As the NFL has shifted to a pass-led league, certain positions on the field have become more important. Quarterbacks and offensive linemen are the focal points on offense. On the other side of the ball, defensive backs have quickly become one of the most important positions to be excellent at.
Here are the top 10 available defensive backs for 2021:
Richard Sherman, CB, SF
Josh Norman, CB, BUF
Andrew Sendejo, S, CLE
Bradley McDougald, S, NYJ
These four NFL veterans miss the mark for this list for a variety of reasons, but mainly due to age, with McDougald being the youngest of the four, at 31 years-old. Sherman does not seem to fit into the 49ers cap situation, Norman has lost a step and Buffalo probably wants to move on, and Sendejo has never been a particulary effective playmaker and the Browns need more at the position.
McDougald had a good start with the Jets, but injuries hampered his season once he was traded. He may be in his prime, but as a major piece of the Jamal Adams trade, he needed to prove himself with a team other than Seattle, a squad known for making their safeties look very good.
Top 10 Available Defensive Backs
10| Jevon Holland| S | Oregon
To start this list of available defensive backs, we’re taking a look at the college athletes coming up through the draft. Jevon Holland is coming out of the PAC-12 ranks as a junior from Oregon.
With Oregon, Holland demonstrated a skill set built for the NFL. He was extremely versatile, able to line up around the field including defending the slot; exuded strong leadership qualities; and, showed off athleticism that is ready for the big leagues.
9| Trevon Moehring | S | TCU
Trevon Moehring out of TCU is one of the more interesting available defensive backs coming into this year’s draft. He is an out-and-out free safety who was an absolute ballhawk for the Horned Frogs. Even though Moehring has the skills currently to make it as an NFL free safety, he has some work to do in a few aspects.
The main criticism of Moehring is his run defense. As a free safety, he rarely got the opportunity to play near the line of scrimmage, but he will have to learn the tactics used by NFL defenses to close down running lanes with safeties. Other than that, Moehring has few weak points: he is a fluid and athletic runner; he’s great in man coverage; and, he gets to the ball often.
8| Patrick Surtain II| CB | Alabama
Patrick Surtain II has the best pedigree out of any of these draft available defensive backs. His father played for the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, and Surtain II played under Nick Saban at Alabama as a three-year starter.
Surtain’s greatest attributes are his length and disciplined style of play. He rarely gets emotional and that comes into play as Surtain is best utilized near the line of scrimmage as a press corner. His only real downside his is straight-line speed. Surtain may not win every foot race, but within an NFL scheme, he can be a great asset.
7| Caleb Farley | CB | Virginia Tech
Caleb Farley has the highest upside of the draft available defensive backs. He has all the physical tools to become a true number one corner in the NFL. The Virginia Tech product is fluid, long, athletic, and strong. There are so few holes in his game that his only major downsides aren’t related to his game.
The only downsides many see with Farley are his lack of experience and injury concerns. Prior to 2019, Farley was a quarterback in high school and entered college as a wide receiver. That said, he was brilliant in his first and only year as a college defensive back. Farley’s injury concerns date back to 2017, when he missed an entire season due to a non-contact ACL tear, and the last time he played, missing a pair of games thanks to back spasms. If he can stay healthy, Farley should be a top notch NFL player.
6| Jason Verrett | CB | SF
After missing two straight seasons due to injury, Verrett came through for the ‘Niners in 2020. San Francisco’s second roll of the dice on Verrett proved to be a smart move. He broke up seven total passes and had two picks in thirteen games. There are still injury concerns with Verrett, but he proved that he can still perform at a high level when he is on the field.
5| John Johnson III | S | LAR
The next two available defensive backs are extremely close, but the fourth-ranked player edges out Johnson III by just a hair. Injury concerns limit his value to some teams, but they shouldn’t.
Johnson was one of the best cover safeties in the league last year. Last season, he was given an 85.6 coverage grade, and under former Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, Johnson got even more dominant. Look for him to keep that trend if he can stay healthy.
4|Marcus Maye | S | NYJ
Marcus Maye might just be the most versatile of the available defensive backs this offseason. He lined up at nearly every position in the Jets’ defensive backfield last season, even stepping in as a slot corner at times. Even more impressive, Maye is great at each position.
He has the speed and athleticism to make plays in the box and at the line of scrimmage. He tracks well enough to break up a ton of passes and play as a traditional free safety. Maye is truly a Swiss Army knife that any defensive coordinator would love to have.
3| Xavier Rhodes | CB | IND
Xavier Rhodes is the best corner among the available defensive backs. Even though his career looked like it was on the ropes in his last season with the Vikings, he had a major turnaround with the Colts in 2020. He may be reaching 31, but Rhodes showed how much gas he has left in the tank when healthy. He only allowed 50% of the passes thrown his way to be completed and quarterbacks who threw his way saw their QBR drop to just 79.2.
2| Marcus Williams | S | NO
Marcus Williams is in the Marcus Maye category of available defensive backs. Williams does quite literally everything well, from run-stopping to making plays on the ball. Since being drafted by the Saints, Williams has been near the top of the league in every major metric for safeties.
Williams covers as well as anyone and makes a ton of plays at the ball, evidenced by his league-leading rate of forced incompletions. He can realistically play in any scheme at the highest level, and at 24 years old, he still has room to grow.
1| Justin Simmons | S | DEN
Simmons may not have been the highest-rated of the available defensive backs, but he is certainly the most dynamic. After a slower start to his career in Denver, Simmons has been on fire the last two seasons. He is a true free safety that can line up anywhere on the field and make an impact in a few different ways.
Simmons is an incredibly cerebral safety who analyzes and dissects plays as well as anyone in the league, and he makes plays accordingly. He is also a rangy athlete that can affect the game in coverage, at the line, and with the ball in his hands.