Who has the best NFL defense in 2022? Our weekly NFL defense rankings are back after a wild offseason that saw plenty of moves shake up where many of the best defenses in football stand heading into the 2022 season.
Teams like the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens made huge additions in an effort to put together some of the best NFL defenses this season. On the other end of the spectrum, there are concerns about regression for the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.
Bookmark this page throughout the 2022 NFL season for weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams.
NFL defense rankings – Best NFL defenses in 2022
Stats courtest Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus and ESPN
Just Missed: Seattle Seahawks, Washington Commanders, Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals
20. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the best defenses in the NFL for years. Even in 2021, this was a 10 defense in our NFL rankings early. We’re no longer sold on this unit. T.J. Watt is still arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL and Cameron Heyward might be one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. There’s just no way to feel confident about a team with below-average off-ball linebackers (Myles Jack, Devin Bush) and who will be relying on Levi Wallace on the outside. This is a fall from grace in our NFL defense rankings.
Related: Pittsburgh Steelers schedule 2022
19. New England Patriots
Look at the final games against the Buffalo Bills, allowing 622 passing yards and 8 touchdowns to Josh Allen. What did the New England Patriots do this offseason? Let top cornerback J.C. Jackson walk, replacing him with 32-year-old Malcolm Butler after a year away from football. Even if Josh Uche steps up as a pass rusher, there isn’t a cornerback here outside of nickel Jonathan Jones who can be trusted.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (Previously: 16)
The Las Vegas Raiders edge-rushing combo of Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby will create all kinds of chaos this year. Putting them together and hiring defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, those are ingredients for success. However, the secondary still feels like an alarming weak spot in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Russell Wilson. When Las Vegas faces a quick-thinking quarterback or a great offensive line, it will run into trouble.
We’ll acknowledge there is room for Las Vegas to move up the NFL defense rankings. Anthony Averett is generating plenty of buzz this summer and he will receive the opportunity he always wanted. There’s also a belief that if he’s playing with more confidence, Rock Ya-Sin can become a high-end boundary cornerback. We must see it to believe it, but it’s something that will be monitored.
17. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings cornerbacks will greatly shape where this team lands in our NFL defense rankings throughout the year. At safety, the team is set with Harison Smith and rookie Lewis Cine. Closer to the box, Minnesota can overwhelm teams with Danielle Hunter, Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips. We just have to see if Patrick Peterson and Andrew Booth Jr. are turnstiles in coverage or consistent enough to make this a top-12 defense.
Related: Minnesota Vikings schedule
16. Carolina Panthers (Previously: 18)
As the 2022 NFL season draws closer, we gain more confidence in the Carolina Panthers defense. Consider that this group allowed the third-lowest yards per play (5.1) this past season, ranked ninth in third-down conversion rate allowed (37.8%) and it generated the seventh-highest pressure rate (26.1%).
It’s because there is an incredible amount of talent on the roster. Brian Burns is capable of being an All-Pro candidate, Matt Ioannidis is going to create disruption on the interior and there’s still hope for Yetur Gross-Matos putting it all together. Combine that with a secondary featuring Xavier Woods, Jeremy Chinn and a deep pool of cornerbacks (Jaycee Horn, C.J. Henderson, Donte Jackson). It all makes for a team that could approach the top-12 in our NFL defense rankings.
15. Indianapolis Colts (Previously: 13)
There is definitely a hesitation with putting the Indianapolis Colts higher than this. Losing defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is a significant hit, raising wonder about how this group will perform. With that said, there is even more talent than before. Stephon Gilmore is a reliable No. 1 cornerback and he’s going to get help from a pass rush that now features Yannick Ngakoue, DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo.
Related: Indianapolis Colts schedule
Unfortunately, there has to be a dip in the NFL defense rankings for Indianapolis because of the Shaquille Leonard injury. There is no timetable for his return and the All-Pro linebacker is going to miss multiple games in the regular season. That’s a massive blow for this run defense and it will erase turnovers. Combine that with our concerns regarding Gus Bradley – a passive defensive play-caller who won’t blitz enough – Indianapolis barely cracks the top 15.
14. Dallas Cowboys (Previously: 15)
This is a massive dip for the Dallas Cowboys in our preseason NFL defense rankings. Trevon Diggs is back, Micah Parsons enters his second season and a full season from DeMarcus Lawrence could be huge. However, there’s a big reason to expect regression.
|Team||Year by Year INTs||Differential|
|Chicago Bears (2018-’19)||27 – 10||-17|
|Miami Dolphins (2018-’19)||21 – 13||-8|
|New England Patriots (2019-’20)||25 – 18||-7|
|Miami Dolphins (2020-’21)||18 – 14||-4|
Take a look back at the defenses that led the NFL in interceptions over the past few years, there is a notable year-to-year dip for many of the leaders. It’s also worth remembering Dallas ranked 20th in the red-zone touchdown rate allowed (61.7%). Regression in the number of takeaways and more scoring drives allowed, all reasonable for pass rush that lost Randy Gregory, means this unit takes a step back.
13. Cleveland Browns (Previously: 14)
Investments made in the Cleveland Browns defense provided some rewards. The unit allowed the second-lowest yards per play (5.0) and the Myles Garrett-Jadeveon Clowney duo dominated. However, Cleveland surrendered the sixth-worst conversion rate (66.7%) inside the red zone. With Clowney re-signed to a new deal, the dangerous pass-rushing duo returns and this front seven is deeper than the 2021 season. If the mental mistakes of some coaching blunders get fixed, the ceiling is even higher.
12. Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins defense finished with third-highest pressure rate (28.5%) and the seventh-lowest QB rating allowed (85.4) during the regular season. While Brian Flores is gone, a majority of the defensive coaching staff returns and every impact starter is back.
One player who deserves a spotlight is safety Jevon Holland. Even as a rookie, he showed the qualities of being an elite center fielder. Playing a position that is all about experience and recognition, he should take another step forward in 2022. If he does and edge rusher Jaelan Phillips is more destructive off the edge, there’s a strong chance this unit ranks among the 10 best NFL defenses this season.
11. Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans defense came alive late in 2021. After allowing 366.5 total ypg and a 39.1% third-down conversion rate in the first 10 games, opponents averaged 277.4 total ypg and a 32.9% third-down conversion rate in the final seven games against Tennessee. Plenty of credit goes to Harold Landry III (64 pressures, 14 sacks), Jeffery Simmons (62 pressures) and Denico Autry (61 pressures). If the Titans get the best version of cornerback Caleb Farley, they can grab a top-10 spot in weekly NFL defense rankings.
Related: Tennessee Titans schedule
Top 10 defenses in NFL right now
10. Denver Broncos
We put the Denver Broncos near the top of our defense rankings before the 2021 season. At the end of the year, this unit couldn’t even crack the top 12. Taking a bit more of a conservative approach with the optimism in Denver, this can still be a very good aspect that pushes the Broncos into the playoffs.
Denver injected some juice into its pass rush this offseason, signing Randy Gregory and drafting Nik Bonitto. The rotation of Gregory, Bonitto and Bradley Chubb should make this a more effective front seven at creating pressure.
Of course, Patrick Surtain Jr. is the jewel of Denver’s defense. He flashed shutdown ability in his rookie season, holding quarterbacks to a 61.3 passer rating and a 51% completion rate when they targeted him. The Broncos should also be improved with nickelback K’Waun Williams helping Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons operate with more freedom in 2022.
9. Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams made Aaron Donald the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history for a reason. Outside of Lawrence Taylor, this is arguably the best defensive player football has ever seen. He won the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LVI. Incredibly, he’s not the lone future Hall of Famer on the field with Jalen Ramsey and Bobby Wagner joining him.
Related: Los Angeles Rams schedule 2022
Elite talent aside, this does represent a fall for the Rams compared to their ranking after the Super Bowl. It’s because No. 2 cornerback Darious Williams is gone, thrusting Davis Long Jr. (92.7 QB rating allowed) into a featured role. Another thing to keep in mind, Los Angeles allowed a 95-plus passer rating in seven games last year, so a dip in effectiveness against the pass could easily yield worse results.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Is an elite secondary or a great pass rush more important? We’ll find out and the answer will have plenty of sway on our NFL defense rankings. The Baltimore Ravens’ secondary is outrageous. It’s about more than playmaking cornerback Marcus Peters and All-Pro talent Marlon Humphrey returning. Baltimore also injected Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams into the mix as their new safeties.
Fans should see a transformational improvement against the pass. After getting carved up in the final 11 games, allowing a 22-5 TD-INT ratio, 8.2 ypa and 103.0 QB rating, this could be one of the best pass defenses in the NFL. It all comes down to the pass rush.
Will edge rusher Odafe Oweh take the next step? Can the front of Michael Pierce and Calais Campbell turn back the clock, playing at the high level we’ve seen from them in previous seasons? If the answer is yes, Baltimore will be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022. If not, a great secondary won’t be enough.
Re-signing Justin Houston will help. While the veteran didn’t rack up a ton of sacks (4.5) last season, he applied consistent pressure in a situational role. Baltimore still needs someone to have a breakout season on the defensive line, but it will at least have more depth at an area with some concern.
7. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles defense is in a great position to improve dramatically this fall. A group that ranked 31st in sack rate (4.7%), 22nd in pressure rate (24%) and allowed the second-highest completion rate (69.4%) gained reinforcements this spring.
No. 1 cornerback Darius Slay (74.4 QB rating allowed in coverage) is no longer alone. James Bradberry is the ideal No.2 boundary defensive back, capable of matching up against top receivers and bringing the physical style of play that matches with Slay. It keeps Avonte Maddox in the slot, a better spot for him.
The biggest additions can be found closer to the line of scrimmage. Hassan Reddick provides the Eagles with an edge defender who ranked eighth in pass-rush win rate (23%) in 2021. The Eagles now have a force off the edge who will cause problems. On the inside, as analyst Ben Bennell explained, rookie Jordan Davis is the missing piece in the trenches. The icing on the cake, a healthy Nakobe Dean serves as the athletic and high IQ figure that this unit lacked for years. If this defense falls short of expectations, blame the safety spot that was never really fixed.
6. Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers fielded the worst run defense in the NFL for the majority of the 2021 season. Not only did Brandon Staley’s group allow 138.9 rush ypg, it conceded seven games with 170-plus rushing yards. While recognizing that, this could still be one of the best NFL defenses in 2022.
Related: Los Angeles Chargers schedule
Khalil Mack is a monumental addition. Joey Bosa (27% run stop win rate, 10th among EDGE) needed a complementary edge rusher. Since 2020, he boasts the highest PFF run-defense grade (90.6) and he’s an excellent pass rusher. Los Angeles also signed (22 stops last season) to strengthen the defensive interior.
Of course, the secondary is our biggest source of excitement. J.C. Jackson provides Staley with a No. 1 cornerback who can fill the same schematic role that Jalen Ramsey does for the Rams. Behind him, Derwin James Jr. showed he can be an All-Pro safety when healthy. The other source of optimism is anticipation that Asante Samuel Jr. takes a huge step forward in 2022.
Top 5 defenses in NFL
5. New Orleans Saints
The Buccaneers aren’t the only players happy Tom Brady returns in 2022. We saw once again this past year that the New Orleans Saints defense owns Brady in the regular season. The greatest quarterback ever posted an 89.7 passer rating with a 4-3 TD-INT ratio and two losses against the Saints in 2021.
Brady isn’t the only one who struggled against New Orleans. The Saints allowed the fourth-lowest average quarterback rating (81.7) and allowed the third-lowest touchdown rate (3.4%). Opponents couldn’t do anything on the ground, averaging the lowest yards per rush (3.7) in the NFL.
The Saints’ front seven is one of the best in the NFL and expectations are high at cornerback with Marshon Lattimore, Paulson Adebo and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. When looking for red flags, though, losing deep safety Marcus Williams could result in the Saints allowing more deep shots in 2022.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers easily have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. While we did see the run defense fall apart a bit in the second half last season, allowing 4.9 ypr in the final eight games, this unit also dealt with a lot of injuries. Heading into 2022, there are some new bodies on the defensive line and the linebackers are healthy.
Related: Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule 2022
Tampa Bay will be counting on Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to step up in his second season, filling the void of Jason Pierre-Paul’s departure. While it’s a tough assignment for the 2021 first-round pick, he’ll benefit from a lot of unobstructed paths to the quarterback thanks to Vita Vea, Akiem Hicks, William Gholston, Logan Hall, Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Shaquill Barret. As for the linebacker tandem of Lavonte David and Devin White, they play at an elite level when on the field together.
There is only one hesitation that keeps Tampa Bay from being higher in the 2022 NFL defense rankings. Jordan Whitehead’s departure in free agency leaves a decent-sized hole at safety and there is a concerning lack of depth at cornerback. If the pass rush doesn’t get home, top quarterbacks will find success against this group. Just don’t run against the Bucs in 2022, it’s a waste of time.
3. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers defensive line is ridiculous. Nick Bosa is already one of the best players in the NFL, coming off his first full season post-ACL surgery that was still dominant (75 pressures, 39 stops, 21 TFLs ). He is joined by Arik Armstead (11 QB hits, 42 hurries) and a depth chart also featuring Dee Ford, Javon Kinlaw, Kerry Hyder Jr. and rookie Drake Jackson.
- San Francisco 49ers defense stats (2021 playoffs): 12 sacks, 85.8 QB rating allowed, 3.1 ypr, 15.6 ppg allowed
San Francisco’s defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans proved himself during the playoffs and took advantage of wielding one of the best pass-rushing units in the NFL. He now gets to use cornerback Charvarius Ward (77.0 QB rating when targeted) and a healthy Jason Verrett to significantly improve the secondary. Our lone concern with the 49ers defense is the lack of depth in the secondary, which hurt them late in the 2021 season.
2. Green Bay Packers
Talent and depth plays a huge part in where the Green Bay Packers land in our NFL defense rankings 2022. On the surface, a unit that ranked 15th in yards per play allowed (5.4), scoring drive rate (36.6%) and allowed the fourth-highest rush ypa (4.7) with the 10th-worst red-zone touchdown rate (62.26%) wouldn’t seem like a top-10 defense, let alone the second-best group in football.
Related: Green Bay Packers schedule 2022
However, Green Bay rosters one of the best cornerback trios in the NFL. Jaire Alexander surrendered just a 68.3 passer rating when targeted in a healthy 2020 season, Eric Stokes allowed a 78.8 passer rating in coverage on 96 targets as a rookie and Rasul Douglas allowed just a 50.8% reception rate in 2021.
The Packers also field the safety tandem of well-rounded safety Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage. Linebacker used to be this team’s biggest weakness and now it fields All-Pro De’Vondre Campbell and 2022 first-round pick Quay Walker, a 6-foot-5 linebacker with outstanding athleticism. On top of all that, the defensive front features Rashan Gary (81 pressures), Preston Smith (62 pressures) and Kenny Clark (64 pressures) along with fellow 2022 first-round selection Devonte Wyatt.
1. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills already boasted one of the best NFL defenses before the offseason. With Super Bowl aspirations, the front office went out and made this unit even stronger. Von Miller (60 pressures, 19 QB hits) is a huge upgrade over Jerry Hughes (45 pressures, 7 QB hits). On top of that, Buffalo strengthen its defensive interior with DaQuan Jones, Tim Settle and Jordan Phillips.
Related: Buffalo Bills schedule 2022
On top of that, Buffalo boasts the best safety tandem in the NFL and it gets a healthy Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White. Throw in young pass rushers Gregory Rousseau, AJ Epenesa and Boogie Basham along with 2022 first-round pick Kaiir Elam on the boundary opposite of White, the Bills have the best NFL defense in 2022.
Week 1 NFL defense rankings
Here is our Week 1 NFL defensive rankings for football. It’s important to note, that these specific rankings only apply to the individual week, The full 2022 NFL defensive rankings are above.
- San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
- New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
- Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs Detroit Lions
- Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs New York Jets
- Denver Broncos D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
- Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Minnesota Vikings
- Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Houston Texans
- Carolina Panthers D/ST vs Cleveland Browns
- Cleveland Browns D/ST vs Carolina Panthers
- Tennessee Titans D/ST vs New York Giants
- Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
- Miami Dolphins D/ST vs New England Patriots
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs Dallas Cowboys
- Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs Pittsburgh Steelers
- Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs Green Bay Packers
- New England Patriots D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
- Washington Commanders D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
- Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Buffalo Bills
Week 2 D/ST rankings
- Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
- San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs New Orleans Saints
- Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
- Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
- Denver Broncos D/ST vs Houston Texans
- Carolina Panthers D/ST vs New York Giants
- Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
- Cleveland Browns D/ST vs New York Jets
- Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.