The NFL has implemented plenty of rule changes in recent years to increase scoring and boost offenses. Despite the changes, it’s a defense that helps determine the Super Bowl champion each year.
We saw it this past season in Super Bowl LIV. The San Francisco 49ers defense carried them to an NFC title, but it was the Kansas City Chiefs defense that came through in the fourth quarter to help complete the Super Bowl comeback.
The teams with the best defenses in the NFL give their organization a chance to compete for a championship. So, let’s take a look at the best defenses in the NFL entering the 2020 season.
16. Tennessee Titans
Not enough is being made about how good Tennessee’s defense is going to be under head coach Mike Vrabel in 2020. This unit yielded the 12th-fewest points in the NFL last season and just added three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney to the mix.
More than that, the young talent on this unit should show out come Week 1. Harold Landry had a breakout sophomore campaign with eight sacks. Last year’s first-round pick, defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, is at 100% after missing seven games as a rookie. Add in veterans Malcolm Butler and Kevin Byard in the secondary, and there’s no reason to believe Tennessee’s defense won’t take the next step in 2020.
15. Dallas Cowboys
Holdovers Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were already enough to make this Cowboys defense formidable heading into the 2020 season. After all, Dallas still found a way to rank in the top-11 in scoring defense last season.
With that said, the addition of Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen and stud defensive tackle Dontari Poe changes the dynamics here. Griffen will team up with Lawrence as one of the top edge pass-rush duos in the NFL. If Dallas can get anything from free-agent signing Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory stays on the field, this unit could surprise when it’s all said and done.
14. Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia made two key additions to its defense this offseason, which should help a group that struggled in 2019. Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay gives the Eagles a No. 1 cornerback who can quiet No. 1 receivers and give the front seven more time to hit the quarterback.
Signing Javon Hargrave was a sneaky offseason addition, strengthening a defensive line that already had Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. We also can’t forget the acquisition of Nickell Robey-Coleman, a reliable slot corner to boost the secondary. The Eagles will be better this season and their defense will be a big part of that.
13. Green Bay Packers
There’s no denying Green Bay’s defense was demolished by the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. The front office failed to address the issue during the offseason, but that final game shouldn’t take away the overall impression for how this defense performed in 2019.
The duo of Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith combined for 60 quarterback hits and 25.5 sacks last season. Meanwhile, 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary is poised for a bigger year and nose tackle Kenny Clark is an unstoppable interior force. In the secondary, Jaire Alexander has the talent to be an All-Pro cornerback, Kevin King is a solid No. 2 corner and Darnell Savage should improve in his second season. This is a talented, young group that will be fun to watch.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Rounding out our top 10, the expectation is that Minnesota’s defense will continue being a force after finishing in the top-five last season. The blockbuster trade for Yannick Ngakoue changes the entire dynamic here. He’s an upgrade over Everson Griffen and should help provide one of the game’s best pass rushes with holdover Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter.
At linebacker, both Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have shown themselves to be elite. The only question here is at corner in front of the elite safety tandem of Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris. Minnesota moved on from Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander during the offseason. Can youngsters Holton Hill, Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney and Kris Boyd step up?
11. Denver Broncos
Denver’s defense failed to play to its normal standard during the 2019 season. It was particularly surprising given Vic Fangio is one of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds and this team carries plenty of talent on that side of the ball. We’re expecting a turnaround in 2020.
The Broncos took advantage of Tennessee’s cap situation, acquiring Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey for a seventh-round pick. Denver also landed A.J. Bouye, who should flourish in the new surroundings. Add in star safety Justin Simmons, future Hall of Famer Von Miller and emerging edge rusher Bradley Chubb, too. If the Broncos make the playoffs this season, a resurgent defense will be the driving force behind it.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Everyone wants to talk about the Buccaneers’ offense and it’s understandable with the All-Pro supporting cast of weapons surrounding Tom Brady and a loaded backfield. However, Tampa Bay’s defense is being slept on and might be one of the most underrated units in the NFL.
A young secondary really came together in the second half of the 2019 season. As detailed by Pro Football Focus, Tampa Bay’s secondary posted the third-highest coverage grade (88.1) and forced the most incompletions (44) from Weeks 10-17 last season. The Buccaneers just added Antoine Winfield Jr. to their secondary and have an outstanding defensive line. Credit to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles for turning this unit around into a real force.
9. Seattle Seahawks
The addition of All-Pro safety Jamal Adams changes the entire dynamics in Seattle. Here’s a unit that surprisingly gave up the 11th-most points in the NFL last season. Adams will be just as much of a force stopping the run as playing coverage.
He’s joined by fellow recent acquisition Quinton Dunbar and a Pro Bowl-caliber corner in that of Shaquill Griffin in building one of the best secondaries in the NFL. While Seattle will have issues getting to the quarterback, it’s pass defense is among the best in the game. Period.
8. Chicago Bears
There’s no question Chicago boasts one of the league’s top defenses, a group capable of potentially winning the Super Bowl. Even after losing defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, one of many NFL players who opted out this season, this is a defense that can dominate on Sundays.
Expect Chicago’s front seven to cause a lot of problems for opposing quarterbacks. Khalil Mack is a yearly candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, Robert Quinn can be a force off the edge and Akiem Hick will be healthy this season. On top of that, the Bears boast a secondary with Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson. It might not be the elite defensive unit we saw in 2018, but this remains one of the NFL’s best defenses.
7. New England Patriots
Bill Belichick’s defense this past season was beyond insane. It allowed the fewest points (225), first downs (261) and total yards (4,414) in the NFL. Frankly, this defense played at a Super Bowl-caliber level and its the offense that kept it from reaching the top. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to see the Patriots replicate that defensive success in 2020.
The losses of Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton will hurt the front seven. The likes of starters Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns. New England will struggle to create as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and its linebacker corps takes a significant hit. Even with those losses, though, the secondary will shut down plenty of passing attacks. Stephon Gilmore will be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate once more and the NFL’s deepest secondary keeps this unit as an elite defense.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers went into the offseason knowing they would rely on their defense to win. An offense with Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert at quarterback will need a defense capable of generating turnovers and shutting down the passing game.
We don’t expect that to be an issue for Los Angeles. This is the best secondary in the NFL with shutdown corner Casey Hayward and All-Pro defensive backs Chris Harris Jr. Even with the serious injury to Derwin James, these Chargers still have Desmond King in the back end. It will be difficult for opposing receivers to get open. Now add in the recently extended Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram creating havoc off the edge and Linval Joseph collapsing the pocket inside, it’s a nightmare for quarterbacks. If rookie Kenneth Murray lives up to his first-round billing, this could even become a top-three defense this year.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh’s defense nearly carried it to the playoffs in 2019 despite the team playing most of the season with a No. 3 quarterback and an inconsistent rushing attack. There’s plenty of credit to go around for this unit’s emergence, but Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt are the crucial ingredients to this group’s dominance.
Watt is a monster off the edge, racking up an absurd 36 quarterback hits, 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles in 2019. Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick is the playmaker capable of incredible pick-sixes and the trade to acquire him will go down as one of the best moves in this team’s recent history. Don’t look past the likes of Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, who help make one of the NFL’s best defensive lines. If Devin Bush takes the next step, this defense gets even scarier.
4. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans finished last season ranked 13th in points allowed. It was a disappointing performance under defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. Most had this unit pegged as a top-10 bunch heading into the season. There’s a reason for this. We’re talking about talent on top of talent.
Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan remains one of the most-underrated players in the game. He’s joined by a high-upside edge rusher in Marcus Davenport, who needs to trun in a completely healthy 2020 season to live up to his billing as a first-round pick. Meanwhile, this secondary is loaded. It’s led by stud corner Marshon Lattimore and just added veteran Malcolm Jenkins to the mix. Expect New Orleans defense to take a major step forward this season.
3. Buffalo Bills
Tre’Davious White is quickly emerging as one of the league’s elite cornerbacks. He’s also now being paid like it. Behind him, the outstanding safety duo of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer will help cover for any of Josh Norman’s mistakes and take away the run. In the front seven, Buffalo added defensive end Mario Addison and edge rusher A.J. Epenesa, making this defense even stronger.
We’re particularly excited about Ed Oliver. While he didn’t always play like a top-10 pick in 2019, the pure talent and athleticism are off the charts. If he takes a big step forward this year, he will likely make the Pro Bowl and this defense gets even better. Buffalo’s defense will carry it to an AFC East crown in 2020, the rest will be up to Josh Allen and this offense.
2. Baltimore Ravens
We already loved Baltimore’s defense before the offseason. A big move to land Marcus Peters as the secondary started shutting down air space all year long. It turns out, that wasn’t enough for general manager Eric DeCosta.
The Ravens made two huge additions this past offseason with Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe. Instantly, a productive pass-rush unit turned into a ferocious defensive line. Oh, they also drafted Patrick Queen to address their remaining need at linebacker. From the defensive line to the secondary, Baltimore’s defense is loaded. Even after releasing Earl Thomas, this unit still makes Baltimore a legit Super Bowl contender.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Yes, trading away All-Pro DeForest Buckner is a hit for this defense. If we’ve learned anything from the 49ers, they know how to identify and develop talent. Javon Kinlaw can develop into a star and this defense already has the force that is Nick Bosa.
We’ll also need to keep an eye on Kwon Alexander and Dee Ford’s health this season. If they can stay on the field, this group will keep playing at an elite level. Even if the front seven isn’t as dominant, Richard Sherman will shut down No. 1 receivers. When it’s all over, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh will use this defense’s dominance to prove he is ready to become a head coach.
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Author: Matt Johnson