They say “defense wins championships” for a reason. A franchise can’t win a game based solely on their offense. Even on teams with a strong offense, chances are that defense will step up in crucial moments – potentially leading to a victory. With the NFL Draft a few months behind us, most teams have reconstructed their defensive units. Before the start of the season, let’s begin ranking the top 10 defenses since the 2020 NFL Draft.
Ranking the Top 10 Defenses Since the 2020 NFL Draft
10. Philadelphia Eagles
Their lack in secondary quality leaves the Philadelphia Eagles defensive front exposed. They still have one of the strongest defensive units in football, especially with their trade for Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay. Per Pro Football Focus, he ranks in the top three for most forced completions since 2017. Jalen Parks will be shifted to safety, with Will Parks for depth. Meanwhile Javon Hargrave has a pressure rating of 14.2 percent, third in the league last season. Fletcher Cox pairs with him in the middle; Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett will be imposing on the edge.
9. New Orleans Saints
Signing Malcolm Jenkins to fill the strong safety spot was an upgrade for the New Orleans Saints. He’ll make a consistent presence on the field and the locker room. The front seven is the strongest part of their defense with Demario Davis. He was PFF’s highest-graded linebacker in 2019. Cameron Jordan is expected to bounce back after injury last season. If he comes up with the same 15 sacks, it will be a big deal. Consistent pressure will come from David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport.
8. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears had a dominant year, leading in more than one defensive category. Their front seven is headed by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks. We can expect Hicks to be a more dominant force this season, after he missed most of the last. Robert Quinn will take some opponent focus off Mack, the veteran having the best pass-rushing win rate in 2019. Tashaun Gipson has the ability to limit big plays and had three interceptions in 2019. If the Bears had significant depth at defensive back, their defense could be ranked higher.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested deeply into their defensive line. They ranked fifth in DVOA last season. Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David and Devin White make an elite front seven, while Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea work it down the middle. Jason Pierre-Paul makes an imposing figure opposite Barrett. If he remains healthy, he’s expected to destroy opponents. In 2019, he had 8.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hits. Rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. will make an instinctive safety in the slot, with a real nose for tracking the ball.
6. Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos had a productive off-season. Their front seven underwent a significant upgrade when they acquired Jurrell Casey from the Tennessee Titans. He’s a run-stopper, racking up at least five sacks in each of the last seven seasons. Together with Shelby Harris, they form a threat in the middle. Bradley Chubb is expected to repeat his rookie 2018 year, coming off an ACL tear in 2019. Von Miller isn’t in his prime, but with 20 quarterback hits last season, opponents still consider him a threat. Justin Simmons is one of the best safeties in the league, and together with Kareem Jackson, their coverage can’t be sneezed at.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Per Football Outsiders, the Baltimore Ravens were fourth in DVOA last season. They made some smart moves acquiring Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell. Campbell tallied 10 tackles for loss in 2019, and Wolfe made seven sacks. Rookie Patrick Queen was NFL.com’s second-highest graded linebacker in the 2020 NFL Draft. With speed and athleticism, he blocks like someone with years of experience. Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey are the best cornerback duo in the NFL. Peters and Jimmy Smith will be valuable in the slot.
4 . Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills wasted no time adding depth to their defense, especially on the edge. They signed Mario Addison, who has had at least 12 quarterback hits in each of the last four seasons. They picked A.J. Epenesa in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He is incredibly versatile, playing outside and inside and recording at least 10.5 sacks in the final two years of his college career. Tre’Davious White and Levi Wallace will have the outside covered.
3. New England Patriots
Ranking first in defense last season, the New England Patriots led the NFL in interceptions (25) and were second in takeaways (36). Their most significant move was drafting Josh Uche, who is the quintessential edge-rusher. His lateral movement and agility in the pocket is impressive. Their secondary is a strong one, with veteran Devin McCourty and Kyle Dugger, who’ll bring in true athleticism. He has a knack for catching jump balls and can play nickel if need be. Stephon Gilmore is a top corner, with 20 breakups last season. Meanwhile, J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones can play in or out of the slot.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
Leading the NFL in takeaways last season (38), the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is close to being the best. Minkah Fitzpatrick had nine pass breakups in 14 games. He and Joe Haden headline the secondary. Haden had his best year in 2019. Additionally, Steven Nelson was a strong force, with opposing quarterbacks completing only 50 percent of their passes on him, and he didn’t allow a touchdown for the entirety of the season. Pittsburgh led the NFL in sacks last year (54) with T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree combining for 26. Cameron Heyward had nine sacks and is considered a top-three defensive tackle. Devin Bush racked up 109 tackles in his rookie year and is expected to do big things in 2020.
1. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers didn’t have to do much over the off-season. Rookie Javon Kinlaw is explosive and imposing. Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa dominate the line of scrimmage. The latter was Defensive Rookie of the Year, with 25 quarterback hits and 16 tackles for loss. Dee Ford is fluid on the inside and is the perfect accompaniment to Kinlaw’s explosive rushing. Fred Warner plays excellent coverage, making 118 tackles in 2019. A healthy Kwon Alexander will make a big impact while Dre Greenlaw adds more depth. Ranking second in DVOA last year, Bosa and Warner will likely shine this year, and the entire defense, if healthy, will be downright scary.