Former NFL cornerback Ike Taylor had an excellent 12-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning two Super Bowl rings and serving as a cornerstone defender of one of the most dominant defenses in the league. He is now working for the NFL Network where he shares his opinion on current players in the league.
Taylor ranks his top five as the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, and Atlanta Falcons, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings receiving honorable mentions.
There’s no question that the Broncos have the best secondary in the league, with two of the top five cornerbacks in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., both earning First Team All Pro nods in 2016. When healthy, the Seahawks have a top three free safety (Earl Thomas), strong safety (Kam Chancellor), and cornerback (Richard Sherman) on the field.
The Giants certainly have one of the best secondaries in the league with SS Landon Collins earning First Team All Pro distinction and CBs Janoris Jenkins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie earning Second Team All Pro nods.
I’m fine with these three teams ranking ahead of the Patriots. The other four teams is where it gets a little hazy.
The Chiefs boast two elite players in S Eric Berry (First Team All Pro in 2015 and 2016) and CB Marcus Peters (Second Team All Pro in 2015, First Team All Pro in 2016), and Ron Parker is a solid safety next to Berry, but they don’t have a second cornerback to pair with Peters since both Steven Nelson and Phillip Gaines are both below average players.
Taylor thinks Gaines is “holding his own” across from Peters (Pro Football Focus disagrees, ranking Gaines as “the second-lowest graded corner in coverage.”), but Nelson was actually the starter who out-snapped Peters himself. Nelson played 90.9% of the snaps, while Peters (90.3%) and Gaines (40.0%) followed. Gaines struggled through a knee and neck injury down the final stretch of the season.
The Falcons have a pretty solid secondary with cornerbacks Demond Trufant, Robert Alford, and Jalen Collins and safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, but they have no superstars in the bunch, combining for just one career Pro Bowl nod. This quintet is very young, with Trufant and Alford entering their fifth seasons, Allen and Collins entering their third seasons, and Neal starting his second year. They have plenty of room to grow, but were a part of a defense that ranked 27th in points allowed in 2016.
The Jaguars improved their secondary for 2017 by signing CB A.J. Bouye in free agency, while CB Jalen Ramsey played at a high level as a rookie. The safeties are Barry Church, also signed this offseason, and Tashaun Gipson. Bouye and Ramsey have the potential to be a top five cornerback duo, while Church is a solid addition at safety. But this ranking is based entirely on potential, with Bouye and Church never playing a snap for the Jaguars and Ramsey only having one season under his belt.
The Vikings have a Pro Bowl cornerback in Xavier Rhodes, while Terence Newman is about to turn 39 years old in early September, but is still playing at a high level. They are one of the top cornerback duos in the league. Harrison Smith is a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the most well-rounded safeties in the league and he has paired with Andrew Sendejo to cover the back of the Minnesota defense over the past four years.
Taylor issued his cornerback earlier in the offseason and he named the Jaguars duo of Bouye and Ramsey as the best in the league (seriously), followed by the Broncos with Talib and Harris, the Giants with Jenkins and Eli Apple (and not Second Team All Pro Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), and the Los Angeles Chargers duo of Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward in fourth. The Vikings duo of Rhodes and Newman earned an honorable mention.
The Patriots cornerback duo of Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore came in fifth place for Taylor, which makes their exclusion from “best secondaries” even more peculiar. Butler is coming off a Second Team All Pro nod, alongside fellow Second Team All Pro FS Devin McCourty.
Taylor ranked McCourty as his 98th best player in the NFL, right behind Falcons S Keanu Neal (he ranked Jalen Ramsey 74th, too). He ranked Butler 55th, but somehow didn’t include Butler in the top 17 cornerbacks at the end of 2017. He’s seriously underrating the top two players in the Patriots secondary despite their Second Team All Pro distinctions.
Add in Gilmore, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season, and Patrick Chung, who was one of the top safeties in the league in 2014 and 2015, along with the depth of Eric Rowe and Duron Harmon and you have a secondary that should absolutely be ranked in the top five of the league.
The Patriots have better depth than the Chiefs, Jaguars, and Vikings (and the Seahawks, for that matter), and better top-end talent than the Falcons and Vikings. If I were constructing a top 10 secondaries list, it would go:
- Denver Broncos: The No-Fly Zone is real.
- New York Giants: The Giants have talent at every spot in the secondary and they should be better in 2017.
- Seattle Seahawks: The Legion of Boom is probably entering its final season and this could be their last year in the top five of the list.
- New England Patriots: Butler, Gilmore, Rowe, McCourty, Chung, and Harmon create the second-best six-deep secondary in the NFL (behind only the Broncos).
- Kansas City Chiefs: Berry and Peters are fantastic, but there is no real depth to the roster.
- Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons have great depth and potential and could take another step in 2017.
- Baltimore Ravens: Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson form one of the best safety tandems in the league, while Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, and Marlon Humphrey provide a solid group at cornerback.
- Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars have a lot of potential, but they’re relying on four starters in their first or second season with the team.
- Minnesota Vikings: Can Terence Newman continue to play at a high level at his age? Can Harrison Smith bounce back in 2017?
- Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are just one season removed from both being named First Team All Pro.
How would you rank the secondaries in the NFL?