Instant Debate

NFL's best secondary? Steelers, Chargers among top units in 2020

One of the top safeties in the NFL, Jamal Adams, is now a member of the Seattle Seahawks after one of the bigger trades of the offseason. With the 'Hawks giving up a pair of first-rounders in the deal, it was a bold move by Pete Carroll and John Schneider in an effort to build a Legion of Boom 2.0.

With NFL training camps opening this week, the Adams trade prompted one simple question: Which team boasts the best secondary heading into the 2020 season?

ADAM RANK: The Pittsburgh Steelers have the best secondary in football. I say this even with Terrell Edmunds still entrenched at strong safety. He's the Paul Roma of the Steelers' Four Horsemen in the defensive backfield, which is led by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. I know a lot of people were stunned when the Steelers offered a first-round pick for Fitzpatrick, but he's proven to be a worthy investment. If he isn't the best safety in the game, he's clearly in the conversation. And the Steelers also have an exceptional group of corners that includes Joe Haden, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton. All three guys landed in Pro Football Focus' top 25 cornerbacks last season, and in case you didn't know, Nelson ranked seventh. Back to Edmunds for a second. I understand Steelers fans' frustration with the former first-round pick many thought was a reach, but he's still a really young player and showed great strides last year playing opposite Minkah. And Edmunds doesn't have to break out into stardom -- if he can become a replacement-level player, this secondary is going to be one of the league's best in years.

CHARLEY CASSERLY: I would go with the Baltimore Ravens. I especially like their quality, versatility and depth at the cornerback position. It starts with shutdown corner Marlon Humphrey, who is equally effective playing inside or outside and isn't afraid to tackle. Humphrey is also a playmaker, as he had three picks, forced two fumbles and returned two of his three fumble recoveries for TDs last season. Did I mention he was named first-team All-Pro? Opposite Humphrey, Marcus Peters has played very well since being traded by Los Angeles. He has a high football IQ and his preparation allows him to take chances, which paid off in two picks returned for TDs for Baltimore. He also earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2019. Veteran Jimmy Smith still has value as a press corner and is effective in the red zone and in two-minute defense. He's a blitzer who can match up with tight ends. Then there's nickel Tavon Young, who has great feet, lateral quickness, tackling ability and can blitz. Chuck Clark was a key member of the secondary in 2019, as he plugged the one weakness with his good play at strong safety, excelling as the signal-caller in a varied defense. Earl Thomas got off to a slow start in the Ravens' system last year but came around as the season progressed. At 31 years old, he may have lost a step, but Thomas still has a knack to make plays. A player to watch this season is DeShon Elliott, who was further along than Clark before he suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 6 last year. However you look at it, this Ravens unit is stacked.

DAVID CARR: The Los Angeles Chargers have a great cornerback duo in Casey Hayward and free-agent acquisition Chris Harris Jr. Hayward is routinely underrated, but a consistent player in the defensive backfield. Last season, he was targeted 47 times, but allowed just 26 receptions on 512 coverage snaps, per Pro Football Focus. And although L.A. might have one of the top CB duos in the league, its best defensive player is do-it-all safety Derwin James. My colleague Daniel Jeremiah calls Derwin the best safety in the NFL. (Who am I to argue with DJ's evaluation?!) Round this group out with Rayshawn Jenkins, Desmond King and Nasir Adderley, among others, and the Chargers are going to be mighty tough to pass on in 2020.

MAURICE JONES-DREW: New Orleans' secondary is a microcosm of its entire roster, which I dubbed the most talented group in the league earlier this week. The cornerback position has depth with Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins playing on the outside, Patrick Robinson manning the slot and P.J. Williams rotating in. It seems as if Marcus Williams has forgotten all about the "Minneapolis Miracle" and balled out ever since. According to PFF, he earned the best overall grade in the Saints' secondary last season. He now pairs with two-time Super Bowl champion Malcolm Jenkins, who rejoins the team that drafted him after six seasons in Philadelphia. Jenkins has the ability to cover tight ends and bigger receivers in the slot, and he's played at a high level for a long time. His leadership and experience could be what gets the Saints' defense over the hump.

CYNTHIA FRELUND: The Los Angeles Chargers narrowly edge out the Baltimore Ravens as my pick for best complete secondary in the NFL. The acquisition of corner Chris Harris Jr. to a position group that already included Casey Hayward, Derwin James, who's returning from injury, and Desmond King II, makes it the perfect complement to the Chargers' extremely efficient pressure front.

BRIAN BALDINGER: The Ravens have depth, talent and Pro Bowlers across the secondary. It's led by first-team All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Pair him with Marcus Peters. A thief. Just ask Russell Wilson, who threw him a pick-six in Peters' first game as a Raven. Peters finished with five INTs (three returned for TDs) in 2019. Cornerback Jimmy Smith looks like a strong side linebacker who has been battle-tested over the years, while the great Earl Thomas can still prevent touchdowns with the best of 'em even though he isn't the player he once was. The Ravens also get young players back from injury (Tavon Young and DeShon Elliott), and other veterans like Anthony Averett, Anthony Levine and Chuck Clark have the goods to start or sub in. They haven't got a weakness.

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