Patrick Peterson is considered the best cornerback in the league
An NFL secondary may be considered the back end or last line of defense, but that doesn’t minimize its importance to a team’s success. For example, everyone knows about Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” and for good reason since cornerback Richard Sherman and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are considered among the best at their respective positions.
In fact, Sherman is Athlon Sports’ No. 2 cornerback entering the 2017 season while Thomas (third) and Chancellor (fifth) both rank among the top five safeties. The top-ranked cornerback is Arizona’s Patrick Peterson while the safety list starts with a pair of All-Pros in Kansas City’s Eric Berry and the Giants’ Landon Collins.
Defending Super Bowl champion New England also can claim both a top-10 corner (Malcolm Butler) and safety (Devin McCourty), one of five teams (Seahawks, Chiefs, Giants, Vikings) with that distinction. However, Seattle is the only team with three top-10 defensive backs, yet another reason why the “Legion of Boom” has its reputation.
Athlon’s player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2017 NFL Preview magazine.
2017 NFL Cornerback Rankings
1. Patrick Peterson, Arizona
Pity the cornerback aligned on the opposite side in Arizona’s defense. The Cardinals must find a quality No. 2 corner this offseason because teams won’t throw Peterson’s way unless absolutely necessary.
2. Richard Sherman, Seattle
Has always talks a big game and continues to back up those words by essentially shutting down one side of the field in coverage. Also can trail elite NFL receivers on the outside or slot.
3. Marcus Peters, Kansas City
Despite only entering the NFL in 2015, nobody has more interceptions (14) or passes defensed (46) over the past two seasons combined. Also produced 45 tackles and three fumble recoveries in 2016.
4. Josh Norman, Washington
A true shutdown cornerback whose surprising 2016 offseason release by Carolina hurt the Panthers and boosted Washington’s slumping secondary. The only downside: He must learn to better control on-field emotions to stop drawing penalties, fines and even NFL suspensions.
5. Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants
“Jackrabbit” hopped all over the field as New York’s top cornerback, justifying the five-year, $62.5 million contract offered to leave the Rams. Snared two of the seven interceptions thrown all last season by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in a Week 4 matchup.
6. Malcolm Butler, New England
The rookie hero of Super Bowl XLIX continues to show he never became complacent with such early NFL fame. Led all Patriots cornerbacks in interceptions (four), passes defensed (17) and tackles (63) in 2016.
7. Chris Harris, Denver
One of only five undrafted cornerbacks to reach Pro Bowl at least three times with team that signed him coming out of college. Teamed with Aqib Talib to become only second pair of CBs voted to Pro Bowl from same team for three straight seasons.
8. Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville
Runner-up to Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa for 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 68.0 when throwing against the ex-Florida State standout despite targeting him on 90 passes.
9. Aqib Talib, Denver
Excellent nose for the football as reflected by franchise-record five interception returns for TDs since joining Broncos in 2014. Rugged playing style can sometimes lead to penalties but also can affect opposing wide receivers by getting under their skin.
10. Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota
Breakthrough 2016 season highlighted by limiting Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to 23 receiving yards and registering two interceptions against Arizona, one of which he returned 100 yards for a TD. Such heroics resulted in first career Pro Bowl berth.
11. Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay
12. Stephon Gilmore, New England
13. Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams
14. Darius Slay, Detroit
15. A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville
16. Logan Ryan, Tennessee
17. Johnathan Joseph, Houston
18. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New York Giants
19. Desmond Trufant, Atlanta
20. Tramaine Brock, UFA
21. Delvin Breaux, New Orleans
22. Casey Hayward, Los Angeles Chargers
23. James Bradberry, Carolina
24. Morris Claiborne, New York Jets
25. Captain Munnerlyn, Carolina
26. William Gay, Pittsburgh
27. Vontae Davis, Indianapolis
28. Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati
29. Terence Newman, Minnesota
30. Jamar Taylor, Cleveland
2017 NFL Safety Rankings
1. Eric Berry, Kansas City
Overcame cancer on road to becoming highest-paid safety in NFL history after signing six-year, $78 million contract in the offseason. Money well earned after another stellar 2016 campaign highlighted by scoring eight points individually in road win over Atlanta.
2. Landon Collins, New York Giants
Almost won the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award after greatly improving his range following a shaky rookie season. Played in all but five of New York’s 1,110 defensive snaps.
3. Earl Thomas, Seattle
Seahawks defense wasn’t the same after one of NFL’s most astute defenders suffered season-ending leg injury in early December. Eighteen interceptions since 2011 rank fifth among all NFL players in that span.
4. Malcolm Jenkins, Philadelphia
Easily the best Eagles defensive back since the great Brian Dawkins left in free agency in 2009. Six career interceptions returned for touchdowns lead all active safeties.
5. Kam Chancellor, Seattle
Provides the “Boom” in the Legion of Boom secondary at strong safety spot. Credited with at least five tackles in all 12 games played in 2016 plus two in postseason.
6. Devin McCourty, New England
Was a very good cornerback who became an elite safety upon making position switch. Only player besides Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott to garner All-Pro honors at both CB and safety.
7. Eric Weddle, Baltimore
Change of scenery after nine seasons with Chargers proved to have a rejuvenating effect on Weddle, who was one of four safeties with at least four interceptions and one sack in 2016.
8. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, Green Bay
On-field growth reflected by five interceptions last year, the highest single-season total for a Packers defender since 2012. First Packers safety selected to Pro Bowl since Nick Collins in 2010.
9. Harrison Smith, Minnesota
NFL’s only defender besides Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly with at least 12 INTs and seven sacks since 2012. Looking to build on franchise record of four interceptions returned for touchdowns.
10. Reshad Jones, Miami
Was on pace for career-high 136-tackle season before landing on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff. Dolphins’ faith that Jones can regain his old form proved via a five-year, $60 million contract extension this offseason.
11. Reggie Nelson, Oakland
12. Darian Stewart, Denver
13. T.J. Ward, Denver
14. Keanu Neal, Atlanta
15. Eric Reid, San Francisco
16. Mike Mitchell, Pittsburgh
17. Glover Quin, Detroit
18. Kurt Coleman, Carolina
19. Johnathan Cyprien, Tennessee
20. Antoine Bethea, Arizona
21. Barry Church, Jacksonville
22. Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona
23. George Iloka, Cincinnati
24. Mike Adams, Carolina
25. Tony Jefferson, Baltimore
26. Calvin Pryor, Cleveland
27. Tashaun Gipson, Jacksonville
28. Maurice Alexander, Los Angeles Rams
29. Rodney McLeod, Philadelphia
30. T.J. McDonald, Miami