1. Jacksonville Jaguars -
Projected Starters- Rashean Mathis (CB), Drayton Florence (CB), Brian Williams (SS), Reggie Nelson (FS)
Backups- Gerald Sensabaugh (S), Scott Starks (CB), Trae Williams (CB), Jamaal Fudge (S), Pierson Prioleau (S), Isaiah Gardner (CB), Rashod Moulton (CB)
The Jaguars have a lot of depth and talent in their secondary, and there is the potential here for Jacksonville to host of the better units in the NFL, but several things need to happen. Mathis, who was a Pro Bowl player a couple years ago, needs to bring back the intensity he showed in past seasons, as he looked unmotivated and sloppy at times last season. He is a ball-hawking player who takes gambles that usually pay off. Lining up across from him is one of Jacksonville's free-agent acquisitions, Drayton Florence. Florence is also an aggressive cornerback who takes risks. He replaces Brian Williams, who in all likelihood will play strong safety for the Jaguars. Williams is a very good tackler for his size and was arguably Jacksonville's most consistent defensive back last season. In Gregg Williams' new attacking defense, the safeties will have more coverage responsibilities, which will be in (Brian) Williams' favor. Nelson had a very good season as a rookie and looks to add more consistency to his game in 2008. He has the potential to be a stud and he certainly has all the tools. Sensabaugh is a versatile prospect who is an athletic freak and can lineup at any secondary position, and could look to regain his starting spot at strong safety. Starks offers a lot of speed, as do rookies Isaiah Gardner and Rashod Moulton. Trae Williams will also compete for the nickel back spot. Special teams stud Jamaal Fudge will compete with the experience Prioleau for the final safety spot.
Strengths: There is a lot of versatility in Jacksonville's secondary, as well as serious athleticism and speed.
Weaknesses: Potential is here, but there are a fair amount of "ifs" that the team needs to straighten out.
2. Indianapolis Colts -
Projected Starters- Kelvin Hayden (CB), Marlin Jackson (CB), Bob Sanders (SS), Antoine Bethea (FS)
Backups- Daymeion Hughes (CB), Tim Jennings (CB), Matt Giordano (S), Melvin Bullitt (S), TJ Rushing (CB), Michael Coe (CB), Jamie Silva (S), Brannon Condren (S), Keiwan Ratliff (CB), Antonio Smith (CB)
Indy's defense is led by the energetic Bob Sanders, who is reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Sanders is undersized at 5'8", but he more than makes up for it with his fantastic technique, speed and intensity. Without Sanders, the Colts' defense is merely average, so his presence is certainly vital to Indianapolis' success. Antoine Bethea lines up next to Sanders and he has done a very good job of complimenting the All Pro. He is a very talented athlete who has the speed and size to make plays all over the field and he did so last season, logging four interceptions. Bethea doesn't have the reputation as a head buster like Sanders does, but he is a sound tackler and is a reliable last line of defense. Marlin Jackson is a decent fit in the team's Cover-2 scheme, as he has good size and short-area quickness. He finished last year with 88 tackles and is an average tackler for a corner, but he broke up just four passes and came away with only a pick last year, and Indy would like to see him improve his coverage skills. Kelvin Hayden plays across from Jackson and has a similar skill-set, but he has a little more speed than Jackson does and has emerged as the better playmaker. Hughes will likely be the nickel back in his third season, and he too is a bigger corner who plays better in short areas. Giordano is well rounded and is a very good backup at safety who also is a solid special teams contributor. Bullitt and Jennings also add good depth and versatility, but after that players like Coe and Silva need to make contributions purely on special teams.
Strengths: The Colts have a lot youth, speed and versatility. Sanders is arguably the best safety in the game.
Weaknesses: The cornerbacks are decent but they don't scare anyone, as depth and experience at corner is a little shaky.
3. Tennessee Titans -
Projected Starters- Nick Harper (CB), Cortland Finnegan (CB), Chris Hope (SS), Michael Griffin (FS)
Backups- Reynaldo Hill (CB), Eric King (CB), Calvin Lowry (S), Vincent Fuller (S), Marquice Cole (CB), Cary Williams (CB), Donnie Nickey (S), Tony Joiner (S), Shirdonya Mitchell (CB)
Nick Harper will lineup as the number one cornerback for Tennessee, although he is 33 years old. Using his experience to his advantage, Harper is a solid technician who doesn't get outsmarted often, and is a good tackler for a CB as well. However, Harper has lost a step and benefited from a strong pass-rush last year. Cortland Finnegan is a burner (4.36 40-yard dash) and is surprisingly physical, having logged 95 tackles last year. However, he doesn't make as many plays as expected, but some of that is due to quarterbacks being aware of his presence. Finnegan has good raw skills and could become a very good player in the league very soon. Michael Griffin finished his rookie season with a solid 53 tackles and three picks. He wasn't injected into the starting lineup until half way through the year, but he displayed good tenacity and playmaking skills, and should be a center piece in Tennessee's secondary for some time. Chris Hope is a solid, versatile safety who lacks top speed but is good enough of a tackler to make his presence felt in the secondary. Hope's 2007 season ended due to injury but he should be back and ready for '08. Hill brings experience to the secondary, as does King, who is entering his 4th NFL season. Cole has run a sub 4.3 40 and possesses decent size at 5'10", 195 lbs, and while he has great measurables, the Titans would like to see him apply them to the field. Lowry and Fuller also add a lot of experience at safety and are also good special teams performers, and Lowry could even make a bid to start.
Strengths: This might be one of the deeper groups in the AFC and there is also a lot of potential.
Weaknesses: Lack of dynamic playmakers will keep this group from being great unless some players develop quicker than expected.
4. Houston Texans -
Projected Starters- Dunta Robinson (CB), Fred Bennett (CB), Will Demps (FS), C.C. Brown (SS)
Backups- Jacques Reeves (CB), DeMarcus Faggins (CB), Glenn Earl (S), Nick Ferguson (S), Antwaun Molden (CB), Jamar Fletcher (CB), Brandon Harrison (S), Curome Cox (S), Jimmy Williams (CB), Derrick Johnson (CB), Brandon Mitchell (S)
Starting cornerback Dunta Robinson has the potential to be one of the best corners in the NFL and he flashed that the past several years, but a torn ACL might cause him to start his season on the PUP list. When healthy, Robinson is a terrific playmaker and close to a shutdown corner, but if Robinson cannot get back to 100%, the team will depend on former Cowboy Jacques Reeves, who filled in admirably for Robinson last season. Reeves has good size, legit 4.4 speed and is starting to enter his prime as he enters his fifth NFL season. Lining up as the other corner is Fred Bennett, who also has good measurables. He is only 24 and had three picks last season, and there is every indication that he will continue is success in Houston for years to come, especially when Robinson comes back. Will Demps is a solid safety who can play strong or free, and while he isn't explosive, he is a legit tackler who offers experience for the Texans. C.C Brown is a physical player who gets by on good fundamentals. He lacks top speed and size, but he's well built and is always willing to sacrifice his body for the team. Earl and Ferguson are both good backups with experience in the NFL, and the same goes for Fletcher at CB. Faggins will get some reps at nickel back and he is capable of carrying the load there as seven year veteran. Cox, Williams, Johnson and Mitchell will have to make an impact on special teams in order to make the roster.
Strengths: There is a lot of depth, versatility and experience, despite the young age of several integral players.
Weaknesses: If Robinson can't go, this group is rather pedestrian and lacks an elite playmaker.
AFC South Secondary Rankings
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