2022 NFL defense rankings: Best NFL defenses entering training camp

The 2021 season is in the books and defensive play culminated in the Los Angeles Rams becoming Super Bowl champions. It’s something to keep in mind for the 2022 season and we take it into consideration in the first edition of our 2022 NFL defense rankings.

Naturally, the 2022 NFL Draft Draft and free agency had a significant impact on our rankings. A deep class of talent on the defensive side in both regards led to plenty of movement, with teams like the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles rising..

Bookmark this page throughout the summer and 2022 season for frequent updates of our NFL defense rankings. When the regular season arrives, we’ll provide weekly analysis and previews of matchups for the top-20 teams.

NFL defense rankings – Best NFL defenses in 2022

Stats courtesy Football Outsiders, Pro Football Reference, ESPN and Pro Football Focus.

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

2022 NFL defense rankings: Best NFL defenses entering training camp
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward are two of the best players in the NFL. Unfortunately, that’s not remotely enough for the Pittsburgh Steelers. We saw this team allow 146.1 rush ypg in 2021, the worst run defense in the NFL. Against the pass, Pittsburgh ranked 16th in yards per attempt (7.1). Overall, the Steelers ranked 24th in second-half points allowed per game (12.8). A healthy Tyson Alualu and adding Myles Jack isn’t nearly enough to fix things. A year removed from being in the top five, the Steelers will enter 20th in Sportsnaut’s NFL defense rankings.

19. New England Patriots

NCAA Football: Georgia Pro Day
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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. Carolina Panthers

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Carolina Panthers’ defense did everything in its power to stay afloat in 2021. From an efficiency standpoint, it allowed the fourth-lowest yards pr play (5.1), delivered the eighth-highest pressure rate and the ninth-lowest conversion rate on third downs (37.8%).

Unfortunately, the overall numbers were inflated because Carolina’s offense rarely sustained drives and it puts the defense in a position to defend a short field. With Sam Darnold or Matt Corral starting at quarterback, we see no reason to expect anything vastly different. This is a well-coached and talented group, but it’s being wasted.

17. Minnesota Vikings

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Minicamp
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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. Las Vegas Raiders

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
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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.

15. Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Pro Bowl-NFC at AFC
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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.

14. Cleveland Browns

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns
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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.

13. Indianapolis Colts

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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. This likely won’t be a shutdown defense, but it will always keep games close and that matters for a playoff contender.

Related: Indianapolis Colts schedule

12. Miami Dolphins

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
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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

NFL: AFC Divisional Round-Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans
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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 NDL right now

10. Denver Broncos

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos
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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

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Minicamp
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
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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.

Related: NFL mock draft 2023 – CJ Stroud, Bryce Young headline outstanding 2023 NFL Draft class

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

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
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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

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers OTA
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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

NFL: New Orleans Saints OTA
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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

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
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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

NFL: NFC Divisional Round-San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
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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

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  1. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
  2. New Orleans Saints D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
  3. Philadelphia Eagles D/ST vs Detroit Lions
  4. Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs New York Jets
  5. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
  6. Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Minnesota Vikings
  7. Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Houston Texans
  8. Carolina Panthers D/ST vs Cleveland Browns
  9. Cleveland Browns D/ST vs Carolina Panthers
  10. Tennessee Titans D/ST vs New York Giants
  11. Los Angeles Chargers D/ST vs Las Vegas Raiders
  12. Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  13. Miami Dolphins D/ST vs New England Patriots
  14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs Dallas Cowboys
  15. Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs Pittsburgh Steelers
  16. Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs Green Bay Packers
  17. New England Patriots D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
  18. Washington Commanders D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars
  19. Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Los Angeles Rams
  20. Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Buffalo Bills

Week 2 D/ST rankings

  1. Green Bay Packers D/ST vs Chicago Bears
  2. San Francisco 49ers D/ST vs Seattle Seahawks
  3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers D/ST vs New Orleans Saints
  4. Los Angeles Rams D/ST vs Atlanta Falcons
  5. Baltimore Ravens D/ST vs Miami Dolphins
  6. Denver Broncos D/ST vs Houston Texans
  7. Carolina Panthers D/ST vs New York Giants
  8. Buffalo Bills D/ST vs Tennessee Titans
  9. Cleveland Browns D/ST vs New York Jets
  10. Indianapolis Colts D/ST vs Jacksonville Jaguars

This article was originally published on Sportsnaut.com and is republished here with permission.

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