NFC East Positional Rankings – Defensive Backs
August 29, 2013 in NFC East
By Guest Writer Scott Eastment (@SportsGeek02):
A secondary can be a defenses worst nightmare or its greatest asset. Having two lockdown cornerbacks can make a porous defensive line look much better than they really are, while having a weak secondary can change the way the entire unit is forced to play. Either way, a secondary needs to do more than just cover, especially in the NFC East. With quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III and Michael Vick running around, there is an increased emphasis on being able to wrap up ball carriers as much as cover the downfield threats. At the same time, pocket passers like Tony Romo and Eli Manning require secondary’s to be able to lock down some of the best receivers in the NFL like Dez Bryant, Pierre Garcon, and DeSean Jackson. Each team placed an emphasis on this position over the offseason and only time will tell us which groups help or hinder their defensive teammates.
1.) Dallas Cowboys (Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Orlando Scandrick, B.W. Webb, Barry Church, Will Allen, J.J. Wilcox)
The strongest part of the Cowboy’s secondary is without question its starting cornerbacks. Claiborne is a year older and a year wiser, while 2012 free agent acquisition Brandon Carr figures to be one of the top corners in the division. Most teams would also be quite content marking Orlando Scandrick as their nickel corner, but the excitement stops rather quickly when you transition from corner to safety. Oft-injured Barry Church is back, but remains relatively unproven while free-agent signee Will Allen will spell him at the other safety position. While Allen has experience in the league, it is tough to argue for him as ‘starting material’ anymore these days. Draft pick J.J. Wilcox has a great deal of upside, but his inexperience should be cause for concern in Dallas. Expect him to get reps on special teams and slowly work is way into the starting lineup over the course of the season as he learns how to read quarterbacks. Outside of the cornerbacks, the Cowboy’s biggest weapon may be recently added defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who is a Cover 2 guru and should be able to scheme up some coverage plays to mask the deficiencies at safety.
2.) Philadelphia Eagles (Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Patrick Chung, Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Earl Wolff)
Heading into the season, the Eagles appear to have the opposite problem of the Dallas Cowboys in that their corners look to be the biggest question mark in comparison with the teams’ safeties. Most people familiar with the Eagles secondary from the 2012 season will have to do a double take when the team takes the field on Monday night against RGIII in Washington. Both Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are fighting for the #1 CB position, but neither really has the talent to claim the spot. Likely nickel corner Brandon Boykin provides a reliable third option at the position, but after him is a huge unknown after a rash of injuries decimated the depth at this position. The top three could be pretty good, which is why they will rank this high, but if any of them go down this group as a unit will undoubtedly struggle this season. Both safety positions could be manned by new players, free agent Patrick Chung (from New England) and rookie Earl Wolff (5th round NC State). Kenny Phillips was brought in to fill one starting spot, but he never regained his former talent level and was released. Chip Kelly will rely on former Oregon Duck Patrick Chung, who has shown flashes in the past, but it will be interesting to see how he handles full-time starting duties. There are a few youngsters to provide depth here like Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, (as well as Wolff if he's not the starter). With the defense shifting schemes this year and a porous defensive line, this secondary will have its work cut out for it this season.
3.) Washington Redskins (DeAngelo Hall, David Amerson, Josh Wilson, E.J. Biggers, Baccari Rambo, Brandon Merriweather, Reed Doughty)
Unquestionably the Achilles heel of this team in 2012, the Redskins secondary will look quite different this season for defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Draft picks David Amerson and Baccari Rambo are both likely to start at RCB and FS, respectively, in their rookie seasons. Amerson has been one of the talks of camp with his length and speed, but there are concerns about him being beat over the top in his final year at N.C. State. Rambo has big play capabilities, but will need to shore up his tackling in order to solidify his position in the starting lineup. Veteran cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are fairly predictable in what they will give you as average to above-average corners, but free agent signee E.J. Biggers looks to be winning people over each week of camp. The health of Brandon Merriweather will play a massive role in the success of this unit this season, as rookie SS Philip Thomas was lost for the season with a foot injury. In his one half of football last season, Merriweather played like a man-possessed, but concerns over the health of his knee should worry fans. If he is unable to go, the team will rely on veteran Reed Doughty, whose coverage skills are not on par with his incredible run defense. With a rookie starting at free safety, the strong safety position will be crucial this year in Washington.
4.) New York Giants (Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, Aaron Ross, Jayron Hosley, Antrel Rolle, Ryan Mundy, Terrell Thomas)
The Giants secondary will look quite familiar to New York fans in 2013 and that is not a good thing. CBs Corey Webster and Prince Amukamura will be the starters and both will need to improve on their 2012 season if Tom Coughlin has any hopes of making the playoffs. Antrel Rolle is about as reliable a safety as there is in the division, but the recent loss of Stevie Brown was a crushing blow to this unit. Ryan Mundy will start opposite Rolle, and the less his name is called, the better for this team. Aaron Ross and Jayron Hosely are solid back-ups at the corner position, but oft-injured Terrell Thomas could turn out to be the secret weapon to this group. Corner is probably the position you can point to on this defense as second-best behind the defensive line, but if that group up front does not get pressure on the QB early and often, it could be a long season for this defense.