When it comes to determining the best defensive secondary in the NFL, there is little reason for discussion. The title belongs to the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom.
Still, Legion leader Richard Sherman will be happy to discuss the issue -- or any issue -- including why he should be considered the best cornerback in the league, which he may well be, although Arizona's Patrick Peterson begs to differ and New England's vagabond Darrelle Revis insists he still has game.
The Seahawks' rough, ready and rowdy group features two first team All-Pros in Sherman as the monstrous mugger (listed at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds but admits to being well over 200) at left corner and Earl Thomas as the free safety who hoards more real estate than Donald Trump. Add hard hitting strong safety Kam Chancellor and right corner Byron Maxwell and you have the key to a defense that led the league in scoring defense and gave up only 203.1 yards passing per game.
Maxwell, the newcomer on the Legion, which adopted that name in 2012, played so well last season that the Seahawks were comfortable enough to let former starter Brandon Browner and nickel back Walter Thurmond go in the offseason. Jeremy Lane is expected to fill the nickel back position.
Those who somehow didn't know about Sherman before last year's NFC Championship Game, certainly remember he was the guy involved in breaking up the San Francisco 49ers' last-chance pass to Michael Crabtree and then ranted about the play on national television.
But as much as he talks -- which is considerable -- Sherman backs it up with his play on the field.
At some point during all the raving about Sherman in the offseason, Peterson, the multi-talented cornerback at Arizona, claimed that he is better because he covers the best opposing receiver regardless of where that receiver lines up, whereas Sherman stays on the defensive left side. Revis, of Revis Island fame, says ditto.
After being considered the best corner in the game before blowing out his knee with the New York Jets in 2012, Revis played close to his best last year at Tampa Bay before jumping to the Patriots this year, where he will team with one of the league's top safeties, Devin McCourty.
Here is a closer look and analysis of every defensive secondary unit by Sports Xchange reporters who cover each team:
--DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Richard Sherman, RCB Byron Maxwell, FS Earl Thomas, SS Kam Chancellor. Backups -- CB Jeremy Lane, CB/S Deshawn Shead, CB Tharold Simon, CB Phillip Adams, CB A.J. Jefferson, CB Akeem Auguste, CB Chandler Fenner, SS Jeron Johnson, SS Dion Bailey, FS Terrance Parks, FS Eric Pinkins.
One of the Seahawks' major offseason objectives was to extend Sherman and Thomas. Mission accomplished, and Seattle now has the bulk of the Legion of Boom -- Sherman, Thomas and Chancellor -- under contract through 2017. Those three also rank as among the best at their positions in the NFL and the strength of the Seattle defense. Thomas has rare speed and awareness to play deeper than many safeties, and makes it hard for offenses to get big plays on the Seahawks. Sherman has shown he can back up all his talk. Chancellor doesn't talk much, but speaks loudly on the field, as Denver's Demaryius Thomas found out when he was laid out early by a Chancellor hit that set the tone for the Super Bowl. Seattle let Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner go in the offseason but wasn't worried due to the late-season emergence of Maxwell, whose 6-foot-1, 207-pound size fits the Seattle big-corner prototype. Lane projects as the starting nickel to replace Thurmond, who signed with the Giants. Lane played extensively down the stretch, quelling any fears about his readiness to step into a major role this season. Simon, a fifth-round pick in 2013 who sat out last year due to injuries, was one of the offseason stars and could become the backup outside corner. The team is also high on Jefferson, who spent the last four years with the Vikings and could also help in the return game. Shead is valued for his versatility, which could earn him a roster spot as a backup at just about every spot. Johnson projects as the backup to Chancellor, but needs to stay healthy. Parks was a revelation during the offseason and could also become a backup safety. Pinkins, the team's sixth-round pick in 2014, was drafted as a corner but is playing now at safety.
--DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Patrick Peterson, CB Antonio Cromartie, FS Tyrann Mathieu, SS Deone Bucannon. Backups -- S Rashad Johnson, S Curtis Taylor, S Tony Jefferson, CB Jerraud Powers, CB Justin Bethel, CB Bryan McCann.
Peterson covered the best receiver every week. He's an elite player but he can improve. Signing Cromartie gives coordinator Bowles the option of keeping each of his corners on one side of the field. Powers is smart and physical and will be the nickel corner until Mathieu returns from a knee injury. Johnson lost his job to Mathieu midway through the season. Mathieu is instinctive and makes a lot of plays. Johnson is smart and does a nice job of getting teammates lined up correctly. There won't be much of a drop-off is he is the starter while Mathieu is out. Bucannon, the first-round pick, has a reputation as a big hitter. Coverage is his biggest question.
--DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Desmond Trufant, FS Dwight Lowery, SS William Moore, LCB Robert Alford. Backups - CB Josh Wilson, CB Javier Arenas, CB Robert McClain, CB Ricardo Allen, CB Devonta Glover-Wright, CB Jordan Mabin, S Dezmen Southward, Sean Baker, Kimario McFadden, Kemal Ishmael, Zeke Motta.
Trufant and Alford were the bright spots of last season as rookies. They should benefit from the addition of a seasoned veteran in Wilson, who was signed in free agency. McClain struggled at the nickel-back spot after having a solid campaign in 2012. He'll have to beat out Wilson and Arenas to retain his roster spot. Southward is slated for free safety, but played some in the slot and outside at Wisconsin. He could be matched up on some of the bigger receivers in the division. Until Southward is ready, the Falcons will likely lean on Lowery, while Moore stays at strong safety.
--DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Lardarius Webb, CB Jimmy Smith, FS Darian Stewart, SS Matt Elam. Backups -- CB Aaron Ross, CB Dominique Franks, CB Chykie Brown, CB Asa Jackson, CB Deji Olatoye, CB Sammy Seamster, CB Tramain Jacobs, FS Terrence Brooks, FS Omar Brown, SS Anthony Levine, SS Brynden Trawick.
The Ravens exercised a fifth-year option for 2011 first-round pick Smith, who has emerged as one of the better young cornerbacks in the game. Webb was starting to get back his quickness and trust his surgically-repaired knee by the end of last season and should be back to full strength this year. Safety is an area of concern where the Ravens are hoping to move Elam back to his natural strong safety position to capitalize on his aggressiveness. To be able to make this move, either Brooks or Stewart needs to prove they can be counted on at free safety. Stewart is atop the depth chart for now. Nickel back is being contested between Brown, Jackson, Ross and Franks after Corey Graham signed with the Buffalo Bills.
--DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Stephon Gilmore, RCB Leodis McKelvin, FS Aaron Williams, SS Da'Norris Searcy. Backups -- CB Ron Brooks, CB Nickell Robey, CB Deon Broomfield, CB Mario Butler, CB Michael Carter, CB Ross Cockrell, CB-FS Corey Graham, CB Darius Robinson, CB Brandon Smith, FS Duke Williams, SS Jonathan Meeks, S Derek Brim, S Kenny Ladler, S Jajuan Harley.
Gilmore was hampered by injuries in 2013 and the 2012 first-round pick is looking to bounce back and play the way the Bills know he can play. He can certainly be the lockdown cornerback on this team. McKelvin enjoyed a fine 2013 season after re-signing as a free agent to stay here, and has solidified his position as a starter. Graham was acquired in free agency, and he can play nickel corner or safety, while Robey was the breakthrough player last year as the nickel corner because he was so adept at being around the ball. Brooks has hung on in Buffalo for a couple years, but he might need a strong camp to survive, now that the Bills drafted Cockrell. Free agent Jairus Byrd will be missed at free safety, but Aaron Williams will slide into his spot, and after a nice first year playing safety, he has to continue to ascend because the Bills really need him to be the leader back there. Searcy will get the first chance to win the strong safety job as he played in all 16 games last year with seven starts. Graham could compete at either spot, but he's seen more as a sub-package player covering the slot, while Meeks, Ladler and Duke Williams figure to battle for one, maybe two, backup safety spots, depending on the roster numbers elsewhere.