Our (somewhat spread-out) series on the best players in the NFC North continues with a look at defensive backs.
1. Charles Tillman – Chicago Bears
The complete package as a Cover-2 cornerback. He’s arguably the best cover corner in the division, he’s solid in run support and he can make a big play from time-to-time, as demonstrated by his two interception returns for touchdowns in 2011. His best game of 2011, per Pro Football Focus, came in week 10 against Detroit when he allowed only 6 completions despite having 17 balls thrown in his direction. And this was with him lining up against Calvin Johnson much of the game.
2. Charles Woodson – Green Bay Packers
It’s clear that Woodson is on the downside, but don’t tell that to Christian Ponder who was taken to school by the future Hall of Famer on multiple occasions last year. Woodson can still create havoc on the field, whether he’s blitzing, jumping routes for interceptions or using his veteran savvy to get away with all sorts of supposedly illegal contact.
3. Antoine Winfield – Minnesota Vikings
Antoine struggled with injury issues again last year, but when healthy was still able to perform at a high level. The Vikings do a good job of covering his weaknesses by lining him up against the slot man in nickel situations, allowing him to make use of his physicality, and keeping him from having to run downfield against speedy outside guys any more than necessary. At some point Winfield will probably drop off heavily, perhaps forcing the Vikes to shift him to safety, but for now he’s still one the better all-around corners in the league.
4. Louis Delmas – Detroit Lions
Good in coverage, lousy against the run like most of Detroit’s defensive backfield. Even though he’s only half a good player, he’s still good enough to represent the cream of the crop in the division at the safety position (not a great accomplishment when your competition is people like Charlie Peprah, Chris Conte and Jamarca Sanford). If he ever learned to tackle, he’d be a fantastic player.
5. Chris Cook – Minnesota Vikings
Cook could make a quick ascension on this list if he’s able to pick up where he left off last season before getting suspended. His game against Calvin Johnson raised eyebrows, and he followed it up by performing solidly against Larry Fitzgerald. Had it not been for his legal issues he would be heralded as one of the rising young defensive stars in the league. Let’s hope he makes good on that promise this year, cause the Vikings sure need the help, with their secondary full of rookies and cheap free agents.
Other guys to watch: Tim Jennings (Chicago Bears); Tramon Williams (Green Bay Packers); Aaron Berry (Detroit Lions); D.J. Moore (Chicago Bears); Harrison Smith (Minnesota Vikings)