For the second straight year, Patrick Peterson checks in as the league's No. 1 cornerback
The secondary may be considered the "last" line of defense, but that shouldn't minimize the important role defensive backs serve in the NFL. This is especially the case with teams continuing to make throwing the football the focal point of their offensive game plans. Last season, only two teams (Buffalo, Carolina) had more rushing attempts compared to pass attempts in the regular season.
Take what has transpired with Seattle. For years, the Seahawks were considered a perennial Super Bowl contender in part due to the presence of their "Legion of Boom" secondary. However, following the offseason release of cornerback Richard Sherman combined with the uncertainty surrounding the health of safety Kam Chancellor, Seattle's back end will look quite different. As good as All-Pro Earl Thomas is, many are expecting the Seahawks to take a step back this season simply because their once-vaunted secondary has been dismantled.
So which teams are in good shape in their secondary and which have some holes that fans should be concerned about? Here is Athlon Sports' ranking of the best cornerbacks and safeties entering the 2018 NFL season.
Athlon's player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2018 NFL Preview magazine.
2018 NFL Cornerback Rankings
1. Patrick Peterson, Arizona
Per Next Gen Stats, no cornerback allowed fewer yards (22.6 ypg) or enjoyed a lower catch rate (44.4 percent) last season. That's why opposing quarterbacks threw his way on only 14.2 percent of their pass attempts.
2. Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota
Yearly improvement reflected by his first All-Pro selection in 2017. Combined with safety Harrison Smith to become the first duo in Minnesota's secondary to earn that honor since Audray McMillian and Todd Scott in 1992.
3. Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville
Elite size-speed combination allows the rambunctious 23-year-old to back up his trash talking. Ramsey and A.J. Bouye tied for the most pass breakups (35) of any cornerback duo in 2017.
4. A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville
The high-priced 2017 offseason signing from Houston (five years, $67.5 million) was worth every penny. Bouye didn't surrender a touchdown pass with quarterbacks posting the NFL's lowest rating (33.8) when throwing in his direction per Next Gen Stats.
5. Darius Slay, Detroit
Lived up to his "Big Play" nickname in 2017. Tied for league lead in interceptions with eight while achieving another personal goal in reaching his first Pro Bowl.
6. Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans
Wasted no time justifying his standing as the first cornerback chosen (No. 11 overall) in the 2017 draft. Lattimore led all NFL rookies with five interceptions and displayed earmarks of ultimately becoming the best CB in Saints history.
7. Chris Harris, Denver
The last remaining starter from Denver's "No Fly Zone" secondary continues to control the skies. Excels at covering both inside and outside receivers with tackling skills that allow scant yards when catches are made against him.
8. Marcus Peters, Los Angeles Rams
Despite his leading the NFL in interceptions (19) and pass breakups (55) since 2015, Peters' displays of on- and off-field immaturity led to his offseason trade from Kansas City. If he leaves such disruptive behavior behind him, Peters should thrive playing press coverage in Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' system.
9. Richard Sherman, San Francisco
One of the reasons Sherman signed with a long-time NFC West nemesis this offseason was for the chance to show Seattle twice this season that it made a mistake by releasing him. To achieve that goal, the 30-year-old must fully recover from a torn Achilles tendon that prematurely ended his 2017 season.
10. Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers
Rewarded with a new three-year, $33 million deal this offseason after outplaying his previous free-agent deal with the Chargers. Has accumulated 42 pass breakups the past two seasons along with 11 interceptions, moving him past Detroit safety Glover Quin for the NFL's second-highest total (20) since 2012.
11. Kyle Fuller, Chicago
12. Tre'Davious White, Buffalo
13. Xavien Howard, Miami
14. Trumaine Johnson, New York Jets
15. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta
16. Josh Norman, Washington
17. Patrick Robinson, New Orleans
18. Stephon Gilmore, New England
19. Jimmy Smith, Baltimore
20. Malcolm Butler, Tennessee
21. Aqib Talib, Los Angeles Rams
22. Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay
23. Kendall Fuller, Kansas City
24. Brandon Carr, Baltimore
25. James Bradberry, Carolina
26. William Jackson III, Cincinnati
27. Rashaan Melvin, Oakland
28. Ronald Darby, Philadelphia
29. Aaron Colvin, Houston
30. Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati
2018 NFL Safety Rankings
1. Harrison Smith, Minnesota
The NFL's best all-around safety with the range and size to hang tough against elite tight ends when called upon in coverage. Joined Buffalo's Jordan Poyer as the league's only defenders with at least 70 tackles, one sack and five interceptions in 2017.
2. Earl Thomas, Seattle
Didn't skip a beat last year after suffering a broken leg late in the 2016 season. Ranks second among all safeties in interceptions since 2011 with 20.
3. Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia
Kept the Eagles' defense strong as it navigated through growing pains at cornerback and the loss of linebacker Jordan Hicks (Achilles). Known for big plays with four interception returns for touchdowns since signing with Philadelphia in 2014.
4. Landon Collins, New York Giants
Missed the offseason program following forearm surgery. The silver lining: Collins shouldn't need much time getting up to speed in coordinator James Bettcher's new defense, which may utilize his skills in a safety/linebacker hybrid role.
5. Eric Berry, Kansas City
The Chiefs defense never recovered after Berry was lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon in Week 1 against New England. His return is essential to boost a unit that ranked 28th in yards allowed (365.1 ypg).
6. Kevin Byard, Tennessee
Shame on Deion Sanders for not recognizing the name of one of the NFL's top young safeties. Byard came into his own in his second NFL season, tying for the league lead in interceptions with eight.
7. Eric Weddle, Baltimore
The active leader among safeties in tackles (696) since 2010. A ball hawk as well -- his 10 interceptions are the highest total among safeties over the past two seasons.
8. Keanu Neal, Atlanta
No defensive back has forced more fumbles in his first two seasons (eight) since Dave Whitmore in 1990-91. A sure-handed tackler as well with 113 stops in 2017.
9. Kam Chancellor, Seattle
Hoping to continue playing after suffering a career-threatening neck injury in 2017. Regardless, he's already cemented himself as one of the greatest safeties in Seahawks history with 606 tackles in his eight seasons with the franchise.
10. Devin McCourty, New England
Slot duties, run support and anchoring secondary coverage? McCourty does it all for a Patriots defense looking to rebound from a subpar 2017 season because of inconsistent cornerback play.
11. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay
12. Glover Quin, Detroit
13. Tashaun Gipson, Jacksonville
14. Tyrann Mathieu, Houston
15. Lamarcus Joyner, Los Angeles Rams
16. Reshad Jones, Miami
17. Jordan Poyer, Buffalo
18. Adrian Amos, Chicago
19. Antoine Bethea, Arizona
20. Tony Jefferson, Baltimore
21. Andrew Sendejo, Minnesota
22. Barry Church, Jacksonville
23. Micah Hyde, Buffalo
24. Morgan Burnett, Pittsburgh
25. Kurt Coleman, New Orleans
26. Marcus Maye, New York Jets
27. John Johnson, Los Angeles Rams
28. Jamal Adams, New York Jets
29. Tre Boston, Free Agent
30. Justin Evans, Tampa Bay