clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2022 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North secondaries

You can’t go wrong with a talented secondary, and the NFC North has plenty of experience and potential.

Arizona Cardinals v Detroit Lions Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The NFL has a number of gunslinger quarterbacks, and it often falls on opposing secondaries to stop them. Not only is having a lockdown corner a must-have for most championship-caliber teams, but the depth and safeties need to be top notch as well. Even if you have one elite player, teams will simply attack the weakest link.

The line between safety and cornerback has become blurred due to the increase of hybrid roles—look no further than the Detroit Lions shifting around Will Harris and Ifeatu Melifonwu. As a result, we’ll clump together safeties and cornerbacks to rank the entire secondary units as groups.

The NFC North has quite a bit of talent in the back half of the defense, but which team comes out on top?


Note: Players on each team are listed alphabetically. Bold indicates probable starters.

1. Green Bay Packers

Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos, Tariq Carpenter, Shawn Davis, Rasul Douglas, Kabion Ento, Rico Gafford, Innis Gaines, Shemar Jean-Charles, Dallin Leavitt, Keisean Nixon, Darnell Savage, Vernon Scott, Eric Stokes, Kiondre Thomas, Donte Vaughn

The Green Bay Packers sweep the defensive side of the NFC North rankings, and for good reason. Jaire Alexander alone elevates this group into the upper echelon of secondaries. Arguably the best cornerback in the league, Alexander played a mere four games in 2021 due to a shoulder injury, but there’s no reason to believe it will become a long-term issue. At just 25 years old, Alexander is just entering his prime.

The other starters are no slouches either. Eric Stokes proved the doubters wrong with an excellent rookie season, looking like a formidable pair with Alexander. When Alexander was out with injury, Rasul Douglas filled the void, putting up the best season of his career with five interceptions to boot. Douglas will slide inside to nickel due to the departure of last year’s starter Chandon Sullivan.

Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage are two intriguing safeties. Amos hasn’t skipped a beat since joining the Packers in 2019—he is one of the more underappreciated players in the league. Savage, meanwhile, flashes elite talent at times, but 2021 was somewhat of a down year after a good 2020 season. No doubt having Alexander back will help out his game as well.

The depth behind their top five, however, is quite awful with no obvious replacements among them. The Packers better hope their starters stay healthy.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Andrew Booth, Kris Boyd, Mike Brown, Camryn Bynum, Lewis Cine, Cameron Dantzler, Myles Dorn, Akayleb Evans, Nate Hairston, Harrison Hand, Josh Metellus, Parry Nickerson, Patrick Peterson, Harrison Smith, Tye Smith, Chandon Sullivan

Old meets new with the Minnesota Vikings secondary. Patrick Peterson was one of the best cornerbacks of the 2010s, but can he keep that up in the 2020s? His first season in Minnesota was a disappointment to some, logging just a single interception over the course of 13 games, but his coverage and run defense were decent. Decent isn’t the norm for Peterson, though, so the Vikings are hoping he can find that elite form once again.

Cameron Dantzler was good as the other outside corner, though he too would like to build upon his lone interception. The nickel role will likely fall to either Chandon Sullivan or rookie Andrew Booth. Sullivan was a middling starter with the Packers, so Booth’s status as a highly touted second-rounder could give him the edge, though he primarily played outside in college.

The starting safeties are two players Lions fans should know well, albeit for different reasons. Harrison Smith has been a staple of the Vikings defense for years, and the veteran earned his sixth Pro Bowl nod in 2021. Regression could be around the corner as he enters the season at 33 years old. But until that happens, he’s among the best safeties in the league. The starter opposite him, meanwhile, is rookie Lewis Cine. Cine was a popular pick for the Lions in mock drafts as one of the better safety prospects in the draft, so his landing in Minnesota stung a fair bit.

As far as backups go, Camryn Bynum (safety) is a lock to make the roster—he might even have the edge over Cine—but the final few spots come down to Kris Boyd, Akayleb Evans, and Harrison Hand, none of whom are too impressive.

3. Detroit Lions

Cedric Boswell, Brady Breeze, DeShon Elliott, Mark Gilbert, Will Harris, JuJu Hughes, Mike Hughes, Jerry Jacobs, Kerby Joseph, Chase Lucas, Ifeatu Melifonwu, C.J. Moore, Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, AJ Parker, Bobby Price, Savion Smith, Tracy Walker

Potential has been a running trend for the Detroit Lions, and no position exemplifies this like their secondary. Safety Tracy Walker is the elder statesman of the secondary, but he is just 27 years old. The Lions have a combination of experience and inexperience, pedigree and none at all. Jeff Okudah stands out as the top-billed player, having been drafted third overall two years ago. Thanks to seasons derailed by coaching and injury, he has yet to truly showcase his skill.

Amani Oruwariye slides in across from Okudah, coming off a solid 2021 campaign. Former safety Will Harris has shown improvement after making the move to cornerback, so he could very well be the next man up. The nickel corner role is up for grabs, with AJ Parker, Mike Hughes, and Chase Lucas competing for the same spot. Undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs played well last season, but a late-season torn ACL means a sizable recovery period.

The starting safeties will likely be Walker and newly-signed DeShon Elliott, but converted corner Ifeatu Melifonwu and rookie Kerby Joseph could see rotational roles as well. C.J. Moore is the Lions’ special teams ace, although that’s no guarantee he makes the roster. As a whole, the Lions secondary is pretty deep, but they need players to develop on their shutdown potential.

4. Chicago Bears

Jon Alexander, Jaquan Brisker, Dane Cruikshank, Kyler Gordon, Thomas Graham, Elijah Hicks, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Eddie Jackson, Lamar Jackson, Jaylon Johnson, Jaylon Jones, Michael Joseph, BoPete Keyes, Duke Shelley, Jayson Stanley, Greg Stroman, A.J. Thomas, Kindle Vildor, Tavon Young

The Bears once had a talent group of defensive backs led by Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller, and Adrian Amos. The only one remaining is Jackson, and much like the defense itself, his play has gone downhill in recent years. Jackson is one of the highest paid safeties in the league, but his coverage ability dipped significantly after signing his contract in 2020. He’s the de facto leader of the secondary, but he himself needs to step up.

The secondary is rounded out by multiple question marks, headlined by a pair of rookies. Kyler Gordon is slated to start at outside corner— it might be a trial by fire for the second-rounder, but he does have the tools to be a great corner. Jaquan Brisker is a talented safety prospect—drafted with the pick they received for Khalil Mack—so the pedigree is there, but expecting him to carry the defense as a rookie is a tough ask. Can either or both rookies thrive early on?

Elsewhere, Jaylon Johnson and Thomas Graham occupy roles outside and in the slot, respectively. Graham was quite good down the stretch as a rookie in 2021, but a mere 112 snaps on defense means he is still an uncertainty. Johnson is a 2020 second-round pick, and he has been serviceable if unremarkable corner. Kindle Vildor—a fantastic Name Bracket competitor—may also be in the mix after starting most of 2021. Beyond Vildor and Tavon Young—who is competing for a nickel role—the depth is middling at best.


Where does the Lions secondary rank in the NFC North?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    (15 votes)
  • 38%
    (161 votes)
  • 42%
    (176 votes)
  • 15%
    (67 votes)
419 votes total Vote Now

Pride of Detroit Direct

Sign up now for a 7-day free trial of Pride of Detroit Direct, with exclusive updates from Jeremy Reisman on the ground at Allen Park, instant reactions after each game, and in-depth Lions analysis from film expert Jon Ledyard.