#4 New Orleans Saints
I was so close to taking the the Saints secondary out of the cellar where they have remained for quite some time. The Saints have not finished in the top 30 in pass defense since 2014, when they finished 25th. They finished 32nd last season, but things are trending up. They drafted the best cornerback in the draft in Marshon Lattimore, Delvin Breaux will be back 100% healthy after a disappointing second season because of injury, and Vonn Bell proved to be an instinctive run-stopping safety in his rookie season. The Saints are expecting Bell to step up in a starting role now that they have released Jairus Byrd. Kenny Vaccaro holds down the strong safety spot. He has started in all four years since being drafted in 2013 by the Saints. If the Saints secondary is truly going to take the next step, Vaccaro is going to have step up and play like an all-pro. He is capable, and the Saints expect him to be a top safety in the league this upcoming season. This secondary will be improved heading into the season, but they still lack depth and are just and injury or two away from once again being the worst secondary in the NFL.
#3 Carolina Panthers
Two years ago, the Panthers had one of the best defenses in the NFL, headlined by Josh Norman and their turnover-happy secondary. Carolina led the NFL in interceptions with 24 in 2015, but after botching their deal with Norman last offseason, this secondary has not been the same. Carolina finished 29th in pass defense, albeit they were 89 yards better than the Saints. The Panthers spent most of their efforts upgrading the offensive side of the ball and brought in few new names to regain their form in the secondary. Captain Munnerlyn returns to Charlotte after spending three seasons with the Vikings. He should provide a solid option at nickel-corner. They also brought in two-time pro bowler Mike Adams in at safety from the Colts. Adams is a 12-year veteran, but will be relied on to hold down the safety spot next to Kurt Coleman. The Panthers biggest hope lies in their two rookies from last year. James Bradberry and Daryl Worley look to the next step in their second seasons, as they battled through growing pains and injuries in year one.
#2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The secondary was the worst part of the Buccaneers defense last season. They finished 22nd against the pass, a sore spot on what was an otherwise terrific defense. That should not be the case much longer, as the Bucs continue to add key young talent to the secondary. They drafted Vernon Hargreaves with the 11th overall pick in last year’s draft. Hargreaves had a tough rookie season where he gave up a gruesome 1,271 yards. However, Hargreaves did show flashes of the grand potential he possesses. Cornerbacks usually have a tough time adjusting to the NFL game, so look for Hargreaves to be much improved in year number two. The Buccaneers then added Justin Evans out of Texas A&M in the second-round of this year’s draft. Evans had a terrific two seasons for the Aggies and can deliver the boom from the safety position. It should not be long before Evans fingerprint is all over this Buccaneers defense. Lining up across from Hargreaves is former Falcon Brent Grimes. Grimes has had his share of injury problems over his career, but when he is on the field he has been a shut-down corner. He showcased that last season when he combined for the most interceptions and passes defended with eighteen. Tampa Bay also improved their secondary through free agency by picking up J.J. Wilcox. Wilcox has had five interceptions over his last three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys and will be an upgrade over Chris Conte, who had a dreadful season in 2016.
#1 Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta only finished 28th in pass defense, one spot ahead of the Carolina Panthers. But do not let those numbers fool you, Atlanta has one of the most fierce secondaries in the NFL heading into 2017. It starts with how the unit ended last season. The team only allowed 254 passing yards per game after the bye week, and the secondary accounted for five interceptions in the last six weeks. They began playing with more confidence and carried that into the postseason against some of the toughest QB competition. The group had two interceptions against Russell Wilson in the divisional round while holding him to 225 yards passing. They also picked off Aaron Rodgers, and Robert Alford had the first ever pick-six on Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. Now the secondary adds pro-bowler Desmond Trufant back into the lineup after being placed on injured-reserve with a shoulder injury in week nine. Keanu Neal, Jalen Collins, Brian Poole and Ricardo Allen will all benefit from another year of experience, and the Falcons added Damontae Kazee through the draft. Kazee, a fifth-round pick, is a ballhawk who had fifteen interceptions in his final two seasons at San Diego State. Most teams cannot afford losing the best player in their secondary, but the Falcons showed last year that they can, and they only got better this offseason.