Patrick Peterson is out. So is the Bears’ secondary. And Earl Thomas just missed the cut in his first season with the Ravens. But there are also several new names in this year’s Shutdown Index, the fourth straight year I’ve picked out the NFL’s best DBs at several categories. Marcus Williams jumps into the mix. Quandre Diggs is here, too.
This has been a tremendous season for defensive back play, from the Patriots locking down receivers to the rise of Minkah Fitzpatrick after his trade to the Steelers. There are also a few players who return to my list, too.
After playing seven NFL seasons in the secondary, I look for specific traits when breaking down cornerbacks and safeties. Physicality to challenge routes. Eye discipline to bait quarterbacks into poor throws. Range over the top to recover from missteps. Technique to win matchups at the line of scrimmage. Consistency to show he plays the same way in every game. And I want a ball hawk who’s going to intercept passes and take them to the house.
Let’s run through the best of the best in every area that matters for defensive backs: ball skills, range, press coverage, versatility, run defense and much more:
Best overall coverage cornerback
In New England’s man-heavy defense, Gilmore’s game shows up play after play. He has all the traits of a top cover corner — footwork, transition ability, closing speed and ball skills — and I see high-level technique here that puts him in a position to finish on the ball, where he has produced four interceptions and eight pass break ups.
Plus, Gilmore has the versatility to play specific matchups based on opposing personnel. With more than 100 snaps logged in the slot this season, he can win in space, locking down receivers inside the numbers. As the nearest defender in coverage, Gilmore has allowed quarterbacks to complete just 45.5% of their passes, according to NFL Next Gen Stats data. That’s No. 1 in the league among defenders who have been targeted at least 50 times.
And he has the physical makeup to check tight ends, too. Just go back to the Week 11 tape versus Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. I want cornerbacks who challenge routes from the jump with the polished fundamentals and playmaking ability to create on-the-ball production. And that’s what I see from Gilmore in a loaded New England secondary.
With 6.5 sacks and 12.5 disrupted dropbacks this season, Adams is a versatile weapon in Gregg Williams’ defensive scheme. To reiterate: This is a defensive back with more sacks than Von Miller, Vic Beasley Jr. and Frank Clark. The hybrid safety/sub-package linebacker cleans up in the run game, and he has the traits to match underneath in coverage. His play speed jumps off the film, too. That gives the Jets more flexibility to utilize Adams’ unique talent and natural traits in multiple roles.
Just check out the snap splits on Adams’ season so far:
Outside linebacker: 297
Inside linebacker: 27
It’s similar to how he was used last season, when I also gave him this award. In addition to the pressure numbers, Adams has posted 64 total tackles, with two forced fumbles, five pass breakups and two defensive touchdowns. This is an impact player who can change the tempo of the game — just like he did in the Jets’ Week 10 win over the Giants when he took the ball right out of the hands of quarterback Daniel Jones for a defensive score (check out the video below). Ridiculous stuff.
Oh my goodness, Jamal Adams. #TakeFlight
— NFL (@NFL) November 10, 2019