Ranking NFL defenses 2023: Cowboys, 49ers, Patriots among units most likely to make top 10

As has become increasingly clear in recent years, offense is king in the modern NFL. But that doesn’t mean defense is totally irrelevant. Because even though offense has a greater effect on overall team performance – and is more consistent from year to year – than defense, you still need to make the occasional save to win games. soccer.

For that reason, we’ll be ranking the league’s defenses now that the player acquisition portion of the offseason is nearly complete. Rather than going through all teams 32-1 on this side of the ball like we did in attackWe again group teams based on their likelihood of finishing the year among the top 10 defenses in the league, based on the quality of their staff and coaches.

Without delay… (Note: Teams in each section are listed in alphabetical order.)

most unlikely

Arizona Cardinals, Las Vegas Raiders

The less said about these two depth charts, the better. We also had the Rams in this section early on, but we can’t rule out the possibility that Aaron Donald could single-handedly turn them into a top-10 defense, so they’ve been bumped up a level.

somewhat unlikely

Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Rams, Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans

Atlanta added Jessie Bates III, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree, Jeff Okudah, Zach Harrison and Clark Phillips III this offseason, but there was so much to go between where they were and being a top 10 unit that we can’t help but think that’s still pretty unlikely – even with a new defensive coordinator as well. The same goes for the Bears, even after adding Tremaine Edmunds and TJ Edwards in free agency and Gervon Dexter Sr., Tyrique Stevenson, Zacch Pickens and more in the draft.

Even with Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit lacks the pass-rush juice to push to the top 10 despite a much improved secondary thanks to numerous free agency additions (Cameron Sutton, CJ Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley) and the draft (Brian Forking). Bringing in DeMeco Ryans as head coach and landing the draft’s leading passing thrower in Will Anderson Jr. is a great start for the Texans, but it’s still a very shallow talent pool. It’s likely to be at least a year or two away before they can call themselves one of the top bands.

The Colts finished last season 14th in defensive DVOA, but the strength of their defense is in linebacker, defensive tackle, and safety, and those positions are just less likely than rusher and corner to turn a defense into one. top 10 unit. LA was in the previous section until I remembered Donald existed, and the only reason Minnesota isn’t in this section is because of the confidence I ai in Brian Flores to achieve better than expected results with the available talent.

Bobby Okereke and Deonte Banks aren’t enough to close the gap between where the Giants stood last year and where they would need to be in the top 10 defensemen. Wink Martindale has slightly better personnel than a year ago, but it’s still not at the level he needs to be to successfully lead his style of defense. The Bucs had one of the best defenses in the NFL for several years, but while Todd Bowles is still there to coach them, it’s an aging and thinning unit and may not have the ceiling anymore. that she once had. The Titans are here out of respect for Jeffery Simmons and Kevin Byard, but there just isn’t a whole lot of talent out there on defense.


Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders

Hiring Ejiro Evero to coordinate the defense may have been the Panthers’ best move this offseason. There are even some interesting tracks he can work with, from Brian Burns and Frankie Luvu to Derrick Brown and Jaycee Horn. It’s just not quite a group on the same level as what he had in Denver, or before that, in Los Angles. The Browns had the top talent to be an elite defense for quite some time, but weren’t able to put all the pieces together. Myles Garrett remains, and is now joined by Dalvin Tomlinson and Za’Darius Smith up front. Can the cornerback trio finally merge into a special group? The Packers seem to continually underperform relative to their level of talent on defense. For what? Who knows. But it has happened often enough over the past few years that they belong to this group rather than a higher group.

Jacksonville has its pass-rushers in Josh Allen and Travon Walker and seemed to settle on a trio of cornerbacks during the second half of last season. But that group still finished 26th in the DVOA a year ago, and their biggest offseason additions were Day 3 draft picks. We know what’s going to happen with the Chiefs: They’ll go fine for most of the season, but by the end of the year, Steve Spagnuolo will have his unit in shape for a Super Bowl run. Form is simply unlikely to come in the form of a top-10 defense.

Brandon Staley finally got the Chargers to play an above-average defense in the second half of last year, but defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill left for Miami in the offseason and there are still points left. questioning and injury problems aplenty among available personnel. Miami adding Hill, plus Jalen Ramsey and Cam Smith, and getting a full season from Bradley Chubb raises the ceiling for the Dolphins defense. We’re just not sure how high off the ground.

New Orleans lost co-defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen to division rival Falcons, along with Onyemata, Marcus Davenport, Shy Tuttle and Kaden Elliss along the defensive front. None of these losses are nearly a death knell on their own, but the collective introduces enough uncertainty to drop the Saints into this group. The Seahawks added Devon Witherspoon to find last season’s elite cornerback in Tariq Woolen, and signed Dre’Mont Jones to bring an inside pass rush. Adding Derick Hall just isn’t enough to make them an elite pressure unit, so the Seahawks land here. We had a ton of faith in the commanders a few years ago and they let us down. Then they exceeded expectations last year. So, what are we waiting for this season? It is someone who guesses.

Quite likely

Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers

Baltimore finished seventh in the DVOA last season, but Calais Campbell is gone and there are more questions than usual at cornerback. The Ravens still look pretty likely to be a first-tier defense, but that’s not nearly a guarantee. Retaining defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo — who, inexplicably, wasn’t among the top candidates for head training this offseason — keeps the Bengals in the mix here, despite losing their starting safeties and other injuries in The secondary. On the other hand, the demotion of Ejiro Evero to Vance Joseph moves the Broncos from the next group to this one, simply because of the uncertainty that comes with a change in coordinator and how personnel will be utilized. (Also, Dre’Mont Jones left in free agency.)

The Jets certainly have the personnel to stay in the top 10 units, but because much of their success was based on not just high-level but truly elite cornerback play – which tends to be less consistent year-on-year than passing rush – we have to put them here rather than in the “most likely” group, even though we are extremely confident that Sauce Gardner will maintain his best form. The Eagles are pretty much in the same situation, but their cornerbacks are aging and they’ve replaced one of their best passers (Javon Hargrave) with a rookie (Jalen Carter). There are also question marks at linebacker, as usual.

The Steelers, meanwhile, are just a little thinner than the group we’ve grown accustomed to. The bone structure of defense is still there with TJ Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cameron Heyward, but players like Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Cameron Sutton, most of their linebackers and other corners, and others have evolved and been replaced by less. – sure things.

Most likely

Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers

Even without longtime defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the Bills still have the infrastructure to remain among the best defenses in the league. Sean McDermott, a returning Von Miller, Greg Rousseau, the NFL’s top safety tandem, and Tre’Davious White another year out of his ACL tear should do the trick — even if Tremaine Edmunds moves on.

On a somewhat similar note, I’m about to say that as long as the Cowboys have Dan Quinn and Micah Parsons, they’ll be top 10 defensemen. Far from regressing, the Cowboys improved on this side of the ball last year, and the addition of Stephon Gilmore should only make them stronger, given the depth issues (mostly injury-related) that have emerged at the game. cornerback last season. New England finished last season ranked first in the Football Outsiders Weighted Defensive DVOA, meaning that at season’s end the Pats were playing like the best defense in the league. The addition of Christian Gonzalez and Keion White, among others, to last season’s squad only raises the ceiling of the squad even further.

The Niners have been the best defense in the league for the past few years, and despite the loss of defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, they have more than enough to stay at or near the top of the standings. The addition of Javon Hargrave improves the inside pass rush, the NFL’s best linebacking duo is still in town, and we’ve seen this group work wonders in the secondary for too many years not to notice. wait again. Also, Steve Wilks is quite capable of coordinating a higher unit.

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