(All numbers listed after each player is their cornerback ranking in 2012 as rated by Advanced NFL Stats.)
Will the Revis Island of old return to form in Tampa Bay? (via cdn0.sbnation.com)
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Darrelle Revis (113), Eric Wright (38), Johnthan Banks (NA), Leonard Johnson (45), Michael Adams (47), Danny Gorrer (97), Anthony Gaitor (131), Myron Lewis (171)
As if it was not enough the carry the title of the best safeties in the division, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also boast the best cornerback group in the NFC South, and by a wide margin.
The Stud: The crown jewel offseason acquisition was that of Revis, who is arguably a Hall of Fame cornerback. He alone boosts the value of this group. He is so dominant that in Pro Football Focus' ranking of cornerbacks in the last 5 years, he ranked 1st, and had a grade double of Charles Woodson, who was second place. He is also a 4-time Pro Bowler, 3-time All-Pro team selection, and a former AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. Though well accomplished, he is coming off a torn ACL from the 2012 season, and it remains to be seen if he can return to his prior form.
Notable: Wright, the other starting CB, is solid, if not spectacular. A second round pick in 2007, he has received much fanfare after some off the field issues at the University of Southern California. He signed a very lucrative contract with the Buccaneers last year, and has proven to be a great addition. He has totaled 14 INTs in his 6-year career.
Banks was highly touted pick from the 2013 NFL Draft from Mississippi State. Revis and Wright will make great mentors for this rookie, who was a Jim Thorpe Award winner, a first-team All-American and first team All-SEC player in college.
Though less heralded, Johnson, Adams, and Gorrer have top 100 cornerback credentials. This gives their impressive secondary unit huge depth, ensuring that the team will thrive even if Revis is not ready.
Asante Samuel and his illustrious resume return to Atlanta for another year. (via cdn1.sbnation.com)
2. Atlanta Falcons: Asante Samuel (8), Robert McClain (30), Desmond Trufant (NA), Robert Alford (NA), Peyton Thompson (NA), Dominique Franks (145), Terrence Johnson (NA)
This past offseason, Atlanta lost arguably their best cornerbacks on the roster: Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. However, looking further, it appears that the Falcons are still in good shape. According to Advanced NFL Stats, they still have two cornerbacks that performed in top 30 amongst all cornerbacks in the league. With the addition of two highly picked rookies, the future looks bright for this unit.
The Stud: Though he may have "lost a step," Samuel is still an incredible cornerback, most known for his ball-hawking days in New England. Along with Revis, Samuel is the only other cornerback that has made the Pro Bowl and is on a current NFC South roster. He is also a 4-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro team selection. Not to mention, he is a two-time Super Bowl champion, so he knows what it takes to win, and can impart it to the rookies on the roster.
Notable: McClain’s success is but a painful reminder for Panthers fans, as he drafted and let go by the organization in 2011, and is now thriving for a division rival. Advanced NFL Stats rated him the 30th best cornerback in the league in 2012.
The Falcons picked up two incredible corners in the 2013 NFL Draft in Trufant and Alford. Their 1st round pick, Trufant has great bloodlines, as his brothers Marcus and Isaiah both play cornerback in the NFL presently. Alford was the Falcons’ 2nd round pick and made first team All-Southland playing for Southeastern Louisiana University.
Keenan Lewis hopes to be a shutdown corner for his hometown team, the New Orleans Saints. (via cdn1.sbnation.com)
3. New Orleans Saints: Patrick Robinson (15), Keenan Lewis (32), Jabari Greer (40), Corey White (101), Ryan Steed (NA), A.J. Davis (NA), Rod Sweeting (NA), Korey Lindsey (NA)
The Saints took a step back in defense in 2012, giving up the most yards in NFL history. Let’s repeat that. IN HISTORY. On the bright side, there is no where to go but up, right?
But surprisingly, looking at the Advanced NFL Stats, they still had two cornerbacks ranked in the top 40 in 2012. With the big addition of an underrated free agent, and the return of head coach Sean Payton, the New Orleans Saints cornerbacks may sneak up on their division rivals in 2013.
The Stud: Patrick Robinson is a great under the radar cornerback for the Saints. Drafted in the 1st round in 2010, he has done nothing but provide great coverage in the secondary. Over the years, he has had epic battles with Steve Smith on the outside, though Smitty made him have gotten the best of him more frequently. Though he has never a Pro Bowl, Advanced NFL Stats ranked him 15th out of all cornerbacks in the NFL in 2012.
Notable: Lewis was a great acquisition for the Saints, coming home to New Orleans after playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was widely considered one of the best young free agents on the market, and signed a $10.5 million guaranteed contract with a division rival, much to the dismay of NFC South quarterbacks. He is expected to shut down his side of the field on defense.
Ranking 40th among cornerbacks, Greer is an "old reliable" cover corner. At 31 years old, he has had his share of memorable moments with the Saints, including playoff interceptions and winning Super Bowl XLIV.
Captain is now the veteran Panther of the cornerback group in Carolina. (via cdn1.sbnation.com)
4. Carolina Panthers: Captain Munnerlyn (13), Josh Norman (74), Josh Thomas (76) Drayton Florence (89), D.J. Moore (104), James Dockery (157), Melvin White (NA)
Though not a surprise to many fans, the Panthers are ranked last in the NFC South in cornerback quality. Not only did they release former first rounder Chris Gamble, but they also failed to use a draft pick on cornerback. And without salary cap space in the offseason, the Panthers were limited and forced to be creative to shore up their cornerback unit.
The Stud: By default, Captain Munnerlyn is the best corner in this unit. He holds seniority amongst all other cornerbacks on the roster, and ranked the highest at 13, according to Advanced NFL Stats. Despite being a bit undersized for the position, he has played physical defense on the outside and in the slot. Though he does not make many, he does have big play potential, as he got a "pick-6" against Tampa Bay in 2012. Fortunately, he decided to re-sign with Carolina in the offseason at a reduced rate.
Notable: Norman was the highly touted CB from Coastal Carolina drafted in the 5th round last year. Unfortunately, he did not live up to the hype (which might have been self-created) and ne played just like a 5th-rounder rookie should in their first year. According to Pro Football Focus, he gave up a first down or TD on 8.95% of his coverage snaps, the HIGHEST amongst all cornerback in the NFL in 2012. Yikes. He did seem to get better as the season progressed, but he has a lot of work to do to solidify a starting cornerback position again.
Their two free agent cornerback acquisitions bring veteran leadership to this young group. When the season starts, Florence will be playing his 11th year in the league, an eternity in football years. As noted in our previous free agent profile on him, he was great years ago, ranking 7th amongst all cornerbacks in 2009. Whether he can return to that form remains to be seen.
Moore is an acquisition from the vaunted Chicago defense. In the shadows of his more celebrated teammates Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, he also held his own, notching 2 INTs, 6 pass deflections, and 2 "stuffs" in limited time. It will be excited to see what he is able to do in a more prominent role.
Thomas and Dockery saved the Panthers’ back end defensively when they became starters. Coincidentally, when they took over the starting roles in the second half of the season, the team amassed more wins. I firmly believe that this two are underrated by Panthers fans and will see more time on the field than we originally anticipate.
Luckily, since the Panthers' front 7 appears to be strong, the defense does not need to rely on the cornerbacks as much as other teams. And although the Panthers’ cornerbacks are ranked last in the division, I am hoping to be pleasantly surprised.