2023 NFL defense rankings: Offseason outlook for all 32 teams, key free agents

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. Chicago Bears

  • Key Free Agents: N/A

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. While building around Justin Fields is a priority, the Bears’ defense will also be completely overhauled.

Related: Chicago Bears mock draft 2023

31. Atlanta Falcons

  • Key Free Agents: CB Isaiah Oliver, EDGE Lorenzo Carter

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.

30. Las Vegas Raiders

  • Key Free Agents: EDGE Clelin Ferrell, iDL Andrew Billings, S Duron Harmon, CB Rock Ya-Sin, LB Denzel Perryman, iDL Jerry Tillery

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%).

Related: Realistic veteran QB options for the Las Vegas Raiders

29. Arizona Cardinals

  • Key Free Agents: CB Byron Murphy Jr, iDL Zach Allen, LB Ben Niemann

Following J.J. Watt’s retirement, almost the entire Arizona Cardinals’ defense needs to be addressed. Arizona 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).

Related: NFL free agents 2023

28. Los Angeles Rams

  • Key Free Agents: S Taylor Rapp, S Nick Scott, iDL Greg Gaines, CB Troy Hill

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

27. Minnesota Vikings

  • Key Free Agents: CB Patrick Peterson, iDL Dalvin Tomlinson, CB Chandon Sullivan

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.

Related: NFL trade rumors

26. Detroit Lions

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
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  • 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. Another year in Aaron Glenn’s system with additions to the secondary and defensive line can make this a top-15 defense in 2023.

25. Seattle Seahawks

  • Key Free Agents: CB Michael Jackson Sr., S Ryan Neal, LB Cody Barton, iDL Poona Ford

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%). Adding an edge defender like Myles Murphy or Tyree Wilson would be an excellent step forward for this unit.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Key Free Agents: LB Lavonte David, CB Jamel Dean, S Mike Edwards, DL Akiem Hicks

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a staple of our NFL defense rankings for years. However, there’s no feasible way to call this one of the best NFL defenses in 2023. Cap issues might push either linebacker Lavonte David or corner Jamel Dean out. It will have ramifications on a unit that ranked 22nd in pass rush win rate (37%) and ceded the 11th-highest average QB rating (92.7). Given the direction the organization is headed, seemingly prepared for a rebuild, Tampa Bay’s defense will likely take a step back in 2023.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft QB rankings

23. New York Giants

  • Key Free Agents: S Julian Love, CB Fabian Moreau, EDGE Jihad Ward

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. Give Martindale more talent to work with and this can be a top-12 defense.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft order

22. Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Key Free Agents: 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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21. Houston Texans

  • Key Free Agents: S Jonathan Owens, EDGE Rasheem Green, EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

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.

Related: Houston Texans mock draft 2023

20. Tennessee Titans

  • Key Free Agents: LB David Long Jr, S Andrew Adams, iDL Teair Tart

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. Considering a rebuild seems to be the new regime’s plan, we’re not banking on Tennessee reinforcing its defense this offseason.

19. Cleveland Browns

  • Key Free Agents: EDGE Jadeveon Clowney, iDL Taven Bryan, LB Sione Takitaki

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

18. Carolina Panthers

NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
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  • 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.

17. 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.

16. Los Angeles Chargers

  • Key Free Agents: LB Drue Tranquill, S Nasir Adderley, EDGE Kyle Van Noy, CB Bryce Callahan, iDL Morgan Fox

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

15. Indianapolis Colts

  • Key Free Agents: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue, LB Bobby Okereke, S Rodney McLeod

The Indianapolis Colts can no longer count on Shaquille Leonard to stay healthy for a full season. Given Bobby Okereke is a free agent, 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. Overall, this unit likely tops out as a top-12 defense.

Related: Indianapolis Colts mock draft 2023

14. 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 replace by another pass rusher.

13. Baltimore Ravens

  • Key Free Agents: CB Marcus Peters, EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul, EDGE Justin Houston

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.

12. Miami Dolphins

  • Key Free Agents: LB Elandon Roberts, S Eric Rowe, EDGE Melvin Ingram

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.

11. Washington Commanders

  • Key Free Agents: IDL Da’Ron Payne, LB Cole Holcomb

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. Cincinnati Bengals

Syndication: The Enquirer
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  • Key NFL free agents: S Jessie Bates III, S Vonn Bell, CB Eli Apple, CB Trey Flowers

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. The losses in the secondary could have significant ramifications on this pass defense in 2023.

8. Buffalo Bills

  • Key Free Agents: S Jordan Poyer, LB Tremaine Edmunds, EDGE Shaq Lawson, iDL Jordan Phillips

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 and it appears both Jordan Poyer and Tremaine Edmunds be the ones to go.

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7. Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Key Free Agents: CB Cameron Sutton, LB Ddevin Bush, iDL Larry Ogunjobi, S Terrell Edmunds, LB Robert Spillane, iDL Tyson Alualu

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.

6. Denver Broncos

  • Key Free Agents: LB Alex Singleton, iDL Dre’Mont Jones, iDL DeShawn Williams

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.

5. New England Patriots

  • Key Free Agents: S Devin McCourty, CB Jonathan Jones, CB Myles Bryant

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. Although, New England would be wise to improve at outside corner.

4. Philadephia Eagles

  • Key Free Agents: DT Javon Hargrave, DT Fletcher Cox, DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, CB James Bradberry, EDGE Robert Quinn, DT Ndamukong Suh

The Philadelphia Eagles went all-in this year, building one of the most talented defenses in the NFL. It largely paid off, resulting in an NFC title with a single-season record for sacks and plenty of outstanding performances.

Ultimately, the Eagles got Mahomes’d in the Super Bowl and the San Francisco 49ers, along with so many other NFL teams, know what that’s like. There will be some big losses defensively, but a pair of first-round picks could go a long way to help this remain one of the best NFL defenses in 2023.

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 Free Agents: CB Anthony Brown, S Donovan Wilson, LB Leighton Vander Esch

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.

Related: 2023 NFL Draft rumors

1. San Francisco 49ers

  • Key Free Agents: EDGE Samson Ebukam, S Jimmie Ward, S Tashaun Gipson, EDGE Charles Omenihu, EDGE Kerry Hyder

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.

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

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