.
The Jaguars would be wise in re-signing Drew Coleman who not only has experience, but put up solid stats with 46 tackles, four forced fumbles and two interceptions. Coleman is a good backup and could even be used as a starter.
Jacksonville has some rebuilding to do during the offseason and preseason, but as of now, they have major holes in their second string defense.
17. Dallas Cowboys
On the Cowboys defensive line, the only backup to really stand out is Sean Lissemore. He ended the season with the most tackles out of the other second-stringers on the d-line and also the most sacks of the second-string players.
The starting defensive line is still much better than the backups, and if any of the starters had to sit out for several games, Dallas would more than likely know the difference.
As we have seen with other teams who have key defensive players, what would happen if Ware or Lee were to end up on the bench for a part of the season? The backups would not be able to deliver anywhere on their level, and the change to the defense would be drastic.
The Cowboys secondary will probably undergo some changes, especially in the cornerback position after they acquired Brandon Carr from the Chiefs and drafted rookie Morris Claiborne. So while the Cowboys lost some secondary, they also gained some during the offseason.
It will be interesting to see who ends being the second-string cornerbacks, since the Cowboys still have last year’s starter Mike Jenkins and second-string CB Orlando Scandrick, who had a solid year for a second-stringer.
Safety might be an issue, since Abram Elam went to the Chiefs, and Mana Silva did relatively nothing last year.
Still, the Cowboys should feel much more comfortable with their backups in the secondary than most other teams.
Their biggest issue will be the backups at the linebacker position. It of course would be hard to even find starters to match Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware, but having second-string linebackers who did almost nothing last year should make any Cowboys fan feel a little uneasy if one of them were required to start.
18. Washington Redskins
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On the Redskins, second-stringer Stephen Bowen had the best year out of all the defensive line players. Bowen clearly plays like a starter and is just listed as a second-stringer because the Redskins rotate their defensive ends.
Still, outside of Bowen, there are no real other second-stringers on the line who match his experience or his stats.
It would be hard, however, for the backups to come even close to doing what the starters were able to. Backups Rob Jackson and Lorenzo Alexander at least has experience with the Redskins, but they don’t come close to the starter’s stat wise.
They might be able to fit into the Redskins' defensive system quickly if need be, but they probably wouldn’t produce the same results as the starters.
The Redskins also have a solid second-string cornerback in Kevin Barnes. Barnes might not have as much experience as the starting cornerbacks, but last year he was able to get two interceptions.
Safety wise, rookie DeJon Gomes might need to step up now that last year’s starter Oshiomogho Atogwe is on the Eagles. Gomes could be a solid backup if the Redskins choose to start a more experienced safety.
19. New England Patriots
The second-string defensive linemen on the New England Patriots really can't be compared to the starters. They aren't up to par with them stat wise. Comparing Kyle Love and Ron Brace for example, and the two have a difference of 29 tackles. Love also had three sacks while Brace had one forced fumble.
The backups up front on the d-line are nothing special.
The second-string linebackers were able to keep up a little bit more with their starter counterparts. Players like Dane Fletcher and Gary Guyton might not have been able to match starters Brandon Spikes or Jerod Mayo statistically, but they were still able to put up solid numbers for backups.
What that translates into, though, is that the Patriots had good enough backup linebackers that could be effectively rotated into their defense last year.
Not every team was able to achieve that.
The Patriots had decent backups in the secondary when compared to their starters. Compare starting safety James Ihedigbo to backup Sergio Brown, for example. While Ihedigbo had more tackles than Brown, Brown was able to get an interception.
Other than Molden and Brown, though, the Patriots' backups in the secondary were barely average.
The Patriots don't really have any flashy second-string players. They do, however, have backup linebackers who are effective enough to rotate with the starters, as well as some average backups in the secondary.
20. Seattle Seahawks
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The only two second-string defensive linemen left from last season on the Seattle Seahawks are Raheem Brock and Clinton McDonald. Brock still hasn’t been re-signed. He put up solid numbers last year for a backup but nowhere near starter Chris Clemons. McDonald recorded 35 tackles in 15 games but did nothing more than that.
By the time the 2012 season starts the Seahawks hopefully won’t be so thin with second-string defensive linemen. As of right now though, the lack of second-stringers on the line should be enough to worry any Seattle fan if a starter were to go down during preseason.
Linebacker wise, the Seahawks have eight years of experience in backup Heath Farwell. Outside of Farwell, though, the Seahawks are lacking in the backup line backer category. Mike Morgan didn’t record any tackles last year, and Adrian Moten had seven tackles, but while he was on the Colts.
The Seahawks, as of the end of the 2011 season, are also lacking in effective backup linebackers.
In the secondary, the Seahawks have their best backup. Cornerback Richard Sherman ended the season with 55 tackles, one forced fumble and four interceptions. He was the second string to Byron Maxwell, whom Sherman easily outperformed.
They also have Chris Maragos, who only recorded 12 tackles in 11 games played, but at least is now on his third year and has some experience.
The general problem with the Seahawks and their second-string players seem to be the general lack of them. Where they do have backups, some are inexperienced and would have a hard time matching the level of their starter counterpart. Save for Richard Sherman, the Seahawks lack second-stringers who can even deliver a mediocre performance.
21. Cleveland Browns
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The Cleveland Browns' front four put up solid numbers last year. All of them, besides Jayme Mitchell, had over 50 tackles and also had a combined 19 sacks. Their backup counterparts, however, are nowhere near as strong.
Only Scott Paxson and Brian Schaefering had over 10 tackles last year. The Browns seem like a team that if they lost a starting defensive lineman to injury, the backups would struggle to be able to keep up with what the starter was able to do.
Besides for Quinton Spears, stats on the backup linebackers of the Cleveland Browns are non-existent. While a lot of other teams lack solid backup linebackers, the Browns don’t have more than one who has a recorded tackle.
Hopefully by next season the Browns will manage to work in some experienced second-string linebackers. If they fail to do that, an injury to their starters could devastate the whole defense.
The Browns' backup secondary didn’t have a great season last year. Buster Skrine, for example, played in all 16 games but managed only 18 tackles and one interception. Backup safety Raymond Ventrone is the most experienced backup in the secondary with seven years under his belt, but he only managed three tackles from 14 games last season.
The second-stringers are a mixed bag of experience and fairly new players. Skrine and Eric Hagg, for example, have two years experience, while Ventrone has seven years experience and Dimitri Patterson has six years.
Some of the Browns' secondary second-stringers might be able to step up if need be, but others would more than likely fall short.
22. Miami Dolphins
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Outside of that, though, the Dolphins are pretty weak in the second-string category on their defensive line. The Dolphins' starters and second-string d-line players saw a lot of playing time, but they ended up losing some players during the offseason, which will more than likely require the Dolphins to do some overhaul to their second string.
The second-string linebackers on the Miami Dolphins might as well be non-existent. The only two that seem to be on the roster from last season are Jason Trusnik and Austin Spitler, both of whom made no real impact during last year’s regular season.
With Jason Taylor gone, the Dolphins will have a hard enough time finding a linebacker that comes anywhere close to Taylor’s level. Having weak and unreliable second-string linebackers will only hurt the Dolphins should one of them be required to start.
As far as the secondary is concerned, Nolan Carroll is a solid second-string cornerback when compared to Vontae Davis. While Caroll’s numbers aren’t as good as Davis’, Caroll did at least manage to play in more games.
Outside of Carroll, though, the Dolphin’s backups are weak and again, almost non-existent. With safety Yeremiah Bell leaving for the Jets, the Dolphins will have a hard time filling his spot if they choose to try and move up a second-stringer.
Miami needs to get their defense in order. They also need to hope that they don’t have to rely too much on backups next season because if they do, look for Miami’s defense to suffer.
23. Tenessee Titans
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The defensive-line second-string players of the Tennessee Titans are all weak compared to their starting team mates except for DT Shaun Smith. Smith basically matched what Sen’Derrick Marks was able to do and also has more experience than him.
Smith is really the only second-string player who would be a nice fit to fill in for a down-and-out starter. All the other second-string defensive line players like Karl Klug, for example, did nowhere near as much as the starters did on defense.
Linebacker second-stringers are incredibly weak compared to their starter counterparts. While a player like Tim Shaw might have more experience than starter Colin McCarthy, he has nowhere near his numbers and probably wouldn’t be able to deliver anywhere close to the same level.
The secondary also seems to be a problem for the Titans when dealing with second-string players. While Alterraun Verner was listed as a second-string cornerback last year, with Cortland Finnegan leaving for the Rams, Verner could easily get bumped up to starter.
He had solid numbers back in 2010 and makes a pretty good second-string cornerback that could start and deliver results around the same level as the current starters.
Other than Verner though, the second-string secondary on Tennessee leaves a lot to be desired. Safety positions don’t seem to have a solid second-string player, and the ones from last year performed nowhere near the same level as the starters did.
Tennessee, of course, needs to work on their starting defense before worrying about second string. But if a starter were to go down or need to be replaced, it would be a noticeable difference on the Titan defense.
24. Arizona Cardinals
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Both saw lots of action last season, but I wouldn’t want to rely on Holliday to start if one of the original starters needed to be substituted out. They have several backups that could move to starter if need be for the defensive line.
The problem is that the second string really doesn’t stand out or have anywhere near the numbers the starters do.
Starting linebacker Daryl Washington had a solid year last season with 107 tackles and two interceptions. He seems to be the dominant linebacker on the Cardinals. The second-string linebackers are nowhere near as strong as Washington is.
While all second-string linebackers saw action in all 16 games, the only one who came even close to Washington's numbers was O’Brien Schofield, who had 37 tackles.
In the backfield, the Cardinals are a little thin on second-string players. Hamza Abdullah, for example, had nowhere near the numbers of starter safety Adrian Wilson. Needless to say, if the Cardinals had to rely on Abdullah as a starter, they would notice the difference.
Cornerback isn’t as bad as the safety situation, but with starter Richard Marshall signing with the Dolphins, it’s time for one of the second-string cornerbacks to step up.
25. Green Bay Packers
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On the other hand, Mike Neal only had three tackles and played in just seven games.
While Pickett was pretty much the starter, he is somewhat aged, and Green Bay might want to start trying to find suitable backups to continue rotating into the defensive line if Mike Neal doesn't improve.
Linebacker is a weak backup position for Green Bay. Jamari Lattimore, for example, had just four tackles last season.
The backup linebacker with the best stats was D.J. Smith, who had 43 tackles and one interception.
None of the current backup linebackers would even come close to being a viable substitute, and if one of the starters were to get injured, the Green Bay defense would suffer majorly.
In the end Green Bay might want to try and improve their backup linebackers. While they seem to have solid second-string cornerbacks who will more than likely be starters at some point next year, Green Bay also slightly lacks backups up front on their defensive line.
26. Chicago Bears
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Everybody knows how dominant the Chicago Bears starting defense can be. Well, what would happen if they needed to rely on some second-string guys during the 2012 season?
The Bears have great defensive ends in Julius Peppers and Isreal Idonije. The problem is though, the second-string defensive ends cannot even be compared to these two. While the Bears' second-string defensive tackles seem on par with the starters, if Peppers or Idonije were to go out, the Bears would have no one even close to who match their caliber.
The weakest starting linebacker on the Bears, Nick Roach, is even leaps and bounds above any of the second-string linebackers.
The Bears seem weak in the backfield and lost some second-string players during the offseason. However, second-string cornerback Tim Jennings clearly plays as a starter and more than likely will be starting next season.
That, though, will leave the Bears with almost no backups for the secondary. They will need to do some rebuilding in the second string before the season starts.
The Bears have amazing starter defensive ends and linebackers. The problem is, however, the 2nd string is so weak compared to the starters that if they were needed to play more, the Bears defense would be nowhere near the same.
It would drastically decrease the defense if Peppers or Urlacher had to sit out several games and one of the second-string players needed to step up.
27. Buffalo Bills
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The Buffalo Bills' defensive-line second string never really existed. Sure, there was John McCargo, who only had five tackles last season, but now he is with the Bears. Marcus Stroud played double duty, starting as a defensive end and rotating in as the backup defensive tackle.
The only real second-stringer left is Alex Carrington who played more like a starter with 16 tackles and a sack at the end of last season.
Linebacker wise, the Bills are also suffering. The only backup ;inebacker still listed on the team by the end of the season was Jon Corto, who didn't even play last year. More than likely, this will be a area where the Bills work on during the offseason.
Ashlee Palmer, who was really the only backup linebacker last year, had eight tackles.
Most of the second-string secondary defense left for other teams at the end of the season. Safety George Wilson remains, and although he is listed as a second-stringer, he played the year like a starter. He was the best in the bunch and will more than likely be the starter for next season.
Donte Whitner also had a pretty good year as a second-string safety but is now with the 49ers.
The Bills lack defensive-line second-stringers along with backups for the linebacker spots. While they had solid second-string safeties, only one remains, and Wilson might have well as been the starting safety.
28. Oakland Raiders
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The Raiders don't really have any backups left on their defensive line. They had two backup defensive ends, Trevor Scott and Desmond Bryant. Scott really didn't do anything, and is now on the Patriots. Bryant acted more like a starter than a backup.
Bryant's stats clearly show he was more of a starter last season than a second-stringer, like is is listed.
Both had mediocre at best seasons last year. However, both are pretty experienced at this point in their careers. Blackstock is on his fourth year while Groves is on his fifth. Though neither backup was really impressive last year, at least they have several years of experience behind them.
The Raiders' secondary backups don't really stand out besides for safety Matt Giordano, who statistically played as a starter. Giordano has eight years of experience and recorded 70 tackles, one forced fumble and five interceptions last year.
Besides Giordano, though, the secondary backups are average at best. Sure, the Raiders had a solid amount of secondary second-stringers, but they made little noise last year.
Backup cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, for instance, had 13 tackles and one interception.
The Raiders lack backups on their defensive line, and in other aspects of their defense, their backups are mediocre at best.
29. St. Louis Rams
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The Rams will have some rebuilding to do on their defensive line, especially with the second-stringers.
Robert Quinn was really the only defensive lineman to stand out as a backup. He ended the season with 23 tackles and five sacks. It wouldn't be surprising to see Quinn start next season, especially since starter defensive end James Hall doesn't seem to be signed yet.
Outside of Quinn, though, the Rams really have no other backups that could be a suitable fill in as starter if needed.
The Rams' biggest weakness seems to be the lack of solid second-string linebackers. If middle linebacker James Laurinaitis were to go out with an injury, for example, the Rams would have a hard time finding a player to replace him that could also deliver on his level.
Backup linebacker Bryan Kehl is headed for the Redskins, and the only other second-stringer is Justin Cole, who had only two tackles last season. Cole might have three years experience, but he has only played in four games in his career, all last year.
Backup cornerback Chris Smith did relatively nothing last year. Recording just three tackles, the rookie CB is still inexperienced. While safety Craig Dahl might have had close stats to starter Darian Stewart last season, neither safety appears to be signed. The other backup safety, James Butler, recorded 11 sacks last year and also hasn't been re-signed yet.
Butler has eight years of experience, which could always be more of a benefit that a rookie backup.
The Rams have a lot of gaps to fill in the second-string defense before the 2012 season starts.
30. Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers' defensive line backups have a total of 17 tackles between the two of them. Last season’s second-stringers Eric Norwood and Ogemdi Nwagbuo didn't really do anything special. While Norwood did play in 13 games, Nwagbou only saw action in four.
Backup linebacker Jason Williams had a decent season last year, earning two forced fumbles. Fellow backup Kion Wilson, though, only played in five games and had one tackle. Could either backup really be able to come close to what starters Jordan Senn and James Anderson did?
Maybe in a couple years Jason Williams will be able to match the starters, but as of now he is only a decent backup at best.
Secondary wise, out of the backups Jonathan Nelson had the best year with nine tackles and one interception. Carolina's backups in the secondary lack experience. They are pretty weak stat wise and nowhere close to their starter counterparts.
The Panthers' second-string defense is weak on the line, mediocre at best linebacker wise because of Jason Williams and extremely weak in the secondary.
More experience would help out the backups, and while Carolina's second-stringers might seem inexperienced, at least the Panthers held onto their backups during the offseason.
31. Minnesota Vikings
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The gap between the starting defensive line on the Minnesota Vikings and the second-string defensive line is pretty big. While Christian Ballard saw action in all 16 games, he only managed 13 tackles. When compared to one of the starters, Brian Robison for example, who had 44 tackles, the second string is clearly lacking.
The Vikings finished off the year 11th overall when it came to opponent yards gained by rushing the ball. This was a result of a solid defensive line. If the second string had to step in, they would not be able to play on the same level as Jared Allen, for example.
Then there is the issue with the linebacker positions who are nonexistent in the second-string players. Larry Dean was the only second-string linebacker to actually see some playing time who is still on the team.
With the Vikings, one problem is that the backups are really just lackluster when compared to others throughout the league.
The bigger problem, though, is that if a starter goes down, the Vikings will have a hard time finding a second-string player who can deliver on the same level, especially on their defensive line.
32. Indianapolis Colts
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Here's the issue with the Colts:
While they may have great starting defensive ends in Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, their second-string defensive ends lack in comparison. Jamaal Anderson would have been a solid backup, but he left for the Bengals.
Tyler Brayton also seems like a decent backup defensive end, but he has yet to be re-signed.
The biggest problem, besides the lack of defensive line backups, is that it would be hard for the Colts to get second-string defensive ends that could deliver anywhere near the level that Mathis and Freeney play at.
The only second-string linebacker left on the Colts from last year is Scott Lutrus, who only had seven tackles in his first season. Lutrus clearly wouldn't be enough to fill in for Kavell Conner or Pat Angerer.
Not only do the Colts need to sign at least one more backup linebacker before the 2012 season starts, their best bet would be to try and get someone with more experience that Lutrus.
In the secondary, the best second-string player from last season would be Joe Lefeged. Lefeged finished the season with 34 tackles and two interceptions.
Cornerback Kevin Thomas had a decent year for a backup, getting 33 tackles last season. With starter Jacob Lacey gone though, what will happen to the Colts' secondary backups now? Will Thomas step up to start? Or will the Colts find someone else?
The Colts are generally lacking backups at both their defensive line and linebacker positions. They have two secondary backups who had decent seasons last year, but other than that the Colts' backups leave much to be desired.