January 21, 2021

NFC North position rankings: Defensive backs

Bears DBs better than reloading Vikings, but questions remain

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Welcome to our 10-part series in which we rank the four NFC North teams at every position. Our rankings are based on performance to date, scouting reports and a consensus of evaluations from general managers, coaches and scouts around the NFL.

Part 8 – Secondaries

1. Bears – B+: With the departures of Darius Slay, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, Kyle Fuller now is an easy choice as the best cornerback in the NFC North, Eddie Jackson is the best safety, and Buster Skrine is arguably the best slot/nickel.

The addition of Tashaun Gipson, another former Pro Bowler gives them tremendous competition and depth at safety along with Deon Bush, Jordan Lucas and DeAndre Houston-Carson.

The only unkown is the “other” starting corner. But the presumptive starter, Kevin Toliver, whom coach Matt Nagy and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano were comfortable enough with to make the cap move of releasing Prince Amukamara, second-round pick Jaylon Johnson, former first-round pick Artie Burns and CFL import Tre Roberson should offer plenty of talent, competition and depth.

Add in the potential for one of the league’s best pass rushes if Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn are all healthy and this will be a very difficult group to beat.

2. Minnesota Vikings – B-: Harrison Smith is a perennial Pro Bowl safety and better than the Bears' Jackson against the run but a notch behind in coverage and ball-hawking skills. And if Anthony Harris can maintain the level of an outstanding 2019 season that earned him a franchise tag after a pedestrian first four seasons in the league, they'll be the best pair of safeties in the division.

The big questions here, much like at all levels of the Vikings' defense because of this offseason’s salary cap purge, is after the subtraction of Rhodes, Waynes and Mackenzie Alexander, how good will they be at cornerback?

Holdover 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes, who was just better than average last season after an injury-scuttled rookie campaign, will start on one side, and the competition for the other starting spot will focus on this year’s first-rounder, Jeff Gladney, third-round pick Cameron Dantzler and holdovers Chris Boyd and Holton Hill.

Depth is a concern. Other than Smith, Harris, Hughes, Hill and sophomore Boyd, there isn’t a DB on the roster with NFL experience.

3. Green Bay Packers – C+: Jaire Alexander probably is the second-best corner in the division behind Fuller, and entering his third season, he has shown some traits and made some plays that suggest he may be special.

On the other corner, Kevin King and Josh Jackson have played well at times, but neither has lived up to his status as the 33rd pick in the 2017 draft (King) and the 45th choice in 2018 (Jackson). In fact, Jackson took a noticeable step backward last season after a strong rookie campaign.

After making the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018 and then being claimed off waivers by the Packers last year, Chandon Sullivan may have passed Jackson on the depth chart. Second-year corner Ka’dar Hollman also will compete for time.

At safety, former Bear Adrian Amos is solid but average, maybe slightly above on his good days, and last year’s first-round pick, Darnell Savage, had a solid rookie season and has some special traits.

Will Redmond and Raven Greene are the backups but not NFL starter material.

4. Detroit Lions – C: With Slay traded to Buffalo, the Lions signed veteran free agent Desmond Trufant from the Falcons and used the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on Jeff Okudah, one of the top-rated corner prospects in several seasons.

But Trufant will turn 30 Week 1 if the season starts on time, and although he played well last year, he also missed half the season because of injury for the second time in four seasons ,and Okudah is only a prospect until he plays at the NFL Level.

Justin Coleman, Jamal Agnew and Mike Ford are likely to make up the depth, and they are solid if unspectacular.

Tracy Walker had a breakout season at safety last year but is not in the same league as the game's top safeties, and Matt Patricia went to New England for veteran Duron Harmon, who will compete with Will Harris and Miles Killebrew for playing time.

If Okudah is who the Lions hope he will be and Trufant can stay healthy, this group could be solid, but there are a ton of ifs here.