clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Value of Things: Ranking the Secondary's in the AFC South

Who has the best secondary in the AFC South?

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - LSU v Oklahoma Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It has been awhile, but it is finally time to finish off the defensive units in the AFC South. A funny thing happened in the comment section on linebackers. Someone noticed that two of us differed on the linebackers. I’m reminded of the ol’ adage about opinions. They are like noses. I think you can finish the rest.

We usually start off with the basic numbers, but the basic numbers are hard to parcel out. After all, if you go with the standards like tackles, interceptions, and other numbers, you have no idea how those numbers came about. Linebackers and defensive linemen can defend passes and get interceptions. The tackles for secondary guys usually come at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, so there is little use of looking at those. So, we will look at interceptions and passes defended. We will also look at look at individual player grades for coverage and run defense.

Indianapolis Colts— 19 interceptions, 69 passes defended

Houston Texans— 17 interceptions, 64 passes defended

Tennessee Titans— 16 interceptions, 83 passes defended

Jacksonville Jaguars— 7 interceptions, 50 passes defended

We know Lovie Smith’s defense was good at taking the ball away last season. Passes defended is an impressive looking stat, but we have no way of knowing how proficient each defense was just by looking at the raw numbers. That is where something like the PFF grades come into play.

Indianapolis Colts

CB Isiah Rodgers— 49 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PD, 71.9 coverage, 62.9 Run

CB Kenny Moore— 102 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 INT, 13 PD, 62.1 coverage, 73.3 Run

CB Stephon Gilmore— 16 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD, 79.4 coverage, 68.1 Run

CB Brandon Fayson— 55 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 13 PD, 42.5 coverage, 76.7 Run

SS Rodney McLeod— 58 tackles, 0 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD, 60.4 coverage, 73.2 Run

SS Nick Cross— Rookie selected in the third round

FS Julian Blackmon— 34 tackles, 2 TFL, 0 INT, 1 PD, 53.2 coverage, 81.1 Run

FS Armani Watts— 19 tackles, 1 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 67.2 coverage, 75.9 Run

The raw numbers can be a bit deceiving. One of these players made the Pro Bowl last year and these numbers wouldn’t tell you who. Well, the PFF numbers would and that would be free agent Stephon Gilmore. Watts is also a free agent acquisition. Clearly, their fourth corner is a weakness in coverage, but if you are going with a fourth corner then you are probably in trouble anyway.

These players end up with an average run grade of 73.0 (tops in the division) and a 62.4 coverage grade (third in the division). If you remove Fayson then they probably vault up to number one in the division in both categories. Again, if they don’t win the AFC South then Frank Reich should be fired.

Tennessee Titans

CB Kristian Fulton— 40 tackles, 0 TFL, 2 INT, 14 PD, 66.2 coverage, 54.2 Run

CB Caleb Farley— 4 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 1 PD, 40.7 coverage, 71.8 Run

CB Elijah Molden— 62 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 61.8 coverage, 53.0 Run

CB Roger McCreary— Rookie selected in the second round

SS Amani Hooker— 62 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 86.9 coverage, 85.9 Run

SS Theo Jackson— Rookie selected in the sixth round

FS Kevin Byard— 88 tackles, 1 TFL, 5 INT, 13 PD, 90.9 coverage, 83.8 Run

FS A.J. Moore— 9 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 46.0 coverage, 28.8 Run

A.J. Moore wasn’t the worst safety in football. That would actually be Lonnie Johnson. Oh wait, we’re talking about the Titans. They have the best one-two punch at safety in the business with Byard being in the Pro Bowl and Hooker probably should have have been. That tends to help with the lackluster corners. McCreary will hopefully beat out Farley, so their 62.9 run grade (DAL) and 65.4 coverage grade (1st) might be even better.

Houston Texans

CB Derek Stingley— Rookie selected in the first round

CB Steven Nelson— 50 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PD, 61.4 coverage, 70.8 run

CB Tavierre Thomas— 86 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD, 76.1 coverage, 86.5 run

CB Fabian Moreau— 61 tackles, 3 TFL, 0 INT, 11 PD, 55.2 coverage, 64.9 run

SS Eric Murray— 76 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 54.7 coverage, 45.4 run

SS M.J. Stewart— 47 tackles, 2 TFL, 0 INT, 4 PD, 86.0 coverage, 59.8 run

FS Jason Pitre— Rookie selected in the second round

FS Terrance Brooks— 21 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 1 PD, 47.5 coverage, 67.6 run

We have to follow rules here. So, we simply followed the depth charts as they were reported. I think we know Jonathan Owens will end up supplanting Murray or Brooks and we know Desmond King fits in here somewhere. Yet, this is kind of the difference between terminology. “A good problem to have” can be defined as having at least ten guys capable of playing reasonably good football. Yet, there is a difference between reasonably good football and actual good football.

The biggest jump comes in jettisoning the likes of Johnson and Moore. They also signed Moreau and Nelson so they could let their weaker corners go. Their 65.8 run grade ranks third in the division and their 63.5 coverage grade is second. That doesn’t count what Stingley and Pitre bring to the table. Even if they bring nothing then their secondary is still much improved.

Jacksonville Jaguars

CB Tyson Campbell— 73 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 10 PD, 59.9 coverage, 69.9 run

CB Shaquell Griffin— 49 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 7 PD, 71.1 coverage, 68.5 run

CB Darius Williams— 71 tackles, 3 TFL, 0 INT, 9 PD, 60.7 coverage, 68.6 run

CB Xavier Crawford— 15 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 45.4 coverage, 54.5 run

SS Rashawn Jenkins— 73 tackles, 1 TFL, 0 INT, 3 PD, 61.3 coverage, 57.3 run

SS Daniel Thomas— 27 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 56.4 coverage, 72.4 run

FS Andre Cisco— 26 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 2 PD, 62.7 coverage, 74.7 run

FS Andrew Wingard— 88 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 75.1 coverage, 69.0 run

One of the problems with doing overall team grades is that there is never a satisfactory way of crunching these numbers because we know not all of these players will be on the field at the same time. There is no accounting for how defensive coordinators will deploy these guys and when you have a new defensive staff you also don’t know if their strategy will get a different result from these players.

They signed Williams and Crawford in free agency. Williams is decent enough while Crawford really wasn’t. Maybe he will be if used sparingly. We really don’t know. Their 66.9 run grade is second in the division while their 61.6 coverage grade was DAL. Yet, that coverage grade includes Crawford’s low score. We will have to see if someone in camp ends up supplanting him as well.

Overall Power Rankings

The Colts are again the best unit in the division. Signing Gilmore should guarantee that as he joins an already strong cornerback group. We know the Titans have a dynamic group of safeties so we could comfortably put them in second, but the Texans could challenge for that if Stingley and Pitre show up and immediately play well. Using two of their top three picks and a majority of their free agency attention creates some level of hope for this group. Jacksonville was last in the division in 2021, but a new defensive coordinator and a few new faces could change things as well.