We’re going to open our NFC South position rankings with cornerbacks.
Jabari Greer, Saints. When he was healthy last season, personnel guys and coaches will tell you Greer easily was the best cornerback in the division and one of the best in the league. When he was hurt, you could see the drop-off in the New Orleans defense. Greer seems to be healthy heading into the season.
Tracy Porter, Saints. Dial it down one notch, but those same people will tell you a healthy Porter is a very good cornerback. He’s a little banged up right now, but he says he’ll be ready for the start of the season.
Aqib Talib, Buccaneers. There’s no question he’s the best pure athlete among the NFC South cornerbacks. The knock in his first two years was that he wasn’t always focused or prepared. People with the Bucs, who sounded more surprised than I was, claim Talib has suddenly grown up this offseason and they’re expecting a huge year from him. If this is really true, Talib could vault to the top of this list.
Dunta Robinson, Falcons. He had a rocky ending in Houston. But the Falcons basically used all their free-agent currency to go out and get Robinson and they’ve been preaching about how he’s going to solidify their secondary and even make their pass rush better. Robinson has been banged up a lot this preseason, but coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have a pretty good track record in personnel moves. They’ve placed a big bet on Robinson and we’ll see if that pays off.
Chris Gamble, Panthers. If we were going just on consistency, I’d probably put Gamble at the top of the list. He’s been a pretty good cornerback for a while now and never has received the recognition he deserves. However, you have to wonder if the absence of Julius Peppers might make Gamble a little less effective in coverage.
Richard Marshall, Panthers. A pretty solid No. 2 cornerback. But, like Gamble, you have to wonder how good he’ll be if the Panthers don’t have a pass rush.
Ronde Barber, Buccaneers. If we were talking about overall careers, Barber would top the list. He’s near the end of his career now. But, with the Bucs going back to the Tampa Two scheme, Barber can produce at least one more year as a solid starter.
Randall Gay, Saints. Good enough to start for some teams. He’s a nice guy to have around in case anything happens to Greer or Porter.
Christopher Owens, Falcons. Atlanta’s counting on a big step forward from this guy and that probably means a spot as a full-time starter. Lots of upside here, but not a lot of history to rank him much higher.
Brent Grimes, Falcons. If he were just a couple of inches taller, this guy would be a stud. He can be a liability if he’s matched up against a tall receiver. But he’s one of the division’s best natural athletes and he’s got a history of making some plays.
Patrick Robinson, Saints. He has as much upside as any corner in the division. That’s why he’s a first-round pick. But Robinson hasn’t earned the trust of the coaching staff yet and it might take time for him to get on the field.
Myron Lewis, Buccaneers. Like Robinson, Lewis is making this list based on potential and we’re leaving off some backup cornerbacks who have produced more than these two guys. But the Bucs are high on Lewis. He’s been banged up in the preseason and that slowed his progress. The Bucs may open the season with E.J. Biggers or Elbert Mack as their nickelback, but they’d really like Lewis to step up and claim the job.