Ranking the AFC East: Secondaries

The Miami Dolphins got significantly better in the offseason in the secondary, which must might be the strongest overall position in the AFC East
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With the major phase of free agency and the 2020 draft behind us, it's a good time to revisit every team's roster and see where everybody stands.

When it comes to the secondary, the Miami Dolphins made some big additions in the offseason with the signing of free agent Byron Jones and the draft selections of cornerback Noah Igbinoghene and safety Brandon Jones.

But that might not even have been enough to earn the ranking of top secondary in the division because it's a loaded group.

Let's examine each team's situation before we proceed with our AFC East ranking of the linebacker position.

BUFFALO BILLS

On the roster: CB Ike Brown, CB E.J. Gaines, CB Dane Jackson, CB Taron Johnson, CB Cam Lewis, CB Josh Norman, CB Levi Wallace, CB Tre'Davious White, S Micah Hyde, S Jaquan Johnson, S Dean Marlowe, S Siran Neal, S Jordan Poyer, S Garrett Taylor, S Josh Thomas

Key offseason moves: Signed CB E.J. Gaines as a free agent ... signed CB Josh Norman as a free agent ... re-signed S Dean Marlowe as an unrestricted free agent ... re-signed S Jordan Poyer ... re-signed CB Levi Wallace ... lost CB Kevin Johnson as an unrestricted free agent

Projected opening-day starters: CB Tre'Davious White, CB Levi Wallace, S Micah Hyde, S Jordan Poyer, CB Taron Johnson

Key 2019 stats: CB Tre'Davious White 45.0 opponent passer rating when targeted, 6 INT; S Micah Hyde 78.4 OPR when targeted, 1 INT; S Jordan Poyer 117.8 OPR when targeted, 2 INT; CB Levi Wallace 85.5 OPR when targeted, 2 INT; team opponent passer rating 78.8

Outlook: The Bills have a very good defense from front to back, and their best player on that unit clearly is White. In fact, an argument could be made that he was just as good last season as Stephon Gilmore, the New England cornerback who was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Each player had six picks, White allowed a slightly lower completion percentage when targeted (50.0 to 50.5), and Gilmore had a slightly lower opponent passer rating when targeted (44.1 to 45.0). So you get the point. Levi Wallace held his own as the starting corner on the other side last season, and Poyer and Hyde both are solid safeties, though Poyer's metrics in coverage last season weren't very good. Josh Norman was a big-name addition in the offseason, though he's not the cornerback he was during his glory days in Carolina.

MIAMI DOLPHINS

On the roster: CB Tae Hayes, CB Xavien Howard, CB Noah Igbinoghene, CB Byron Jones, CB Ryan Lewis, CB Nik Needham, CB Jamal Perry, CB Eric Rowe, CB Cordrea Tankersley, CB Ken Webster, DB Nate Brooks, DB Clayton Fejedelem, DB Steven Parker, S Adrian Colbert, S Kavon Frazier, S Brandon Jones, S Bobby McCain

Key offseason moves: Signed CB Byron Jones as an unrestricted free agent (DAL) ... signed S Kavon Frazier as a UFA (DAL) ... signed S Clayton Fejedelem as a UFA (CIN) ... selected CB Noah Igbinoghene in the first round of the 2020 NFL draft ... selected S Brandon Jones in the third round of the 2020 draft ... re-signed S Adrian Colbert, released S Reshad Jones ... 

Projected opening-day starters: CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones, CB Noah Igbinoghene, S Eric Rowe, S Bobby McCain

Key 2019 stats: S Eric Rowe 81.0 opponent passer rating when targeted, 1 INT; CB Xavien Howard 117.0 OPR when targeted, 1 INT; team opponent passer rating 101.9

Outlook: The acquisition of Byron Jones gives the Dolphins as talented a cornerback tandem as there is in the NFL, though that's assuming that Xavien Howard can regain his Pro Bowl form of 2018 after a forgettable 2019 season when he struggled early before landing on injured reserve because of knee issues. As we chronicled in an earlier story, Rowe was a revelation at safety in 2019 after he was moved over from cornerback and he should play a big role. Igbinoghene could make an immediate impact as the nickel corner. McCain appears in line to start again at safety, though he had his struggles at that position there last year after making the move from cornerback.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

On the roster: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Jason McCourty, CB Joejuan Williams, DB Justin Bethel, DB Terrence Brooks, DB Myles Bryant, DB Cody Davis, DB Kyle Dugger, DB Malik Grant, DB J.C. Jackson, DB Jonathan Jones, DB Devin McCourty, DB Adrian Phillips, DB Adarius Pickett, DB Lenzy Pipkins, DB D'Angelo Ross, S Patrick Chung

Key offseason moves: Selected S Kyle Dugger in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft ... signed S Cody Davis as a UFA (JAX) ... signed S Adrian Phillips as a UFA (LAC) ... re-signed S Devin McCourty ... traded S Duron Harmon to Detroit ... lost S Nate Ebner as an unrestricted free agent

Projected opening-day starters: CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Jason McCourty, CB Jonathan Jones, S Patrick Chung, S Devin McCourty, 

Key 2019 stats: CB Stephon Gilmore 44.1 opponent passer rating when targeted, 6 INT; DB J.C. Jackson 35.6 OPR when targeted, 5 INT; S Devin McCourty 61.0 OPD when targeted, 5 INT; CB Jason McCourty 54.7 OPD when targeted, 1 INT; S Duron Harmon 39.7 OPD when targeted, 2 INT; team opponent passer rating 62.8

Outlook: For all of the personnel losses the Patriots have absorbed this offseason, what they managed to do was keep intact what is a very good secondary. Gilmore returns after being selected NFL Defensive Player of the Year, though he didn't look like it in the season finale when DeVante Parker beat him all day. The re-signing of veteran Devin McCourty, who's got a close relationship with Brian Flores and might have been tempted to come to Miami if not for the chance to continue playing with his twin brother, was big for the Patriots secondary. Second-round pick Kyle Dugger is a physical safety who should make up for the one notable loss in the secondary, that of fellow safety Duron Harmon.

NEW YORK JETS

On the roster: CB Bless Austin, CB Pierre Desir, CB Nate Hairston, CB Bryce Hall, CB Arthur Maulet, CB Brian Poole, CB Quincy Wilson, DB Shyheim Carter, DB Javelin Guidry, DB Lamar Jackson, S Jamal Adams, S Anthony Cioffi, S Matthias Farley, S Bennett Jackson, S Marcus Mayes, S Ashtyn Davis

Key offseason moves: Selected S Ashtyn Davis in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft ... signed CB Pierre Desir as a free agent ... acquired CB Quincy Wilson in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts ... re-signed unrestricted free agent CB Brian Poole ... re-signed CB Arthur Maulet ... lost CB Maurice Canady as an unrestricted free agent ... released CB Trumaine Johnson ... released CB Darryl Roberts.

Projected opening-day starters: CB Arthur Maulet, CB Bless Austin, CB Pierre Desir, S Jamal Adams, S Marcus Maye

Key 2019 stats: S Jamal Adams 75.2 opponent passer rating when targeted, 1 INT; CB Darryl Roberts, 103.9 OPR when targeted, 1 INT

Outlook: The Jets have perhaps the best safety in the division in Jamal Adams, though there have been numerous stories about his unhappiness over his contract and his desire to become the highest-paid safety in the league. Marcus Maye gets overshadowed by Adams, but he's a pretty good safety in his own right. The Jets are awfully young at cornerback, though Arthur Maulet and Bless Austin showed promise late last season. The Jets signed former Colts starter Pierre Desir in the offseason and drafted hard-hitting safety Ashtyn Davis, who played for new Dolphins DB coach Gerald Alexander at Cal. 

THE RANKING

This actually is a pretty easy to call.

Simply put, the Patriots not only have the best secondary in the division, they have the best secondary in the league.

The offseason moves they made have put the Dolphins right up with the Bills, though the question marks with McCain as a safety and Howard's ability to bounce back give Buffalo the second position.

The call: 1. New England; 2. Buffalo; 3. Miami; 4. N.Y. Jets

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Don't agree with the ranking? Feel free to post a comment.

Alain Poupart has covered the Miami Dolphins on a full-time basis since 1989. You can follow him on Twitter at @apoupartFins.