Dan Quinn helped formulate one of the most devastating units in NFL history while he was in Seattle. The Legion of Boom terrorized the league for years, clobbering the high-powered Broncos for their first Super Bowl together and coming oh-so-close to going back-to-back. It might have been Dan Quinn’s finest work and led to him earning the Falcons head coaching job in 2015.
That is why it should not have surprised anyone that tightening up the secondary was a top priority. His first draft selection in 2016 was Keanu Neal out of Florida. At the time, the pick came as a reach, but Quinn showed everyone quickly he knew exactly what he was doing. Neal is a player reminiscent to Kam Chancellor, an enforcer that can create turnovers and dare receivers to test the middle of the field. He has panned out just as well as Chancellor too. In just his second NFL season, Neal received Pro-Bowl honors.
Neal joined a secondary with two already proven corners. Albeit, Alford has been able to make giant strides since Quinn became a head coach. He has gone from fringe bust to a legitimate #2 corner option. Desmond Trufant has been a Pro-Bowl caliber player since he came into the league.
Maybe the best discovery Quinn was able to find is Ricardo Allen. Allen was cut and released to the team’s practice squad in 2014. When Quinn arrived, he was given a second opportunity and took full advantage. He won the free safety job in camp, started week one and came up with the game-saving interception. The rest is history, as Rico has been a rock for the past three seasons as the safety net of the Falcons defense. He just recently inked a three-year contract extension, meaning all four of these starters will be in Atlanta for years to come.
Now, it’s time to figure out where this secondary adds up to the rest of the NFL.
The God Awful
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kansas City Chiefs
The Colts have failed to find any semblance of a defense in years. It’s sad, really. Almost as sad as the Cleveland Browns organization that will struggle again this season because of a poor secondary. The Bucs have a lot of youth in their secondary. There is a possibility they can step forward but there are a lot of “ifs” for that to happen. The Panthers unit has taken one of the quickest 180s you will see. From being dominant, they now are going to be relying on rookie Donte Jackson to start. That is a scary proposition. Maybe they should have kept Josh Norman after all. The Chiefs secondary took a huge blow with the Marcus Peters trade. They will need Kendall Fuller to take his game to a new level, and Eric Berry to return to the caliber of player he once was.
Secondaries with Hope
New York Jets
Green Bay Packers
A lot of these secondaries had major struggles a year ago, but most of them took to the draft or free agency to make some major moves. Houston spent money acquiring the Honey Badger from Arizona. If Mathieu can stay healthy, he can still be a top defensive player. The Dolphins drafted Minkah Fitzpatrick who should have no problem stepping in and playing multiple roles as a rookie, something the New York Jets saw a lot out of Jamal Adams a season ago. He is on the fast track to becoming one of the best safeties in the league. The Packers secondary has been battered the past two seasons. They spent their first-round pick on Jaire Alexander out of Louisville and hope to return a healthy Kevin King.
The Middle of the Road
New York Giants
Most of these teams feature some very talented players in their secondary. Seattle’s Legion of Boom is no more and who knows how much longer Earl Thomas will be there. The Lions feature two stars in Darius Slay and Glover Quin but have yet to surround those guys with other quality players. The same could be said for the Cardinals and Patrick Peterson. The Eagles won the Super Bowl, as guys like Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills played out of their minds. Malcolm Jenkins is a stud at safety, but that pass rush better be deadly like last season or they are vulnerable on the back-end.
Good but not Great
12) Chicago Bears
11) San Francisco 49ers
10) Tennessee Titans
9) New England Patriots
8) New Orleans Saints
7) Buffalo Bills
This is where the rankings begin. Chicago is a sleeper secondary of mine this season, as I expect their entire defense to be one of the best in the NFL. Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson is a youthful and immensely talented safety combination, and the addition of Prince Amukamara solidifies this unit. The Niners should be much better on the back-end, but I am taking a bit of risk assuming Richard Sherman still has some left in the tank. The Titans continue their rejuvenation in the secondary by adding Malcolm Butler. However, the team that lost Butler still lands a spot in front of them. The Saints secondary jumped leaps and bounds in just a season and is now cemented as a top ten group heading into 2018. And to put it nicely, the only reason the Bills made the playoffs last season was that of their secondary play.
Cream of the Crop
6) Los Angeles Rams
5) Minnesota Vikings
4) Baltimore Ravens
3) Atlanta Falcons
2) Los Angeles Chargers
1) Jacksonville Jaguars
Yes, the Rams acquired two Pro-Bowl veteran corners this offseason. Unfortunately, they are going to have to prove it before they end up higher on this list. Too many times name value is considered over continuity and other factors. That is happening with people who think the Rams will be locking down everybody in 2018. The Vikings have the league’s best safety in Harrison Smith. Xavier Rhodes is also a top cornerback option and they drafted Mike Hughes in the first-round out of UCF. The stars are there for Minnesota but the depth is not to earn the top spot. The Ravens could own the top spot on this list, but a large part of their 2018 success is going to depend on guys recovering from injury. Jimmy Smith is recovering from an Achilles tear while Tavon Young battles back from an ACL injury.
The Falcons come in at number three on this list despite not having the “stars” that several other teams have. The depth of this group is really unparalleled with the addition of second-round selection Isiah Oliver. Depending on his adjustment to the NFL, they could be starting Robert Alford at the Nickel with Brian Poole rotating in. Their safety duo of Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal is one of the best. Even their backup safeties, Damontae Kazee and Ron Parker could provide value for most NFL teams.
Did I say the Falcons depth was unparalleled? The Chargers might have me bite my tongue on that one. Casey Hayward might be the best corner in football. They back him up with not one but three guys who could be quality starters in the NFL. Then they add the best safety in the draft with their first-round pick in Derwin James. This secondary is going to give opposing quarterbacks nightmares, and one of the major reasons I have the Chargers as a sleeper pick to win the AFC.