2005 preview: Defensive backs

2005 preview: Defensive backs
By Cris Carter, Yahoo Sports
August 24, 2005

Cris Carter
Yahoo Sports
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With the crackdown on illegal contact, teams tried to load up on cornerbacks in the offseason. They were all looking for a second or third player at that position with shutdown ability – that is, if they could find one.

The Houston Texans traded for Phillip Buchanon and the Minnesota Vikings got Fred Smoot so they could make Brian Williams their nickel back. Even though they already have two great cornerbacks, the Baltimore Ravens re-signed Deion Sanders and added Dale Carter to back up Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. The Ravens might be as deep at cornerback as any team in NFL history.

Here are the defensive backs to keep an eye on this season:

Best in the business: Ty Law and Ed Reed
Yes, I'm a little concerned about Law coming back from foot surgery, but before he got injured last season, who was better at cornerback than him? He's been a pure shutdown corner for a number of years and he doesn't give up as many big plays as Champ Bailey. I believe Law will respond to his new challenge with the New York Jets.

Law gives the Jets the flexibility at any point in the game to take any wide receiver out of the opposing team's game plan. With Law in the game, the Jets can double the other side and try different things with blitz packages. Now, they won't do it all season, but they have that ability, which is a comfort very few teams have.

No safety is better than Reed, who has great quickness and recognizes plays quickly. Sometimes when he's in a bad position he is able to read the play and use his speed to get back where he needs to be. And when he intercepts the ball, he's dangerous because he's always looking to score.

The Ravens' Pro Bowl free safety is also a special teams player. It's very rare to see a starter playing special teams and making the type of impact he makes.

Most underrated: Charles Tillman
The Chicago Bears cornerback has good size at 6-foot-1 and has really long arms. He's a guy Minnesota had a lot of problems with last season, particularly Randy Moss. If you can guard Moss one on one, then you're a pretty good corner.

Most overrated: Ronde Barber and Adam Archuleta
I just don't think Barber is an elite corner. He doesn't have the coverage skills. He's in a great system with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one that plays to his strengths, and he's a good player. But he's overrated as far as coverage ability.

I think Adam Archuleta is the most overrated safety. He just hasn't gotten that much better since the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the first round in 2001. His small size, which I thought would be a problem when he got into the league, has really played a huge role in him constantly getting hurt.

Ready to break out: Fred Smoot and Nnamdi Asomugha
Smoot will get more attention now that he's on a better team in Minnesota. He'll have the first opportunity in his career to play in big games after spending four years with Washington. That is the only way you can judge a premier player – what he does in big games. I think the Vikings will get their money's worth with Smoot.

Asomugha, a first-round pick in 2003, has been having a great training camp with the Oakland Raiders. Moss has been really impressed with the cornerback's ability. The Raiders will need man-to-man coverage if they're to succeed in a 4-3 scheme by pushing up field and rushing the passer. With Asomugha playing opposite Charles Woodson, the Raiders believe they can get back to what they've been doing for so many years – press coverage.

Rookie to watch: Thomas Davis
He was one of the best athletes in the draft. Given the way the Carolina Panthers coach defense, he could a phenomenal player in the pros. The Panthers have him at strong safety but they could move him to linebacker if needed.

Davis has great size (6-1, 231 pounds) and great speed, and he played in the SEC. He's ready for big-time football.

Biggest 2005 surprise: Revenge of the secondaries
I think the secondaries will adjust to last year's crackdown on illegal contact. Look for a number of DBs to be in the 10-interception range, namely Reed and new Vikings safety Darren Sharper.

Cris Carter is Yahoo! Sports' NFL analyst. Send Cris a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Wednesday, Aug 24, 2005 7:00 pm, EDT

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