NFL News & Analysis

Most improved secondaries following free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft

Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (5) in the first half against the Carolina Panthers at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions: While it might take some time for the new pieces to gel, there is a chance this unit can actually go from a weakness to a strength for the Lions in just one offseason.

Seattle Seahawks: Selecting the top CB in the 2023 NFL Draft in Devon Witherspoon should significantly bolster Seattle's secondary.

Miami Dolphins: The Jalen Ramsey addition is a big enough upgrade for Miami to earn its spot on this list.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

With the 2023 NFL Draft and the bulk of free agency in the rearview mirror, the rosters around the NFL have started to take form.

Strengthening the secondary has been a key task for several teams this offseason, so let's take a look at which teams have done the best job at that so far.

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Detroit Lions

Free agency additions:
Emmanuel Moseley
CB Cameron Sutton
S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

Draft pick:
Brian Branch

Arguably no team has done a better job of bolstering its secondary this offseason than the Lions.

Admittedly, it was not hard to strengthen the unit considering that the Lions defense had a 48.8 overall PFF coverage grade in 2022, which was the lowest in the NFL. Safety Tracy Walker was the highest-graded defensive back on the Lions despite only playing in their first three games. Furthermore, no Detroit cornerback earned a 65.0-plus PFF grade in 2022. The Lions front office was aggressive in free agency to fix that unit, signing cornerbacks Moseley and Sutton, who have both earned 65.0-plus PFF grades higher in three of their last four seasons and should represent an instant improvement for the Lions secondary. In addition, Detroit also added versatile safety Gardner-Johnson in free agency and drafted Branch in the second round. While it might take some time for the new pieces to gel, there is a chance this unit can actually go from a weakness to a strength for the Lions in just one offseason.

Seattle Seahawks

Free agency additions:
Julian Love

Draft picks:
Devon Witherspoon
CB Jerrick Reed II

The Seahawks started to rebuild their secondary already during the 2022 offseason, drafting cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Coby Bryant, both of whom outplayed their draft position and played key roles for the Seattle secondary in 2023. However, that did not stop the Seahawks from going out and selecting the top cornerback in the 2023 NFL Draft. Witherspoon should have an immediate impact, as he and Woolen have a chance to become the top cornerback duo in the NFL over the next couple of seasons. Furthermore, Seattle also signed Quandre Diggs’s potential successor in Love, who played his first four seasons with the New York Giants. Love is coming off a career season, as he was one of 26 safeties to play more than 1,000 snaps during the 2022 regular season while he also earned a 70.0 PFF grade.

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Las Vegas Raiders

Free agency additions:
Duke Shelley
CB David Long Jr.
S Marcus Epps

Draft picks:
Jakorian Bennett
S Christopher Smith II

Similarly to the Lions, the Raiders are another team that was in dire need of help in the secondary, as the defense earned a 53.5 coverage grade, which was the third lowest in the NFL in 2022. Out of the 10 Las Vegas defensive backs who were on the field for more than 100 pass plays in 2022, seven allowed a passer rating over 90.0 when targeted. In addition, they combined for just six interceptions, which actually came from only three players. So it probably comes as no surprise that the Raiders attempted to almost completely overhaul their secondary in the 2023 offseason. Consequently, they let cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Rock Ya-Sin in addition to safety Duron Harmon walk in free agency. As a replacement, the Raiders signed Shelley, who had a breakout season with the Minnesota Vikings, earning a 86.4 PFF coverage grade in 2022, which ranked third among all cornerbacks. Not only does he represent an immediate upgrade if he keeps up that form, but Shelley also is on a team-friendly contract, as he signed a one-year contract that can pay him up to $1.3 million. In addition, they also signed Long, who was a key contributor for the Los Angeles Rams on their way to win the Super Bowl in 2021, and Epps, who was a starter and played more than 1,200 snaps on the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in 2022.

Atlanta Falcons

Free agency additions:
Jessie Bates III
CB Mike Hughes

Draft picks:
Clark Phillips III
S DeMarcco Hellams

Jeffrey Okudah

The Falcons are another team on this list that could obviously use some help in the defensive backend after earning a 57.7 PFF coverage grade in 2022, which ranked just 26th in the NFL. Cornerback A.J. Terrell failed to make the leap that many projected for him and earned a 61.8 PFF coverage grade in his third season, as Atlanta’s highest-graded defensive back was Isaiah Oliver, who missed the beginning of the year and signed with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency after the season. In fact, Oliver was the only Falcons defensive back who earned a coverage grade over 70.0 in 2022. Atlanta made an aggressive move to improve the secondary, signing the top safety on the market in Bate. While Bates has been somewhat inconsistent over the years, at his best, he can be the top safety in the NFL, as he earned the highest grade at the position in the 2020 season. Furthermore, his 90.0 PFF grade during the 2021 postseason is the highest grade for a safety in the playoffs over the last five seasons. While acquiring defensive backs who were on the 2022 Detroit Lions might not seem to be a sound strategy, Hughes had a really strong season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021 prior to joining the Lions while Okudah came on a cheap deal and presents plenty of upside.

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Miami Dolphins

Free agency addition:
DeShon Elliott

Draft pick:
Cam Smith

Jalen Ramsey

The Dolphins are the only team that did not make this list because of the volume of their moves but due to one significant move made this offseason. With free agency and the draft getting most of the attention in recent weeks, people might have forgotten that Miami acquired one of the top cornerbacks in the league through a trade in March. Ramsey had some of his worst performances – e.g. Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals and 2022 Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills – in primetime games; however, he is still one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL who will have an immediate impact on the Dolphins defense. In fact, Ramsey earned the third-highest grade among cornerbacks in 2022 with 86.4, and he forced an incompletion on 13 throws, which was tied for 12th best among cornerbacks. 


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