Power Ranking Every NFL Defense Post-DraftMay 3, 2018
Power Ranking Every NFL Defense Post-Draft
We hear the adage "defense wins championships" every year. It's used to remind people that touchdowns look great, but the 11 guys trying to ruin offensive highlights can tilt a game's balance when they're in lockstep.
How do we measure defenses?
It's important that a defensive play-caller makes the right decisions. Effective situational football matters. In addition, we're looking at whether a front line is susceptible to endless four- to five-yard runs up the middle and if the secondary can kill a drive with an interception.
Points allowed also holds tremendous weight. If a team surrenders scores in bunches, forget about a comeback.
Further down the list, it's fair to discuss yards given up and how coaching affects talent development. Great defensive minds can flip average personnel into a top-10 unit with a few tweaks.
With that in mind, we ranked each defense following the 2018 NFL draft.
No. 32 Indianapolis Colts
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 30
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 30
Sometimes, ball-control offense serves as the best defense. Hand it off to the running backs 30-40 times a game to keep a suspect unit off the field. It's a strategy the Indianapolis Colts should try to perfect.
In 2017, Jabaal Sheard led the team with 5.5 sacks, but for the pass rush to gain any respect, he'll have to improve on that number. Look out for end Denico Autry as an underrated D-line asset.
Rookies Darius Leonard, Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis will have early opportunities impact a front seven in need of playmakers, as it's a group in transition.
Indianapolis has a short list of established talents. Safety Malik Hooker doesn't have a recovery timetable from the torn ACL he suffered in October. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin tied the Ohio State product with a team-leading three interceptions last year, but he signed with the Oakland Raiders in March, so the secondary is bare.
Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has his work cut out for him in identifying playmakers.
No. 31 Miami Dolphins
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 29
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 16
The Miami Dolphins cut ties with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh during the offseason. His absence will leave a void in the middle of the defense, which will negatively affect run stopping and interior pocket pressure.
Defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Davon Godchaux have big roles to fill in the middle, and Cameron Wake must bring extra fervor to generate a consistent pass rush. The Dolphins need more from linebacker Stephone Anthony, and Raekwon McMillan will line up essentially as a rookie after missing his first year with a torn ACL.
Miami should feel good about drafting Minkah Fitzpatrick No. 11, though. The all-purpose defensive back should cover back-end holes, but it'll be tough for a rookie who'll be figuring out where he fits in an NFL defense. Safety Reshad Jones has been to two Pro Bowls and is capable of forcing turnovers.
Unlike the Colts, the Dolphins have a pass-rusher who's consistently logged double-digit sack totals in Wake. Robert Quinn and Andre Branch should contribute in that category as well.
Unfortunately, the linebacker corps looks shaky, and lead cornerback Xavien Howard must cut down the coverage penalties.
No. 30 San Francisco 49ers
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 25
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 24
The San Francisco 49ers have a boatload of front-seven talent, but they have to put it together to climb the rankings.
Defensive lineman Arik Armstead has struggled to stay on the field, as he's appeared in 30 contests since entering the league in 2015. Fellow Oregon product DeForest Buckner has shown flashes of talent, but he's still scratching the surface of his potential.
According to general manager John Lynch, San Francisco will attempt to use Solomon Thomas as a "Leo" linebacker on early downs, per the Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows.
The 49ers still have to figure out the appropriate alignment to unlock their pass rush, though the Thomas move could help. The team logged 30 sacks in the previous season. Eli Harold hasn't popped on the second level.
As linebacker Reuben Foster goes through legal proceedings stemming from a felonious domestic charge, his status with the team remains up in the air, per ESPN.com's Nick Wagoner. According to Barrows, the linebacker is scheduled for a May 8 hearing.
The secondary prevents this group from dropping lower. Assuming three-time All-Pro Richard Sherman returns at full strength after he ruptured his Achilles in 2017, the 49ers will have a solid trio at cornerback that includes K'Waun Williams and Ahkello Witherspoon. Add safety Jaquiski Tartt into the mix, and it's a dependable pass defense.
No. 29 Cleveland Browns
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 31
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 14
It's not widely discussed, but the Cleveland Browns fielded the No. 7 run defense in 2017. However, the front line lost defensive tackle Danny Shelton via trade to the New England Patriots, which leaves uncertainty in the unit.
The Browns still have Larry Ogunjobi in the middle, but the front seven won't have the same results without a solid duo stuffing ball-carriers before they reach the second level.
General manager John Dorsey selected cornerback Denzel Ward as the No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft. There's no doubt he'll see the field early, but the Browns have a new secondary on the whole. Defensive backs Damarious Randall, T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines join the ranks on the back end.
With the wholesale changes in pass defense, expect several bumps in the road. Pass-rusher Myles Garrett should increase his rookie sack total of seven, but how will defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah fare after surgery to repair a broken foot?
The Browns will need a ferocious pass rush to help their transitioning secondary.
No. 28 New York Jets
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 22
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 25
The New York Jets must spice up their pass rush. Linebacker Demario Davis led the team with five sacks but signed with the New Orleans Saints during the offseason.
A bigger pocket-pressure responsibility may fall on defensive end Leonard Williams, but 25-year-old linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin has to show something after missing the 2017 campaign with a back injury.
The Jets signed lead cornerback Trumaine Johnson and will field a pair of promising young safeties in Jamal Adams, 22, and Marcus Maye, 25. However, inconsistent or nonexistent pocket pressure will put the back end in a tough spot.
On a positive note, incoming linebacker Avery Williamson should boost the run defense. Nonetheless, a young unit without much penetration up front could spell disaster.
No. 27 Washington Redskins
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 27
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 21
Sure, the injury bug ran through the Washington Redskins in 2017, but every club deals with the same rigors. There's no excuse for fielding the league's worst run defense.
The Redskins addressed their atrocious front line with two defensive tackles in the 2018 draft. Alabama's Da'Ron Payne came off the board at pick No. 13. Virginia Tech's Tim Settle joined the team as a fifth-rounder.
The second level looks solid with Zach Brown and Mason Foster on the inside. Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith should match or surpass their combined 21-sack total from the previous year.
Losing cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland hurt the defensive rank, though. The former provided versatility as a contributor on the inside and outside. The latter held his own opposite cornerback Josh Norman, who isn't as effective when teams can avoid him.
No. 26 Detroit Lions
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 21
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 27
Bill Belichick disciple Matt Patricia is taking his first job as a head coach, and Paul Pasqualoni will serve as the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator.
Patricia hopes to see Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard mesh at linebacker. Christian Jones headed over from the Chicago Bears to complete the trio. The group is new but a small question mark compared to the secondary patchwork needed.
Cornerback Darius Slay broke out with eight interceptions and 26 pass breakups last season. He's a proven playmaker, but don't expect the number of takeaways to carry over. The 27-year-old picked off six total passes in his first four years in the league.
Patricia has to find out what he has in cornerback Teez Tabor, who's going into his second year. Nevin Lawson provides minimal impact at the position.
The Lions hope Anthony Zettel mirrors his 6.5-sack 2017 season. If not, the front office may want to focus on defensive ends in next year's draft. Ezekiel Ansah can't challenge an offensive line alone.
No. 25 Oakland Raiders
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 20
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 23
The Oakland Raiders defense has struggled the past few seasons. They haven't ranked higher than 20th in points or yards allowed since 2012. Head coach Jon Gruden, who's returning to the league for the first time since 2008, brought defensive coordinator Paul Guenther along to steer this unit.
For starters, he'll have 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin, who's logged 15 sacks since signing with Oakland two years ago. In the middle, Justin Ellis serves as a quality run-stopper. The front line is the strongest aspect of their defense.
Tahir Whitehead brings versatility at linebacker. In 2017, cornerback Rashaan Melvin put his best season on film with the Colts. He appeared in 10 games and at times shut down half of the field in pass defense. Beyond those positives, the Raiders have several question marks on the back end.
Oakland's top two 2017 draft picks, cornerback Gareon Conley and safety Obi Melifonwu, have played a combined 126 snaps. There's optimism about their careers, but they've yet to play extensively.
Karl Joseph, the Raiders' 2016 first-rounder, looks average. He may benefit from a move to deep safety. Next to him, Reggie Nelson went through a disastrous year in coverage. The pass defense is a unit in transition.
No. 24 New York Giants
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 27
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 31
There's a new staff in town, as head coach Pat Shurmur is taking the reins. Typically, it takes time to see progress after regime changes. The New York Giants also parted ways with key players. The front office traded defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's leader in sacks since 2010, to Tampa Bay. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie remains on the free-agent market as an offseason cut.
New York won't have to wait long to see improvement with this unit, though. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher's defenses didn't rank any lower than sixth in yards allowed through three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.
Unlike the Raiders, who have two potential key players who barely saw the field, the Giants have veterans with solid, consistent track records on all three levels.
Up front, Damon Harrison and Dalvin Tomlinson should have success stopping the run. Olivier Vernon has 44 career sacks. In 2016, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and safety Landon Collins both earned Pro Bowl honors. Collins made a return trip, but Jenkins saw significant regression.
Despite adding Alec Ogletree from the Rams, the linebacker unit needs development. We'll also see how cornerback Eli Apple responds to a disappointing sophomore season.
No. 23 Kansas City Chiefs
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 15
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 28
The Kansas City Chiefs dropped multiple experienced veterans for new faces during the offseason. The front office released linebacker Derrick Johnson and edge-rusher Tamba Hali, as neither was an impact asset any longer.
The Chiefs saw flashes of Dee Ford's pass-rushing talent during the 2016 season when he grabbed 10 sacks, but it was his only highly productive year. They signed Anthony Hitchens to pair with second-year pro Reggie Ragland at inside linebacker, who fared well in 10 starts last year.
In the secondary, someone must emerge as a safety complement to Eric Berry. Kendall Fuller, the new addition, is the best cornerback on the depth chart. David Amerson hopes to turn the clock back to 2016, when he logged two interceptions and 16 passes defensed in Oakland. He's been inconsistent in his five other seasons.
No. 22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 22
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 32
For some, it's difficult to overlook those low ranks above, but this Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense deserves a clean slate. The front office made power moves to improve the unit.
There's almost an entirely new defensive line to fawn over. Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry and rookie Vita Vea will join Gerald McCoy in the front four.
Curry should see more snaps as a consistent pass-rusher off the edge, which will likely increase his sack total. Pierre-Paul's 58.5 career sacks speak for themselves. At 347 pounds, Vea will start Week 1 as a quality run-defender.
The Buccaneers only have one question mark at linebacker due to Kendell Beckwith's car accident, in which he fractured his ankle, per ESPN.com's Jenna Laine.
The secondary drops the unit's ranking, though. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves hasn't shown much since the team drafted him in 2016. It'll have to lean on Brent Grimes, who's going into his age-35 season, and second-year safety Justin Evans to create turnovers on the back end.
Expect rookie cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart to see immediate time and strengthen the pass defense.
No. 21 Green Bay Packers
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 26
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 22
Similar to Tampa Bay, the Green Bay Packers made a concerted effort to improve the defense.
Mike Pettine joins the staff as coordinator. The front office signed Muhammad Wilkerson to bolster the pass rush. It also selected the second and fourth cornerbacks taken in this year's draft, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, who'll compete for significant snaps.
Assuming Wilkerson takes his one-year deal as a wake-up call to revert to his 2013-15 form, Green Bay should be a top-10 team in sacks—though it's not a given.
Aside from safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and 35-year-old cornerback in Tramon Williams, the Packers will lean on optimism for pass-defense improvement. As top-50 draft picks, Alexander and Jackson have the potential to revitalize Green Bay's cornerback group.
No. 20 Seattle Seahawks
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 13
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 11
There's a fluid situation in Seattle. In recent years, we've been accustomed to the Seahawks defense's ability to decide games with savvy play, takeaways and a heavy dose of attitude.
It's still unclear whether defensive end Cliff Avril or safety Kam Chancellor will return, though. Both suffered neck injuries in 2017.
The team traded defensive end Michael Bennett to Philadelphia, released Sherman and allowed interior defender Sheldon Richardson sign with Minnesota during the offseason. Don't count out the Seahawks, but the defenders filling those spots can't compare to those who left.
Cornerback Shaquill Griffin looked like a starting cornerback during his rookie season. Byron Maxwell and Justin Coleman will round out the position. Frank Clark emerged as an impact pass-rusher last year. K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner remain at linebacker.
However, we can expect the unit to take a step back if Avril and Chancellor walk away.
No. 19 Buffalo Bills
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 18
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 26
Head coach Sean McDermott reunited with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who played under him when he was a defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers prior to last season, and the familiarity could breed success.
In addition, Buffalo will field a secondary with three playmakers. Defensive backs Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde and Tre'Davious White accumulated a combined 14 interceptions in 2017. Several AFC East quarterbacks will find it difficult to throw against the Bills in their pair of meetings.
On the downside, rookie Tremaine Edmunds will have to turn his potential into production quickly to bolster a depleted linebacker unit. The Bills also expect defensive end Shaq Lawson to live up to his 2016 first-round draft tag.
Buffalo has a strong defensive backfield, but teams may gash the front seven once again. In the middle, defensive tackle Kyle Williams needs help stopping the run.
No. 18 Arizona Cardinals
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 19
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 6
Despite losing their coordinator, Bettcher, to the Giants, the Arizona Cardinals shouldn't fall far down the defensive ladder.
Patrick Peterson will continue to be one of the game's best cornerbacks. Chandler Jones is coming off a league-leading 17-sack campaign. Safety Budda Baker and linebacker Haason Reddick will improve in their second seasons.
After missing 12 games in 2017, Markus Golden will return from a torn ACL. He may play more defensive end in a new 4-3 scheme. Antoine Bethea, who snagged five interceptions in 2017, will lessen the blow of safety Tyrann Mathieu's loss.
The positives should keep the Cardinals competitive in a tough NFC West. However, the question mark opposite Peterson will pose issues.
Additionally, 2016 first-rounder Robert Nkemdiche has yet to leave his mark. If he becomes a consistent contributor in his third season, the Cardinals front seven will look more than decent.
For younger players, it may take time to adjust to the new defensive alignment. Still, it's a decent unit on paper.
No. 17 Los Angeles Chargers
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 3
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 15
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley oversaw one of the league's best pass defense last year. The Los Angeles Chargers ranked third in yards allowed through the air and only surrendered 17 passing touchdowns.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have emerged as a top pass-rushing duo. Cornerback Casey Hayward earned Pro Bowl honors in consecutive seasons. Florida State product Derwin James dropped to Los Angeles at No. 17 in the NFL draft.
The Chargers' stinginess through the air won't waver. Bradley will miss Tre Boston's takeaways, though. The safety logged five interceptions in 2017 but isn't expected back as a free agent.
Derwin has the tools to develop into an impact player, but does he have the coverage skills to create turnovers? The Chargers haven't done enough to address their 31st-ranked run defense, either, which explains this spot just outside the top half in the rankings.
No. 16 Cincinnati Bengals
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 16
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 18
Last year's defensive coordinator, Guenther, moved on to Oakland, but his talented former players won't fall apart without him. New coordinator Teryl Austin inherits four pass-rushers who can collectively take over a game. Within the front seven, Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Carl Lawson and Michael Johnson will hunt opposing quarterbacks.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a solid trio at cornerback, too, in William Jackson, Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard.
The league suspended linebacker Vontaze Burfict for four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Austin should focus on developing third-round linebacker Malik Jefferson to compensate for the veteran's short-term absence. Along the front, the Bengals have to tighten up against the run after ranking 30th in the category.
They have the assets to move higher in these rankings, but the switch at defensive coordinator creates uncertainties. Will Carl Lawson continue to blossom as a pass-rusher? And will the interior improve after an abysmal campaign? These are the questions Austin has to address.
No. 15 Denver Broncos
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 22
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 3
In 2017, the Denver Broncos struggled to come up with takeaways. They ranked 26th in the category with 17. As a result, the defense had to force more three-and-outs.
The Broncos traded cornerback Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams, which dealt a slight hit to the secondary. However, Bradley Roby won't have an issue taking over and producing as a consistent starter.
The team drafted Bradley Chubb with No. 5 overall pick. The North Carolina State product, Von Miller and Shane Ray, in a contract year, should host plenty of sack parties.
In the bigger picture, there's concern for the secondary in nickel packages. Su'a Cravens joined the unit as a hybrid linebacker-safety, but safety William Parks may become a prime target for opponents. Unlike those of most teams listed above, though, Denver's pass rush can mask lapses on the back end.
No. 14 Dallas Cowboys
2017 Points Allowed Rank: T-No. 13
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 8
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has done more in Dallas with less over the past few years.
The defense has lacked secondary talent, but cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie could change the trajectory in the upcoming season. Beyond the stat sheet, both played well in coverage as rookies last year and now boast experience. Byron Jones is moving to cornerback, and the Cowboys should have fewer issues in limiting passing offenses.
Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has the coverage skills to help in the middle of the field. He's also aggressive in pursuit. His addition will likely allow Jaylon Smith to move to the strong side to form a solid linebacker unit.
The Cowboys have a major void at safety. That won't prevent them from a playoff run, but filling the hole with a ball hawk could put them over the top.
No. 13 Houston Texans
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 32
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 20
Last year's ranks don't look good for the Houston Texans, though injuries erased what could've been for this unit. However, it's officially time to wonder if we'll ever see defensive end J.J. Watt perform on an All-Pro level again. He's suited up for eight contests over the past two seasons. In that span, the 29-year-old has had 1.5 sacks.
Still, the Texans have linebacker Jadeveon Clowney healthy and emerging as a game-wrecker. Whitney Mercilus accumulated 19.5 sacks between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The front office signed Mathieu and cornerback Aaron Colvin. It also selected the draft's best deep-cover safety, Justin Reid, to aid the secondary.
Questions about Watt's durability will linger, but the Texans have the playmakers to remind people of the 2016 team that ranked No. 1 in yards allowed. Cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph have to crank up their playmaking ability on the boundaries, though.
No. 12 New England Patriots
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 5
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 29
When the New England Patriots field a subpar defense, it's still typically a bend-not-break unit, as seen in the rankings above. Opposing teams will rack up yards but fall short of the end zone.
This year, their defense will start on a strong note thanks to their offseason moves. Despite cornerback Malcolm Butler's free-agent departure to Tennessee, the secondary welcomes Jason McCourty. He'll join his twin brother, Devin, on the back end. Shelton's acquisition addressed the 20th-ranked run defense.
Adrian Clayborn, who logged six sacks in one game against the Cowboys for the Falcons last year, will probably take snaps as a rotational pass-rusher. He won't produce another 9.5-sack season, but he'll add much-needed edge pressure.
Regardless of the alignment, New England doesn't have glaring defensive holes. However, the unit must generate more turnovers after notching just 18. Also, there's a lack of notable pass-rushers, but this isn't a team beholden to flashy names.
Interestingly, the Patriots will go with a defensive coordinator by committee, per Yahoo's Charles Robinson (h/t Boston.com's Nicole Yang).
"I think everybody on the defensive staff will take on additional responsibilities," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said. "Matt [Patricia] did a lot for us, obviously. He did a great job. Those will be shared among multiple people on the defensive staff."
We'll see how this approach impacts the group on game day.
No. 11 New Orleans Saints
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 10
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 17
The New Orleans Saints made an aggressive draft-day trade to acquire pass-rusher Marcus Davenport at No. 14 overall. Expect the University of Texas at San Antonio product to see the field and assist Cameron Jordan in rushing off the edge. He'll add to the team's impressive 42-sack total.
The secondary features Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore at cornerback. Patrick Robinson is coming off one of his best years (four interceptions, 18 pass breakups with the Philadelphia Eagles). Despite a divisional-round gaffe against the Minnesota Vikings, safety Marcus Williams flashed ball skills as a rookie.
New Orleans should find ways to pressure teams up front with Jordan, Davenport and Sheldon Rankins. The defensive backs will generate takeaways on the back end.
Two questions pose potential flaws for the Saints: Can the interior defenders increase their push at the line of scrimmage to stop the run? The group ranked 16th last year. Also: Will the linebackers alongside newcomer Demario Davis stay healthy enough to maintain solid second-level play?
No. 10 Pittsburgh Steelers
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 7
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 5
It's worth noting the Pittsburgh Steelers finished No. 1 in sacks in 2017 (56) and had top-10 finishes in yards and points allowed.
Pressure came from everywhere. Cornerback Mike Hilton chipped in with four sacks. Vince Williams put forth his best season, taking down the quarterback eight times, which ranked second on the team behind Cameron Heyward's 12.
On the defensive line, Stephon Tuitt, Heyward and Javon Hargrave will maintain the resistance against the run. The Steelers ranked No. 10 in that category in 2017.
The unit will miss Ryan Shazier's coverage ability at linebacker after his horrific spinal injury last year. Nonetheless, the Steelers front seven should help mask the question marks in pass defense.
Pittsburgh's secondary will look different. The team released defensive backs Mike Mitchell, William Gay and Robert Golden. Joe Haden will attempt to bounce back from a down season, though he may never be the same player he was at his peak with the Browns. Rookie safety Terrell Edmunds has a chance to win a starting job and provide deep coverage on the back end.
No. 9 Chicago Bears
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 9
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 10
We're now among defenses that have slight concerns rather than glaring weaknesses.
The Chicago Bears finished in the top 10 in points and yards allowed during the 2017 season. Head coach Matt Nagy re-signed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, which bodes well for the on-field personnel.
The front office drafted linebacker Roquan Smith with the No. 8 pick. He'll join Danny Trevathan to form a solid pair in the middle of a hard-nosed defense.
Cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara return alongside safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson. It's a solid secondary, but the Bears need to force more turnovers to climb the rankings. They logged 22 last year, which was good for No. 13 overall. There's also a question about pocket pressure.
Leonard Floyd has the potential to reach double-digit sacks, but he must avoid injuries to accomplish the feat. The Bears added Aaron Lynch to the edge. He logged six sacks in his rookie campaign under Fangio in 2014 for San Francisco. If he returns to that form, Chicago will have compensation for losing Pernell McPhee (who signed with Washington) and Lamarr Houston off the edge.
No. 8 Baltimore Ravens
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 6
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 12
The Baltimore Ravens defense has aging assets in the back seven, but the experience paid off last year. The unit finished with the most interceptions (22) and takeaways (34).
In his age-35 season, edge-rusher Terrell Suggs led the team in sacks with 11. Linebacker Matt Judon added eight to the squad's overall count of 41.
It's a good sign Judon emerged to push the pocket along with the Suggs. However, an injury to either player would significantly hurt this unit.
Also, it's a question whether the defensive backs can maintain the high level of takeaways. Eric Weddle and Brandon Carr combined for 10 interceptions in 2017. Marlon Humphrey should progress at cornerback, but turnovers can fluctuate wildly on happenstance.
The Ravens have a strong defensive line and pounce on opportunities on the back end. Furthermore, Baltimore's playmakers have shown consistency in previous years. There's just a slight concern about depth on the second level.
No. 7 Carolina Panthers
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 11
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 7
The Carolina Panthers added a premier run-stopper in defensive tackle Dontari Poe. He'll fit as a high-quality complementary piece alongside pass-rushers Kawann Short, Mario Addison and Julius Peppers on the front. The quartet should be one of the league's fiercest groups.
Despite Thomas Davis' four-game suspension over a performance-enhancing drug violation, the linebacker unit will look to four-time All-Pro Luke Kuechly as the centerpiece. Expect the front seven to clamp down on ground attacks.
The Panthers came into the offseason with question marks in the secondary. The front office had to replace cornerback Daryl Worley and fill a void at safety. General manager Marty Hurney addressed both issues in the draft.
Cornerback Donte Jackson has a smooth backpedal and ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. He has the tools to cover wideouts who rely on double moves to gain separation. Third-rounder Rashaan Gaulden has an opportunity to earn a starting job next to safety Mike Adams.
Until the rookies show starting-caliber potential, there's a slight concern, but the production up front will help the secondary.
No. 6 Atlanta Falcons
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 8
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 9
The Atlanta Falcons have more certainty across the roster than the Panthers, which puts them one spot higher in the rankings despite Poe's departure to the NFC South rival.
Look for rookie third-rounder Deadrin Senat to push Jack Crawford for a spot on the defensive line. If the seventh-year veteran stays healthy, he can rotate in on passing downs.
The Falcons lost Clayborn, who dominated the Cowboys to inflate his sack count. Nonetheless, his 9.5 quarterback takedowns look like an aberration.
Takkarist McKinley will take on a larger role in the upcoming season. Based on his six sacks in a rotational role as a 2017 rookie, he's ready for the added workload.
Atlanta also retains a pass defense that should creep into the top 10 in fewest yards allowed with second-round cornerback Isaiah Oliver potentially pushing for a spot in nickel packages. The defensive backs need to produce more turnovers to put this unit in the top five. The Falcons only recorded eight interceptions in 2017.
No. 5 Philadelphia Eagles
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 4
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 4
The Philadelphia Eagles allowed Patrick Robinson to walk, but the roster has layers of cornerback depth. Sidney Jones will play a full season after missing significant time with a torn Achilles. Fellow second-year pro Rasul Douglas played nearly 41 percent of the team's defensive snaps and fared well as a rookie. The front office also selected fourth-rounder Avonte Maddox, who projects into the slot position.
Regardless of cornerback Jalen Mills' development, Philadelphia has ample talent to cover for lapses. Despite Robinson's absence, expect defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to get more out of the young secondary talent.
Similar to the Steelers at No. 10, the Eagles have several players who can collapse the pocket. The club accumulated 38 sacks last year, but the number should increase in 2018.
Newcomer Michael Bennett was indicted on felony charges for allegedly injuring a 66-year-old paraplegic at NRG Stadium, the site of Super Bowl LI, in February 2017.
Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox and Chris Long should maintain high pressure near the pocket. The front seven returns intact with a shot at ranking No. 1 against the run again.
Philadelphia has loaded the defense with tremendous depth. It's built to withstand injuries, which pushes this group to No. 5.
No. 4 Tennessee Titans
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 17
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 13
The Tennessee Titans hired Mike Vrabel—who started as Ohio State's linebackers coach and served as a defensive coordinator for a season with the Texans—as head coach. And the front office stacked his group with playmakers. Despite the change in the coaching ranks, this unit should flourish.
The Titans lost linebacker Avery Williamson to the Jets but added Alabama product Rashaan Evans in the first round of this year's draft to fill the void. Nose tackle Bennie Logan joins a strong front that ranked No. 4 against the run last year. Second-rounder Harold Landry will provide depth behind pass-rushers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo.
Malcolm Butler will immediately elevate the secondary. He'll join former Patriots teammate Logan Ryan and second-year man Adoree' Jackson. Safety Kevin Byard emerged as the ultimate ball-hawking playmaker in his second season with eight interceptions. Fifth-rounder Dane Cruikshank joins the group as a potential alternative to Johnathan Cyprien at safety.
Tennessee should flip last year's weak secondary (No. 25) into a strength. The expected growth and Butler's big-game experience elevates the unit.
Similar to the Eagles at No. 5, the Titans have depth at multiple positions. The veteran additions give this defense an edge in rank.
No. 3 Los Angeles Rams
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 12
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 19
There's a certain buzz around the Los Angeles Rams. Sure, they dramatically improved under head coach Sean McVay to make a playoff appearance, but the offseason additions have brought extra attention.
Cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Talib add swagger to the secondary. Suh will pair with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald on the front line. Those four big-name playmakers will push this defense into the top 10 in critical categories.
Safety John Johnson and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman might seem like afterthoughts, but both defensive backs had solid years. They combined for three interceptions and 20 pass breakups in 2017.
The stars should push this unit to new levels. The Rams have the front and back ends of the defense covered with playmakers, which will minimize the question marks in the second level.
Situationally, they have the players to close out games with a sack or takeaways like few other teams. That's why they're sitting at No. 3.
No. 2 Jacksonville Jaguars
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 2
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 2
With the exception of Paul Posluszny, who retired, and cornerback Aaron Colvin, the Jacksonville Jaguars retained one of the strongest defensive units in the league.
Jacksonville then added to it by drafting defensive tackle Taven Bryan in the first round and safety Ronnie Harrison in the third. The former possesses upside as someone who can bear down on the pocket with quickness. The latter doesn't have top-notch foot speed but makes plays with great awareness in the secondary. He can also lay a heavy hit to set the tone on the back end.
The Jaguars defense has the talent to win contests when the offense sputters, as seen last year. The sweeping confidence on all three levels put the league on notice as Jacksonville advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
The linebacker corps will miss Posluszny. Colvin's absence won't come close to devastating the secondary. The growth after one strong year together strengthens this unit, which includes corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye.
Unlike the Rams at No. 3, the Jaguars not only look good on paper, but they've also proved their ranking on the field. Now, it's time to establish consistency.
No. 1 Minnesota Vikings
2017 Points Allowed Rank: No. 1
2017 Yards Allowed Rank: No. 1
Don't kid yourselves. The Minnesota Vikings stand at the top of the defensive mountain. The front office, head coach Mike Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards have built a powerhouse unit.
The Vikings have ranked in the top six in fewest points allowed for three consecutive seasons, which shows consistency in a critical area. In a passing league, Minnesota allowed just 13 touchdowns through the air in 2017.
It's no surprise its suffocating defense finished No. 1 in yards and points allowed. The secondary has several playmakers at safety and cornerback. Harrison Smith led the team with five interceptions. Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Terence Newman and Mackensie Alexander limited receivers in coverage.
Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter combined for 20 sacks in 2017. Both have had a double-digit sack season in the past two campaigns. Strangely, neither has reached the level of a household name—but that should change within the upcoming year.
On the top of all the production, the Vikings added Sheldon Richardson to the defensive line and first-rounder Mike Hughes to the secondary. The No. 1 defense acquired a proven veteran who can play the run and rush the passer along with a cornerback who may have started on more than half the teams in the league.
The Vikings have the consistency, playmakers, depth and coaching staff in place to keep this unit at the top of its game. Minnesota rightfully holds the No. 1 spot.