Power Ranking All 32 NFL Defenses so Far This Offseason
Now that we are well into May, we have a better handle on the personnel and structure of all 32 NFL defenses. Armed with all that information, we are in a better position to conduct a power ranking of where every NFL defense will stack up for the 2013 season.
We conducted this same exercise more than a year ago (4/13/2012), which was arguably tougher back then since the 2012 draft hadn't occurred yet. Still, it is fun to go back and see which projections were correct and which ones were missed badly. Hopefully we can apply some of the lessons learned into the 2013 edition.
For our power ranking, we will factor in all the teams that made changes at either the head coach, the defensive coordinator or both key roles. We weighed the players that left, those that joined via free agency or by trade and looked at every defensive player selected in the draft.
Every team slide will include the overall defensive rankings for the past three years, highlight all defensive personnel changes and name the new starters for 2013. Another feature is that we will identify all the top-10 defensive players in 2012 at their position as graded by Pro Football Focus. In addition, we'll also provide an overview analysis of every NFL defense and key issues it will need to address.
Just to clarify, if a free agent hasn't signed on with his 2012 team by now, we will consider him to be departed.
The rankings are based off the information we have as of May 11th. These rankings are subject to change due to injuries or the additions of key free agents. As of now, there are still some key free agents that are waiting to receive an offer that could have an impact on their new team. That would include Dwight Freeney, John Abraham, Brian Urlacher, Charles Woodson and Nick Barnett, to name a few.
All team statistics sighted in this presentation are courtesy of ESPN.com. The individual defender statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The source for new starters and depth charts is courtesy of OurLads.com.
No. 32: Oakland Raiders
2012 Overall Rank: No. 18
2012 Projected Rank: No. 32
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 20
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 18
2011 Overall Rank: No. 29
2010 Overall Rank: No. 11
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Lamarr Houston, Philip Wheeler and Desmond Bryant.
Additions: LB Kevin Burnett, S Usama Young, LB Kaluka Maiava, DT Vance Walker, DE Jason Hunter, NT Pat Sims, CBTracy Porter, LB Nick Roach and CB Mike Jenkins.
2013 Draft Class: CB D.J. Hayden, NT Stacy McGee, LB Sio Moore and DE David Bass.
Departures: Desmond Bryant, Richard Seymour, Philip Wheeler, Rolando McClain, Michael Huff, Shawntae Spencer, Omar Gaither, Mike Mitchell, Matt Giordano, Tommy Kelly, Dave Tollefson and Matt Shaughnessy.
New Starters: Pat Sims, Vance Walker, Jason Hunter, Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava, Kevin Burnett, D.J. Hayden, Usama Young and Mike Jenkins.
You have to feel for GM Reggie McKenzie, head coach Dennis Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver. The amount of talent that has been released or walked away via free agency is mind boggling. What is left behind is an inferior collection of warm bodies that will have a difficult time shutting down offenses with any degree of consistency.
This will be a very long year for Raiders fans, and you have our sympathy. Hopefully, some of these guys who are getting a chance will come through and develop into solid starters for the future.
Oakland only returns two starters on defense from the 2012 team: Lamarr Houston and Tavon Branch. When you consider that the team has to find a way to mesh with nine new starters, that is going to be an uphill battle all year.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of talent—and recognizing the amount of talent that fled—and breaking in a massive amount of new starters this year, we have no choice but to slot the Raiders at No. 32 in our power rankings.
No. 31: Jacksonville Jaguars
2012 Overall Rank: No. 30
2012 Projected Rank: No. 9
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 22
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 30
2011 Overall Rank: No. 6
2010 Overall Rank: No. 28
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: None
Additions: CB Marcus Trufant, DT Roy Miller, LB Geno Hayes, DT Sen'Derrick Marks and CB Alan Ball.
2013 Draft Class: S Johnathan Cyprien, CB Dwayne Gratz, S Joshua Evans, CB Jeremy Harris and CB Demetrius McCray.
Departures: C.J. Mosley, Terrance Knighton, George Selvie, Daryl Smith, Kyle Bosworth, Derek Cox, Rashean Mathis, Dawan Landry, William Middleton and Aaron Ross.
New Starters: Roy Miller, Marcus Trufant, Geno Hayes, Johnathan Cyprien and Dwayne Gratz.
The Jaguars defense from one year to the next is like an extreme roller coaster ride—bottom 10, top 10, then back down to the bottom 10 again. If they wind up in the top 10 this year, then all bets are off.
The OurLads.com depth chart for the Jaguars reveals that the team is introducing new starters this year in five of the 11 positions. When you're breaking in half of your unit all at once, there will obviously be some rough patches in the early going as this unit learns how to work together.
That rough patch could extend even longer considering that the defense is learning how to play for new head coach Gus Bradley and new defensive coordinator Bob Babich.
The bottom line is that this is a defense that didn't have a single player finish in the top 10 at his position last year. When you don't have top talent, the results don't figure to be very promising. Our projected ranking for the Jaguars defense is No. 31.
No. 30: Washington Redskins
2012 Overall Rank: No. 28
2012 Projected Rank: No. 16
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 30
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 5
2011 Overall Rank: No. 13
2010 Overall Rank: No. 31
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Ryan Kerrigan
Additions: CB E.J. Biggers and LB Darryl Tapp.
2013 Draft Class: CB David Amerson, S Phillip Thomas, LB Brandon Jenkins and S Bacarri Rambo.
Departures: Cedric Griffin, Madieu Williams, Chris Wilson and Lorenzo Alexander.
New Starters: None.
Good news and bad news. Good news first: Washington is the only defense that is not starting somebody new in 2013, according to the depth chart at OurLads.com. The bad news is that that same group of starters finished the 2012 season at No. 28 overall.
No. 31, No. 13 and No. 28—that has been the overall ranking for the Washington Redskins defenses over the past three years.
The secondary had some major issues last year, so the Redskins invested three draft picks to upgrade the pass defense.
With limited salary cap space, there really wasn't too much that the Redskins could do to help the defense out in free agency. So, they had to wait for the draft, and even then, there was only so much the team could do given what it gave up to St. Louis to draft Robert Griffin III. Redskins fans will have to wait for 2014 for the team to take more drastic steps to improve the defense.
No. 29: New Orleans Saints
2012 Overall Rank: No. 32
2012 Projected Rank: No. 31
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 31
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 32
2011 Overall Rank: No. 24
2010 Overall Rank: No. 4
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: none
Additions: LB Victor Butler, DE Kenyon Coleman, S Jim Leonhard and CB Keenan Lewis.
2013 Draft Class: S Kenny Vaccaro, NT John Jenkins and LB Rufus Johnson.
Departures: Elbert Mack, Jonathan Casillas, Sedrick Ellis, Turk McBride and Scott Shanle.
New Starters: Keenan Lewis and Kenny Vaccaro.
The Saints have Sean Payton back and have hired Rob Ryan to take over the defense. Ryan relieved Steve Spagnuolo, who led the defense to the worst performance in the history of the NFL.
The Saints struggled last year due to the sting of the Bountygate suspensions that hit the front office, coaches and players alike. The defense didn't respond well to Spagnuolo, so hopefully Ryan will be able to motivate this unit, whose confidence must have been shaken to the core last year.
Normally, you would be happy to know that a starting defense is returning nine of its 11 starters. But when you are talking about the worst defense in the history of the NFL, that might not necessarily be a good thing. With limited salary cap and limited draft picks, there was only so much that GM Mickey Loomis could do this year.
The defense doesn't come close to resembling the unit that was ranked No. 4 overall just two years ago. It will take some time for the defense to work its way back up, so don't expect a huge jump this year in the rankings.
No. 28: New York Giants
2012 Overall Rank: No. 31
2012 Projected Rank: No. 23
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 28
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 25
2011 Overall Rank: No. 27
2010 Overall Rank: No. 7
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Jason Pierre-Paul.
Additions: DL Cullen Jenkins, DL Mike Patterson, S Ryan Mundy, LB Dan Connor and CB Aaron Ross.
2013 Draft Class: DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Damontre Moore and S Cooper Taylor.
Departures: Kenny Phillips, Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora, Bruce Johnson, Bruce Witherspoon, Rocky Bernard, Justin Tryon, Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley.
New Starters: Dan Connor and Cullen Jenkins.
Under Perry Fewell, the New York Giants defense plunged 20 spots overall from 2010 to 2011 (went from No. 7 to No. 27). The defense remained in the bottom 10 last year (No. 31) by dropping down even more. Until we see signs of better talent joining the team, we will continue to look at it as a bottom-10 defense. Luckily, the Giants have a potent offense that keeps them in games.
For a team that was in the bottom rungs of both run and pass defense, there isn't a whole lot for Giants fans to get excited about with this unit aside from Jason Pierre-Paul.
The defense generated only 33 sacks last year, and it lost Umenyiora. The Giants will have to hope that rookie Moore will step up and help them apply a better pass rush. We are projecting the Giants will finish at No. 28 this year.
No. 27: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2012 Overall Rank: No. 29
2012 Projected Rank: No. 30
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 32
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 1
2011 Overall Rank: No. 30
2010 Overall Rank: No. 17
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Michael Bennett, Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy.
Additions: CB Darrelle Revis, S Dashon Goldson, LB Jonathan Casillas and DT Derek Landri.
2013 Draft Class: CB Johnthan Banks, DT Akeem Spence, DE William Gholston and DE Steven Means.
Departures: Ronde Barber, Michael Bennett, Roy Miller and EJ Biggers.
New Starters: Jonathan Casillas, Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson.
You can always spin statistics to make a point, but the dichotomy of the Buccaneers having the No. 1 rush defense and the No. 32 pass defense in 2012 is begging for a spin doctor to run with it. Basically, why run the ball when you can throw it so easily against the Bucs? Or, since you can't run the ball against them, then you have to throw it.
See what I mean?
To help shore up the pass defense, the Bucs added two All-Pros to their secondary by trading for CB Revis and signing S Goldson in free agency. The Bucs didn't stop there, as they drafted CB Banks to give them better depth at corner.
How will these changes play out in 2013? For starters, Revis has to play to the level that he did with the Jets for this defense to have a chance to substantially improve. If he has a setback, the defense will be in trouble.
The pass rush only generated 27 sacks last year, and it lost one of the team's best pass-rushers when Michael Bennett left in free agency for Seattle. The Bucs will have trouble putting heat on the quarterback this year, which is why this group will still struggle overall.
If the Bucs could land a strong pass-rusher prior to the season, their overall ranking would go up.
No. 26: Tennessee Titans
2012 Overall Rank: No. 27
2012 Projected Rank: No. 19
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 26
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 24
2011 Overall Rank: No. 18
2010 Overall Rank: No. 26
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Derrick Morgan, Jurrell Casey, Mike Martin and Jason McCourty.
Additions: DT Sammie Hill, S Bernard Pollard, S George Wilson, LB Moise Fokou and DL Ropati Pitoitua.
2013 Draft Class: CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, LB Zaviar Gooden, DE Lavar Edwards CB Khalid Wooten and S Daimion Stafford.
Departures: Leger Douzable, Dave Ball, Xavier Adibi, Gerald McRath, Zac Diles, Jordan Babineaux, Jarius Wynn, Ryan Mouton, Sen'Derrick Marks and Will Witherspoon.
New Starters: DT Sammie Hill and S Bernard Pollard.
For two of the last three years, the Titans have suffered due to a bottom-10 defense. With the mandate to win now (or else) for head coach Mike Munchak, it seems that more attention, energy and money were poured into the offense than the defense during this offseason.
With four members of the 2012 defense placing in the top 10 for their respective positions, it is somewhat surprising that the Titans would be ranked No. 27 overall. You can deduce that the other seven starters were not producing what they were expected to do.
The Titans didn't do enough in the offseason to warrant much of an increase in the rankings. We're projecting another bottom-10 effort in 2013.
No. 25: Atlanta Falcons
2012 Overall Rank: No. 24
2012 Projected Rank: No. 14
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 23
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 21
2011 Overall Rank: No. 12
2010 Overall Rank: No. 16
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: DE John Abraham (free agent).
Additions: DL Osi Umenyiora.
2013 Draft Class: CB Desmond Trufant CB Robert Alford, DE Malliciah Goodman, DE Stansly Maponga, S Kemal Ishmael and S Zeke Motta.
Departures: John Abraham, Vance Walker, Chris Owens, Dunta Robinson, Chris Hope, Lawrence Sidbury, Mike Peterson and Brent Grimes.
New Starters: Osi Umenyiora and Desmond Trufant.
The Atlanta Falcons came oh so close to advancing to Super Bowl XLVII, but their defense let them down. The overall defense had been in the No. 12 to No. 16 range in 2010 and 2011, but it plunged to No. 24 overall last year.
To further complicate the issues, the unit lost far more talent in the offseason than it brought in. Losing Abraham, Robinson and Grimes will force the Falcons to rely on a number of rookies to make up for their absence. While young blood can bring a new level of excitement to the defense, young players are also prone to making mistakes.
Atlanta did what it could to improve the unit by investing six of its eight draft picks on defense, so don't be surprised if it takes some time for this unit to jell. Of the six rookies, only Desmond Trufant is expected to become a starter, and NFL teams will no doubt target him early and often to see what he is made of.
The Falcons only generated 29 sacks in 2012, which placed them in the bottom five in that category. And that was with John Abraham. Without him, their sack total could be even less, which is another main reason for the projected finish at No. 25. Umenyiora will help to make up for some of the difference, but he isn't as productive as Abraham.
Due to the losses they suffered on defense, the Falcons are projected to finish the season at No. 25. Luckily, they have a high-powered offense that will keep them competitive and help them get back to the playoffs again.
No. 24: Dallas Cowboys
2012 Overall Rank: No. 18
2012 Projected Rank: No. 10
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 19
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 22
2011 Overall Rank: No. 14
2010 Overall Rank: No. 23
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Anthony Spencer, Victor Butler, Jason Hatcher, Sean Lee
Additions: LB Justin Durant and S Will Allen.
2013 Draft Class: S J.J. Wilcox, CB B.W. Webb and DE DeVonte Holloman.
Departures: Victor Butler, Kenyon Coleman, Eric Frampton, Michael Coe, Brady Poppinga, Marcus Spears, Charlie Peprah, Dan Connor, Gerald Sensabaugh and Mike Jenkins.
New Starters: Justin Durant and Will Allen.
Despite having four individuals place in the top 10 at their positions in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys managed to drop out of the top half of NFL defenses. Dallas decided to make a change, letting Rob Ryan go and bringing in Monte Kiffin to improve the overall performance.
The Cowboys didn't have the salary cap room to bring in much new talent to help Kiffin out. In fact, Jerry Jones opted to use the first three draft picks on the offensive side of the ball.
Dallas lost far more talent from last year than it brought in via free agency or the draft. As a result, the projection is that it will fall from the No. 18 slot it held last year, dropping down to No. 24. I admit that the defense fooled me last year, as I thought it would be much better. If the defense fools me again, it is because Kiffin is a genius.
No. 23: Indianapolis Colts
2012 Overall Rank: No. 26
2012 Projected Rank: No. 28
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 21
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 29
2011 Overall Rank: No. 25
2010 Overall Rank: No. 20
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: none
Additions: NT Aubrayo Franklin, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, LB Erik Walden, S LaRon Landry, CB Greg Toler, LB Kelvin Sheppard and LB Lawrence Sidbury.
2013 Draft Class: DE/LB Bjoern Warner, NT Montori Hughes and S John Boyett.
Departures: Dwight Freeney, Jerry Hughes, Moise Fokou, A.J. Edds, Jamaal Westerman, Tom Zbikowski, Jerraud Powers, Clifton Geathers and Antonio Johnson.
New Starters: Aubrayo Franklin, Ricky Jean-Francois, Erik Walden, LaRon Landy and Greg Toler.
The Colts defense has been languishing in the No. 20-28 overall range for the last three years running. Indianapolis made it a point to upgrade the offense in 2012, so in 2013, it made a number of changes that will hopefully improve the defense across the board.
The Colts failed to place a single defender from the 2012 season in the top 10 when they switched to their new scheme under coordinator Greg Manusky. It takes time to bring in the proper personnel to adapt to a new scheme. So the Colts should be better at it this year.
But now they are also working in five brand new starters into the mix. This unit will be feeling its way around for the first month or so before the unit starts to jell.
Given the loss of some key personnel and all the changes in the starting lineup, we project the Colts defense to make a modest rise in the rankings to No. 23 overall. Just because you have a number of new starters doesn't necessarily mean that all of them will be good ones.
No. 22: New York Jets
2012 Overall Rank: No. 8
2012 Projected Rank: No. 4
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 2
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 26
2011 Overall Rank: No. 5
2010 Overall Rank: No. 3
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Muhammad Wilkerson and Mike Devito.
Additions: NT Antonio Garay, LB Antwan Barnes and S Dawan Landry.
2013 Draft Class: CB Dee Milliner and DT Sheldon Richardson.
Departures: Darrelle Revis, Mike Devito, Bart Scott, Sione Pouha, Bryan Thomas, Yeremiah Bell, Eric Smith and LaRon Landry.
New Starters: Sheldon Richardson, Antwan Barnes and Dawan Landry.
The Jets have enjoyed a nice run under Rex Ryan that has resulted in the defense placing in the top 10 overall three straight years. But that was then, and this is now.
Ryan coached his defense knowing that he had Revis there to shut down whatever side of the field he was on. The other 10 defenders could then focus on the rest of the field. Without Revis there in 2013, the defense will be more exposed than normal and its performance will suffer as a result.
In 2013, the Jets will be experiencing major turnover, as a number of key veterans have left the team due to salary cap management issues. The end result is that a number of younger players will be thrust into a role of responsibility to either sink or swim.
To further complicate matters, the Jets offense in 2013 doesn't project to be very good, meaning that their defense will be on the field longer and will need to prevent even more points than it did before.
This is shaping up to be a long year for the Jets and their fans. While they were projected to finish at No. 4 last year, the projection this year reflects the loss of talent and the change in coordinators.
The Jets did invest their two first-round draft picks on defense, but then they went purely offense with their picks for the rest of the draft.
Their depth took a hit with the departures, so if this unit gets rocked with any serious injuries early in the year, it could actually wind up falling even more.
No. 21: Kansas City Chiefs
2012 Overall Rank: No. 20
2012 Projected Rank: No. 15
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 12
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 27
2011 Overall Rank: No. 11
2010 Overall Rank: No. 14
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers.
Additions: DL Mike Devito, LB Akeem Jordan, CB Sean Smith, CB Dunta Robinson, LB Frank Zombo and LB Zac Diles.
2013 Draft Class: LB Nico Johnson, CB Sanders Commings and DE Mike Catapano.
Departures: Abram Elam, Glenn Dorsey, Javier Arenas, Leon Williams, Shaun Smith, Andy Studebaker, Brandon Siler, Ropati Pitoitua and Travis Daniels.
New Starters: Mike Devito, Akeem Jordan and Sean Smith.
New head coach Andy Reid made a number of wholesale changes to the organization. As for the defense, it will be playing for new coordinator Bob Sutton, who got used to disciplining young men when he was the head coach at Army.
The Chiefs were hurt by their secondary in 2012, so they brought in Sean Smith from Miami and Dunta Robinson from Atlanta and drafted Sanders Commings. Will that be enough to move them up the defensive rankings?
At this juncture, the jury is still out on just how good the Chiefs pass defense is. The pass rush only generated 27 sacks last year, which is one of the overall weaknesses of this defense. We look for Kansas City to remain right around where it finished last year.
No. 20: New England Patriots
2012 Overall Rank: No. 25
2012 Projected Rank: No. 29
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 29
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 9
2011 Overall Rank: No. 31
2010 Overall Rank: No. 25
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty.
Additions: DL Tommy Kelly and S Adrian Wilson.
2013 Draft Class: LB Jamie Collins, CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon, DE Michael Buchanan and LB Steve Beauharnais.
Departures: Patrick Chung, Trevor Scott, Tracy White, Myron Pryor, Will Allen, Josh Barrett and Derrick Martin.
New Starters: Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson.
The New England Patriots have finished in the bottom 10 of overall NFL defenses each of the past three years. Look for the streak to end in 2013.
New England has done a decent job of adding some young talent to its defensive unit over the past few years, and the added level of talent is what will lead the unit to a higher ranking this season. The key new members we're referring to include Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Aqib Talib and Alfonso Dennard. Throw new veterans Adrian Wilson and Tommy Kelly into the mix, and you have the makings for an improved defense.
New England wasn't very active in free agency when it came to the defensive side of the ball, as Wilson and Kelly were the only two players the team added. The draft saw New England invest picks in the defensive line, linebackers and secondary.
How high will the Patriots defense jump this year? For now, we are projecting a rise up to No. 20. At least they will escape the bottom 10.
No. 19: Detroit Lions
2012 Overall Rank: No. 13
2012 Projected Rank: No. 18
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 14
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 16
2011 Overall Rank: No. 23
2010 Overall Rank: No. 18
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
Additions: DE Jason Jones, S Glover Quin and DT C.J. Mosley.
2013 Draft Class: DE Ezekial Ansah, CB Darius Slay, DE Devin Taylor and LB Brandon Hepburn.
Departures: Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Sammie Lee Hill, Andre Fluellen, Corey Williams, Justin Durant, Pat Lee, Jacob Lacey, Lawrence Jackson and Drayton Florence,
New Starters: Jason Jones, Ezekial Ansah, Darius Slay and Glover Quin.
The Detroit Lions defense has finished in that No. 13-23 range for the past three years running. Not in the top 10, nor the bottom 10, but resting comfortably in the middle. It will be more of the same in 2013, though it will fall off a bit due to the departure of both starting defensive ends in Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril.
Detroit is projecting big things for its top draft pick, DE Ziggy Ansah, but that is more from a career perspective. He is a raw talent, so don't expect too much from him in 2013. He didn't have that much production during his career at BYU, as he is still relatively new to the game. But down the road, the Lions hope that he will become a huge force in the league.
Coordinator Gunther Cunningham will be breaking in four new starters on the defensive unit this year. While the team hopes that Ansah can replace the pressure it usually received in the past from Avril, it is difficult to expect that to immediately happen in 2013. As a result, we have the Lions dropping slightly to No. 19 overall.
No. 18: Arizona Cardinals
2012 Overall Rank: No. 12
2012 Projected Rank: No. 20
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 5
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 28
2011 Overall Rank: No. 19
2010 Overall Rank: No. 29
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: Calais Campbell, Kerry Rhodes (free agent) and Daryl Washington.
Additions: LB Karlos Dansby, CB Javier Arenas, S Yeremiah Bell, CB Jerraud Powers, DL Frostee Rucker, CB Antoine Cason, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Bryan McCann, S Jonathan Amaya, LB Lorenzo Alexander and DE Matt Shaughnessy.
2013 Draft Class: CB Tyrann Mathieu, LB Kevin Minter and DE Alex Okafor.
Departures: Defensive coordinator Ray Horton, S Kerry Rhodes, CB Greg Toler, CB Michael Adams, S James Sanders, LB Stewart Bradley, S Adrian Wilson, LB Quentin Groves, DL Vonnie Holliday, DL Nick Eason, CB William Gay and LB Paris Lenon.
New Starters: Lorenzo Alexander, Yeremiah Bell, Jasper Brinkley, Antoine Cason and Karlos Dansby, who will be filling in initially for Daryl Washington.
New head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will be working with a rebuilt secondary, as most of the 2012 unit has been replaced. The Cardinals certainly had a busy 2013 offseason, as they added a number of new players to the defense.
Arizona will be looking for Patrick Peterson to take on a leadership role in 2013. He already is responsible for taking Mathieu under his wing, so hopefully the new duties won't overwhelm him. If Mathieu does crash and burn, Peterson's image will get dinged in the process.
It is somewhat surprising that the Cardinals decided to gamble on Mathieu, because they had a top-10 secondary in 2012. Another curious development was the decision to not bring back top-10 safety Kerry Rhodes. Rhodes is only 30 years old, and he was graded by Pro Football Focus as the No. 4 overall safety in 2012. Nobody has picked him up yet, as the free agent still waits by his phone.
Another issue for the 2013 Arizona defense is trying to understand what is going on with LB Daryl Washington. He will already be serving a four-game suspension for substance abuse, and he was recently arrested for alleged aggravated assault with his ex-girlfriend. If Washington is trying to find different ways to miss the 2013 season, he is off to a good start.
The Cardinals got some needed insurance for Washington this week by signing free agent LB Karlos Dansby to a one-year deal. Due to Washington's suspension, we project that Dansby will be starting in his spot, making him the fifth new starter in Arizona this year.
With so many new starters on defense, combined with working in a new defense and new coordinator, Arizona is at No. 18 in the power rankings. It will take time for all these changes to mesh and jell.
The Cardinals will need a big year from Campbell and Peterson to stay in the top half of NFL defenses.
No. 17: Cleveland Browns
2012 Overall Rank: No. 23
2012 Projected Rank: No. 11
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 25
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 19
2011 Overall Rank: No. 10
2010 Overall Rank: No. 22
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Kaluka Maiava and T.J. Ward.
Additions: LB Paul Kruger, DE Desmond Bryant, CB Chris Owens and LB Quentin Groves.
2013 Draft Class: LB Barkevious Mingo, CB Leon McFadden, S Jamoris Slaughter and DE Armonty Bryant.
Departures: Usama Young, Juqua Parker, Kaluka Maiava, Sheldon Brown, Scott Fujita, Ray Ventrone, Chris Gocong and Frostee Rucker.
New Starters: Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger and Leon McFadden.
After the Browns came up with an overall top-10 finish in 2011 (No. 10), it looked like the unit had turned a corner. Instead, it dropped back down to No. 23, which negated all the gains the Browns made the previous year.
What should we expect from this unit in 2013? For starters, there have been a number of changes in Cleveland, including a new head coach in Rob Chudzinski and a new defensive coordinator in Ray Horton. The Browns relieved coordinator Dick Jauron of his job after the 2012 season.
Horton will be ushering in a total of three new starters in 2013.
The Browns only made five draft picks in the 2013 draft, four of which went to the defensive side of the ball. Mingo isn't expected to be a starter yet, as he is backing up Jabaal Sheard, according to the OurLads.com depth chart.
The performance of Kruger and Mingo will go a long way towards determining if Cleveland can rise up from the No. 23 overall ranking in 2012. Expect Horton to be more aggressive with the defense than the conservative Jauron was. We are projecting that Cleveland will finish at No. 17 overall.
No. 16: Miami Dolphins
2012 Overall Rank: No. 21
2012 Projected Rank: No. 22
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 27
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 13
2011 Overall Rank: No. 15
2010 Overall Rank: No. 6
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Cameron Wake, Kevin Burnett and Reshad Jones.
Additions: LB Phillip Wheeler, LB Dannell Ellerbe, CB Brent Grimes and DT Vaughn Martin.
2013 Draft Class: DE Dion Jordan, CB Jamar Taylor, CB Will Davis, LB Jelani Jenkins and S Don Jones.
Departures: Kevin Burnett, Karlos Dansby, Bryan McCann, Tyrone Culver, Jonathon Amaya , Sean Smith and Tony McDaniel.
New Starters: Dion Jordan, Dannell Ellerbe, Phillip Wheeler and Brent Grimes.
The Dolphins were one of the busiest teams in the NFL during the offseason. Miami was consistently in the headlines, landing one key free agent after another. The team made a number of additions to the offense, but it did address the defense as well.
At the end of the day, you are left to wonder how smart some of these moves really were—and if it winds up being much ado about nothing.
Miami did add two new starters at linebacker in Wheeler and Ellerbe, but in so doing, the team lost two very productive linebackers in Burnett and Dansby. What is the net gain versus the loss?
Miami had to shore up its pass defense, so the team is gambling that Grimes will be fully recovered from his 2012 injury. If he gets hurt again, the Dolphins will look to throw the rookie Taylor or Davis into the fire.
We don't want to doom the Dolphins by giving them a "Dream Team" tag, so you have to wonder if this collection of new faces will be able to come together in short order and play like a cohesive unit. On paper, it looks fine, but in reality, we will wait and see. The projection here is that the team will improve overall to No. 16 in 2013.
No. 15: Baltimore Ravens
2012 Overall Rank: No. 17
2012 Projected Rank: No. 7
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 17
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 20
2011 Overall Rank: No. 3
2010 Overall Rank: No. 10
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan
Additions: LB Rolando McClain, DT Chris Canty, S Michael Huff, DE Marcus Spears and DE/OLB Elvis Dumervil.
2013 Draft Class: S Matt Elam, LB Arthur Brown, NT Brandon Williams, LB John Simon, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore and CB Marc Anthony.
Departures: Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard, Dannell Ellerbe, Cary Williams, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Sean Considine, Ryan McBean, Ricky Brown and Ma'ake Kemoeatu.
New Starters: Chris Canty, Arthur Brown, Elvis Dumervil, Matt Elam and Michael Huff.
The Ravens defense dropped out of the top 10 in the NFL in 2012. The unit plunged 14 spots last year, primarily due to a number of key injuries. For 2013, there is huge amount of turnover in the personnel of this unit, but Ozzie Newsome has done a great job to bring in talent to plug in the holes.
How quickly will this unit respond to all the new faces and know where each other will be on every down? Hard to say, but it won't happen overnight.
Consider this: From the defense that started in the Super Bowl to the current projected depth chart, only four players will be returning as starters for 2013. They are Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Terrell Suggs and Corey Graham. That is it. Any time you have this much turnover, you can expect some degree of a drop in efficiency.
The biggest mystery will be which players step up to take over leadership of this group. You would expect Terrell Suggs to take on a bigger role this year. Having a healthy Ladarius Webb will also be a boost for the overall defense.
Landing Elvis Dumervil was a huge win for Newsome. The Ravens will need a big boost from their draft class, as they invested the first four draft picks on defense.
Due to the amount of turnover, loss of key leadership and the number of new starters, expect this unit to remain outside of the top 10 again in 2013. I'm projecting a finish of No. 15.
No. 14: Philadelphia Eagles
2012 Overall Rank: No. 15
2012 Projected Rank: No. 3
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 9
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 23
2011 Overall Rank: No. 8
2010 Overall Rank: No. 12
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Brandon Graham
Additions: NT Isaac Sopoaga, OLB Connor Barwin, CB Bradley Fletcher, S Patrick Chung, S Kenny Phillips, CB Cary Williams, DE Clifton Geathers, LB Emmanuel Acho and LB Jason Phillips.
2013 Draft Class: DT Bennie Logan, S Earl Wolff, DE Joe Kruger, CB Jordan Poyer and DE David King.
Departures: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha, Darryl Tapp, Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson, Akeem Jordan and Derek Landri.
New Starters: Isaac Sopoaga, Connor Barwin, Bradley Fletcher, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips and Cary Williams.
When a team completely tears down its secondary and puts a brand new one in its place, it is difficult to envision a high degree of success the first year. So much of outstanding secondary play is based on communication skills and knowing where the guy next to you is going to be on every defensive call. There will be some stretches where the Eagles look lost in the secondary, but that is to be expected in the beginning.
The OurLads.com depth chart projects six new starters on defense for Chip Kelly and coordinator Billy Davis to break in this year. So, not only will the Eagles need to learn a new defense under Coach Davis, but they will have to learn how to play with mostly new teammates.
We have no idea how successfully Coach Kelly's offense will translate to the NFL. But we do know that it will be fast and quick in whatever it does. The question is: Will the defense be able to withstand a number of short drives where the offense gets stymied and the defense has to run right back out there before it has even caught its breath?
This could be an important factor as the season wears on. We project the Eagles defense to finish No. 14 or No. 15.
No. 13: San Diego Chargers
2012 Overall Rank: No. 9
2012 Projected Rank: No. 17
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 18
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 6
2011 Overall Rank: No. 16
2010 Overall Rank: No. 1
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Corey Liuget and Eric Weddle.
Additions: CB Derek Cox and DE Jarius Wynn.
2013 Draft Class: LB Manti Te'o, CB Steve Williams and DE Tourek Williams.
Departures: Aubrayo Franklin, Antonio Garay, Corey Lynch, Chris Carr, Antwan Barnes, Gary Guyton, Demorrio Williams, Takeo Spikes, Atari Bigby, Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer, Vaughn Martin and Shaun Phillips.
New Starters: Derek Cox and Manti Te'o.
The Chargers defense wound up with its second top-10 finish in the last five years when it placed No. 9 overall in 2012.
As you can see from the long list of departures, the Chargers' depth on defense took a pretty severe hit. Some of the better-known names like Spikes, Jammer, Franklin and Phillips were up there in years and were not as effective as they were earlier in their career, but their leadership will be missed.
So the long awaited debut of Manti Te'o will be front and center from now until he finishes his rookie season. There will no doubt be some ribbing in the San Diego locker room, but things should calm down after awhile. San Diego was probably one of the best places that Te'o could have landed.
The Chargers' ranking at No. 13 is a reflection of all the veteran talent and leadership they lost. Due to their quality depth taking a big hit, if any key starters go down with injury, this unit could easily plunge into the bottom half of the rankings.
Even though San Diego didn't do that much in the offseason to boost the talent level on defense, we like the fact that new head coach Mike McCoy retained defensive coordinator John Pagano to offer greater continuity for the defense.
No. 12: Minnesota Vikings
2012 Overall Rank: No. 16
2012 Projected Rank: No. 24
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 24
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 11
2011 Overall Rank: No. 21
2010 Overall Rank: No. 8
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield
Additions: DE Lawrence Jackson and CB Jacob Lacey
2013 Draft Class: DT Sharrif Floyd, CB Xavier Rhodes, LB Gerald Hodges, LB Michael Mauti and DT Everette Dawkins.
Departures: Antoine Winfield and Jasper Brinkley.
New Starters: Xavier Rhodes and Gerald Hodges.
Vikings GM Rick Spielman spun his magic again during the offseason and at the 2013 NFL draft to come up with three first-round draft picks. Spielman used two of those picks to help the defense. DT Sharrif Floyd fell unexpectedly into their laps, and the Vikings also nabbed a starting corner in Xavier Rhodes.
Spielman then waited until Day 3 of the draft to find a starting linebacker (Hodges) and add a little more depth to the defense.
Minnesota was thought to be looking for a starting linebacker during free agency, but nothing ever panned out. Is Hodges the best the team could do as a starting linebacker? That question is up for debate, so we will see how he performs this year. If he flops, that will fall on Spielman for not doing more about addressing the position in the offseason.
You also have to wonder why Spielman didn't make a greater effort to retain Antoine Winfield, who graded out as the top corner in 2012 by Pro Football Focus. If the Vikings secondary struggles, you can reflect on how Winfield would have made the unit better.
The Vikings have most of their starters coming back, so the thought here is that they will stay in the No. 12-16 range this year. Not only did they retain the majority of their starters, but they lost very little depth, which should bode well for the 2013 defense.
No. 11: Buffalo Bills
2012 Overall Rank: No. 22
2012 Projected Rank: No. 12
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 10
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 31
2011 Overall Rank: No. 26
2010 Overall Rank: No. 24
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: Kyle Williams, Nick Barnett (free agent) and Jairus Byrd.
Additions: DT Alan Branch, LB Manny Lawson, LB Jerry Hughes and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
2013 Draft Class: LB Kiko Alonso, DB Duke Williams and S Jonathan Meeks.
Departures: Chris Kelsay, George Wilson, Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard, Terrence McGee, Shawne Merriman, Kirk Morrison, Kyle Moore and Spencer Johnson.
New Starters: Manny Lawson, Kiko Alonso and Da'Norris Searcy.
New head coach Doug Marrone brought in AFC rival New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to head up the Bills defense. He replaces Dave Wannstedt, who appeared overwhelmed at times in 2012. Pettine will employ a hybrid defense, rotating between 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Expect the defense to be closer to what the Jets ran, with an aggressive, attacking style featuring more blitzing.
One of the biggest keys for Buffalo is to find a way to keep All-Pro safety Jairus Byrd with the team for longer than just 2013. Buffalo made Byrd its franchise tag player, but the sides are far apart in contract talks on a long-term deal.
Buffalo has lost some significant experience in its secondary with George Wilson and Terrence McKee departing. Youngsters like CB Stephon Gilmore, S Da'Norris Searcy, S Aaron Williams, CB Ron Brooks and CB Justin Rogers will have to step up in 2013. Buffalo also drafted two defensive backs in Duke Williams and Jonathan Meeks.
Byrd will serve as the leader of the secondary, so the team hopes he signs his deal soon to know what Pettine expects of him.
A sleeper name to keep track of in training camp is LB Keith Pough from Howard. He could turn some heads and potentially make the final roster.
The defensive line should be the strength of this defense due to the presence of Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus, Alex Carrington, Alan Branch and Mark Anderson. The Bills will be counting on the linebackers to perform better than the unit did in 2012. That group featured Nigel Bradham, rookie Kiko Alonso, Jerry Hughes, Arthur Moats and Manny Lawson.
The big question mark is how the linebackers will perform in Pettine's defense. They should have the chance to make more plays at the line of scrimmage due to the talent of the defensive line and due to Pettine's aggressiveness and philosophies. Bradham, Alonso, Hughes and Lawson will have a big part in how much this defense improves in 2013.
The projection here is that Buffalo will improve from No. 22 to No. 12 in 2013. The improvement will be a direct result of having a defensive coordinator in Pettine who understands how to use his personnel properly. He will have Buffalo attacking often—something that Wannstedt appeared afraid to do.
No. 10: St. Louis Rams
2012 Overall Rank: No. 14
2012 Projected Rank: No. 27
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 15
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 15
2011 Overall Rank: No. 22
2010 Overall Rank: No. 19
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Quintin Mikell
2013 Draft Class: LB Alec Ogletree, S T.J. McDonald and CB Brandon McGee.
Departures: Quintin Mikell and Bradley Fletcher.
New Starters: Alec Ogletree and T.J. McDonald.
Kudos to Jeff Fisher for stepping in last year and turning around the performance of the St. Louis defense. The unit shot up from No. 22 to No. 14, and it wouldn't be a major surprise if it cracked the top 10 this year.
One of the reasons for the improved defensive play was the outstanding pass rush. The Rams had 52 sacks last year, which tied them with Denver for the No. 1 slot in that category. When you're getting that much pressure on the quarterback, it just makes life easier for everybody.
The Rams will probably start two rookies on the defensive unit this year, but the other nine starters are all returning from last year, which will be a positive for the team to build off of.
Interestingly enough, the Rams only had one defensive player who graded out as a top-10 performer by Pro Football Focus last year, and that was safety Quintin Mikell. So what did the Rams do to reward Mikell for his efforts? They released him!
St. Louis didn't sign anybody for the defense during free agency, as they focused more on trying to improve the offense.
Since so many of the starters are back, this unit has a good chance to finish in the top 10. If Ogletree has a solid rookie year, the team will have a good defense in 2013.
No. 9: Green Bay Packers
2012 Overall Rank: No. 11
2012 Projected Rank: No. 26
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 11
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 17
2011 Overall Rank: No. 32
2010 Overall Rank: No. 5
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, Brad Jones and Casey Hayward.
2013 Draft Class: DE Datone Jones, CB Micah Hyde, DT Josh Boyd, LB Nathan Palmer and LB Samuel Barrington.
Departures: Charles Woodson, Frank Zombo and Erik Walden.
New Starters: Datone Jones.
The Green Bay Packers defense is anything but steady. In just the last three years, the unit has gone from No. 5 overall to the worst in the NFL and then back to No. 11. Trying to predict where the Packers defense will finish in any given year might be the hardest challenge of any team in the league.
When you don't bring in any new players on defense (except for the draft), than you are assured on continuity from one year to the next—provided, of course, that you don't lose too many players to free agency, and that was the case this year for the Packers.
Green Bay had four players that finished the year in the top 10 for its positions via Pro Football Focus. Sam Shields wasn't in the top 10 overall, but he was No. 8 for pass coverage, which means that the pass defense should be good again in 2013. Shields, by the way, still hasn't signed his tender offer, but that is just a matter of time. The team would like to sign him to a long-term deal.
Rookie Datone Jones should help with the pass rush, as he looks to be a solid lineman.
The biggest loss will be Charles Woodson, as the leadership that he provided and the wisdom he shared with the younger members of the secondary will be hard to replace.
We like Green Bay to remain in that No. 9-11 range in 2013.
No. 8: Carolina Panthers
2012 Overall Rank: No. 10
2012 Projected Rank: No. 25
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 13
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 14
2011 Overall Rank: No. 28
2010 Overall Rank: No. 18
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
Additions: LB Chase Blackburn, S Mike Mitchell, CB Drayton Florence and CB D.J. Moore.
2013 Draft Class: DT Star Lotulelei, DT Kawann Short and LB A.J. Klein.
Departures: Jason Phillips, Kenny Onatolu, Nate Ness, Chris Gamble, Sherrod Martin, Antwan Applewhite, James Anderson, Ron Edwards and Andre Neblett.
New Starters: Star Lotulelei
The Panthers defense jumped up 18 spots last year in the rankings, thanks in part to the outstanding play of NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly. Carolina had four players that finished in the top 10 of their position rankings, according to Pro Football Focus. When you have that many players performing at a high level, it makes it easy to understand how Carolina cracked the top 10.
Even though Panthers fans were hoping the team would add more weapons for Cam Newton, the team opted to add more defense at the draft, taking defensive tackles with its first two picks. Ron Rivera is a defensive-minded head coach, but not developing the offense enough was one of the reasons that Lovie Smith was fired in Chicago.
The Panthers are returning the vast majority of their 2012 defense intact. The addition of Lotulelei will make the defensive line even better. The Panthers are projected to have a top-10 defense again in 2013, finishing at No. 8.
No. 7: Chicago Bears
2012 Overall Rank: No. 5
2012 Projected Rank: No. 13
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 8
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 8
2011 Overall Rank: No. 17
2010 Overall Rank: No. 9
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: Lance Briggs, Henry Melton, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
Additions: LB James Anderson, LB D.J. Williams, DE Turk McBride, NT Andre Fluellen, S Tom Zbikowski and DE Kyle Moore.
2013 Draft Class: LB Jonathan Bostic, LB Khaseem Greene and DE Cornelius Washington.
Departures: Brian Urlacher, Israel Idonije, D.J. Moore, Geno Hayes, Troy Nolan, Amobi Okoye, Matt Toeaina and Nick Roach.
New Starters: LB D.J. Williams and LB James Anderson.
The Brian Urlacher era has all but come to an end in Chicago. The Bears are moving on from their legendary middle linebacker and ex-head coach Lovie Smith. They will now be playing for new head coach Marc Trestman and new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
As we saw with the Carolina team slide, the Bears also had four players that finished in the top 10 in their position rankings last year, per Pro Football Focus. Like Carolina, the Bears also finished with a top-10 ranking last year (No. 5 overall).
It will be interesting in 2013 to see if the Bears are able to maintain their torrid pace from last year in creating turnovers and turning them into touchdowns. The 2012 Bears defense was unique in that it excelled at stripping the football. To what extent the new coaching staff will be able to keep that up remains to be seen.
The vast majority of the starters are back in 2013, so we expect the Bears defense to remain in the top 10 overall. The unit will miss Urlacher's leadership and ability to come up with big plays. We project the Bears to finish at No. 7 overall.
No. 6: Houston Texans
2012 Overall Rank: No. 7
2012 Projected Rank: No. 2
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 16
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 7
2011 Overall Rank: No. 2
2010 Overall Rank: No. 30
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: J.J. Watt and Antonio D. Smith.
Additions: S Ed Reed
2013 Draft Class: S D.J. Swearinger, DE Sam Montgomery, DE Trevardo Williams, DT Christopher Jones,
Departures: Glover Quin, Keyaron Fox, Jesse Nading, Alan Ball, Quintin Demps, Bradie James, Barrett Ruud, Shaun Cody, Stanford Routt and Connor Barwin.
New Starters: Ed Reed
Wade Phillips has done a great job with turning around the Houston defensive unit. Phillips took the unit from a No. 30 ranking to two consecutive top-10 finishes. The 2012 finish was particularly impressive due to losing key LB Brian Cushing to season-ending injury early in the year.
For the last few years, we have watched a steady stream of talent leave Houston. But very little, if any, has come in during free agency. Yet the Texans still continue to crank out a solid defense, and we expect this year to be more of the same.
With Cushing back and a fresh crop of new rookies to add some youth and energy to the defense, the Texans should continue to rank in the top-10 in 2013.
The big news in the offseason was that Houston was able to sign Ed Reed to a deal in free agency. Reed will make the secondary better with his experience and leadership. Where it will really show up is when Houston goes back to the playoffs. Reed will be worth his weight in gold then.
What will J.J. Watt do for an encore in 2013? You know that offensive linemen are studying what he did last year and will try to find ways to discourage him from batting down passes. Led by Watt, Houston had 44 sacks in 2012, which was tied for fifth-best in the league.
No. 5: Pittsburgh Steelers
2012 Overall Rank: No. 1
2012 Projected Rank: No. 5
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 1
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 2
2011 Overall Rank: No. 1
2010 Overall Rank: No. 2
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Clark.
Additions: CB William Gay.
2013 Draft Class: LB Jarvis Jones, S Shamarko Thomas, CB Terry Hawthorne, LB Vince Williams and DT Nicholas Williams.
Departures: James Harrison, Keenan Lewis, Brandon Johnson, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy and Casey Hampton.
New Starters: Jarvis Jones
What a model of consistency the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has become under coordinator Dick LeBeau. Finishing first or second overall for three straight years is a testament to LeBeau's ability to keep offenses off-balance with his defensive pressure and his ability to develop his personnel.
But in 2013, LeBeau does face some new challenges, as James Harrison has moved on to Cincinnati. The defense has been in the process of getting younger recently, so Pittsburgh may be missing some of those key veterans when it comes to leadership issues.
This year saw some key veterans depart that won't be a snap to replace. Any time you lose an NFL Defensive MVP of the Year player in Harrison, that is somebody you are truly going to miss.
LeBeau has a way of restocking the cupboard, and he will no doubt have another strong defense again in 2013. The unit may not be in the top three but it will more than likely be in the top 10 again. The defense will also need Jones to play like he did in college, making plays behind the line of scrimmage.
No. 4: Cincinnati Bengals
2012 Overall Rank: No. 6
2012 Projected Rank: No. 8
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 7
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 12
2011 Overall Rank: No. 7
2010 Overall Rank: No. 15
Pro Football Focus 2012 Top-10 Rankings: Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Reggie Nelson.
Additions: LB James Harrison
2013 Draft Class: DE Margus Hunt, S Shawn Williams and LB Sean Porter.
Departures: Manny Lawson, Thomas Howard, Chris Crocker, Jason Allen, Pat Sims, Nate Clements and Dan Skuta.
New Starters: James Harrison
The Cincinnati Bengals have almost the exact same defensive starters from the 2012 season, with the exception of James Harrison. That is outstanding continuity and is a big reason why the Bengals should once again have an outstanding defense.
Between Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defenders know what their role is. And with each year of playing together, they should continue to get better and play as an efficient unit. Zimmer has this unit on a steady rise towards the top, as it has climbed from No. 15, to No. 7 and then to No. 6 overall. While the AFC North division was known for great defenses, it appears that the Bengals are now taking over as the best defense in the division.
Based on the Bengals bringing back their 2012 starters, coupled with the addition of James Harrison, we project them rise into the top five of overall NFL defenses in 2013 at No. 4 overall.
No. 3: Denver Broncos
2012 Overall Rank: No. 2
2012 Projected Rank: No. 21
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 3
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 3
2011 Overall Rank: No. 20
2010 Overall Rank: No. 32
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Champ Bailey and Rahim Moore.
Additions: NT Terrence Knighton, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, LB Shaun Phillips and LB Stewart Bradley.
2013 Draft Class: DT Sylvester Williams, DE Quanterus Smith and CB Kayvon Webster.
Departures: Elvis Dumervil, Justin Bannan, Jim Leonhard, D.J. Williams, Jason Hunter, Ty Warren, Tracy Porter and Keith Brooking.
New Starters: Terrence Knighton, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Sylvester Williams.
We have to admit that we missed the boat badly on the Denver defense in 2012. We didn't see the unit breaking the top 10, but it made a meteoric rise from No. 32 to No. 2 in just two short years. That is a remarkable turnaround for any franchise.
The Broncos defense played so well during the year, only to come up short when it mattered the most. With four players finishing in the top 10 at the their positions, according to Pro Football Focus, it is a shame that Rahim Moore's solid year will be mostly remembered for one botched pass to Anquan Boldin.
As for 2013, the Broncos return the vast majority of their starters, but they will no doubt miss the productivity of Elvis Dumervil. They are hoping that Shaun Phillips will be able to replace most of what they lost in Dumervil.
The Broncos believe they drafted a starter on the defensive line in Sylvester Williams. They are also expecting another huge year from Von Miller to lead the way. Based on returning so many starters, and being equally strong against the run and the pass (were No. 3 in both categories in 2012), we will project Denver to be the No. 3 defense in 2013.
No. 2: San Francisco 49ers
2012 Overall Rank: No. 3
2012 Projected Rank: No. 1
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 4
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 4
2011 Overall Rank: No. 4
2010 Overall Rank: No. 13
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
Additions: DT Glenn Dorsey, LB Dan Skuta, S Craig Dahl and CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
2013 Draft Class: S Eric Reid, LB/DE Tank Carradine, DT Quinton Dial, LB Corey Lemonier, LB Nick Moody and CB Marcus Cooper.
Departures: Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans and Isaac Sopoaga.
New Starters: Eric Reid
Six different players from the 49ers' front seven were top-10 performers, according to Pro Football Focus. When you have that much talent playing in front of you, the secondary should excel, but nobody placed in the top 10.
San Francisco is returning its entire starting lineup, except for Dashon Goldson. If Eric Reid plays anywhere close to what he demonstrated in college, the unit shouldn't really miss a beat.
As far as the No. 1 defense in the NFL is concerned, I see this as coming down to either San Francisco or Seattle. Both NFC West teams have powerful defenses, but the Seahawks have added a major upgrade to their pass rush, which why I have them ahead of San Francisco. We picked San Francisco to be No. 1 last year, and it will be very strong again this year.
No. 1: Seattle Seahawks
2012 Overall Rank: No. 4
2012 Projected Rank: No. 6
2012 Pass Defense Rank: No. 6
2012 Rush Defense Rank: No. 10
2011 Overall Rank: No. 9
2010 Overall Rank: No. 27
Pro Football Focus 2013 Top-10 Rankings: Bobby Wagner and Richard Sherman.
Additions: DE Cliff Avril, DE Michael Bennett, DT Tony McDaniel and CB Antoine Winfield.
2013 Draft Class: DT Jordan Hill, DT Jesse Williams, CB Tharold Simon, LB Ty Powell and DT Jared Smith.
Departures: Alan Branch, Jason Jones, Leroy Hill, Marcus Trufant, Dexter Davis and Patrick Chukwurah.
New Starters: Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel.
To think that the Seattle defense was No. 27 just two short years ago. It made a meteoric rise to No. 9 back in 2011, jumped up five spots to No. 4 last year and now we have the unit entrenched as the best NFL defense for 2013.
How can we make that claim over San Francisco, Houston or Pittsburgh? The answer lies in the fact that this was already a top-five defense, but it then added two special talents in Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. The Seahawks' sack total should experience a jump this year as a result.
The pass defense was already stellar (No. 6 in the league last year), and when you consider that the quarterbacks will be under that much greater pressure and have less time to throw, the secondary could jump up even higher in 2013. Add in the signing of Antoine Winfield, whom Pro Football Focus graded out as the No. 1 corner in the NFL in 2012, and you have the makings for a top-tier defense.
Thanks for checking out the presentation. Follow me on Twitter: @DanVanWie