One of the coaches that was retained by Sean Payton for the 2023 season relative to 2022 was defensive back coach, Christian Parker. Parker will lead what PFF has ranked as the 4th best starting secondary in the league in their preseason rankings. With K’Waun Williams (32), Justin Simmons (30) and Kareem Jackson (35), it will also be one of the oldest starting secondary's in the league.
By starting secondary I am using the top three CBs and top safeties using that PFF lists. Note that some teams have slotted rookies into their starting secondary's for 2023. This study uses three CBs since most teams’ nickel CB plays “starter” levels of snaps in the modern NFL. This was not the case 25 years ago.
PFF did their ranking by looking at their overall grades, but those are as transparent as mud. I wanted to use a number that is fully understandable and for which the data can be shown. So I chose to use pass rating allowed. PFR lists the passer rating allowed for every defender in the league in their advanced stats. You can use this to see how many times the man that a defender was covering was targeted, along with how many catches, yards and TDs that defender allowed. Also how many interceptions the defender got. All the things that you need to calculate passer rating, except in this case it is not for a passer but for a defender.
Now one problem with this approach is that it fails to look at how frequently a DB was “thrown at” last season. Some of the putative starters for 2023 had very few coverage targets last season. This approach also does not take into account how the group of five DBs will play together. As we know all too well, a group of elite DBs who don’t communicate well or know their responsibilities can be much less than the sum of their individual parts.
So I grabbed the passer rating for all 160 putative starting DBs (32 x 5) for 2023. The seven rookies were just ignored since there is no way to know what they are going to be able to do in 2023 (many of the seven were first and second round picks). You can see the sorted table below with color coating. Some highly drafted DBs are immediately elite, like Sauce Gardner, while others take time to reach that level if they ever do.
The good teams seem to all be relatively close with very little separating the top two thirds of the league. See the table with the average for the secondary below.
|Passer Rating-Base Rank||Team||AVERAGE for Secondary|
The Lions, Steelers and Seahawks from this analysis appear to have the three best secondary's in the league, but this highlights some of the failings of this method relative to PFFs opaque method. PFF ranks the Lions’ secondary as one of the worst in the league. Part of this is because of the inexperience of their S2 - Tracy Walker.
|PFF Pre Rank||2023 starting secondaries||CB1||CB2||CB3||S1||S2|
|1||NYJ||Sauce Gardner||DJ Reed||Michael Carter||Jordan Whitehead||Chuck Clark|
|2||MIA||Xavien Howard||Jalen Ramsey||Kader Kohou||Jevon Holland||DeShon Elliott|
|3||PHI||Darius Slay||James Bradberry||Avonte Maddox||Reed Blankenship||Terrell Edmunds|
|4||DEN||Patrick Surtain II||Damarri Mathis||K’Waun Williams||Justin Simmons||Kareem Jackson|
|5||BAL||Marlon Humphrey||Brandon Stephens||Rock Ya-Sin||Marcus Williams||Kyle Hamilton|
|6||DAL||Trevon Diggs||Stephon Gilmore||DaRon Bland||Malik Hooker||Donovan Wilson|
|7||KC||LJarius Sneed||Jaylen Watson||Trent McDuffie||Justin Reid||Bryan Cook|
|8||CLE||Denzel Ward||Martin Emerson||Greg Newsome II||Juan Thornhill||Grant Delpit|
|9||SF||Charvarius Ward||Deommodore Lenoir||Myles Hartsfield||Tashaun Gipson||Talanoa Hufanga|
|10||BUF||TreDavious White||Kaiir Elam||Taron Johnson||Micah Hyde||Jordan Poyer|
|11||WAS||Kendall Fuller||Emmanuel Forbes||Benjamin St-Juste||Darrick Forrest||Kamren Curl|
|12||NE||Christian Gonzalez||Jonathan Jones||Myles Bryant||Adrian Phillips||Kyle Dugger|
|13||TAM||Jamel Dean||Carlton Davis||Zyon McCollum||Antoine Winfield||Ryan Neal|
|14||LAC||Asante Samuel Jr.||Michael Davis||J.C. Jackson||Alohi Gilman||Derwin James|
|15||CIN||Chidobe Awuzie||Cam Taylor-Britt||Mike Hilton||Nick Scott||Daxton Hill|
|16||GB||Jaire Alexander||Rasul Douglas||Eric Stokes||Rudy Ford||Darnell Savage|
|17||SEA||Tariq Woolen||Devon Witherspoon||Coby Bryant||Quandre Diggs||Jamal Adams|
|18||PIT||Patrick Peterson||Joey Porter||Levi Wallace||Minkah Fitzpatrick||Damontae Kazee|
|19||NO||Marshon Lattimore||Paulson Adebo||Bradley Roby||Marcus Maye||Tyrann Mathieu|
|20||CHI||Jaylon Johnson||Tyrique Stevenson||Kyler Gordon||Eddie Jackson||Jaquan Brisker|
|21||CAR||Jaycee Horn||CJ Henderson||Jeremy Chinn||Xavier Wood||Vonn Bell|
|22||DET||Emmanuel Moseley||Cameron Sutton||C.J. Gardner-Johnon||Kerby Joseph||Tracy Walker|
|23||ATL||AJ Terrell||Jeff Okudah||Mike Hughes||Jessie Bates III||Richie Grant|
|24||NYG||Adoree' Jackson||Deonte Banks||Darnay Holmes||Xavier McKinney||Bobby McCain|
|25||MIN||Andrew Booth||Akayleb Evans||Byron Murphy||Camryn Bynum||Harrison Smith|
|26||TEN||Kristian Fulton||Sean Murphy-Bunting||Roger McCreary||Kevin Byard||Amani Hooker|
|27||JAX||Tyson Campbell||Darious Williams||Tre Herndon||Andre Cisco||Rayshawn Jenkins|
|28||HOU||Derek Stingley||Steven Nelson||Desmond King||Jalen Pitre||Jimmie Ward|
|29||AZ||Antonio Hamilton||Marco Wilson||Isaiah Simmons||Jalen Thompson||Budda Baker|
|30||LV||Duke Shelley||David Long||Nate Hobbs||Tre'von Moehrig||Marcus Epps|
|31||IND||Isaiah Rodgers||Julius Brents||Kenny Moore||Rodney Thomas||Julian Blackmon|
|32||LAR||Derion Kendrick||Robert Rochell||Cobie Durant||Russ Yeast||Jordan Fuller|
By passer rating and on paper the Denver Broncos appear to have a much better secondary than the rest of the AFC West. This mostly jives with PFF but PFF really likes the Chiefs 2023 secondary ranking them 7th in their preseason rankings. Using average PR allowed in 2022 they rank 31st. This is what PFF has to say about the KC secondary for 2023
The defending Super Bowl champs have an underrated and overlooked secondary due to the attention Patrick Mahomes and company get, but this is a sound unit that is coordinated very well by Steve Spagnuolo.
Trent McDuffie came on strong in the second half of his rookie season, earning a 75.1 coverage grade, and he gave a boost to a group that was already playing well together.
One of the reasons why passer rating allowed makes the KC secondary look so bad as that one of the starting safeties, Bryan Cook, allowed a passer rating of 138.7 last year. Yet somehow this only dropped him to a grade of 64.2 as his overall grade at PFF. Admittedly, Cook was a rookie last season and played like it as times in coverage. His man was targeted 20 times and he allowed 14 catches for 186 yards and 3 TDs. This was in 342 defensive snaps last season. Cook had two pass breakups and zero interceptions. According to SIS he was on the field for 261 passing plays.
For comparison, the other expected starting safety for KC, Justin Reid, had 642 pass play snaps last season. He has six pass breakups and also had zero INTs. Reid’s man was targeted 58 times with 37 catches for 388 yards and 4 TDs. It would appear that Steve Spagnuolo did a good job of protecting the rookie so that he didn’t get “picked on” during the 261 passing plays he played in 2022. Thirteen snaps per target is a decent ratio. Particularly when you compare it to fellow 2022 rookie, Damarri Mathis, whose guy was targeted 88 times in 454 passing play snaps - or one target for every five passing plays.
Where would you rank the Broncos expected 2023 starting secondary?
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