Power Ranking NFL Secondary Depth Charts

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterJuly 18, 2014

Power Ranking NFL Secondary Depth Charts

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks will tell you that they have the NFL's best secondary. The New Orleans Saints will tell you that they have the NFL's best secondary. Ask most professional athletes if their group is the best in the game, and they are programmed to tell you that they are, indeed, the best.

    But who's really the best?

    Referencing the always-handy depth charts from Ourlads.com, here's a ranking of NFL secondaries in terms of talent. And not just starting lineups, either. Most NFL teams are in nickel or dime packages the majority of the time these days, so we're looking at the starters and the top contributors for each defense.

32. Carolina Panthers

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    MIKE MCCARN/Associated Press

    Starters: Antoine Cason, Robert Lester, Thomas Decoud, Melvin White

    Key Contributors: Josh Norman, Roman Harper, Josh Thomas, Colin Jones, Tre Boston

    The Carolina Panthers faced an offseason of major departures on offense, and that stole the headlines. What flew under the radar nationally is that this secondary is in bad shape.

    The addition of over-the-hill players like Antoine Cason, Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud is unlikely to help in that department, either. The Panthers need young players like Josh Norman and Josh Thomas to step up alongside Melvin White and Robert Lester. That's a crew with at least some potential.

    The good news in Carolina is that the pass rush is so good that the coverage can be mediocre and it'll survive. But don't bet on this unit being able to lock up the passing attacks of Atlanta, New Orleans or even Tampa Bay.

31. Washington

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Starters: DeAngelo Hall, Brandon Meriweather, Ryan Clark, David Amerson

    Key Contributors: Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Biggers, Phillip Thomas, Tracy Porter

    Defense has not been a strong suit in Washington for quite some time, and in 2014, the secondary will once again be the weak link of a team that's hoping for a big offensive output to keep it in games each week.

    DeAngelo Hall headlines this secondary and is a fitting representation of the play here—loud, overrated and over the hill. Hall, Meriweather and Clark are past their prime, and it shows on Sundays. They may be the more recognizable names, but their time is short with youngsters like Bashaud Breeland and Phillip Thomas coming up through the ranks.

    The future is brighter in Washington than the present (isn't that always the case in D.C.?), but the 2014 season could be a tough one on the secondary.

30. Oakland Raiders

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    Starters: D.J. Hayden, Tyvon Branch, Charles Woodson, Carlos Rogers

    Key Contributors: Tarell Brown, Taiwan Jones, Chimdi Chekwa, Usama Young, Travis Carrie (rookie)

    General manager Reggie McKenzie has had a full plate since taking over in Oakland. While McKenzie has done an admirable job managing the roster and salary cap given the hell he inherited from Al Davis, you can look at the secondary and see just how far this team has to go.

    McKenzie is in a win-now mode as he tries to save his job, and that's why veterans like Carlos Rogers, Charles Woodson and Tarell Brown are taking up space on the depth chart. Woodson is a Hall of Famer, but he's also turning 38 years old this season. How long he can remain a viable threat on defense remains to be seen.

    Youngster D.J. Hayden needs to have a big sophomore season after struggling in his rookie season. That's somewhat understandable given his time away from football after a heart injury suffered at Houston, but now's the time for him to prove he was worth a first-round pick.

29. Tennessee Titans

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    Chris Schneider/Associated Press

    Starters: Jason McCourty, Bernard Pollard, Michael Griffin, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

    Key Contributors: George Wilson, Marqueston Huff (rookie), Coty Sensabaugh, Tommie Campbell

    The Tennessee Titans have been forced to overcome departures (Cortland Finnegan, Alterraun Verner) in recent years that would cripple most secondaries, and yet they stayed at a competitive clip after losing Finnegan thanks to the emergence of Verner and Jason McCourty. But can they stay ahead of the curve again?

    It doesn't look good, at least not on paper. Blidi Wreh-Wilson is young—he played on just 93 snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription)—and will be filling big shoes. McCourty did enjoy a fantastic season, but he'll be the No. 1 cornerback now.

    The safety play is solid and deep, and arguably a strength on the defense now, but the lack of young players coming up the cornerback ranks definitely gives you pause.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Starters: Cortez Allen, Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Ike Taylor

    Key Contributors: Shamarko Thomas, William Gay, Isaiah Green, Robert Golden, Shaq Richardson (rookie)

    The Pittsburgh Steelers received high marks in our linebacker rankings, but when it comes to the secondary, it's time to worry.

    Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu are getting close to the end of the road—even though Polamalu was fantastic in 2013, it's tough to imagine back-to-back performances like that given his age (33 years old). Taylor, as the team's No. 1 cornerback, remains a liability in coverage against speedier receivers, and the AFC North is full of those now.

    The team has big plans for Cortez Allen, and he looks capable, but it also needs to start investing in young, developable players in the draft in order to eventually replace the many aging parts of the secondary in the first and second unit. Sharmarko Thomas was a great step toward that goal in 2013, but general manager Kevin Colbert must be more proactive here.

27. Detroit Lions

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    Starters: Bill Bentley, James Ihedigbo, Glover Quin, Darius Slay

    Key Contributors: Rashean Mathis, Nevin Lawson, Don Carey, Jonte Green, Gabe Lynn

    The Detroit Lions come into 2014 with renewed hope thanks to the hiring of Jim Caldwell as head coach and the addition of wide receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron opposite Calvin Johnson.

    For the Lions to have a shot at the playoffs, they'll need the offense to be as good as advertised, because the defense is unlikely to stop anyone.

    A young secondary anchors the back end of the Lions defense, and that means there is room for a surprise improvement in 2014. Bill Bentley and Darius Slay were both well-regarded draft prospects and have the talent to be headlining starters. At safety, though, Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo don't inspire greatness or offer much potential at this stage of their careers. They are who they are—average starters.

    The Lions have a fierce pass rush and athletic linebackers—both of which will help the coverage unit—but when it comes to one-on-one matchups against Cordarrelle Patterson or Jordy Nelson, you can't exactly bet on this team to win.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Starters: Dwayne Gratz, Jonathan Cyprien, Josh Evans, Alan Ball

    Key Contributors: Will Blackmon, Mike Harris, Jamell Fleming, Aaron Colvin (rookie), Winston Guy

    Listen to anyone in Jacksonville talk about the Jaguars, and you can feel the excitement and hope that Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell have brought with them since taking over in 2013. Now it's time to start winning and backing up those hopes and dreams.

    Caldwell hired Bradley as head coach to bring his Seattle Seahawks defense to Florida, and in that system, the scheme is as important as the players. That's the hope for Jacksonville in 2014, as it fields a secondary lacking stars but full of ideal scheme fits and promising up-and-comers.

    Jonathan Cyprien has the tools to become a top-five strong safety very soon. He just needs to improve his timing on the ball. The same goes for Dwayne Gratz, who showed remarkable upside in his freshman season and could emerge as the team's best cornerback this fall. 

    Will Blackmon and Alan Ball are both underrated on the boundary, but the real guy to watch is rookie Aaron Colvin. He had a late-first-round grade before tearing his ACL at the Senior Bowl and could be a star once healthy.

25. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Starters: Bradley Fletcher, Nate Allen, Malcolm Jenkins, Cary Williams

    Key Contributors: Brandon Boykin, Earl Wolff, Ed Reynolds (rookie), Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins (rookie), Curtis Marsh

    The Philadelphia Eagles have invested a ton of time, money and draft picks on defense since Chip Kelly took over as head coach before the 2013 offseason. And while we've seen remarkable changes in the front seven, many of the new additions in the secondary last season were just average.

    The hope is that a second year in Kelly's scheme will benefit this group, but the Eagles are still facing an uphill battle in terms of talent on the roster. Perhaps rookies Ed Reynolds and Jaylen Watkins can help there, but it's telling that the Eagles' best player in the secondary (Brandon Boykin) is a slot cornerback.

    Boykin would be a star if more people gave slot cornerbacks equal credit, so don't sleep on him because he's not a starter in the base defense. The outside corners—Fletcher and Williams—are physical and tough, but average as turn-and-run cover men. This is where Watkins can find a home in this defense very soon, if he adapts to the pro game quickly.

24. New York Jets

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    Starters: Dee Milliner, Calvin Pryor (rookie), Antonio Allen, Dimitri Patterson

    Key Contributors: Kyle Wilson, Dawan Landry, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Darrin Walls, Dexter McDougle (rookie), Ras-I Dowling

    The New York Jets have three former first-round picks (and the No. 33 overall pick in Ras-I Dowling) in the secondary, but they're still coming in at No. 24 overall.

    What gives?

    First off, Kyle Wilson should not have been a first-round-pick. Secondly, Dee Milliner was very much worth a first-rounder in 2013, but like most Alabama defenders, his development in the NFL is gradual. His potential is still exciting, even if a very rough rookie season has put a cloud over it. And the final first-rounder, Calvin Pryor, is coming into the NFL this season with big expectations as a strong safety.

    The Jets have talent, but they need that talent to produce. Opposite Milliner and Pryor are Antonio Allen and Dimitri Patterson, and neither scares quarterbacks. Allen is young with nice upside, but he needs to show more in 2014. 

    Dexter McDougle was a nice sleeper coming out of Maryland and just might be the guy to watch behind Patterson.

23. Houston Texans

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    Starters: Kareem Jackson, D.J. Swearinger, Kendrick Lewis, Johnathan Joseph

    Key Contributors: Brandon Harris, Chris Clemons, Andre Hal, Josh Victorian, Eddie Pleasant

    The Houston Texans will have no trouble getting to the quarterback in 2014, and that's a good thing given the on-paper talent of the secondary.

    The team's No. 1 cornerback, Johnathan Joseph, has been up and down since coming to town via free agency from Cincinnati and isn't a truly established player that offenses fear. He can be excellent but inconsistent, too. The other starting cornerback, Kareem Jackson, showed nice improvement in 2013 but is still carrying the expectations of a first-round draft pick, and he's not lived up to those.

    The safety position is as questionable with Kendrick Lewis at free safety. Ask anyone in Kansas City about Kendrick Lewis, and you'll hear how the fans were happy to see him go this year—so expecting him to do much in Houston would be foolish. In fact, Chris Clemons (listed as a backup by Ourlads.com) would be the better starting option.

    The youth and depth here isn't encouraging overall, but Brandon Harris does have the tools to be a good No. 3 cornerback.

22. St. Louis Rams

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    Starters: Trumaine Johnson, T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod, Janoris Jenkins

    Key Contributors: Lamarcus Joyner (rookie), Mo Alexander (rookie), Christian Bryant (rookie), E.J. Gaines (rookie)

    The St. Louis Rams went from a secondary on the rise to a group with major question marks after a disappointing campaign from the unit in 2013. Now there will be at least two new starters in a division where each game is so important.

    Janoris Jenkins is currently the No. 1 cornerback, and he needs to play more like his rookie film than his sophomore season. Jenkins is at his best when he's playing physical football, and with the Rams' amazing pass rush, he should be able to get back to that.

    Trumaine Johnson will replace Cortland Finnegan as a starter and may actually be an upgrade based on how Finnegan looked in 2013. This is a spot where the projected impact is low but could be a surprise.

    The safety spot is questionable with T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod, but both have room to outplay where they're ranked now.

    Jeff Fisher isn't afraid to play rookies, and both Lamarcus Joyner and Mo Alexander will have chances to see the field very soon.

21. Dallas Cowboys

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    Starters: Brandon Carr, J.J. Wilcox, Barry Church, Orlando Scandrick

    Key Contributors: B.W. Webb, Morris Claiborne, Jeff Heath, Ahmad Dixon (rookie), Jakar Hamilton, Terrence Mitchell (rookie)

    The Dallas Cowboys have not been timid when it comes to investing in new secondary players. The issue isn't a willingness to spend but knowing whom to spend on.

    Jerry Jones pulled the trigger on a move up in the 2012 draft to pick up Morris Claiborne, but since entering the NFL, he's struggled to find his footing as the elite NFL cornerback many (myself included) expected him to be. Now, Claiborne is in a reserve role heading into the season as Brandon Carr (a good free-agent pickup) and Orlando Scandrick hold down the starting jobs.

    If we were only grading cornerback talent, the Cowboys would be higher on the list, but the talent at safety keeps them lower. Barry Church is an active tackler, but you don't want him in coverage. J.J. Wilcox has some upside and versatility entering his second year, but he's raw.

    The depth could be better with Ahmad Dixon and Terrence Mitchell entering the corps, but this is still an underachieving unit.

20. Indianapolis Colts

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    Starters: Greg Toler, Mike Adams, LaRon Landry, Vontae Davis

    Key Contributors: Darius Butler, Sheldon Price, Sergio Brown, Delano Howell, Loucheiz Purifoy (rookie)

    The Ryan Grigson era in Indianapolis has been very successful, but for the Colts to take the next step and become a true Super Bowl contender (and they're close), Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano need more from the defense.

    The bulk of that responsibility will fall on a secondary that's on the brink of becoming a better unit. 

    Vontae Davis was one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks in 2013 and could be even better with more chemistry around him this fall. Greg Toler was a favorite free-agent signing before last season, but injury cut short his season. The good news there is that Darius Butler was able to further develop with added reps and comes into 2014 as the No. 3 cornerback.

    The safety position isn't great here and could be the biggest weakness on the entire roster. Neither Adams nor Landry is good in coverage.

19. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Starters: Chris Owens, Eric Berry, Husain Abdullah, Sean Smith

    Key Contributors: Phillip Gaines (rookie), Sanders Commings, Jerron McMillian, Marcus Cooper, DeMarcus Van Dyke

    I like a lot of things in Kansas City—the BBQ, the Boulevard beer, Jamaal Charles and a dynamite pass rush—but I cannot like this secondary heading into the season.

    Eric Berry is the name most Chiefs fans will comment with in reply, but Berry has been overrated by the media and fans. He is talented, to be sure, but isn't on a level with Earl Thomas or Eric Weddle in terms of play. Berry is the best secondary player the Chiefs have, but the former No. 5 overall pick in the draft must become more consistent and step up against big-time quarterbacks. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck destroyed him in 2013, and that can't happen this year.

    Losing Brandon Flowers at cornerback may save money, but it will hurt in the meantime on the field. Chris Owens, Marcus Cooper and Phillip Gaines will compete for the starting-cornerback job, but keep an eye on Sanders Commings, too. Commings has the length to play cornerback or free safety and could step in and play significant reps. Cooper was great in spots last year but was also picked on badly in key games against Denver, San Diego and Indianapolis.

    The potential is here for a much-improved group, but consider me a nonbeliever in the middle of July.

18. Minnesota Vikings

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    Starters: Xavier Rhodes, Jamarca Sanford, Harrison Smith, Captain Munnerlyn

    Key Contributors: Josh Robinson, Shaun Prater, Antone Exum (rookie), Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton

    The Minnesota Vikings may actually be ranked too low here, but every time I tried to move them up, I talked myself out of it. There is a ton of potential, but there are also questionable factors that could result in this secondary being one of the 10 worst in the league.

    It starts with Xavier Rhodes, as he'll be asked to step in and take the No. 1-cornerback job as a sophomore player. The former Florida State Seminole is capable, and we saw those flashes in year one to indicate he's ready, but that is asking a big jump from a young player—especially when you consider the Vikings lost their best pass-rusher in Jared Allen this offseason.

    Harrison Smith looked like a future All-Pro in his rookie season but regressed in 2013. He needs to bounce back big, and if he does, the Vikings will be ranked much higher at season's end.

    The addition of Captain Munnerlyn could shore up the issues on the edge, but Jamarca Sanford comes in presently as an average strong safety. 

17. San Francisco 49ers

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Starters: Tramaine Brock, Antoine Bethea, Eric Reid, Chris Culliver

    Key Contributors: Jimmie Ward (rookie), Perrish Cox, Chris Cook, Dontae Johnson (rookie), Craig Dahl, Keith Reaser (rookie)

    The San Francisco 49ers have one of the NFL's best defenses, but that's largely because of the talent in their front seven. The secondary in 2014 will be a question mark for anyone evaluating this team.

    Gone are Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Donte Whitner from the starting lineup, and in their place, the 49ers will roll with an up-and-comer in Tramaine Brock, troubled-but-talented Chris Culliver and a combination of Antoine Bethea and Jimmie Ward at safety. A lot of turnover, but plenty of room for upgrades over the average play in 2013.

    Brock is a true sleeper and someone with the potential to be a top-15 NFL cornerback by season's end. If Eric Reid comes back as good as he looked in his rookie campaign, he'll be the glue of the secondary at free safety and the playmaker of the group.

    The loss of the veterans may sting early, but don't be surprised if the 49ers secondary is playing better by season's end than it was last year.

16. Atlanta Falcons

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    Starters: Desmond Trufant, William Moore, Dwight Lowery, Robert Alford

    Key Contributors: Dezmen Southward (rookie), Robert McClain, Josh Wilson, Ricardo Allen (rookie)

    The Atlanta Falcons are home to the NFL's best cornerback no one talks about (yet). Desmond Trufant could make a very strong case for having a top-five season at cornerback in 2013—his rookie season—and he should only be better with another offseason under his belt.

    The Falcons aren't expected to have much of a pass rush, so the coverage has to be good. Trufant will hold down his side, but Robert Alford has to make a push to improve his timing and technique this season. He has the speed to be very good but needs to be refined.

    The loss of Thomas Decoud at safety is a push, and it's fair to expect William Moore to bounce back from a rough 2013 season and get back to being one of the better strong safeties in the game. If he can, that will allow more time for a depleted front seven to get to the quarterback.

    The players to watch here are Alford and rookie Dezmen Southward. The former Wisconsin cornerback has the skill to play safety, slot cornerback or on the edge.

15. Miami Dolphins

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    Starters: Brent Grimes, Reshad Jones, Jimmy Wilson, Cortland Finnegan

    Key Contributors: Walt Aikens (rookie), Will Davis, Jamar Taylor, Louis Delmas, Jordan Kovacs

    The Miami Dolphins continue to make moves to improve the roster, but will adding big-name veterans pay off on the field?

    That's the hope, at least. The team was able to keep Brent Grimes, and that's huge for the cornerback play. He's not a household name outside of Miami or Atlanta, but Grimes is a dog in coverage and can line up against the offense's best receiver and contain him.

    Opposite Grimes the team added Cortland Finnegan, but he is more name than play at this point if you look at his 2013 film. It wouldn't be a surprise if Jamar Taylor or rookie Walt Aikens has a bigger impact in coverage. 

    The depth at cornerback is good but also raw.

    The safety play will be anchored by Reshad Jones, but new starter Jimmy Wilson offers a hope for improvement after Chris Clemons struggled last year.

14. Chicago Bears

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Starters: Tim Jennings, Ryan Mundy, Chris Conte, Charles Tillman

    Key Contributors: Kyle Fuller (rookie), Brock Vereen (rookie), M.D. Jennings, Kelvin Hayden, Adrian Wilson

    The Chicago Bears have struggled on defense in the past several seasons, but that will be changing in 2014. 

    The additions made by general manager Phil Emery at every level of the defense have been quietly impressive, but the moves made to the back end of the defense are particularly eye-opening. Emery is a team-builder, and it's safe to say that he's fixing his defense just like he fixed the offense.

    Keeping Charles Tillman around was a great move, and if Tillman is healthy, he's still capable of locking up No. 1 receivers. Now add in rookie Kyle Fuller—a player I loved pre-draft—and you have three very good cornerbacks on the roster.

    The safety play here has been a problem, but Ryan Mundy and Brock Vereen will help with that very soon. In the meantime, an improved pass rush will help Chris Conte and Co. hold up in coverage.

13. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Starters: Terence Newman, George Iloka, Reggie Nelson, Adam Jones

    Key Contributors: Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard (rookie), Dre Kirkpatrick, Taylor Mays, Shawn Williams

    The Cincinnati Bengals have no shortage of talent available, but will that talent be able to stay healthy and live up to expectations in 2014? The team has to hope so, but I'm not quite convinced yet.

    The Ourlads.com depth chart has Terence Newman and Adam Jones starting, but the expectation will be that Leon Hall and either Darqueze Dennard or Dre Kirkpatrick move into the starting lineup soon. Kirkpatrick, a 2012 first-rounder, started to shine late last year and may finally be realizing his potential. If so, the Bengals will be ranked much higher after the year.

    The safety play is an unknown, with George Iloka moving into a starting role. Taylor Mays provides veteran depth but is a major liability in coverage. Shawn Williams will back up Reggie Nelson at free safety, but Nelson's versatility is a major key to the Bengals' ranking and success on defense.

    If the players here continue to play as they have in the past, and a few live up to their pre-draft rankings, the Bengals could have top-10 talent.

12. San Diego Chargers

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Starters: Shareece Wright, Marcus Gilchrist, Eric Weddle, Brandon Flowers

    Key Contributors: Jason Verrett (rookie), Alden Darby (rookie), Darrell Stuckey, Richard Marshall

    Ranking the San Diego Chargers this high requires you to believe in the development of young players like Shareece Wright and Jason Verrett, and also to buy in on Brandon Flowers being an instant-impact starter. And lucky for fans in San Diego, I'm all-in on both fronts.

    The Chargers have invested to build up the cornerback position around talented safety Eric Weddle while also giving him a solid running mate in Marcus Gilchrist. Now one of the NFL's best safeties has some help, and the result could be dangerous for the rest of the AFC West.

    Flowers, Wright, Verrett and veteran Richard Marshall may not be huge names, but the play will be very solid. And don't be shocked if Verrett is one of the game's best slot cornerbacks after the end of his first season. He was a healthy shoulder and two inches of height away from being the best cornerback prospect in the 2014 draft.

11. Baltimore Ravens

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    Starters: Lardarius Webb, Matt Elam, Darian Stewart, Jimmy Smith

    Key Contributors: Terrence Brooks (rookie), Aaron Ross, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson, Anthony Levine

    The Baltimore Ravens have experienced a changing of the guard on defense since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed left town, but in the secondary that transformation is still taking shape. 

    One year after adding Matt Elam at strong safety, the Ravens picked up one of my favorite free safety prospects in Terrence Brooks. Now they have two athletic hitters at safety, and Brooks can cover the middle of the field, too. The Florida State product has big-time potential and could unseat Darian Stewart as a starter very soon.

    The cornerback spot is still solid here, especially with Jimmy Smith flashing some development last year. With Lardarius Webb still a capable top-10 cornerback and Smith living up to his potential, the starting duo could be electric. You can worry a bit about the slot-corner job, but Chykie Brown and Asa Jackson could make impacts there.

    If Smith has finally figured the NFL out, and if Brooks is as good as advertised, this secondary could be game-changing.

10. Buffalo Bills

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Starters: Leodis McKelvin, Aaron Williams, Da'Norris Searcy, Stephon Gilmore

    Key Contributors: Nickell Robey, Ross Cockrell (rookie), Duke Williams, Jonathan Meeks, Kenny Ladler

    One year ago no one would have believed that the Buffalo Bills could have a top-10 secondary, but they did in 2013 and could again in 2014. The biggest obstacle is overcoming the loss of stud free safety Jairus Byrd. The pressure will be on, but this group has big potential.

    The Bills found success from cornerbacks Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore in Mike Pettine's defense last year, but with Pettine now in Cleveland, it will be worth watching to see if it was scheme or player talent that led to the shutdown play last year. Both were well-regarded draft prospects and have the size, speed and instincts to excel. Add in excellent slot corner Nickell Robey, and you can see why the corners are the backbone for a top-10 ranking here.

    The safety spot opposite Aaron Williams will be tough to fill, but the former Texas Longhorns cornerback has found his home at strong safety and is quickly becoming one of the league's best there. 

9. New York Giants

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    Starters: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Antrel Rolle, Quintin Demps, Prince Amukamara

    Key Contributors: Walter Thurmond, Stevie Brown, Nat Berhe (rookie), C.J. Barnett (rookie), Cooper Taylor

    When you opened this article, did you think you'd see the New York Giants in the top 10? I'm certain many did not, but the Giants are well-deserving.

    The play in the New York secondary starts with cornerback Prince Amukamara. The former first-round pick from Nebraska has lived up to those hopes and is becoming a star on the boundary. He's assisted by two newcomers—Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and slot cornerback Walter Thurmond. Thurmond, coming from Seattle, might be the best slot cornerback in the entire game.

    The safety position isn't as promising, but Antrel Rolle is solid. Quintin Demps may lose his starting job to Nat Berhe sooner rather than later, and team sources are raving about Cooper Taylor as an up-and-comer in the secondary. If Stevie Brown can bounce back and play like he did in 2012 (eight interceptions), the team could have a nice surprise at strong safety.

    The overall talent—both in the starting lineup and in depth—is impressive in New York, and the Giants are definitely a top secondary on paper.

8. Green Bay Packers

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Starters: Tramon Williams, Morgan Burnett, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (rookie), Sam Shields

    Key Contributors: Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Demetri Goodson (rookie)

    The Green Bay Packers' ranking inside the top 10 is very much based on potential. That said, if the key players here are healthy and the first-round draft choice is as good as we all think, the Packers will be a new team on defense.

    The cornerbacks are good but have struggled to stay healthy together. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are capable of locking up receivers on the edge, and Casey Hayward is one of the game's top inside cornerbacks. The trouble is keeping all three on the field, which is why backups like Davon House are so important to the defense.

    Micah Hyde is a wild card here, as he can play safety or cornerback. He would allow Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to make a slower transition to the NFL, but the Green Bay secondary needs a center fielder like Clinton-Dix in the lineup now. It creates nice depth for Dom Capers' defense if Hyde is playing more of a rover role.

    Demetri Goodson is a rookie to watch, too. He may not make a splash in 2014, but has long-term starting potential.

7. Cleveland Browns

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    Mark Duncan/Associated Press

    Starters: Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson, Justin Gilbert (rookie)

    Key Contributors: Buster Skrine, Pierre Desir (rookie), Jordan Poyer, Leon McFadden

    The Cleveland Browns may have lost T.J. Ward this offseason, but new general manager Ray Farmer was serious about making his secondary a strength of the team. Heading into the season, it looks like he did just that.

    The loss of Ward will sting, but Donte Whitner isn't far behind him in terms of play and will be a hard-hitting enforcer patrolling deep. He'll anchor a secondary with a ton of speed and talent on the edge, too, which will free up the former 49er and Bill to clean up with big hits.

    Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert could quickly become the NFL's best cornerback duo—seriously. Haden is a few inconsistent games away from a top-five cornerback ranking, and Gilbert came out of Oklahoma State as my top-ranked corner in the 2014 draft. The addition of Gilbert will allow Buster Skrine to play inside covering the slot, but he could be pushed soon by small-school rookie Pierre Desir.

    And lastly, we can't forget Tashaun Gipson. The free safety had a quietly good 2013 season, and with so much talent around him it's safe to think he'll be able to roam and play the ball more this season.

6. Arizona Cardinals

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Starters: Patrick Peterson, Deone Bucannon (rookie), Rashad Johnson, Antonio Cromartie

    Key Contributors: Tyrann Mathieu, Tony Jefferson, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Curtis Taylor

    The Arizona Cardinals have hit on draft picks in the secondary and are now beefing up the corps with free agents like Antonio Cromartie. The result just might be a top-five secondary.

    Depending on whom you ask, Patrick Peterson might be the best cornerback in the NFL—he certainly thinks he is. Regardless of his ranking, Peterson is one of the better man-to-man cornerbacks in the game and is a legitimate threat against any wide receiver.

    Peterson is the highlight of the group, but rookie Tyrann Mathieu may have actually been the better player last year. Lining up at free safety, Mathieu was a ball hawk and a star in coverage. He won't start the season on time due to injury, but once back he should be the difference-maker here.

    Mathieu was the big addition last year, but the front office went after Antonio Cromartie in free agency and hopes he can be a true No. 2 boundary corner to offset Peterson. Bruce Arians is also hopeful that rookie strong safety Deone Bucannon can have a big impact. 

    The depth here is solid, too, as Tony Jefferson is a very promising young player in his second season and Jerraud Powers has mid-level starting ability.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Starters: Alterraun Verner, Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson, Johnthan Banks

    Key Contributors: Leonard Johnson, Mike Jenkins, Kelcie McCray, Major Wright, Keith Tandy

    You cannot complain about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being complacent. New general manager Jason Licht came in with a focus and vision for the defense, and even if that meant letting Darrelle Revis walk, he's followed that path.

    Revis is gone, but in his place is a younger and cheaper version—Alterraun Verner. Coming from the Tennessee Titans system, he's ideal for Lovie Smith's defense and is penciled in as the team's top cornerback. He'll be asked to cover the offense's best weapon and mentor young cornerback Johnthan Banks.

    Banks, a second-rounder in 2013, has the tools to be very good but got lost in the mess Greg Schiano created. With Leonard Johnson and Mike Jenkins also in the fold, Tampa has the talent and depth at cornerback to be dangerous.

    The safety spot may have been overrated a bit heading into 2013, but Mark Barron should take a step forward in this new defense, and Dashon Goldson is a proven playmaker (even if he's a touch inconsistent in coverage).

4. New Orleans Saints

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Starters: Champ Bailey, Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd, Keenan Lewis

    Key Contributors: Patrick Robinson, Stanley Jean-Baptiste (rookie), Corey White, Rafael Bush, Rod Sweeting

    You would not like to be a wide receiver going over the middle against the New Orleans Saints safeties. Not unless you want Kenny Vaccaro or Jairus Byrd's helmet tattooed to your chest.

    The Saints are aiming to compete with the best secondaries in the game, and the addition of Byrd after drafting Vaccaro in 2013 is huge. Now they have the playmaking center fielder to go with their hard-hitting coverage strong safety.

    The questions in New Orleans do not exist at safety, but at cornerback the team is less settled. Even after adding Champ Bailey.

    Bailey may enter the Hall of Fame someday, but he's closer to that than being a shutdown cornerback. His name is big, but his play dipped in 2013. Keenan Lewis figures to be the best cornerback on the field for New Orleans—and with his size, length and toughness, he fits the mold of the modern No. 1 corner.

    Adding Patrick Robinson and Stanley Jean-Baptiste also fits the big, long mold at cornerback, and both have upside as starters.

3. Denver Broncos

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Starters: Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Rahim Moore, Bradley Roby (rookie)

    Key Contributors: Chris Harris, Quinton Carter, Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter, Duke Ihenacho

    The Denver Broncos took a beating in the Super Bowl, allowing the Seattle Seahawks to score 43 points in an epic route. General manager John Elway took that loss and let it motivate him to bolster a defense that too often held his team back last year.

    Not only did Elway add DeMarcus Ware at defensive end, but he grabbed three new starters in the secondary after watching Champ Bailey and others struggle against top passing attacks. Now Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and rookie Bradley Roby will be patrolling the field with incumbent free safety Rahim Moore. If that sounds like a great secondary, it's because they should be.

    The Broncos also have one of the premier slot cornerbacks in the NFL when Chris Harris is on the field. Plus Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter, Quinton Carter and Duke Ihenacho give Denver a second unit better than some first teams you'll see.

2. New England Patriots

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Starters: Darrelle Revis, Duron Harmon, Devin McCourty, Alfonzo Dennard

    Key Contributors: Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan, Tavon Wilson, Kyle Arrington, Patrick Chung, Jemea Thomas

    Take an already strong secondary, add two of the NFL's best cover men, and you're guaranteed a high ranking in this list. Add the second-best corner in the league—who may be the best—and you're going to be ranked exceptionally high.

    The New England Patriots are no longer trying to win with a high-profile offense only. Now Bill Belichick is getting back to his roots and trying to build a dominant defense. Putting Darrelle Revis opposite Brandon Browner is one way to accomplish that.

    If Revis keeps up his elite man-coverage play, free safety Devin McCourty will be a five-plus interception guy and Alfonzo Dennard can become an elite slot corner. The Patriots have talent—especially once Browner is back from a four-game suspension—but they also have depth. A lot of it. 

    Logan Ryan, Tavon Wilson, Kyle Arrington and Patrick Chung have experience as starters, and with a Super Bowl run expected, they'll come in handy down the stretch.

1. Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Starters: Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Byron Maxwell

    Key Contributors: Tharold Simon, Jeremy Lane, Jeron Johnson, Dion Bailey (rookie), Phillip Adams

    The Seattle Seahawks have the NFL's best cornerback (Richard Sherman), the best overall defender (Earl Thomas) and a top-three strong safety (Kam Chancellor). Of course they're ranked No. 1 overall.

    The Seahawks have built a very strong secondary, and even after the departure of two key players (Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond), they are still head and shoulders above the rest of the league on the back end of the defense.

    Pete Carroll and John Schneider have built strong depth and also identified a profile for the type of cornerback they want. It's what allows them to roll in Byron Maxwell when Browner was suspended and actually get better play. It's why Tharold Simon and Jeremy Lane will be just fine in bigger roles this year, too.

    It's a good time to be a fan of the Seahawks and a bad time to be a fan of any other NFC West team.


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