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2019 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North secondaries

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Has the Lions’ secondary improved enough to be considered a top unit in the division?

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a passing league in the modern era—even if Matt Patricia doesn’t necessarily think so. That being said, the Detroit Lions have clearly put an emphasis on the building their secondary this offseason. Last year, the defensive backs let the Lions defense down, despite there being quite a bit of optimism surrounding their unit (I ranked them first in the NFC North in 2018).

There is already a similar swell of optimism surround the Lions’ secondary. But is it fool’s gold again, or will Detroit’s backend actually be improved this year?

Here’s a look at our NFC North secondary rankings.

Previously:

Note: Projected starters are listed, but depth is considered in these rankings

1. Minnesota Vikings (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, Harrison Smith, Anthony Harris)

While I’m not the biggest Trae Waynes fan, I think the Vikings have the best set of starting cornerbacks in the division. Xavier Rhodes—despite his Marvin Jones problem—is a great cover corner and Mackensie Alexander had a breakout year as one of the league’s best nickel corners in 2018.

Throw in Harrison Smith—a four-time Pro Bowler—and Anthony Harris—who went from undrafted to breakout star in 2018—and you’ve got a pretty solid starting crew across the board.

2. Detroit Lions (Darius Slay, Justin Coleman, Rashaan Melvin, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker)

The Lions boast a pretty solid starting lineup here, starting with lockdown corner Darius Slay, underappreciated nickel corner Justin Coleman, and do-it-all defensive back Quandre Diggs. That being said, there are questions elsewhere.

Many in Detroit assume Tracy Walker will seamlessly step into a starting role this year, but that’s a huge jump in responsibilities for a 24 year old. Additionally, we still don’t know who will be lined up outside opposite Darius Slay. Rashaan Melvin is the leading candidate, but he’s coming off a rough year in Oakland.

That being said, the Lions really shine through depth here. Detroit added two draft picks—Will Harris and Amani Oruwariye—who could realistically contribute this year. And they have capable veterans in Andrew Adams and Tavon Wilson, as well.

If injury strikes, no team in the NFC North is better equipped than the Lions (except if Darius Slay goes down. PROTECT SLAY AT ALL COSTS.)

3. Chicago Bears (Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Eddie Jackson, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix)

It’s hard to rank the Bears third when they have a top-10 cornerback in Kyle Fuller and a top-five safety in Eddie Jackson. But you’re only as strong as your weakest link in the secondary, and I’m skeptical of every other projected starter in this secondary. Admittedly, Amukamara is coming off his best season, but he’s crossed over to the dreaded 30-year-old cliff and has never been much more than a slightly above average corner.

Buster Skrine takes over for Bryce Callahan in the slot, but the free agent addition is coming off of rough performances with the Jets and Browns.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s young career has had more downs than ups.

All that being said, with Chicago’s impressive front seven, the Bears can probably afford to have a weaker secondary.

4. Green Bay Packers (Jaire Alexander, Tramon Williams, Kevin King, Adrian Amos, Darnell Savage)

The Packers have spent the last three drafts trying to load up their defensive backs, but the results just aren’t there yet. Jaire Alexander has probably been the best of the bunch, but between injuries and flat-out misses in the draft, the Packers easily have the most question marks in their secondary.

That being said, the free agent addition of Adrian Amos and the first-round selection of Darnell Savage makes the Packers’ last line of defense a potential strong point of this defense.

Still, there’s just way too much potential here and not enough actual results.