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2018 NFC North preview: Ranking the division’s defensive backs

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Lions or Vikings? Who takes the top spot?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Considering the NFC North has what many consider the best set of quarterbacks among the six NFL divisions, the play of the secondary will be absolutely essential for the black and blue division. There are some talented defensive backs in the North, but which team’s set of safeties and corners reign supreme?

Before we get into it, catch up on the other positions below:

(Note: The teams’ top six DBs are listed, but the full depth of each unit is considered in these rankings)

1. Detroit Lions (Darius Slay, Teez Tabor, Quandre Diggs, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Nevin Lawson)

It’s basically a toss-up between the Vikings and Lions for the top spot in the division. The reason I give the Lions the top spot—besides my blatant homerism—is because of Detroit’s fantastic depth. Not even mentioned on the list above is versatile free agent addition DeShawn Shead and third-round draft pick Tracy Walker.

If Teez Tabor can live up to his offseason hype, this will undoubtedly be the division’s best secondary. Even if he continues to have some early struggle, the play of Darius Slay, Glover Quin and Quandre Diggs should be enough to make this a feared set of defensive backs.

2. Minnesota Vikings (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman, Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo, Mike Hughes)

The Vikings boasted two Pro Bowl defensive backs last year in Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith. They’re essentially the Slay and Quin of Minneapolis. But don’t forget about Andrew Sendejo, a seriously overlooked safety who earned PFF’s 11th-best grade among safeties.

Outside of those three, it’s a mixed bag. At times, Trae Waynes looks like the kind of physical corner that garners success in this league. Other times, he’s just a penalty flag generator. Terence Newman has had a fantastic year, but the dude is 39 years old. He can’t escape Father Time forever.

This is a seriously talented group, and arguably the best in the division. They even added Mike Hughes with their first-round pick, so the future is bright. Still, I give the Lions an extremely slight edge to do slightly better depth.

3. Chicago Bears (Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Marcus Cooper, Bryce Callahan)

There’s a distinct drop-off from the Lions and Vikings to the Bears and Packers, but Chicago’s secondary is far from bad.

Entering his fifth year in the league, Kyle Fuller has grown into a solid No. 1 CB, earning an 84.3 PFF grade (21st) and batting down 22 balls last season—second only to Darius Slay. The Bears know his worth as they quickly matched the Packers’ offer sheet when Fuller hit restricted free agency.

But don’t sleep on Adrian Amos, who graded as PFF’s No. 2 safety of 2017. Amos is only 25 years old and entering his fourth season, so the future is bright for him, and possibly the rest of the Bears secondary.

Rounding out the unit, you can do far worse than Prince Amukamara and Eddie Jackson, but they don’t quite stack up to the likes of Minnesota and Detroit.

4. Green Bay Packers (Tramon Williams, Kevin King, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Josh Jones, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson)

The future of Green Bay’s secondary could be very bright. For the second straight year, the Packers spent their first two draft picks on defensive backs. Take a look:

2017:

  • Round 2, Pick 33 overall: CB Kevin King
  • Round 2, Pick 61 overall: S Josh Jones

2018:

  • Round 1, Pick 18: CB Jaire Alexander
  • Round 2, Pick 45 overall: CB Josh Jackson

That’s some serious resources spent to improve the defense that allowed a passer rating of 102.0 (31st) last year. But at this point it’s more potential than it is reality. It takes a few years for defensive backs—especially cornerbacks—to adjust to the NFL. So while this unit may turn out to be one of the best in the division in 2019 and beyond, they aren’t there yet.