These days in the National Football League, there's so much emphasis placed on the performance of the quarterback that you wonder if he's the only player on the field.
And while the offense may be the main focus for many fans these days, a team isn't going very far without a solid defense, especially when it comes to stopping the pass.
So here's the seventh and final look of the many other positions on the field and their importance. In this instance, we'll be focusing on the top cornerbacks and safeties in the league. For as many quarterbacks as there are in the NFL, there are more defenders looking to stop them from doing what they do. And while a great pass rush can make a secondary look better than perhaps advertised, you better have some defensive backs that can cover, hit and tackle.
Here is a look at some of the top secondaries in the league (in alphabetical order). There's a little going out on a limb in terms of some of these units thanks to a few new faces. The proof will be in their play in September.
Atlanta Falcons: The team's biggest playmakers resided in the defensive backfield last season. Safeties Thomas DeCoud (6) and William Moore (4) combined for 10 of the team's 20 interceptions and veteran corner Asante Samuel added five more. First-round choice Desmond Trufant is the likely replacement for Dunta Robinson, released in the offseason.
Chicago Bears: The Bears totaled an NFL-high 44 takeaways in 2012. After picking off seven passes in six seasons, cornerback Tim Jennings led the league with nine interceptions. Corner Charles Tillman totaled five takeaways and forced 10 fumbles last season. With safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright, the secondary had four of the team's top seven tacklers a year ago.
Houston Texans: Pro Bowler Johnathan Joseph and former first-rounder Kareem Jackson are at the corners. And now this secondary will feature (when healthy) ball-hawker Ed Reed (61 interceptions in 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens), who will team with Danieal Manning at safety. The entire Houston defense will look to bounce back from a rough second half in 2012.
Indianapolis Colts: We're taking the first of our flyers on this group thanks to some new faces. Vontae Davis begins his second season in Indianapolis and now pairs with fellow cornerback Greg Toler (Arizona Cardinals). And the Colts look strong at safety as physical LaRon Landry, late of the New York Jets, now teams with former Pro Bowler Antoine Bethea.
Kansas City Chiefs: The team was busy during free agency, signing cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson. They join incumbent Brandon Flowers to form a potent trio. Head coach Andy Reid will need a few more big plays from Pro Bowl strong safety Eric Berry, who finished second on the team in tackles last season. Free safety Kendrick Lewis played in just nine games in 2012.
New England Patriots: Really? A year ago, the Patriots finished 29th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. The addition of veteran strong safety Adrian Wilson is a major plus and having cornerback Aqib Talib from the start of the season helps as well. Former Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty excelled at free safety in 2013. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard comes off a solid rookie season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin's team finished first in total defense and pass defense a year ago and gave up only 19 touchdown passes. Safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are as good as it gets and a veteran cornerback Ike Taylor gets the job done. Third-year pro Cortez Allen replaces Keenan Lewis at left cornerback. Keep an eye on rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.
San Francisco 49ers: The Niners will miss two-time Pro Bowl free safety DaShon Goldson, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That means first-round pick Eric Reid is on the spot. Nnamdi Asomugha is now in the mix with cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarrell Brown, as well as strong safety Donte Whitner. Look for this unit to bounce back from last year's late slump.
Seattle Seahawks: In the last two seasons, three members of this secondary have been named to the Pro Bowl. And cornerback Richard Sherman was a first-team All-Pro in 2012. Safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas and cornerback Brandon Browner welcome veteran Antoine Winfield in 2013. This unit was a big reason the Seahawks led the NFL in fewest points allowed last season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Taking yet another flyer. No team in the NFL gave up more passing yards than the Buccaneers last season. But Greg Schiano's team added free safety Dashon Goldson via free agency and traded for cornerback Darrelle Revis, who comes off an injury-shortened season with the Jets. Add second-year strong safety Mark Barron and veteran cornerback Eric Wright (and rookie Johnthan Banks) and look for major improvement this year.
So who would you say has the league's best and/or most complete secondary? That may or may not be an easy question to answer given the new faces. In any case, as we continue to try and point out, football is a team game that requires many components to win a championship.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
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