The Shutdown Index returns for a fifth straight year. From the best coverage technique to the top ball hawk to the most rangy and versatile, I've picked out the NFL's best defensive backs in 23 different categories. You'll find Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard and more, plus a few names that might surprise you.
With seven seasons of experience in an NFL secondary, I look for specific traits when breaking down cornerbacks and safeties. They include physicality, eye discipline, range over the top and proper technique at the line of scrimmage. Consistency, versatility and the ability to make plays on the ball are key traits too.
I poured through the game tape and found the players who best represent excellence in important aspects of the game. Here are the best of the best in every area that matters for defensive backs, including ball skills, range, versatility, run defense and much more.
Through Week 12, the Steelers ranked first in pass defense, allowing only 193.2 passing yards per game, and third in yards per pass attempt allowed (6.6). Opponent QBR? They've allowed quarterbacks a league-worst 33.0. Look at the numbers here, then turn on the tape. This unit, which plays in the league's most pressure-heavy defensive scheme -- with a blitz rate of 41.9% -- meshes both single-high man coverage and split-safety schemes to dictate the flow of the game from a secondary perspective. And I love the mix of personnel in Pittsburgh.
Start with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and his ability to track the ball from the post. Then move over to safety Terrell Edmunds, a downhill hammer who can play in the box or run the alley. And on the outside, there's your veteran coverage traits and the ball skills of cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Plus, with a nickel man such as Mike Hilton, one of the league's best slot blitzers, the Steelers can bring pressure from the back end, behind a physical and fast defensive front.
It's the personnel, the scheme and the overall play speed of this unit that pushed the Steelers in front of an ascending Rams secondary for me this season. Mike Tomlin's team has taken a big step forward.
Honorable mention: Los Angeles Rams