Top Ten Defensive Backs to Watch in 2012

It’s never too early to start thinking about next season, and the next young crop of rising stars who will be climbing the ladder on the heels of established greats at a certain position. A position I pay close attention to is defensive back, whether it be corner or safety, I believe they are both extremely difficult skill positions to play in the NFL (especially corner). The following list is composed of the guys I believe will be turning heads next season, and it omits the guys who are already currently established at the position.

 

10. Jairus Byrd (Safety – Buffalo Bills)

Experience: 3 years

Byrd has been the lone constant in a pretty abysmal Bills defense the last three years. After an electric  2009 rookie season  that saw him snag nine interceptions, those totals have gone down the last couple seasons. However, he has shown ball-hawking skills and will continue to be a force, especially if the Bills defense makes the necessary improvements at other skill positions.

9. Charles Godfrey (Safety – Carolina Panthers)

Experience: 4 years

I’m going to be brutally honest. The Panthers defense in its current state is nothing to write home about. But Godfrey has shined on an otherwise unimpressive squad, and similar to Byrd we could see his play elevate into upper-tier status if he gets some help on the defensive side of the ball. He’s garnered 274 tackles and nine picks in his tenure thus far.

8. Keenan Lewis (Cornerback – Pittsburgh Steelers)

Experience: 3 years

On a Steeler defense that fields the same guys year in and year out with rare changes, Lewis has the inside track on the starting corner spot opposite Ike Taylor for 2012. When he has seen the field previously, he’s shown flashes of having tremendous athletic ability and will be an upgrade over the released Bryant McFadden and impending free agent William Gay. How he responds to becoming an important piece of a routinely great defense will be interesting to see next year.

7. Patrick Peterson (Cornerback – Arizona Cardinals)

Experience: 1 year

Peterson is such a talent, I forgot to put him on my original list of defensive backs because he already plays like a veteran. Not only did he take four kicks to pay-dirt in 2011, his play at corner was very stellar. The only thing we have to watch for with Peterson is how long it takes him to come into his own before he is considered elite at the position. Thus far, it looks like all the scouting reports of being a “can’t miss” prospect are true as can be.

6. Jimmy Smith (Cornerback – Baltimore Ravens)

Experience: 1 year

Coming out of Colorado, scouts believed Smith had all the physical ability to be a shutdown corner. He played pretty solid in his rookie campaign with Baltimore, where he intercepted two passes in twelve games played. Of course, you can’t really base someone of their rookie season, but it will interesting to see what he can do next year as he is expected to be the Ravens top corner. We’ll see how he performs after getting a year under his belt and a full training camp, but I believe his lockdown ability will come to fruition on such a formidable and well-coached defense.

5. Kam Chancellor (Safety – Seattle Seahawks)

Experience: 2 years

Chancellor is one half of arguably the most dangerous young safety tandem in the league when coupled with Earl Thomas. The Seahawks defense has immense potential just with these two alone. He had a breakout season in 2011, with 97 tackles, four interceptions, and three forced fumbles in only his second season. If the ‘Hawks add a few more defensive pieces to go with these two studs, you better believe they’ll be a unit to watch in 2012 with the safeties leading the charge.

4. Terrell Thomas (Cornerback – New York Giants)

Experience: 4 years

Thomas will be something to keep an eye on next season for several reasons. To start, he has been hampered by injuries, first in his rookie year of 2008 and then he missed all of 2011 after tearing his ACL in the pre-season. The bright side? When healthy he has shown he can be an excellent corner. In 2010 as a starter, Thomas racked up 101 tackles, five interceptions, and four forced fumbles. If he can stay injury free, the Giants situation at corner will look very promising pairing Thomas with last year’s first round pick, Prince Amukamara.

3. Eric Berry (Safety – Kansas City Chiefs)

Experience: 2 years

Just like Terrell Thomas, it will be interesting to see how Berry comes back after being injured for the season in Week One of 2011. Up until being injured, the sky was the limit for this guy. In 2010, he had 92 tackles, four interceptions, a forced fumble and a touchdown. He will be the key to a young Chiefs secondary that has the potential to be very good.

2. Louis Delmas (Safety – Detroit Lions)

Experience: 3 years

I rank Delmas this high simply based off potential. After the 2010 season when ranking safeties, a coaches poll had this kid in the top five. An unfortunate injury on Thanksgiving last year really hurt Detroit, who’s secondary is quite dismal and that will be a major focus in the upcoming draft. Coming into his fourth season, it’s about time Delmas starts living up to the praise and expectations and proves he is worth the ranking NFL coaches gave him. There’s no question he’s the best player in the Lions secondary, but he has underachieved thus far in his career.

1. Earl Thomas (Safety – Seattle Seahawks)

Experience: 2 years

I rank Thomas number one because he regressed slightly after his rookie season of 2010. He gets the nod over Chancellor because he has been overall more productive, but Chancellor is on his heels and has started a legitimate debate on who the best safety in Seattle is. If he can return to his 2010 form in 2012, he will quiet that argument a little bit. I am more than curious to see not only what Thomas does coming into his third season, but what havoc he and Chancellor can wreak together if they both play to their full potential.





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