Published: Aug. 9, 2019 at 10:43 a.m.
Updated: Aug. 9, 2019 at 03:14 p.m.

NFL's best secondary? Bears, Patriots, Ravens among teams with a case

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The days of Seattle's "Legion of Boom" and Denver's "No Fly Zone" are gone. Neither team -- whose feared secondaries have both disintegrated in recent years -- was in Pro Football Focus' top 10 secondaries ranking at the end of 2018.

The top three spots on that list went to the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots and Los Angeles Chargers. But that's all in the past.

With the NFL Kickoff Game just weeks away, we have one simple question: Which team boasts the best secondary heading into the 2019 season?

Versatile, young Chargers pose a major challenge for opposing air attacks
There's a reason the Chargers used six or more defensive backs on 87.6 percent of their snaps in the playoffs last season. This secondary is loaded, with guys like All-Pro safety Derwin James, Adrian Phillips and Casey Hayward. Phillips, a safety who took 63.2 percent of his snaps at inside linebacker last season, is one of the most underrated defensive players. Coordinator Gus Bradley's D is stacked with talent, so expect this unit to remain a top-three secondary.
Patriots' veteran group stalls league's best offenses
The Ravens, Bears, Jags and Saints might look better on paper, but I'm picking a pack of pass defenders who -- in the last real action we witnessed -- held Sean McVay's high-flying Rams to three points on the game's biggest stage. New England wins the prize IRL (in real life). Stephon Gilmore is a star, and J.C. Jackson is ready to make the leap. And twins? ... Jason and Devin McCourty continue to roll, while Patrick Chung is a loyal foot soldier. Biggest names? No way, but the untouched coaching of Bill Belichick puts this less-flashy group over the edge. Got issues? Come talk to me in February.
Hard to believe, but Bears' secondary will be even better under Chuck Pagano
It has to be the Chicago Bears. This unit features first-team All-Pros Eddie Jackson at safety and Kyle Fuller at cornerback. More important is the fact that the Bears' secondary doesn't have a weak link. This group has a great balance of chemistry, speed and knowledge. These attributes, combined with an opportunistic approach, are what keep offensive coordinators up at night. The Bears, who also boast a Khalil Mack-led pass rush, were really good under Vic Fangio -- and they'll be even better with Chuck Pagano as coordinator. The former Colts head coach's defense will feature different looks and blitz packages, allowing the secondary to feast on any mistake.
Mike Zimmer's group thrives in Minnesota
Minnesota has regularly had one of the NFL's best defenses under Mike Zimmer. Last season, the Vikings' D ranked in the top five in many major categories, including fourth in total defense and third against the pass. A stellar pass rush and the unit's discipline are big reasons for success, but the secondary has also been a mainstay. Xavier Rhodes has been a lockdown corner who frees up the rest of the unit, while Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander and Anthony Harris continue to steadily improve. Mike Hughes was having a solid rookie campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 6. But the biggest reason why the Vikings' secondary is one of the most-feared units is because of safety Harrison Smith. The four-time Pro Bowler is so versatile that he can play man or zone coverage, drop in coverage, come down in the box, make tackles for loss or sack the quarterback. Smith makes life difficult for quarterbacks because he can do it all.
Six-time Pro Bowler Eric Weddle takes Rams to new heights
There are a lot of good secondaries heading into 2019, but I have to go with the Los Angeles Rams. The Rams' defense has a pair of lockdown cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, with Nickell Robey-Coleman manning the slot. This trio's ability to cover receivers without help gives safeties John Johnson and Eric Weddle more freedom to make big plays in Wade Phillips' scheme. Weddle is a huge addition to this unit, as a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro. Behind a pass rush that features back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, expect the Rams' secondary to make waves early and often.
Ravens' secondary is loaded with talent
With all due respect to the Super Bowl champions' underrated collection of defensive backs, the Ravens' secondary might just be the deepest position group in the entire league. Ranked third in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric for pass defense last season, Baltimore added one of the few difference makers available this past offseason, pairing potential Hall of Fame free safety Earl Thomas with physical strong safety Tony Jefferson. The cornerback corps is even deeper, with at least four starting-caliber players in Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and nickelback Tavon Young. Should an injury arise, the team can turn to versatile veteran Anthony Levine as well as recent draft picks such as Iman Marshall, Anthony Averett, DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark. After losing more than half of their sacks, hits and hurries to free agency, the Ravens will need their loaded secondary to make even more big plays to compensate for an unproven pass rush in 2019.
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