Fantasy Football - Best NFL Defense Power Rankings 2023
The 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone. With the 2023 season about to kickoff, it’s time to analyze each team’s defense and analyze them. Teams have made upgrades, personnel moves and changed strategies, so there could be quite a bit of difference from the 2022 season.
Of course, we'll be using a lot of 2022 data to come to our conclusions since the rest is inherently speculative. Yet we will also consider player personnel changes, new coaches and coordinators, and more in evaluating what to expect. Without further ado, here we will rank the defenses of all 32 NFL teams for the 2023 NFL season.
NFL Defenses Ranked 32-21
32. Los Angeles Rams - The Worst NFL Defense in 2023
The Los Angeles Rams are right up there with the worst defenses in the league based on all the information we have for 2023. Based on our metrics, they have earned the unfortunate distinction of the absolute worst.ow
The Los Angeles Rams defense has had a rapid collapse for a team that won the Super Bowl in 2021. It’s even harder to understand considering they still feature one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the NFL and a still powerful force in DT Aaron Donald.
With the Rams having traded CB Jalen Ramsey and with the release of veteran LBs Bobby Wagner and Leonard Floyd, there is little to like outside of Donald. Safeties Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp are also gone, along with CB David Long Jr. Although Los Angeles has added some new defensive blood in the draft and with undrafted free agent signings, the outlook for this LA defensive unit is bleak.
However, Raheem Morris is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL. In addition, the Rams struggled defensively last season, and a new-look defense may ultimately behoove this Rams squad which may be entering into rebuilding mode sooner rather than later.
31. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals defense has quite a few weak spots and will rival the Rams heading into the 2023 season. Arizona featured one of the worst front-seven units in the NFL, allowing the second most first downs in the league. J.J. Watt, Markus Golden, and Zach Allen will be gone, leaving Leki Fotu, Jonathan Ledbetter an L.J. Collier to man the pass rush.
The young Nick Rallis will be in his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator under new head coach Jonathan Gannon, who will debut as an NFL head coach with the Cardinals. The team is firmly in a rebuild, and it would be unrealistic to expect much from this defense in 2023.
30. Las Vegas Raiders
There are some things to like about the Raiders' defense: edge rushers Chandler Jones, Maxx Crosby, and Bilal Nichols. Yes, Jones might be less of a force than he once was, yet this trio should give the Raiders one of the better pass rushes in the NFL.
However, the Raiders need more than this because the secondary appears to be a major problem area. The linebacker position is also a weak point, and it appears that the personnel defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has to work with may not fit his scheme. In the 2022 season, the Raiders allowed the fourth-most passing yards (4,129), and little improvement is expected.
However, some personnel changes may bode well, including free agency pickups in Brandon Facyson, David Long and Marcus Epps. A lot is also expected from DE Tyree Wilson, who was the seventh overall pick in the draft. Enough moving parts are in place to present an opportunity for the Raiders to exceed expectations.
29. Minnesota Vikings
In the 2022 season, it was ugly for the Minnesota Vikings pass rush, with opponents putting up a 92.7 quarterback rating against the team in the season's final eight games. Key defensive cogs Patrick Peterson and Dalvin Tomlinson are gone, and the Vikings have a new defensive coordinator in Brian Flores.
While the loss of Peterson and Tomlinson may be an issue, Flores offers some optimism for the Vikings. He is considered one of the best defensive thinkers in the NFL and has had considerable success in New England and Miami.
However, there is only so much you can do with the ordinary Vikings defensive personnel, particularly in the secondary. Some players will have to step up, and it remains to be seen whether Flores can get this questionable defensive unit to gel.
28. Chicago Bears
If the 2022 season indicates things to come, it is not looking pretty for the Bears, as they were the worst defense in the NFL last year in total DVOA and across various metrics, including points allowed per game (27.2). There have been some linebacker improvements in the offseason with the addition of T.J. Edwards and Tremaine Edmunds, and that could result in an upgrade.
The pass rush and secondary looks bleak for the Bears in 2023. One bright spot is safety Jaquan Brisker who is still developing and appears to be a dynamic young player who may bolster the Bears' outlook in the secondary. The team also made three second- and third-round picks to improve its defense. That could lead to a dramatic improvement in 2023
27. Indianapolis Colts
It may be surprising to see the Colts this low on our list, as there are some pretty solid points for this Indianapolis squad. DeForest Buckner and Shaquille Leonard are among the better defensive players in the league, and Kwity Paye is an exciting up-and-coming DE. Samson Ebukam was signed in free agency, and a lot is expected from rookie cornerbacks Jaylon Jones and JuJu Brents.
Nonetheless, Leonard has struggled with injury and may not be at his best to start the season. Some young and inexperienced players must step up quickly for this Indianapolis defense to succeed. The Colts had one of the worst pass rushes in the league in 2022, and it may be a lot to expect a drastic improvement from the Indianapolis defensive unit.
26. Houston Texans
The Houston Texans posted some of the worst defensive numbers against the run and they ranked last in total yards allowed. The pass defense was considerably more effective, and that should lead to a slightly brighter outlook than some of the teams listed further down in our rankings can expect.
The Texans have a new head coach in defensive mastermind DeMeco Ryans, who may breathe new life into the Houston defense. Additionally, the team traded up for the No. 3 overall pick in Alabama's Will Anderson Jr. That was a massive move for a potential difference-maker who can help the Houston defense turn the corner.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are among the teams that have the greatest potential to outperform expectations. Cornerback Tyson Campbell and linebacker Josh Allen are major bright spots and young playon a high note, and that could be a sign of improvement for 2023.
However, there is a good bit of uncertainty on this squad, particularly regarding the slot and the role of Travon Walker. Young players step up to help the Jaguars improve their paltry 2022 numbers. These include the sixth-worst passing yards allowed and the seventh-fewest sacks in the NFL.
24. Detroit Lions
The end of the 2022 season may bode well for the Lions' defense. Better numbers were put up over the final 10 games by a considerable margin compared to a poor earlier-season performance. Yet, while opponents were held to an average 84.3 QB rating, the run defense did not fare as well, with opposing offenses averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
However, big moves have been made in the offseason, including the additions of Emmanuel Moseley, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Cameron Sutton in the secondary. This is in addition to touted rookie linebacker Jack Campbell, who will likely improve the questionable Lions run defense. Three top-100 draft picks were used on defense, counting Campbell, meaning the Lions will be injected with new talent.
23. Atlanta Falcons
As a team that has put significant resources toward its defense in the offseason, things may be looking up for the Falcons. However, it has been a rough go recently, with Atlanta recording just 39 sacks in its last 34 games. Yet, the additions of Bud Dupree, Calais Campbell, and David Onyemata may pay dividends for this new-look Atlanta defensive unit.
This is an addition to star cornerback A.J. Terrell, third-round draft pick Zach Harrison, and stalwart defensive force Grady Jarrett. Atlanta could be a team to watch for on the defensive front in 2023, yet there may be much work to do based on recent performance.
In the past, the Falcons have been a team that is often lighter and smaller than opposing offensive lines and tend to get pushed around. That could once again be the case in 2023.
22. New York Giants
It is no secret that the New York Giants have a solid defensive line. They feature Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux, and that makes this one of the better units in the league.
Yet, despite the excellent pass rush and pressure rates put up by this Giants team in 2022, the run defense could have been more effective and the cornerbacks also performed poorly.
The Giants will need to see excellent seasons from rookie Deonte Banks and Adoree Jackson to get this defense back on track. There may also be a significant improvement in store from young edge rusher Azeez Ojulari, and the addition of LB Bobby Okereke should improve New York's paltry run defense.
21. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks should have a brilliant secondary in 2023. Jamal Adams will return, the Seahawks have signed safety Julian Love, and Devon Witherspoon stands to make a big difference at cornerback. Key linebacker improvements have occurred with the additions of Bobby Wagner and Devin Bush. We may see a comeback from Jordyn Brooks in the early Fall.
Yet, this team needs help with its pass rush. They simply don’t have players likely to achieve consistent pressure on the quarterback, and it will be hard to succeed with this arrangement. Hopefully, one or more players can step up in this department, and Seattle can improve its struggling run defense, which allowed the third-most rushing yards against in the league at 151.9 per game.
Top 20 NFL Defenses in 2023
20. Green Bay Packers
Green Bay features the type of defense with the potential to exceed expectations in 2023. Star players like Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, and De’Vondre Campbell are all difference-makers. We may see significant improvements from Devonte Wyatt and Quay Walker in their second years in the league, and Rashan Gary and Eric Stokes (currently on the PUP list) are big-impact players when healthy.
Yet, there are some severe problems at defensive tackle, and the Packers need to make major improvements at safety. Plus, Joe Barry has had a rough go as a defensive coordinator and may or may not have what it takes to take this Packers defense to the next level.
The Packers have bolstered their linebacker group with the first-round pick out of Iowa, Lukas Van Ness. Green Bay suffered from the fourth-worst sack total in 2022 and will look to Van Ness to improve this.
19. Los Angeles Chargers
It may be a bit of a surprise to see a team with one of the best NFL pass defenses this low in the rankings. Yes, the Chargers ranked 10th in DVOA against the pass in 2022 and excelled in other pass-defense metrics. Additionally, Los Angeles was riddled with injuries to star players such as Joey Bosa and Derwin James for portions of the season.
A healthy Bosa would make a massive difference in the 2023 outlook for the Chargers regarding the pass rush. Yet, there have been real problems in run defense for two consecutive seasons. Head coach Brandon Staley must put a unit in place that can stop the run, and until he can do that, this Chargers defense will suffer for it.
18. Kansas City Chiefs
The reigning Super Bowl champion Chiefs have nothing to worry about on offense, yet there are some question marks on the defensive side with this unit. However, there is much room for improvement among youngsters such as Bryan Cook, Jaylen Watson, Joshua Williams, and Trent McDuffie.
The Chiefs need All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones on the field, but he is engaged in a holdout as the season gets underway,
Key factors include the progress made by the 2022 first-round pick George Karlaftis. The Chiefs must also see how Kansas State first-rounder Felix Anudike-Uzomah fares in his first year of NFL action.
17. Tennessee Titans
There are no question marks based on 2022 regarding the Titans' run defense. With a defensive line involving Denico Autry, Jeffery Simmons, and Teair Tart, this stalwart unit ranked first in Rush DVOA and other essential metrics last season. There is every reason to expect similar success to continue in 2023.
Yet, the Titans are a tale of two defenses as they were also among the worst against the past last year, giving up 7.1 yards on average per pass attempt. There is room for optimism on the pass rush with the return of Harold Landry and the addition of Arden Key. Nonetheless, major concerns with the Tennessee cornerback unit have not been adequately addressed in the offseason, despite the addition of Sean Murphy-Bunting.
16. Carolina Panthers
Yes, the Panthers lost defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, yet this may not be a primary concern as he will be replaced with former Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. He will inherit a unit featuring solid pieces such as Brian Burns, Derrick Brown, and Frankie Luvu, and CB Jaycee Horn is a candidate for a breakout season in 2023.
The Panthers also benefit from the addition of Vonn Bell at safety. We must see how players like Deshawn Williams, Shy Tuttle and Kamu Grugier-Hill perform and whether they can make a significant impact. The performance of 2020 second-rounder Yetur Gross-Matos is likely to make a major difference in the overall efficacy of this 2023 Panthers defense.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It has been a downhill road for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensively, as their squad has rapidly gone from elite to mediocre. Of course, Jamel Dean is a force to be reckoned with at cornerback, yet his counterparts have not been much help. Plus, the Tampa Bay run defense is inconsistent. There is a tendency to allow massive games, including two 200-yard affairs in 2022.
Of course, the Buccaneers have some major talent on defense, including the aforementioned Dean and guys like Antoine Winfield Jr., Lavonte David, Ryan Neal, and Vita Vea. The problem is with the surrounding cast because there are many question marks. The Bucs will need to improve on 29 passing touchdowns allowed in 2022 – second-most in the NFL – if they want to move up the rankings in 2023.
14. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have lost some key pieces on defense, including safeties Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates. Top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is still recovering from an ACL tear. We have seen that it can be difficult for cornerbacks to return from this serious injury.
Still, many solid pieces are in place on this defense, including names like B.J. Hill, D.J. Reader, Germaine Pratt, Sam Hubbard, and Trey Hendrickson. Safety Nick Scott was also added in the off-season, and bigger things are expected from young players like safety Dax Hill and cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, who showed flashes of brilliance in their rookie years.
The Bengals also benefit from a great defensive coordinator in Lou Anarumo, who will return to the role in 2023. It will be interesting to see how this defensive unit gels this year and whether the Bengals can repeat their successes of 2021 and 2022.
13. New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been a team on the decline from a defensive perspective in recent years. This trend may only continue with the loss of Marcus Davenport and David Onyemata in free agency. Yet, New Orleans did obtain top draft picks in the offseason with defensive end Isaiah Foskey and defensive tackle Bryan Bresee.
In 2022, New Orleans held some less-than-encouraging distinctions, ranking last in the league in pass-rush win rate, second to last in takeaways, and 24th in rushing yards allowed per game. Yet, the past successes of head coach Dennis Allen as a defensive innovator may bode well for potential improvement in 2023.
New Orleans still has considerable talent with players such as Cameron Jordan, Carl Granderson, Demario Davis, Marcus Maye, Marshon Lattimore, and Tyrann Mathieu. Nonetheless, some of these veterans are in the twilight of their careers, and the Saints' considerable run of being one of the top defenses in the NFL is nearing a close. They will need to improve on their paltry total of seven interceptions in 2022.
12. Denver Broncos
The Broncos benefit greatly from star cornerback Patrick Surtain II, who, across many statistical metrics, is one of the best in the league at his position. Plus, safety Justin Simmons and linebacker Alex Singleton add to a robust Denver pass defense, ranking seventh in pass DVOA in 2022.
Nonetheless, some issues became particularly apparent toward the second half of the 2022 season. The average QB rating of opposing teams saw a considerable rise, and the Broncos ultimately finished the season with one of the lowest pressure rates in the league.
The Broncos lost a great defensive coordinator in Ejiro Evero to the Panthers, and that is a major issue. However, they have added another solid defensive mind in Vance Joseph, and that should allow them to continue their 2022 success. However, there are question marks on the defensive line, and improvement in pressure rate and consistency throughout the 2023 season is needed if the Broncos are going to make the top 10.
11. Buffalo Bills
The Bills are a team that will likely find its way into the top 10 by the end of the season if they can maintain consistency. Last year they were one of the best defenses in the NFL through the first 10 weeks, ranking fourth in defensive DVOA.
Yet the loss of veteran outside linebacker Von Miller to an ACL tear signaled what would become a declining year for Buffalo's defense late in the season and throughout the playoffs. Millerstarts the season on the PUP list, linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is gone, and Buffalo has struggled mightily against number one receivers on opposing teams, according to DVOA metrics.
Third-round draft pick LB Dorian Williams should help soften the blow of the absent Edmunds. Yet, there are significant question marks on the coaching side as defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and the Bills have parted ways. Head coach Sean McDermott will be calling the plays on defense, and it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the defensive performance.
Top 10 NFL Defenses in 2023
10. Cleveland Browns
Myles Garrett and Za'Darius Smith should be a formidable DE pairing for the Browns in 2023, although there are some health concerns with Smith. Assuming his efficacy and availability, this will be a unit to contend with. Garrett has needed help to take this Cleveland defense to the next level, and it appears that the Browns' front office has answered the call with the addition of Smith.
We also expect to see significant steps forward for the Cleveland run defense, with Dalvin Tomlinson added to the mix and the return of Anthony Walker. The Browns drafted DT Siaki Ika in the third round, but he may need some time to develop.
Cleveland will also see what should be an improved new-look safety unit featuring Juan Thornhill and Rodney McLeod. This will be a defense to watch in 2023.
9. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens shined considerably later in the 2022 NFL season, which bodes well for 2023. Yet, it is worth noting that in the first 12 games of last season, the Baltimore defense struggled to the tune of 253.8 pass yards per game and a 90.5 opponent quarterback rating.
Another year to get used to defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald's scheme appears likely to pay dividends considering how the Ravens' defense jelled later in the 2022 season. The Ravens are counting on a breakout second year from safety Kyle Hamilton, who showed in 2022 that he is a force to contend with at the NFL level.
Assuming the Baltimore pass defense improves in 2023, this will be a defense to watch. The run defense has already proven to be among the best in the league. The performance of stars such as cornerback Marlon Humphrey and linebacker Roquan Smith will be major indicators of the degree to which this Ravens defense will excel in 2023.
8. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins are a team that some might be surprised to see in the top 10. Based on 2022 numbers, it would not seem appropriate, as they were only middle of the pack with a 15th-ranked defensive DVOA. The Dolphins were below average by some other metrics – including points-per-game allowed.
Yet, based on player acquisitions, Miami looks to be one of the most improved defenses in the NFL leading into the 2023 season. Of course, the most prominent addition is that of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but he begins the season on Injured Reserve. They have also obtained linebacker David Long Jr. and safety DeShon Elliott, who both look to significantly impact this already solid Miami defensive squad.
Miami has one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, featuring Bradley Chubb, Christian Wilkins, Jaelan Phillips, and Zach Sieler. Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland loom in the secondary, and with the big-impact off-season additions, we would not be surprised to see Miami move up the rankings even further as this season unfolds.
7. Washington Commanders
Washington is a sleeper team when considering its defensive potential compared to expectations. Yes, the defensive unit struggled in the first half of the 2022 season, allowing an opponent-average 99.2 quarterback rating. However, the Commanders defense settled in throughout the rest of the season and that could lead to greater success this year.
On top of a much-improved defense later last season, Washington has added multiple top draft picks at cornerback in Emmanuel Forbes (16th overall) and Jartavius Martin. While not a considerable needle-mover, linebacker Cody Barton was also signed in the off-season. There is also reason to expect DE Chase Young to make positive strides after struggling in his 2022 return from an ACL tear.
Assuming Young can return to pre-injury form and safety Kamren Curl can build on his 2022 season, we expect big things from this Washington defense in 2023. Of course, much of its success may depend on the efficacy of its rookie CB duo. Washington is a team that could go either way in 2023, and it will be exciting to see the season unfold.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh struggled defensively in 2022, yet injuries played a primary part. Major defensive cogs such as Ahkello Witherspoon, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and T.J. Watt all suffered from injuries, with two of the trio ending up on the IR. What had been a top-10 defense plummeted to 12th in total DVOA, putting up middling numbers in several defensive categories.
It should be a different story in 2023 with a healthy Steelers defense that has added some key pieces. These include Patrick Peterson in the secondary and LB Cole Holcomb.
Other additions, such as round two draft picks Joey Porter Jr. and Keanu Benton, appear poised to impact the defense positively. The Steelers defense needs to build on its strong close to the 2022 season. Staying healthy will be a huge consideration, as is introducing some fresh talent will help in this department.
Top 5 NFL Defenses in 2023
5. New England Patriots
Despite an offensive decline with the loss of Tom Brady and the end of the Patriots dynasty, Bill Belichick simply doesn't fail to field a formidable defensive unit year after year. In 2022, the Patriots were one of the best defenses in the league by multiple metrics, including a No. 3 ranking in defensive DVOA.
There was, however, one clear hole to fill at cornerback, and it has been addressed with the drafting of Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez. Of course, a rookie always needs an adjustment period, but Gonzalez checks all the boxes and will join exciting second-year CB, Jack Jones.
Guys like Ja’Whaun Bentley, Josh Uche, Kyle Dugger, and Matthew Judon will need to get it done for the Patriots to move further up the rankings as the year progresses. Yet, if they achieve standout seasons, Jones continues his development, and Gonzalez delivers a solid first-year, this will be a very nasty unit.
4. New York Jets
The New York Jets have not been an outstanding team in recent years, and it is likely surprising to see them toward the top of any power rankings. Yet, defensively, the Jets have experienced a dramatic turnaround. In 2021, what was one of the worst defenses in the league did a near-180 and became a top-five unit by DVOA in 2022.
Rookie All-Pro Sauce Gardner certainly had a lot to do with it, having a remarkable season for a first-year player. In addition, there were considerable contributions from Quinnen Williams and D.J. Reed to help take this defense over the top. They have added 15th overall pick Will McDonald IV to the mix, and further improvement from 2022 first-rounder Jermaine Johnson isexpected.
Another acquisition that may go under the radar from a defensive perspective is that of Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. Rodgers is known as a great clock manager and a smart quarterback who does not make many mistakes. This should result in the defense spending less time on the field and avoiding fatigue in the late stages of games.
3. Dallas Cowboys
In 2022, the Cowboys were one of the best NFL defenses under Dan Quinn, featuring stars like Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs. Dallas landed at the top of the NFL in many defensive metrics, including sacks, pressure rate, and points allowed. Based on last season alone, there would be reason to expect the Cowboys to be an elite defense in 2023.
Yet, they've improved even further by adding Stephon Gilmore as a number two cornerback. Yes, he may be past his prime, yet still held opposing quarterbacks to a 56.2 percent completion rate when targeted in coverage in 2022. Between Diggs and Gilmore, this will be a formidable Cowboys backfield.
On top of it, the sizable presence of rookie tackle Mazi Smith should further improve the Dallas run defense which ranked fifth in 2022 DVOA. This Cowboys team looks like a sure thing as one of the top defenses in the NFL in 2023.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
For opposing offenses, the NFC East will be a tough division to contend with between the Cowboys and the Eagles, with both ranking in our top three. Sean Desai takes over from Jonathan Gannon as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, and that could be an issue. The Eagles were only the fourth team in NFL history to record 70 sacks in a season in 2022 and will look to follow up on this groundbreaking effort in 2023.
The Eagles feature an elite cornerback pairing of Darius Slay and James Bradberry, and an excellent pass rush, making them formidable against the passing game. Two first-round defensive picks were obtained in the 2023 draft, including the 9th overall pick in DT Jalen Carter and former Georgia OL Nolan Smith.
Philadelphia has added to its defense by adding veteran safety Terrell Edmunds. Add all of this to the pass-rushing prowess of Brandon Graham, Haason Reddick, and Josh Sweat, and things are about to get ugly for offenses facing this stout Philadelphia defensive unit in 2023.
1. San Francisco 49ers - The Best NFL Defense in 2023
In what was a reasonably close call, we will have to give the nod to San Francisco as the best projected NFL defense in 2023. It all starts with the ridiculous run defense, which allowed only 77.7 rushing yards per game in 2022.
The loss of defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans may not help in this area, yet new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks should keep chugging with a loaded defense in terms of personnel. Remember that the 49ers dealt with significant injuries to critical defensive cogs such as Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa, yet still managed a No. 1 overall defensive DVOA rating last year.
This unit was ranked fifth in pass-rush win rate and sixth in run-stop win rate, allowing just four points per game in the fourth quarter and the fewest red zone scoring attempts per game in the NFL. On top of it, Javon Hargrave has been added to the mix to even further bolster the pass rush, and a hole has been filled at safety with the addition of rookie Ji’Ayir Brown.
The Niners already had CB Charvarius Ward and LBs Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner, and this team will be something to contend with on the defensive side of the ball. If there is one question mark, it is the new defensive coordinator, but Wilks possesses a long track record and should handle this supremely talented without issue.