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2016 NFL Defense Power Ranking

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2016 NFL Defense Power Ranking

The 2016 NFL Offseason was a very promising one for teams looking to improve on defense.  With many free agents bound to make strong impacts on their new teams such as Malik Jackson and Josh Norman, along with promising rookies such as Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey, many teams pounced on the opportunity and got better.  Some, however, got worse when they really needed to improve.

In order to determine the power rankings for all 32 NFL Defenses heading into the 2016 season, I first looked at each team’s ranking in numberFire’s nERD and Football Outsiders’ DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) to determine how effective each defense was last year.  I then analyzed and judged for myself how effective each addition to the team’s defense was and how much it would change their ranking.

While it is impossible to know what will happen next season in the NFL, I have tried to make an educated guess on what defenses will stand out and which one’s will be the bane of their respective teams.  I have categorized them by 4 tiers: Elite, Above Average, Below Average, and Bottom Tier.  So without further ado, this is my power ranking of NFL defenses for 2016:

Tier 1: Elite

1. Denver Broncos
2015 nERD rank: 1 (-73.16), 2015 DVOA Rank: 1 (-25.8%)

Last year’s Broncos defense could be considered one of the best of all time.  They carried Peyton Manning to his last ring by applying huge amounts of pressure upfront while keeping lockdown coverage in the secondary.  While retaining Von Miller was huge, they lost DE Malik Jackson and LB Danny Trevathan in the process and didn’t replace either in the draft.  The secondary will continue to be huge for the Broncos going forward.  While the 2016 Broncos will not have an all-time best defense, it will still be the best in the NFL.

2. Arizona Cardinals
2015 nERD rank: 6 (-4.9), 2015 DVOA Rank: 3 (-15.6%)

An already solid defense in Arizona only got better in the offseason.  They traded for former Patriots DE Chandler Jones, who will instantly upgrade their pass rush, and signed S Tyvon Branch.  They followed up those two key acquisitions with the drafting of Ole Miss DT Robert Nkemdiche with the 29th overall pick in the draft.  While Nkemdiche lacked substantial production in college and has character concerns, the Cardinals have gone down this road already (see: Tyrann Mathieu) and have had great success, and should be able to take advantage of Nkemdiche’s supreme athleticism and versatility.

3. New York Jets
2015 nERD rank: 5 (-15.29), 2015 DVOA Rank: 5 (-13.8%)

The Jets went 10-6 last year and missed the playoffs.  That won’t happen again this year, as with an improved defense on what was already a great unit, expect playoffs for New York.  While they need to sign DE Muhammad Wilkerson to a long term deal, the franchise tag will suffice for now.  While losing DT Damon Harrison was a solid blow, they signed former Pittsburgh DT Steve McLendon to ease the pain.  What jumped the Jets to #3 in the power ranking was the drafting of two athletic linebackers in Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins.  4th round selection CB Juston Burris could also prove to be a valuable pick.

4. Houston Texans
2015 nERD rank: 3 (-26.16), 2015 DVOA Rank: 8 (-9.3%)

It’s hard not to be an elite defense with J.J. Watt at defensive end.  While the Texan’s focused on improving their offense this offseason, they did not lose anybody irreplaceable and dumped ineffective players.  Houston’s defense will once again be the key to their playoff run.  Look for very similar numbers to last year since there was not a lot of change on this side of the ball.

5. Kansas City Chiefs
2015 nERD rank: 2 (-27.81), 2015 DVOA Rank: 6 (-11.6%)

The Chiefs successfully brought back MLB Derrick Johnson and OLB Tamba Hali, both leaders of the defense, along with DE Jaye Howard, who is a solid contributor.  However, they also lost CB Sean Smith and S Husain Abdullah.  The Chiefs somewhat offset these losses in the draft with 3 cornerbacks: Keivarae Russell from Notre Dame, Eric Murray from Minnesota, and D.J. White from Georgia Tech.  The Chiefs‘ second pick, Chris Jones, is a first round talent and could be highly disruptive on the defensive line.  Overall, while not a terrible offseason, the Chiefs got worse short-term.

6. Carolina Panthers
2015 nERD rank: 7 (-2.45), 2015 DVOA Rank: 2 (-18.4%)

Carolina was one of the best in the league on defense last year, but that defense changed in a big way for the worse when they let Josh Norman walk.  They needed a second corner even when Norman was still there, and they didn’t sign anybody and only drafted corners in the third and fifth round.  However, second round pick S James Bradberry should be a solid contributer in the secondary, and that third round pick, CB Daryl Worley, should also fit the same mold (while being nowhere near as good) as Norman.  First round pick DT Vernon Butler adds depth and good run defense on the interior of the line.  The Panthers will still be elite, but certainly not as good as last year.

7. Cincinnati Bengals
2015 nERD rank: 13 (38.51), 2015 DVOA Rank: 10 (-7.1%)

All four of the Bengals’ starting secondary were out of contract this offseason, and the Bengals did pretty well to bring back both CB Adam Jones and S George Iloka.  Signing LB Karlos Dansby was huge, as he is immediately the best coverage LB on the team and will add versatility to the LB corp.  Cincinnati also drafted CB William Jackson III out of Houston with the 24th pick, and he looks to be a great NFL corner for the Bengals.  While the Bengals lost S Reggie Nelson and did not replace him, they improved at CB and at LB and look to be an elite NFL defense next season.

8. Oakland Raiders
2015 nERD rank: 17 (58.5), 2015 DVOA Rank: 15 (-1.5%)

If the Raiders simply didn’t participate in the NFL Draft, they still improved dramatically on defense.  CB Sean Smith is a great cornerback and an instant upgrade over D.J. Hayden.  Reggie Nelson fills and improves on the hole left by Charles Woodson.  Versatile OLB Bruce Irvin was also a fantastic signing.  The Raiders followed that up b selecting three defensive players in the first three rounds in West Virginia S Karl Joseph, Illinois DE Jihad Ward, and Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun.  Joseph will most likely be a great NFL safety, and Calhoun and Ward (Calhoun more) have potential to be starting defensive ends.  The Raiders had a great offseason, and can now be considered an elite defense.

Tier 2: Above Average

9. Los Angeles Rams
2015 nERD rank: 8 (0.00), 2015 DVOA Rank: 7 (-10.5%)

Free agency was rough for the team with a new city.  They lost highly disruptive Pro Bowl DT Nick Fairley, CB Janoris Jenkins and S Rodney McLeod.  The Rams did bring back DE William Hayes and CB Trumaine Johnson, but the Rams lost some substantial pieces.   They did sign DT Dominique Easley, who is one of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league and now pairs with Aaron Donald, another great pass-rushing defensive tackle.  DE Quinton Coples could also fit in the rotation on the DL as a pass rusher.  Los Angeles signed former Titans CB Coty Sensabaugh, but he is nowhere near what Janoris Jenkins was, and they didn’t draft a single defensive back, either.  The Rams will still be a solid defense, but with a much weaker secondary, look for a downgrade overall.

10. Seattle Seahawks
2015 nERD rank: 4 (-16.21), 2015 DVOA Rank: 4 (-15.2%)

Seattle’s offseason was sub-par on defense.  They lost LB Bruce Irvin and DT Brandon Mebane and replaced them with CB Brandon Browner and DE Chris Clemons, two players that did well with the Seahawks, left, had terrible seasons with other teams, and are back for salvation.  I have trouble buying they are immediately going to be amazing players again.  2nd round pick DT Jarran Reed from Alabama was a great selection, but Bruce Irvin was a huge piece and was not replaced well.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2015 nERD rank: 22 (73.43), 2015 DVOA Rank: 18 (3.3%)

The Buccaneers made serious improvements on defense in the offseason.  DE Robert Ayers is a great pass rusher and helps out the D-Line a lot.  CB Brent Grimes had a rough year last year in Miami, but had been a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback before that.  LB Daryl Smith is 34 and is on the decline, but he will provide solid leadership.  Tampa Bay’s first two draft picks, Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves and Eastern Kentucky (former Ohio State) DE Noah Spence, both look to be Day 1 starters and defensive cornerstones for years to come.  The Bucs look much improved on defense compared to last year.

12. Minnesota Vikings
2015 nERD rank: 11 (26.95), 2015 DVOA Rank: 14 (-1.8%)

2nd round pick CB Mackensie Alexander was a steal and will eventually replace aging CB Terrence Newman and be a quality starter on a quality defense.  Every year, the Vikings appear to have fewer and fewer weaknesses.  Minnesota is a young team that is mainly looking to improve through growth, so expect consistent improvement year-to-year with this defense with not a lot of drastic change from last year’s rankings.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars
2015 nERD rank: 29 (95.31), 2015 DVOA Rank: 26 (9.7%)

The Jaguars were the most imporved team of the NFL offseason, especially on defense.  They signed DE Malik Jackson, CB Prince Amukamara, and S Tashuan Gipson, all of whom are quality players.  For an encore, they spent 6 draft picks on defensive players, the first two of which were CB Jalen Ramsey and LB Myles Jack, debatably the top two defensive players in the draft.  The Jaguars will be a very different defense from last year, and that should end up being a good thing.

14. Pittsburgh Steelers
2015 nERD rank: 9 (3.36), 2015 DVOA Rank: 11 (-3.8%)

In free agency, the Steelers cut ties with a lot of players that have not contributed in the past, such as Antwon Blake, Cam Thomas, and Sean Spence.  The steelers did add to the defense in the draft, however.  CB Artie Burns from Miami and S Sean Davis from Maryland are both great athletes, and while Burns is more of a man-coverage corner, he should be able to adjust to zone.  While 3rd round pick DT Javon Hargrave from South Carolina State did not produce well last year, he, too, has great athleticism.  The Steelers‘ defense did get younger, but also got slightly worse in the short term.

15. Buffalo Bills
2015 nERD rank: 18 (58.94), 2015 DVOA Rank: 24 (8.6%)

Buffalo let aging DE Mario Williams go, and followed that up with the signing of three productive players: LB Zach Brown, S Robert Blanton, and CB Sterling Moore.  Browns looks to be an immediate starter, while Moore could be a nickel corner while Blanton will serve as a quality backup.   The Bills also had a great draft.  I like first round pick DE Shaq Lawson from Clemson more than a lot of people, and I think he will be a great DE.  2nd round pick LB Reggie Ragland from Alabama easily could’ve been a first rounder, was the best MLB in the draft and will probably start, so that was a fantastic selection.  3rd round pick DT Adolphus Washignton from Ohio State also could be a starter and will most likely produce well for the Bills.  While it was a great draft, young players, especially on defense, do not change a defense over night, so the Bills do not move up a lot in the power rankings.

16. New England Patriots
2015 nERD rank: 12 (29.72), 2015 DVOA Rank: 12 (-3.3%)

Chandler Jones was a huge loss for the Patriots.  He is a disruptive edge rusher whom the Cardinals will love.  While New England signed former Rams DE Chris Long, he is not Chandler Jones.  2nd round pick CB Cyrus Jones looks to be a solid slot cornerback.  3rd round pick DT Vincent Valentine will substantially increase the run defending on the line.  While the Patriots added three solid players, the loss of Chandler Jones will hurt.

17. Chicago Bears
2015 nERD rank: 31 (104.39), 2015 DVOA Rank: 31 (11.5%)

The Bears were one of the most improved teams this offseason.  New linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, along with first round draft pick Leonard Floyd from Georgia, turn Chicago’s linebackers from a weakness to one of the best in the NFL.  3rd round pick Florida DE Jonathan Bullard was a steal and will be a impactful DE as a great run-stuffer while bringing in some pass rush, too.  Not addressing the secondary, however, will hurt the Bears in a league where passing becomes more and more popular.  Chicago’s best hope is that an elite front seven will put enough pressure on quarterbacks to alter timing.  Chicago used this idea in 1985 to become the best defense of all time.

18. Green Bay Packers
2015 nERD rank: 14 (39.53), 2015 DVOA Rank: 9 (-7.3%)

Green Bay generally does not make splash free agent signings.  While that held true this year, it was surprising to see them let CB Casey Hayward go since he was their top cornerback.  First round pick DT Kenny Clark from UCLA seems like a reach, but maybe the Packers think he will be a better scheme fit than I think he will be.  An uneventful offseason is not surprising in Green Bay, but this one seemed less productive than in the past.

19. Baltimore Ravens
2015 nERD rank: 10 (13.89), 2015 DVOA Rank: 20 (5.1%)

Balitmore lost S Will Hill and DE Chris Canty, but they actually might be better off without either.  They replaced Hill with S Eric Weddle and younger defensive ends will replace Canty.  Rookie CB Tavon Young has potential in the secondary.  Baltimore had a quiet, but productive offseason.

Tier 3: Below Average

20. Washington Redskins
2015 nERD rank: 15 (45.47), 2015 DVOA Rank: 21 (5.4%)

First of all, watching Josh Norman and Odell Beckham go at it twice year will be an amazing thing.  I think Norman is overrated, is a system CB, and is only the best in the league at zone coverage, but there is no doubt he is an upgrade for the Redskins.  S David Bruton should be a quality backup in the secondary.  The Redskins had a risky draft on both sides of the ball.  USC S Su’a Cravens could be a great player or a bust because of his being a defensive tweener, and Kendall Fuller, while playing well in 2014, was not good in coverage last year before getting hurt.

21. Atlanta Falcons
2015 nERD rank: 19 (60.15), 2015 DVOA Rank: 22 (6.9%)

Atlanta’s front seven last year was horrendous.  As a result, changes had to be made.  New DE Derrick Shelby is the biggest addition and should certainly help out up front.  New linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Sean Weatherspoon will compete for the other two starting linebacker postions besides last year’s first round pick Vic Beasley.  The NFL community, both experts and fans, are very divided on whether first round pick Florida S Keanu Neal is a perfect fit or not an upgrade at all.  Personally, I think he is a perfect fit, as he can fly all over the field, which is exactly what the Falcons need.  The Falcons drafted potential in 2nd round pick LSU LB Deion Jones and production in fourth round pick Minnesota LB De’Vondre Campbell.  Atlanta looks to be much improved fro last year on defense.

22. Philadelphia Eagles
2015 nERD rank: 16 (58.10), 2015 DVOA Rank: 17  (3.0%)

S Rodney McLeod and CB Leodis McKelvin both look to be cheaper, yet better options than last year’s defensive backfield because of their scheme fit.  However, with no draft addition on defense until the sixth round, questions remain about the future of this defense.  The major change for the Eagles this year won’t be with the players, but with the scheme as they adjust to new DC Jim Schwartz.

23. Miami Dolphins
2015 nERD rank: 21 (72.87), 2015 DVOA Rank: 25 (9.0%)

DE Olivier Vernon, CB Brent Grimes, DE Derrick Shelby, DE Quinton Coples, and S Louis Delmas are all gone.  Miami did a poor job replacing the lineman, with their “top” signing being DE Mario Williams, who is on the downswing of his career.  However, they did trade for quality players in LB Kiko Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell.  Both will immediately help this defense.  2nd round cornerback Xavien Howard from Baylor should also help out the secondary.  While the D-Line will be a big weakness even with DT Ndamukong Suh, the LBs and the secondary should be solid for Miami.

24. Indianapolis Colts
2015 nERD rank: 20 (72.16), 2015 DVOA Rank: 13 (-2.2%)

Not much change happened in Indianapolis this offseason.  They lost budding star LB Jerrell Freeman, but also added budding star CB Patrick Robinson.  Besides that, they drafted potential over proof in round 2 with S T.J. Green from Clemson.  4th round pick Florida LB Antonio Morrison could compete for playing time this season, which, as a fourth round pick, shows value.  While the Colts didn’t change much, they didn’t improve, and that is why they are lower than their defensive ranking last year.

25. San Diego Chargers
2015 nERD rank: 28 (95.28), 2015 DVOA Rank: 28 (10.4%)

S Eric Weddle left San Diego for Baltimore in free agency, and while the Chargers brought in Dwight Lowery to replace him, it is still a downgrade.  However, DT Brandon Mebane should contribute, and CB Casey Hayward could become a star in San Diego.  The third overall pick, Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, will most likely become a star for the Chargers, but it will most likely not happen next season.  The Chargers look to be better on this side of the ball after a terrible season last ear, especially against the run.

26. Detroit Lions
2015 nERD rank: 26 (85.06), 2015 DVOA Rank: 16 (1.6%)

I will never know how the Lions got the best run-defending tackle in the draft with the 46th pick, but Alabama DT A’Shawn Robinson will prove to be a great value even if his pass rush does not develop.  Besides the addition of Robinson, almost nothing changed on the defense except for CB Rashean Mathis’ retirement, which will hurt because he was still a solid corner before he left.  With almost no change, the Lions got worse in the short term, and their ranking shows.

27. New Orleans Saints
2015 nERD rank: 32 (161.81), 2015 DVOA Rank: 32 (26.1%)

New Orleans was by far the worst defense in the NFL last year.  They gave up back-to-back 50 point games.  A case could be made for that defense being in the top (or bottom, in this case) 10 for worst defenses of all time.  However, the Saints knew all of this, so they went out and tried to fix the problem.  They dumped system CB Brandon Browner and LB David Hawthorne, and signed Pro Bowl DT Nick Fairley.  While aging and somewhat unproductive, new linebackers James Laurinaitas and Craig Robertson and decent signings.  First round selection DT Sheldon Rankins from Louisville was a great pick and and can play anywhere on the D-Line.  Unlike most rookies I have mentioned, he instantly upgrades this defense.  S Vonn Bell from Ohio State also helps out a secondary where they need a lot of it.  The Saints made improvements this year, and will certainly not be the worst in the NFL again.

Tier 4: Bottom Tier

28. New York Giants
2015 nERD rank: 30 (95.85), 2015 DVOA Rank: 30 (10.7%)

While the Giants signed DE Olivier Vernon and CB Janoris Jenkins, they also let go DE Robert Ayers and CB Prince Amukamara, so there really wasn’t any change in either place.  DT Damon Harrison should prove to be a solid acquisition.  The draft went great for the Giants, with both first rounder Ohio State CB Eli Apple and third rounder Boise State S Darian Thompson looking to be immediate impact players.

29. Dallas Cowboys
2015 nERD rank: 23 (74.59), 2015 DVOA Rank: 19 (4.1%)

This defense took a huge hit when LB Rolando McClain got suspended for 10 games.  While they signed DE Cedric Thornton and drafted Notre Dame MLB Jaylon Smith, they shot themselves in the foot by not drafting Jalen Ramsey with the fourth pick.  The Cowboys’ defense will not be pretty next year without McClain, especially if Smith doesn’t play.

30. San Francisco 49ers
2015 nERD rank: 27 (94.98), 2015 DVOA Rank: 27 (9.9%)

The 49ers signed 0 new defensive players in free agency, so there will not be much change next year on the D.  However, the future looks bright for the 49ers’ defense.  Oregon DE DeForest Buckner was a perfect selection for San Francisco, and I’m excited to watch him wreak havoc for the 49ers (no, I’m not a San Fran fan, I am just excited to see the man play).  CB William Redmond from Mississippi State looks to be a future starter.  As previously stated, besides Buckner, there will be almost no change on this side of the ball.

31. Tennessee Titans
2015 nERD rank: 24 (78.86), 2015 DVOA Rank: 23 (7.1%)

While I like the potential of second round pick Clemson DE Kevin Dodd, he won’t become a star in one season.  Meanwhile, Tennessee lost LB Zach Brown, who was a key contributor on the defense.  The Titans didn’t sign any notable defenders, either, so with a worse defense than last year, the Titans’ ranking drops.

32. Cleveland Browns
2015 nERD rank: 25 (83.64), 2015 DVOA Rank: 29 (10.5%)

The Cavaliers may have won the NBA Finals, but Cleveland fans should, sadly,  expect the exact opposite from the Browns.  In free agency, they lost S Donte Whitner, DE Randy Starks, LB Karlos Dansby, and LB Craig Robertson.  In rounds two and three of the draft, the Browns got DEs Emmanuel Ogbah from Oklahoma State and Carl Nassib from Penn State, both of whom should be solid in the future.  They also got great value in the late rounds with Wiscosin LB Joe Schobert and Arizona LB Scooby Wright III.  The future looks bright for Cleveland, but next year will be rough.