2023 NFL defense rankings: Evaluating all 32 NFL teams before NFL Draft

Who has the best NFL defense in 2023? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league on a weekly basis to determine the best defenses in the NFL.

Let’s dive into our 2023 NFL defense rankings after Super Bowl LVII, evaluating every single defense and where they stand heading into the offseason.

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

NFL defense rankings: Offseason outlook for all 32 teams

32. Los Angeles Rams

  • Key Losses: Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Bobby Wagner, edge rusher Leonard Floyd

Once No. 1 in our NFL defense rankings, the Los Angeles Rams have rolled into a freefall. Aaron Donald is coming back, but Jalen Ramsey is headed out the door and the Rams already cut ties with Leonard Floyd and Bobby Wagner. The teardown is underway and a defense that started slipping in 2022 could definitely hit rock bottom this upcoming season, especially if Los Angeles uses its draft picks to rebuild the offense.

Related: 2023 NFL salary cap tracker

31. Las Vegas Raiders

  • Key Additions: Linebacker Robert Spillane, cornerback Brandon Facyson, safety Marcus Epps

The Las Vegas Raiders defense fell well short of expectations under play-caller Patrick Graham. After allowing the seventh-most points per game (24.6), Las Vegas must upgrade a secondary that allowed the highest passer rating (98.8) and the third-highest completion rate (67.6%).

The inexcusable aspect of the Raiders’ offseason is the lack of resources dedicated to the defense. Las Vegas allowed a 12-3 TD-INT ratio and 67.1 percent completion rate to opponents in its final 11 games, yet nothing was truly done to upgrade the secondary. Considering a quarterback seems to be the Raiders’ priority in Round 1 of the NFL Draft, this figures to be one of the worst NFL defenses in 2023.

30. Arizona Cardinals

  • Previously: 29th

The Arizona Cardinals allowed the highest completion rate (69.8%) to opponents and it surrendered the second-most passing touchdowns (29). The Cardinals weren’t any better at stopping the run, allowing the 10th-highest yards per carry (4.5). Now, they are through the first wave of free agency and this unit has suffered even more hits with J.J. Watt, Byron Murphy and Zach Allen all gone. While that first-round pick will likely go towards this side of the ball, the Cardinals may have the worst NFL defense in 2023

Related: NFL free agents 2023

29. Chicago Bears

  • Key Additions: Linebacker T.J. Edwards, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, edge rusher DeMarcus Walker, defensive tackle Andrew Billings

The Chicago Bears had the worst defense in the NFL this season. Across 17 games, Chicago allowed opponents to average a 94.4 QB rating, 4.9 yards per carry and they allowed the most points per game (27.2) in the NFL.

Thus far in NFL free agency, Chicago improved at linebacker with T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds. It’s a positive step forward, but the Bears’ secondary and pass rush remain glaring weaknesses on the roster. A lot more additions need to be made via signings and the NFL Draft.

Related: Chicago Bears mock draft 2023

28. New York Giants

  • Key Additions: Linebacker Jihad Ward, linebacker Bobby Okereke, defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches

New York Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale didn’t need to rely upon his habit of blitzing this season because of Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux. However, New York ranked last in Football Outsiders’ Rush DVOA (11.6%) and it’s painfully thin at cornerback. New York added some much-needed help at linebacker in NFL free agency, but losing safety Julian Love and not adding a high-end cornerback raises concern.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order

While the NFL Draft still offers some solutions to the Giants’ defensive problems, betting on rookies comes with a considerable downside. As of now, New York is poised to be starting Adoree Jackson, Cordale Flott and Darnay Holmes as its top three cornerbacks. It’s a trio that good offenses, especially the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, can feast on.

27. Atlanta Falcons

  • Key Additions: Safety Jessie Bates, defensive tackle David Onyemata

Cornerback A.J. Terrell took a step back in 2022 after a breakout season a year prior. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons finished with the lowest pressure rate (14.6%) and the second-fewest sacks (20) in the NFL. The Falcons desperately need to find pass rushers this offseason.

Fortunately, the early moves should help this unit take a step forward in 2023. Safety Jessie Bates is one of the best in the league at his position and he’ll help this pass defense improve. While defensive tackle David Onyemata isn’t quite as good as he used to be, he’ll still bolster Atlanta’s interior pass rush.

26. Indianapolis Colts

  • Key Losses: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Bobby Okereke

The Indianapolis Colts can no longer count on Shaquille Leonard to stay healthy for a full season. Given Bobby Okereke left in free agency, it adds linebacker to the pressing list of needs this offseason. The Colts might also need to upgrade at edge rusher over Yannick Ngakoue and even safety could become a position to address.

After trading away No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the Colts’ intentions for the 2023 season are clear. Indianapolis won’t be a contender this fall and its defense is poised to take another step. backward. Opponents will attack the Colts’ secondary relentlessly and with an inconsistent pass rush, Gus Bradley’s conservative scheme will be exposed most weeks.

25. Minnesota Vikings

  • Key Additions: Edge rusher Marcus Davenport, cornerback Byron Murphy

When the Minnesota Vikings pass rush couldn’t create pressure, it was finished. Opponents posted a 92.7 QB rating with an 11-5 TD-INT ratio in the final eight games and Minnesota had one of the softest second-half schedules. With both Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson free agents, Minnesota needs to re-sign its starters and overhaul the cornerback room.

However, there is more optimism after the hiring of defensive coordinator Brian Flores. He’s one of the NFL’s best defensive minds, with success that speaks for itself in New England and Miami. He’s going to get a lot more out of this defense than his predecessor. How far the Vikings move up in the 2023 NFL defense rankings this summer will depend on who they sign and draft.

Adding Marcus Davenport feels like a sign Za’Darius Smith may be granted the release he wants. If that’s the case, it does the same thing as swapping out Patrick Peterson for Byron Murphy, bringing in a younger player who may or may not repeat the level of production.

Related: NFL trade rumors

24. Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Key Losses: EDGE Arden Key

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ defense showed a lot of flashes late in the regular season, holding its final five opponents to 197.8 pass ypg with an 81.2 QB rating and a 6-5 TD-INT line. However, Arden Key is a free-agent Jacksonville must keep and it’s evident the Jags need help at corner.

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23. Houston Texans

  • Key Additions: Safety Jimmie Ward, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins

DeMeco Ryans coming in is the first small step toward fixing the Houston Texans’ defense. He’s a brilliant strategist and coach, whose impact should be felt immediately. However, Houston doesn’t have much standout talent on the defensive side right now with Derek Stingley Jr. a work in progress and Jalen Pitre still needs to iron out a lot of issues.

Ryans will certainly help, but so much talent needs to be injected at every level of this defense. While neither Jimmie Ward nor Hassan Ridgeway move the needle, they will be dependable veterans who know Ryans’ scheme and can help young players transition into it.

Related: Houston Texans mock draft 2023

22. Seattle Seahawks

  • Key Additions: Defensive tackle Jarran Reed, defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones

The Seattle Seahawks struck gold with rookie cornerbacks Tariq Woolen and Cody Bryant, who look like long-term starters. However, Seattle allowed 150.2 rush ypg, 21 rushing touchdowns and it ranked 28th in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate (34%).

In the first wave of free agency, Seattle bolstered its interior pass rush with the signings of Jarran Reed and Dre’Mont Jones. Bringing in both interior disruptors suggests edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. might be the club’s preferred option with its top pick. Now, Seattle has brought back Bobby Wagner. Not only will the future Hall of Famer provide leadership and help shore up the Seahawks’ run defense, but he’s an ideal mentor for Devin Bush. If Seattle uses both its first-round picks on the defensive line, there’s a top-15 spot waiting for it in the 2023 NFL defense rankings.

21. Detroit Lions

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
  • Key Free Agents: LB Alex Anzalone, S DeShon Elliott, S Will Harris, iDL Isaiah Buggs

The Detroit Lions defense showed tangible progress late in the season. After allowing opponents to average a 96.5 QB rating with 262.2 pass ypg and a 16-8 TD-INT line in the first 10 games, Detroit ceded a 59% completion rate 222.4 pass ypg and 10-4 TD-INT in its final seven contests. Most impressively, in a sign of things to come, the Lions averaged 3.1 sacks per game in those last seven games.

Look at this unit now. An exploitable secondary in 2022 now welcomes Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Those are three monumental additions to bolster the pass defense and Detroit isn’t finished. While we wouldn’t expect Detroit to have a top-10 defense next season, boasting an above-average unit is possible.

20. Tennessee Titans

  • Key Additions: Edge rusher Arden Key, linebacker Azeez Al-Shaiir, cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting

The Tennessee Titans had the best run defense in the NFL this season, surrendering just 76.9 rush ypg and 3.4 yards per carry. Tennessee’s pass rush should also improve in 2023 with the return of Harold Landry. With that side, star linebacker David Long Jr. is a free agent and the Titans’ cornerback room is a mess.

We do like the addition of pass rusher Arden Key, who was extremely effective with both the San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars. While replacing Long Jr. with Al-Shaiir is a downgrade, the signing at least maintains depth at the position. As for Sean Murphy-Bunting, he offers high upside and represents a wise investment in young talent on the open market.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Previously: 25th in NFL defense rankings

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers surprised everyone this offseason, retaining cornerback Jamel Dean and linebacker Lavonte David. It’s huge for this defense because it can easily be a top-15 unit when everyone is healthy. While there is still plenty of room for improvement, retaining both star defenders ensures Tampa Bay will have a quality defense on the field in 2023.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft QB rankings

18. Green Bay Packers

  • Key Free Agents: S Adrian Amos, iDL Jarran Reed, iDL Dean KLowry, S Rudy Ford

Labeled as a top-five defense heading into the 2022 season, the Green Bay Packers didn’t play like it until late in the year. Green Bay is set at cornerback (Jaire Alexander, Eric Stokes) but safety is now a weakness and a healthy Rashan Gary isn’t nearly enough of a pass rush. If Aaron Rodgers is traded, expect the draft picks coming over in return to be used on the defensive side.

17. Kansas City Chiefs

  • Key Free Agents: S Juan Thornhill, DE Carlos Dunlap

The Kansas City Chiefs certainly didn’t win the Super Bowl because of their defense. It wasn’t a clean performance, but this is also a young defense. There is a lot of inexperience in the secondary, but now those young, talented defensive backs have a season’s worth of lessons to learn from. Plus, edge rusher George Karlaftis showed improvement and defensive tackle Chris Jones played like the Defensive Player of the Year.

If the rights additions are made and second-year leaps happen, this could be a very good defense in 2023. Cutting Frank Clark, who was more flash than substance outside the playoffs, shouldn’t have too significant of an impact as long as he’s replaced by another pass rusher.

16. Carolina Panthers

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
  • Key Free Agents: IDL Matt Ioannidis, CB Myles Hartsfield

There’s an opportunity for the Carolina Panthers to have one of the best NFL defenses in 2022. Jaycee Horn is an ascending No. 1 corner and the quarter of Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, Frankie Luvu and Shaq Thompson gives Carolina a strong front seven. With the right defensive coordinator and the addition of a No. 2 outside corner, this could be an excellent unit.

It feels even more likely to happen with Ejiro Evero taking over as defensive coordinator. Coming from the Vic Fangio coaching tree, Evero oversaw one of the best pass defenses in the NFL last season. He brings a brilliant defensive mind and his philosophies should get even more out of this unit. Although, Carolina would be wise to upgrade at safety.

15. Cleveland Browns

  • Key Additions: Defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, safety Juan Thornhill, defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, defensive tackle Trysten Hill

It’s difficult to imagine the Cleveland Browns defense performing worse with a new defensive coordinator. Jim Schwartz has plenty to work with, but Schwartz’s approach doesn’t work without a strong defensive interior and improved play on the boundary. Cleveland needs to significantly improve at defensive tackle, while hoping Denzel Ward, Grant Delpit and Greg Newsome improve.

Related: NFL teams that have never won a Super Bowl

Cleveland obviously got the message about its weakness at defensive tackle, signing three in NFL free agency. Landing Dalvin Tomlinson and safety Juan Thornhill should help this be a top-15 defense in 2023.

14. Los Angeles Chargers

  • Key Additions: Linebacker Eric Kendricks

Fans might not like Brandon Staley as a head coach, but he is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. The Los Angeles Chargers ended the regular season averaging 2.7 sacks per game with a 77.1 QB rating and 55.7% completion rate allowed to opponents in their past seven contests. This can be one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, but we haven’t seen any signs of its run defense improving for two years now.

Related: Highest-paid NFL coaches 2023

13. Cincinnati Bengals

Syndication: The Enquirer
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Key Losses: Safety Jessie Bates III, safety Vonn Bell

The Cincinnati Bengals defense played outstanding football to close out the season and we fully expect this to be a well-coached unit with Lou Anarumo returning. However, starters Vonn Bell, Eli Apple and Jessie Bates III are all free agents this offseason. With Joe Burrow due for a record-breaking extension, the money won’t be there to bring everyone back.

Cincinnati was prepared to lose star safety Jessie Bates, but it hoped to retain Vonn Bell. Now, both impact defenders are gone and the Bengals’ No. 1 cornerback is recovering from a torn ACL. Given the unlikelihood that the front office spends money to improve the secondary, we could see significant defensive regression from the Bengals in 2023.

12. Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are set at safety and linebacker, but it will be losing No. 2 cornerback Marcus Peters and its top two edge rushers to free agency. Consistently a top-12 pass and run defense, the Ravens have room for improvement if they find younger plays to fill the voids left by Peters and Co.

11. Washington Commanders

  • Key Additions: Defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson, cornerback Cam Dantzler, linebacker Cody Barton

Chase Young will be more than a year removed from his ACL tear and that bodes well for the Washington Commanders defense. We love the front of this group, especially if Da’Ron Payne returns. However, Washington allowed the fourth-most passing touchdowns because corner is a glaring issue that must be addressed via free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft.

10. New Orleans Saints

  • Key Free Agents: IDL David Onyemate, iDL Shy Tuttle, EDGE Marcus Davenport

It’s quite remarkable that the New Orleans Saints defense continues to play at a high level every season despite constant turnover. With David Onyemata and Marcus Davenport both set to hit the open market, salary cap restrictions will likely force New Orleans to lose at least one of them. If Paulson Adebo and Marshon Lattimore can’t elevate their game in 2023, regression will come for this Saints’ defense.

9. New England Patriots

  • Key Addition: Linebacker Chris Board

The New England Patriots defense played outstanding in 2022, with breakout campaigns from Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger and Ja’Whaun Bentley. With Bill O’Brien running the offense next season, Belichick can work with Jerod Mayo to make this one of the best defenses in the NFL.

There are still reasons to believe we’ll see defensive regression next fall. Over its last seven regular-season games, the Patriots allowed a 67.4 percent completion rate and 92.9 quarterback rating to opponents. To make matters worse, offenses averaged a 45 percent third-down conversion rate over that span. While fans might want a receiver, Bill Belichick would be wise to spend the first-round pick on a cornerback or edge rusher because this unit needs depth.

8. Buffalo Bills

  • Key Losses: Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds

Getting Von Miller and Micah Hyde back for the 2023 NFL season are huge boosts for the Buffalo Bills defense. Tre’Davious White will also be at 100% with a full offseason and Kaiir Elam should elevate his game in his second year. However, a tight salary cap means losing at least two impact defenders and that will have significant ramifications on the Bills’ defense.

Losing Tremaine Edmunds is a significant blow for the front seven. However, Buffalo redeemed itself by re-signing safety Jordan Poyer. Getting the Poyer-Hyde safety tandem back for the 2023 season is significant for the Bills’ pass defense. While there are still needs at linebacker, cornerback and on the defensive line, Buffalo should still be a top-10 defense in 2023.

Related: Highest paid NFL players

7. Philadephia Eagles

  • Key Losses: Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, linebacker T.J. Edwards, safety Marcus Epps, linebacker Kyzir White, edge rusher Robert Quinn

The Philadelphia Eagles knew they would suffer significant losses on the defensive side in free agency and that’s precisely what happened. To make matters worse, All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay could be on the move. Philadelphia immediately slips out of the top 5 NFL defense rankings and its freefall may continue if Slay is dealt. Fortunately, the 2023 NFL Draft can offer some redemption in April.

6. Denver Broncos

  • Key Additions: Defensive lineman Zach Allen

The Denver Broncos defense played extremely well given the circumstances of the 2022 season. Patrick Surtain II is the best cornerback in the NFL and the ability to blanket No. 1 receivers helps everyone else on this unit. Heading into the offseason, especially with defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero likely gone, we’d love to see Denver upgrade its pass rush.

Bringing in Zach Allen is the right first step. He flew under the radar last year on a bad Cardinals’ defense, but he was disruptive at the line of scrimmage. He’ll now reunite with Vance Joseph, a brilliant defensive coordinator who will thrive working with the Broncos’ defensive talent.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Key Additions: Cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebacker Elandon Roberts, linebacker Cole Holcomb

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense ended the regular season with a dominant stretch, allowing just 151.1 pass ypg with 21 sacks and eight interceptions in the final seven contests. T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Alex Highsmith and Minkah Fitzpatrick are the reason why Pittsburgh has one of the best NFL defenses in 2023. If the right additions are made at cornerback, this could be a top-5 unit.

Speaking of the right additions being made in NFL free agency, Patrick Peterson is the cornerback Pittsburgh was missing. He excelled in coverage last year with Minnesota, proving that he can still hold his own as an above-average starter. If the Steelers’ secondary improves with the help of Peterson’s leadership, this defense could reach elite levels once again.

4. Miami Dolphins

  • Key Additions: Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker David Long Jr.

The Miami Dolphins defense started putting it together midway through the 2022 season, allowing just 222.4 pass ypg with 23 sacks (2.9 per game). However, Miamis struggled to generate turnovers (12-4 TD-INT) with Byron Jones sidelined all season and Xavien Howard regressing. Looking ahead to 2023, the combo of Christian Wilkins and Jaelan Phillips will be phenomenal.

There should be even greater improvement under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The architect of the defensive schemes that have become increasingly popular around the NFL, Fangio should help Miami’s pass defense take a step forward in 2023. The Dolphins made him the highest paid defensive coordinator in the NFL for a reason and the 2023 season will show why.

Now, add Jalen Ramsey to the equation. He isn’t a shutdown cornerback by any means, but Ramsey remains one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The 28-year-old can be a dynamic pass rusher when blitzed, is even strong against the run and he’s another playmaker in Miami’s secondary.

3. New York Jets

  • Key Free Agents: LB Quincy Williams, S Lamarcus Joyner, LB Kwon Alexander

The turnaround from the New York Jets defense last season was incredible. Rookie cornerbacks aren’t supposed to be great early, but Sauce Gardner became an All-Pro in his first season. With D.J. Reed Jr. standing out in coverage vs No. 2 receivers and the Jets finishing with the second-highest run-stop win rate (33%) in the league, everything came together. New York also started its offseason on the right now, bringing in versatile safety Chuck Clark. If Robert Saleh can find a playmaking safety, the Jets could be No. 1 in our NFL defense rankings next season.

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2. Dallas Cowboys

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
  • Key Additions: Cornerback Stephon Gilmore

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is returning for the 2023 season, which might be the biggest offseason move for the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas must re-sign linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who proved to be an integral piece this year. After that, the Cowboys can go out and find a No. 2 corner to help this unit maintain its status as one of the best NFL defenses in 2023.

Stephon Gilmore is that No. 2 cornerback. Acquired for just a fifth-round pick, the Cowboys’ secondary now boasts two defensive backs who can line up in man coverage against No. 1 receivers. Gilmore shined last season, allowing just an 82.6 passer rating when targeted. With Gilmore and Trevon Diggs on the outside, the Cowboys will have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL next season.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft rumors

1. San Francisco 49ers

  • Key Additions: Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave

The San Francisco 49ers’ defense played outstanding football all year. In the NFC Championship Game, DeMeco Ryans’ unit handled the Eagles’ offense until late in the second quarter, when undisciplined play by players extended the drive.

Once Brock Purdy went out and San Francisco trailed by two scores with a fourth-string quarterback, that was a wrap for this defense. The defensive line was gassed after dominating all year and the Eagles’ RPO took full advantage.

Don’t let one game ruin Ryans’ reputation, he is a phenomenal coach who proved himself as a coordinator of the best NFL defense for two years. While he will be missed, Steve Wilks is a fantastic fit for San Francisco. Entering 2023, the 49ers are No. 1 in the NFL defense rankings.

Naturally, the rich got richer in free agency. Javon Hargrave was arguably the best free agent available in 2023. After dominating on the Eagles’ interior line this past season, he now walks into a similar situation with the San Francisco 49ers. With Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead and Hargrave, the 49ers have the best defensive line in the NFL.

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

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