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The NFL's best defensive backs in every category

After playing seven NFL seasons in the secondary, I look for specific traits when breaking down defensive backs.

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 all the areas that matter for defensive backs: ball skills, range, press coverage, versatility, run defense, swag and much more. Twenty different categories in all, expanded from the 2016 version. Here's what the tape tells us about the league's top defensive backs:

Defensive back with the best range

Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

Thomas was in this spot last season, and I don't see any reason to make a move. The 2010 first-round pick is still the best at combining his 4.4 speed with a top-tier football IQ to create enormous range in the post. That's why Thomas' angles to the ball are so clean. He gets a jump through recognizing the formation -- it's all about alignment and wide receiver splits -- and breaks on the ball before it's even thrown.

Thomas can also lie in the weeds to steal one, like he did here against Deshaun Watson and the Texans. He baited the rookie QB there. It's just another example of how he controls the middle of the field in the Seattle defense.

Honorable mention: Tashaun Gipson, Jacksonville Jaguars


Best overall cover corner