NFL News & Analysis

2022 NFL secondary rankings: Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers take top spots

Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens free safety Brandon Stephens (21) and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) react after breaking up a Minnesota Vikings pass during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

PFF has made its position clear on the coverage versus pass rush debate for team-building purposes. Nothing on the defensive side of the football translates better to points allowed than a secondary's performance in coverage. That means if a team expects to field a top-three defense in the NFL, it better at least end up as a Tier 1 unit on this list when we revisit after the season.

Tier 1: Where Do Offenses Even Attack?

1. Baltimore Ravens

CB: Marcus Peters
CB: Marlon Humphrey
NCB: Kyle Fuller
S: Chuck Clark
S: Marcus Williams

There are a lot of complete secondaries around the NFL, making the Tier 1 rankings a toss-up in a number of ways. The Ravens simultaneously have some of the most question marks heading into 2022 from a health perspective while also possessing the highest-end elite potential. Four of their five starters have earned top-10 grades at their respective positions at some point over the past four seasons. And this list doesn’t even include rookie first-rounder Kyle Hamilton, who will undoubtedly factor in heavily.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

CB: Carlton Davis
CB: Jamel Dean
NCB: Sean Murphy-Bunting
S: Antoine Winfield Jr.
S: Mike Edwards

We go from one of the most experienced secondaries in the NFL to one with four starters still on rookie deals. A large part of the Bucs “running it back” from a roster-building perspective was their ability to hit on so many players in their defensive secondary the past five years, allowing the team to allocate money elsewhere. With Dean, Murphy-Bunting and Edwards all set to hit free agency after this season, 2022 may be the last time we see this Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay unit in Tier 1. 

3. Cleveland Browns

CB: Denzel Ward
CB: Greg Newsome II
NCB: Greedy Williams
S: John Johnson III
S: Grant Delpit

This unit not only has proven studs in Ward and Johnson, but also three ascending top-50 draft picks who have all played two or fewer NFL seasons. What this unit could be is scary to think about, as we already saw quality play from Newsome, Williams and Delpit down the stretch in 2021.

4. Green Bay Packers

CB: Jaire Alexander
CB: Eric Stokes
NCB: Rasul Douglas
S: Adrian Amos
S: Darnell Savage

The Packers earned the eighth-best coverage grade of any team in the NFL last season despite Alexander, the league's highest-paid cornerback, playing only 227 snaps all year. He is not only the highest-paid cornerback, but also the highest-graded one in his last full season of action (2020). Adding that to an already top-eight unit is a scary thought for opposing offenses. 

5. Miami Dolphins

CB: Xavien Howard
CB: Byron Jones
NCB: Nik Needham
S: Jevon Holland
S: Brandon Jones

This may not be the most complete secondary in Tier 1, but man do the Dolphins have some game-changers. No player has more interceptions than Xavien Howard’s 27 since he entered the NFL. There’s a good chance he’s not even the most impactful player in Miami's secondary anymore after 2021 rookie Jevon Holland started his career like a house on fire. The second-rounder was already the third-highest-graded safety in the league last season.

6. Buffalo Bills

CB: Tre’Davious White
CB: Kaiir Elam
NCB: Taron Johnson
S: Jordan Poyer
S: Micah Hyde

A lot of how the Bills ultimately perform as a secondary falls on Tre’Davious White’s health after he tore his ACL last season. It also falls on how quickly first-rounder Kaiir Elam can adjust to the NFL game. That being said, Buffalo still fields the most consistent safety duo in the NFL — both Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer earned top-eight grades at the position last season.

7. New Orleans Saints

CB: Marshon Lattimore
CB: Paulson Adebo
NCB: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
S: Tyrann Mathieu
S: Marcus Maye

The fact that the Saints were able to completely overhaul their safety room for the next three seasons by getting Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye for less per year combined than Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jamal Adams make individually was one of the biggest free agency wins of the offseason. Even with losing Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams, there’s reason to believe New Orleans upgraded at safety.

8. Los Angeles Chargers

CB: J.C. Jackson
CB: Asante Samuel Jr.
NCB: Bryce Callahan
S: Derwin James Jr.
S: Nasir Adderley

There are few units in the NFL that figure to be more improved than the Chargers' secondary in 2022. After earning the 21st-ranked coverage grade as a team last year, they added one of the league’s best outside corners in J.C. Jackson and one of the league’s best slot corners in Bryce Callahan. Combine that with likely improved play from top-50 pick Asante Samuel Jr. in Year 2, and that’s a Tier 1 unit. 

Tier 2: Minor Question Marks

9. Los Angeles Rams

CB: Jalen Ramsey
CB: David Long Jr.
NCB: Troy Hill
S: Jordan Fuller
S: Taylor Rapp

This ranking would look a lot different without Jalen Ramsey factoring in. The Rams' secondary would be closer to Tier 5 than Tier 2 without him. That’s just how valuable elite cornerbacks are. Ramsey has averaged only 477 yards allowed per season in a Rams uniform despite routinely shadowing top receivers.

10. Cincinnati Bengals

CB: Chidobe Awuzie
CB: Eli Apple
NCB: Mike Hilton
S: Jessie Bates III
S: Vonn Bell

The Bengals have built their secondary exactly how we would at PFF: by giving themselves a ton of flexible options. The starters listed above don’t even factor in the team's first- and second-rounders from this past draft. Adding two more versatile pieces in Daxton Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt makes this one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL.

11. Tennessee Titans

CB: Kristian Fulton
CB: Caleb Farley
NCB: Elijah Molden
S: Kevin Byard
S: Amani Hooker

The Titans' entire cornerback starting cornerback trio was drafted this decade, which is always a bit of a scary proposition. But given what we’ve seen already from Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden early on in their NFL careers, it falls closer to exciting than scary for Tennessee fans. The only real question mark is 2021 first-round pick Caleb Farley, who tore his ACL only 60 snaps into his rookie year. 

12. Denver Broncos

CB: Patrick Surtain II
CB: Ronald Darby
NCB: K’Waun Williams
S: Justin Simmons
S: Kareem Jackson

After seeing cornerbacks under siege all throughout the 2021 season, then-rookie Patrick Surtain II was a breath of fresh air. He entered the NFL with almost no learning curve and didn't allow more than 76 yards in any single game last season en route to becoming the anchor of this unit. 

13. Philadelphia Eagles

CB: Darius Slay
CB: James Bradberry
NCB: Avonte Maddox
S: Anthony Harris
S: Jaquiski Tartt

If you’re going to be strong anywhere in the secondary, having two potential shut-down cornerbacks on the outside trumps all. Over the past two seasons, James Bradberry ranks first in the NFL in forced incompletions, while Darius Slay ranks sixth in coverage grade.

14. Kansas City Chiefs

CB: L’Jarius Sneed
CB: Rashad Fenton
NCB: Trent McDuffie
S: Juan Thornhill
S: Justin Reid

While he’s been overshadowed by bigger names on the Chiefs' roster, L’Jarius Sneed deserves some credit for his play since entering the NFL He’s had arguably the best start to his career of any cornerback from the 2020 draft class. While being asked to move between outside and slot cornerback, depending on where he’s needed, he’s been excellent through two seasons. He made the second-most defensive stops of any cornerback in the league last year.

Tier 3: Ascending Units

15. Carolina Panthers

CB: Donte Jackson
CB: Jaycee Horn
NCB: C.J. Henderson
S: Jeremy Chinn
S: Xavier Woods

Trying to rank this Panthers secondary prior to the 2022 season is somewhat of a fool’s errand. You won’t find any other units in the league that feature two cornerbacks drafted in the top 10 within the past three years. Jaycee Horn is likely the guy who could push this unit up from Tier 3 to Tier 2 if he comes back healthy from a broken foot. In three starts last year, he allowed only one catch on five targets for eight yards. 

16. San Francisco 49ers

CB: Charvarius Ward
CB: Emmanuel Moseley
NCB: Jason Verrett
S: Jimmie Ward
S: Talanoa Hufanga

While this is only a ranking of secondaries, it should be noted that the 49ers' pass defense as a whole should be expected to outperform this ranking thanks to Fred Warner and the NFL's best group of cover linebackers. The X-factor here once again is Jason Verrett’s health. In the two seasons he was able to play 500-plus snaps in his NFL career, he earned coverage grades of 90.9 (2015) and 76.1 (2020). 

17. New York Jets

CB: Ahmad Gardner
CB: Bryce Hall
NCB: D.J. Reed Jr.
S: Jordan Whitehead
S: Ashtyn Davis

On paper, general manager Joe Douglas has done an excellent job of rebuilding what was a bottom-tier unit as recently as heading into last season. Now with three new starters penciled in, the Jets figure to be jumping up a few rungs. The most underrated addition here is definitely D.J. Reed Jr., who put together a breakout 2021 season. He allowed only 383 yards in his first full year as a starter for the Seahawks. 

18. Minnesota Vikings

CB: Patrick Peterson
CB: Cameron Dantzler
NCB: Andrew Booth Jr.
S: Harrison Smith
S: Lewis Cine

The Vikings have quite a dichotomous mix of veteran talent with rookie top-50 picks. The biggest worry, though, is that age. Once considered elite players at their respective positions, can 33-year-old Harrison Smith and 32-year-old Patrick Peterson still be relied upon?

19. Jacksonville Jaguars

CB: Tyson Campbell
CB: Shaquill Griffin
NCB: Darious Williams
S: Rayshawn Jenkins
S: Andre Cisco

The Jaguars have earned bottom-six coverage grades in each of the past three seasons, but that should change in 2022. The biggest reasons are second-year breakout candidates Tyson Campbell and Andre Cisco. From Week 9 on last year, Campbell tallied two picks and six forced incompletions, while Cisco allowed only 41 yards on 114 coverage snaps.

20. New York Giants

CB: Adoree’ Jackson
CB: Aaron Robinson
NCB: Darnay Holmes
S: Julian Love
S: Xavier McKinney

The Giants have invested plenty of resources into their secondary on Days 2 and 3 of the draft in recent years, and it shows in their depth. This ranking could look a lot different at the year’s end if Xavier McKinney takes a similar leap forward in 2022 as he did in 2021. He went from a 69.2 coverage grade on limited snaps as a rookie to a 78.4 coverage grade last season. Bet on him becoming a top-10 safety sooner rather than later. 

21. Dallas Cowboys

CB: Trevon Diggs
CB: Kelvin Joseph
NCB: Jourdan Lewis
S: Jayron Kearse
S: Malik Hooker

It flew under the radar because it was on such limited snaps, but 2021 second-round pick Kelvin Joseph very much looked like he belonged when called upon down the stretch last season. On 97 coverage snaps across six games, Joseph allowed only seven catches on 15 targets for 49 yards with two pass breakups. If he shows up as the same player in 2022, this ranking is far too low.

Tier 4: Serious Flaws

22. Atlanta Falcons

CB: A.J. Terrell
CB: Casey Hayward Jr.
NCB: Isaiah Oliver
S: Jaylinn Hawkins
S: Erik Harris

No cornerback duo heading into 2022 gave up fewer yards last season than Casey Hayward and A.J. Terrell, who combined to allow only 588 yards. While it’s not quite that simple, with Hayward playing in Las Vegas in 2021, that’s a good starting point for a defense. The problem is, that’s also where it ends in terms of reasons to get excited about this unit. 

23. Indianapolis Colts

CB: Stephon Gilmore
CB: Isaiah Rodgers
NCB: Kenny Moore II
S: Rodney McLeod
S: Julian Blackmon

Before the Stephon Gilmore signing, this unit was trending toward uncertainty. Gilmore was still very much an elite cornerback when healthy last season, although it wasn’t widely talked about because he was doing it on a hapless Panthers team. He finished with the ninth-highest coverage grade in the NFL.

24. Washington Commanders

CB: Kendall Fuller
CB: William Jackson III
NCB: Benjamin St. Juste
S: Kamren Curl
S: Bobby McCain

After an exceedingly slow start to the 2021 season, the Commanders' secondary looked much improved down the stretch. A big part of that was William Jackson III finally performing like the player he was in Cincinnati. From Week 10 on, Jackson allowed only 105 yards on 217 coverage snaps.

25. Detroit Lions

CB: Jeff Okudah
CB: Amani Oruwariye
NCB: Mike Hughes
S: DeShon Elliott
S: Tracy Walker

A good deal of this ranking hinges on Jeff Okudah looking more like the player who ranked fourth on PFF’s draft board back in 2020 and less like the one who’s allowed a career 121.8 passer rating into his coverage. The good news is that he’s still young, having turned 23 earlier this year. 

26. New England Patriots

CB: Malcolm Butler
CB: Jalen Mills
NCB: Kyle Dugger
S: Adrian Phillips
S: Devin McCourty

New England's safety room and cornerback room are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The team added Jabrill Peppers this offseason to what was already one of the deepest safety groups in the league. But now without J.C. Jackson, the Patriots lose over one-third of their interceptions from a season ago. 

27. Arizona Cardinals

CB: Byron Murphy Jr.
CB: Marco Wilson
NCB: Antonio Hamilton
S: Budda Baker
S: Jalen Thompson

The Cardinals finished 24th in team coverage grade last year, and for some reason, this unit went all but ignored over the course of the offseason. It wasn’t until they drafted cornerback Christian Matthew in the seventh round out of Valdosta State that they addressed this unit. 

28. Pittsburgh Steelers

CB: Cameron Sutton
CB: Levi Wallace
NCB: Ahkello Witherspoon 
S: Minkah Fitzpatrick
S: Terrell Edmunds

The Steelers' secondary is one of the most veteran-laden groups in the NFL, with every player heading into their fifth season or later. That simultaneously gives the unit a high floor because of what we’ve seen the players do and a low ceiling because of, well, what we’ve seen the players do. There’s just not an impact player in this secondary after Minkah Fitzpatrick.

29. Las Vegas Raiders

CB: Trayvon Mullen Jr.
CB: Rock Ya-Sin
NCB: Nate Hobbs
S: Johnathan Abram
S: Trevon Moehrig

While the Raiders' defense took a healthy step forward in 2021, the worrisome thing is that the man who was most responsible for that isn’t walking through the door anymore. Casey Hayward Jr. allowed only 388 yards in 17 games last season. Trayvon Mullen Jr. has allowed more than that (401) in his past nine.

Tier 5: Too Much Uncertainty

30. Seattle Seahawks

CB: Tre Brown
CB: Sidney Jones IV
NCB: Justin Coleman
S: Jamal Adams
S: Quandre Diggs

This is quite easily the scariest-looking cornerback group on paper in the NFL. And not for opposing offenses. If there is any silver lining, it’s that 2021 fourth-rounder Tre Brown outperformed expectations, albeit in limited playing time. On 162 coverage snaps as a rookie, he allowed only eight catches on 17 targets for 75 yards while playing exclusively on the outside.

31. Chicago Bears

CB: Jaylon Johnson
CB: Kyler Gordon
NCB: Thomas Graham Jr.
S: Eddie Jackson
S: Jaquan Brisker

It's worrisome that this Bears secondary lacks a single player who they can point to and say for certain he’ll be reliable. Eddie Jackson is supposed to be that guy — and is being paid as such — but even he has earned coverage grades of 56.9 and 55.8 the past two seasons.

32. Houston Texans

CB: Derek Stingley Jr.
CB: Steven Nelson
NCB: Desmond King II
S: Eric Murray
S: Jalen Pitre

Two rookies and three journeymen. It’s nowhere near a hopeless situation for the Texans' secondary, though. And truthfully, this is still a massive upgrade from what they’ve had the past couple seasons. A lot of their success hinges on one of the draft’s most hotly debated players in Derek Stingley Jr. He was the second-ranked player on PFF’s draft board, but many viewed him as a risky pick.


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