Best Defenses in the NFL Hierarchy
This is my hierarchy list for best defenses in the NFL. Keep in mind that this isn’t just the best defenses from last season. I’m considering the additions and losses of each team to determine their ranking going into next season.
I will include their defensive stats from last season, but that is only a benchmark looking forward.
PTS/G = Points Allowed Per Game
RYDS/G = Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game
PYDS/G = Passing Yards Allowed Per Game
TAKES = Takeaways
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Winning the Super Bowl then having all of the starters return. Must be nice. Most teams on this list don’t have this luxury. The Bucs look to continue to be the number one defense against the run with young players in the secondary getting even better. The only concern is key players in the front seven approaching their mid-thirties.
Los Angeles Rams – This was the number one defense in the NFL last season, but they have become even more top heavy. John Johnson, Troy Hill, Michael Brockers and Morgan Fox are all notable names that departed this off-season. That is not even mentioning their defensive coordinator Brandon Staley who is now the Head Coach of the Chargers. All this being said, there is no easier task than building a defense around Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.
Washington Football Team – The front of this Washington defense is the best in the NFL. Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis have all returned from last season with the latter being the oldest at only 27 years old. They also added Williams Jackson who does not get enough credit as a Cornerback. River Boat Ron will continue to motivate his troops. Don’t be shocked if Washington emerges as the best defense in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers – The fall from grace. The 49ers did not have a bad season because they were a bad team. It was a plague of injuries that led to their demise. Going into 2021, this defense will once again be one of the best defenses in the NFL. Nick Bosa will continue to be one of the best edge rushers in the NFL and Fred Warner will continue to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL. The only thing you need to worry about is the play in their secondary led by Jason Verrett.
Cleveland Browns – If you thought the Browns defense was good last year, they are even better going into 2021. I mentioned John Johnson’s departure from the Rams, and the Browns benefited by acquiring one of the best safeties in the NFL. They also added depth all across the board to supplement their extremely talented roster. When it’s all said and done, Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward will continue to be leaders for this rising young team.
Baltimore Ravens – Losing Matt Judon should not be understated, but this defense is still extremely deep. The Ravens have arguably the best cornerback group in the entire NFL with some very talented big boys up front. They were extremely aggressive blitzing the Quarterback this season and they will need to due the same as their pass rush is the most concerning area of this team.
Miami Dolphins – I was concerned about the Xavien Howard saga, but paying him was the right move. He is the main reason they led the league in takeaways last season. Brian Flores made a big splash last year in free agency which clearly payed off as they are no longer one of the laughing stocks of the AFC East. While they lost Kyle Van Noy this off-season, they went and acquired a plethora of depth to compensate.
New England Patriots – I mentioned the 49ers fell off due to injury, but it was the opt-outs that was the demise of the Patriots. Not only is Dont’a Hightower returning, but so is Kyle Van Noy. They also went out and signed Matt Judon who will provide a much needed pass rush that was lacking last season. We know how talented this secondary can be led by Stephon Gilmore and Devin McCourty, and now this front seven should compliment them once again.
Pittsburgh Steelers – There is no question that this was one of the top 5 best defenses in the NFL last season, but they did take a hit this off-season. They lost Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson in free agency. While the replacements did hold their own last season, it leaves a big question mark going forward. Regardless, names like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Devin Bush, Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick keep this ship afloat.
Denver Broncos – Another defense that was plagued with injuries. This defense was far better than the stats suggest. With Von Miller returning from injury, Bradley Chubb should be even better with less double teams coming his way. They also added both Kyle Fuller and Patrick Surtain which makes this already great secondary even better. With the leadership of Justin Simmons, the sky is the limit. Last but not least, Vic Fangio is one of the best defensive minded coaches in the NFL with a wide variety of talent to move around.
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings defense was not good last season making me feel bad for Mike Zimmer. Expect a rebound season where they return to the middle of the pack. The return of Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce along with a very stacked interior line will be the difference. They also signed Patrick Peterson who it out of his prime, but a revival is not out of the question.
Green Bay Packers – Let’s rewind to the NFC Championship game. The Packers secondary got bullied by Tom Brady and his stacked receiving group. Going into next season, it is a lot of the same pieces who are young and improving. I believe Jaire Alexander is one of the top 3 best cornerbacks in the NFL and you can’t sleep on Darnell Savage as one of the best safeties in the NFL. There wasn’t a lot of improvement on this defense leading me to believe they will be around the middle of the pack comparative to their 2020 season.
New York Giants – This team has changed their culture and this defense is trending in the right direction. It helps when newly acquired James Bradberry had a career year. It also helps that they added Adoree Jackson to become their CB2. They have a lot of good pieces, but a big question going into 2021 is their ability to rush the passer.
Chicago Bears – Injuries have led to a decline in the dominant Bears defense, but they still have some superstars. Khalil Mack is a one man wrecking crew who constantly gets doubled and rightfully so. It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Sean Desai utilizes this dangerous front. It will also be interesting to see if this secondary can help return this defense to dominant status.
New Orleans Saints – There has been a lot of turnover on this defense. They lost Janoris Jenkins and Trey Hendrickson in free agency. The addition of Brian Poole helps, but the uncertainty of Marshon Lattimore because of legal problems and the six game suspension of David Onyemata really has me worried about this defense. They were great last season, but the range of outcomes is wider going into 2021.
Los Angeles Chargers – The Rams were the best defense in the NFL last season, and now their defensive coordinator is the head coach for the Chargers. I believe the Chargers have one of the best offenses in the NFL going into 2021 with their defense behind. With a defensive minded Head Coach and players like Joey Bosa and return of Derwin James, this team could be a darkhorse Super Bowl contender.
Indianapolis Colts – The zone-heavy Colts has allowed for older smarter players like Xavier Rhodes to revitalize their career. It has also led to Kenny Moore rising in my list of top cornerbacks. Chris Ballard clearly wanted to improve the pass rush by spending their first round pick on Kwity Paye and second round pick on Dayo Odeyingo. Deforest Buckner and Darius Leonard will still put in work.
Carolina Panthers – This defense was heavily reliant on their young players last season and the future looks bright. They were far from a great defense, but expect some of their young stars to progress. Specifically, expect Brian Burns to continue to grow as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. They also spent their 8th overall pick on Jaycee Horn as the first defensive back off the board in the draft.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs made it their goal to improve their offensive line and it seems their defense was an after thought. This defense is not special, but just good enough to compliment the Patrick Mahomes led best offense in the NFL. Players like Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu are getting older, but holding this defense together.
Seattle Seahawks – This isn’t the normal Pete Carroll defense led Seahawks anymore. Bobby Wagner continues to be one of the best linebackers in the NFL, but has the not so luxury of playing in front of one of the worst secondary’s in the NFL. They can’t stop a nosebleed and it may have to be a let Russ cook movement considering how easy it is for Quarterbacks to have their way against them.
Arizona Cardinals – Another team with a wide range of outcomes. There is a lot of great young talent on this defense that couldn’t seem to get it together. Maybe the addition of J.J. Watt is the leadership needed for this defense to figure it out. They also added Malcolm Butler at cornerback who is another player out of his prime, but can help lead these young players into the promise land.
Buffalo Bills – Nobody on this Bills defense with the exception of Tre’Davious White really jumps off the page. That just goes to show you just how well coached they are. They do have arguably the best safety duos in the NFL that compliment each other perfectly. The aging front seven is what leads to the most questions.
Tennessee Titans – This defense was a problem last season. To control the clock with Derrick Henry, you need to be able to hold your own on defense. That was not the case leaving them out of the elite category. Going into next season, they added Bud Dupree who I believe is a little overrated. I believe this will once again be the weak point of this team with the offense needing to carry most the weight.
Cincinnati Bengals – With longtime stars Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins gone from the team, this is a re-building defense. Thankfully they hit the jackpot with Jessie Bates who is widely regarded as the best safety in coverage. The secondary looks bright, but the front seven leaves much to be desired.
Las Vegas Raiders – This defense was worse than people think last season. The front office did make it their goal to add pieces for this season, but I don’t think it will be enough. I love the signing of Yannick Ngakoue, but I don’t think it will be enough. They also added Casey Hayward and Solomon Thomas, but these are players out of their prime on a defense with gaping holes.
Philadelphia Eagles – Cap woes have plagued the Eagles. Many of their players have left with not enough cash to add new ones. They did make the most out of this by signing Anthony Harris and Eric Wilson on great deals, but this is another defense with too many holes. Their front four is really stout, but they are also very old. This is clearly not a Super Bowl team with long time players on the way out.
Dallas Cowboys – Once Dak went down, you knew this Cowboys team was going nowhere. This is a young defense that was clearly not ready to lead this team. They did improve later in the season, and ride that into next season. They also added Micah Parsons who is the odds leader to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year. It will also be interesting to see how safety Keanu Neal fits in on this potentially rising defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Congratulations Urban Meyer. You are now the Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and adopt their bottom of the barrel defense. They did spend some money on some free agents like Shaquill Griffin, Rayshawn Jenkins and Roy Robertson-Harris, but it is not enough to turnaround this horrible defense.
Houston Texans – I feel bad for Texans fans. Both their offense and defense are trending in the wrong direction. I would not be shocked to see this defense being the worst in the NFL considering they were dead last in takeways last season with 9.
New York Jets – I love the hiring of Robert Saleh, but this will be a work in progress. He is well known for his defensive work with the 49ers, but much like Urban Meyer adopts a horrible defense. At least the Jags invested into the defense as the Jets didn’t draft a defensive player until the 5th round. Thankfully they do have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and one of the best kept secrets with Marcus Maye at safety.
Detroit Lions – This statistically was the worst defense in the NFL last season. Dan Campbell does bring some intensity, but how far can that go for this horrible roster. There were some budget signings that do nothing, but make them slightly better than the worst defense in the NFL.
Atlanta Falcons – The best part of this Falcons defensive is it’s coordinator. Sure they got a generational talent in Kyle Pitts, but at what cost. This will have to be Matt Ryan leading the league in pass attempts because once again this Falcons defense cannot stop the pass.
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