Ranking the NFL defenses
1. Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers return all 11 starters and will be even better if their young secondary, led by safety Antoine Winfield, takes the next step.
2. Pittsburgh: Seven first-round picks (not all by the Steelers) make up the defensive core, led by all-everything outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
3. Washington: Rookie linebacker Jamin Davis and veteran cornerback William Jackson will balance out a defense that has four first-round picks on the line.
4. Broncos: New general manager George Paton went all-in at cornerback, signing Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller and drafting Pat Surtain II ninth overall. Now if only most everybody can stay healthy.
5. Baltimore: Second-year inside linebacker Patrick Queen is the next Ravens star defensively and will pile up tackles playing behind a veteran line led by Derek Wolfe and Calais Campbell.
6. L.A. Rams: The Rams have little depth, but are anchored by Aaron Donald, the NFL’s top defensive player, and Jalen Ramsey, one of the league’s top cover cornerbacks. That gives them a chance.
7. New England: Coach Bill Belichick dove into the deep water of free agency to sign linebacker Matt Judon. Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson are a dynamic tandem at cornerback.
8. Green Bay: New coordinator Joe Barry comes over from the Rams and the only other addition was first-round cornerback Eric Stokes. The Packers have lost four of the last seven NFC title games.
9. Buffalo: The Bills return nearly intact, but were aware of their inability to produce pressure on the quarterback and used their first two draft picks on Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham.
10. Cleveland: Winning a playoff game didn’t make the Browns complacent. They did a soft rebuild of their defense via safety John Johnson, linebacker Anthony Walker and cornerback Troy Hill.
11. Indianapolis: The Colts were second stopping the run, but 20th against the pass. They need first-round pass rusher Kwity Paye to have an immediate impact.
12. Kansas City: Chris Jones is among the league’s top five defensive linemen and safety Tyrann Mathieu is having a terrific second act to his career.
13. N.Y. Giants: Failings in the draft have forced the Giants to be active in the trade/free agent market to acquire defensive tackle Leonard Williams, safeties Logan Ryan and Jabrill Peppers, and cornerbacks James Bradberry and Adoree’ Jackson.
14. New Orleans: All over the top 10 in the defensive statistics last year, the Saints will need to be even better this year following quarterback Drew Brees’ retirement.
15. Arizona: Banking on J.J. Watt to have a resurgent season is a big bet. The Cardinals won’t climb up the NFC West standings unless they stop the run better (22nd last year).
16. L.A. Chargers: Want to see what the Broncos’ defense looks like in a different uniform? Watch the Chargers play under coach/defensive play-caller Brandon Staley, a former Broncos assistant.
17. Tennessee: The Titans were last on third down and third-worst in the red zone last year. They need to be merely semi-terrible this year and pass rusher Bud Dupree should help the cause.
18. Chicago: Sean Desai, a Vic Fangio disciple, is in as coordinator and must find ways to get Khalil Mack back to double-digit sack territory (8 1/2 and nine the last two seasons).
19. Seattle: The Seahawks’ second-worst pass defense waved good-bye to top cover man Shaquill Griffin. They need linebacker Jordyn Brooks to be their next break-out superstar.
20. Minnesota: Michael Piece and Dalvin Tomlinson will make sure the Vikings can stop the run, but can veteran cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland save the secondary? Doubtful.
21. Miami: Even with cornerbacks Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, the Dolphins finished 23rd against the pass last year. Something is missing and we don’t know what.
22. San Francisco: We don’t get all the praise for the 49ers’ defense. Their best player, defensive end Nick Bosa, is coming off a torn ACL, and their cornerbacks are Jason Verrett and Dontae Johnson.
23. Jacksonville: The Jaguars have switched to a 3-4 scheme with coordinator Joe Cullen. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin, safety Rayshawn Jenkins and defensive tackle Malcom Brown were good additions.
24. Las Vegas: The Raiders defense looked good only against the Broncos last year. The group will be built around new defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and rookie safety Trevon Moehrig.
25. Dallas: Former Falcons coach Dan Quinn was hired to give the defense a pulse, particularly against the run (31st) and on third down (26th). The only addition is first-round linebacker Micah Parsons.
26. Carolina: For some reason, the Panthers passed on cornerback Pat Surtain II to draft Jaycee Horn eighth overall. That in itself is a bad omen for their season.
27. Philadelphia: The Eagles refuse to admit a rebuild is in order so they signed veterans at linebacker (Eric Wilson), cornerback (Steven Nelson) and safety (Anthony Harris) to stay competitive. It won’t work.
28. N.Y. Jets: The key to the Jets’ defensive improvement was supposed to be defensive end Carl Lawson, but he tore his Achilles in mid-August.
29. Atlanta: Any defense with Grady Jarrett should be decent against the run, but unfortunately, he can’t play linebacker or safety.
30. Cincinnati: Look at this — the Bengals spent money in free agency. In are defensive end Trey Hendrickson and nickel back Mike Hilton. Not enough, but it’s a start.
31. Detroit: Besides Trey Flowers, can you name two more Lions defensive players?
32. Houston: Whew, the Texans are going to be all kinds of bad, but they will beat Jacksonville in Week 1.