"Hey, being underrated is hard work."
We continue our trek through the depths of the NFC North as we head towards the cornerbacks - and yes, that's cornerbacks as opposed to defensive backs; I'm not including safeties in this edition. That'll be for next time. But this time, follow me past the jump and we'll hit you harder than a Charles Tillman ball-punch.
The top three for the Bears will in all likelihood remain the same, as Tillman went to his first career Pro Bowl last season, Tim Jennings was named as Pro Football Focus' Secret Superstar for the Bears, and Moore played an extremely solid nickelback. Behind them, complete chaos. Hayden and Wilhite come in through free agency, Hayden having been on the Bears' radar since before last season. Frey and McCoy were the team's sixth and seventh round draft picks, respectively, and if either sees the field immediately it'll be an upset - Frey is clearly a developmental project and McCoy is pretty much a returner and a dime back. Jones is an undrafted free agent, but probably just a camp body.
This really isn't as bad a unit as it seems, though it only retains two players from last year's squad. Houston picked up 5 INTs to go with 14 deflections and Berry deflected 12 passes himself in just 11 games. Lacey started 11 games last year for Indy and so far looks to play the nickel. Bentley and Greenwood are added to the squad from this season's draft, and for now Bentley is competing for that nickel spot. Greenwood has good speed and size as a developmental player but has to get more physical. The unit as a whole benefitted fairly well from a fierce Detroit pass rush.
Winfield only played in five games last season, but has a solid hold on the starting spot though he's in the tail end of his career. Cook has the inside track on the second spot though he's only played in twelve games period over his two seasons. Carr moved to Minny from Baltimore, where after being a sixteen-game starter he only played in seven games, starting one last year. Robinson's a third-round pick that could possibly compete for the second starting position, for what that says about the cornerback situation here. And Bowman is Bowman.
Doesn't feel like Williams is in his sixth season - he picked up a Pro Bowl nod in 2010 and last season returned an interception for a touchdown. Woodson is still going strong, his seven picks and 17 deflections setting up an All-Pro campaign, his second in his last four seasons (interesting note: His eight Pro Bowl seasons came four at the start of his career and four in the last four years). Shields is in his third season yet in twelve games played has 6 interceptions and 16 pass deflections. Hayward is the team's second-round draft pick and could be counted on for snaps, especially if his progress this summer pushes Woodson out of the CB rotation. House is last year's fourth-round pick that some of us were hoping for, but right now he's just developmental.
At four I'm putting the Vikings. First, they employ Zackary Bowman, which carries negative points. Second, aside from Winfield's great career, Cook, Robinson and Carr played a combined thirteen games last season. The Lions take the third spot, as the pass rush from their line leads to some inflated ball-skill numbers; Lacey started 11 games but really isn't much of an addition, and just like the linebackers, two current-year draft picks will be counted on for depth.
At two and one, it's a tossup I think. The Bears are fairly solid throughout. Tillman is a good cornerback, though he won't be on the top of anyone's CB listing, and Jennings makes a solid number two with Moore playing a very capable nickel - and behind them you've got two one-year deal veterans and two draft picks. On the Packers' end you have an eight-time Pro-Bowler and current All-Pro, a 2010 Pro Bowler, a second-round pick, 2010's fourth round pick, and Sam Shields who could be out of a job. Maybe it's not so much of a tossup - the Packers' unit is good, but the depth just doesn't stack up. The Bears take the top slot based on returning their top three plus the competitive pickups behind them.
How do you see the units stacking up?