Predicting the Top 5 defenses this season

Is the Rams defense the best in the NFL?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

The 2021 NFL season is now less than a week away. The preseason has been completed and rosters are being finalized as teams prepare for week 1 of the regular season. Now is as good a time as any to start projecting how each team will perform this year. In particular for this article, let’s predict who the top five defenses in the NFL can be this season, counting down from 5th place and continuing all the way to the number one spot.

5. Buffalo Bills

The Bills were an average defense last year, ranking 14th in yards allowed per game with 352.5 and 16th in scoring with 23.4 points per game allowed. What’s encouraging is that they played much better defensively late in the season than they did earlier. For example, in their final six regular-season games following their bye week, they held four of their six opponents to under 20 points and then also held the Ravens to just three points in a playoff game. That gives reason for optimism heading into the 2021 NFL season, especially because head coach Sean McDermott is defensively focused. In addition, they addressed their lack of “true pass rushers” in the NFL Draft this year with first round pick Greg Rousseau and second round pick Boogie Basham. With the improved pass rush and renewed focus on defense, the Bills can get back to playing like they did in 2019 when they ranked 2nd in scoring defense at 16.2 points per game and 3rd in total defense at 298.3 yards per game.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers suffered an extreme amount of injuries in the 2020 NFL season, including their top two pass rushers in Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Despite the fact that neither of them played much at all, in addition to all of the other injuries as well, they still managed to finish ranked 5th in total defense at 314.4 yards allowed per game. They only recorded 30 team sacks in 2020 but that number should greatly improve with their overall health, as demonstrated by their 48 team sacks in the 2019 NFL season. Lead by superstar linebacker Fred Warner, the 49ers should have another great year defensively, even without Robert Saleh as the defensive coordinator anymore after he accepted the New York Jets head coaching job.

3. Washington Football Team

Last season WFT ranked 2nd in yards allowed per game with 304.6 and 4th in scoring defense with 20.6 points allowed per game. There is good reason to believe that they could be even better this season than they were last season because of the development and progress of their young and dominant front seven. Chase Young and Montez Sweat are already one of the very best EDGE duos in the NFL and should continue to improve as they mature a bit more. The team ranked 6th in sacks last year with 47 and that number will likely go up this season. The front seven was the biggest strength of the team last season but that didn’t stop them from using their first round draft pick on linebacker Jamin Davis out of Kentucky. As long as they can keep this unit together, WFT will have one of the top defenses for many years to come.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

The center piece to their defense, linebacker Devin Bush, only played in five games last season due to injury but the Steelers still ranked 3rd in both scoring and total defense with 19.5 and 305.8 respectively. They did lose pass rusher Bud Dupree to free agency but replaced him with a very capable veteran in Melvin Ingram. He was plagued by injuries last season, but from 2015 to 2019 he recorded 43 total sacks with the Chargers. He will pair with one of the best EDGE players in the NFL in TJ Watt, whose 15 sacks helped the Steelers lead the league in team sacks last year with a massive 56 total. In just four seasons, Watt has already accumulated 49.5 sacks and 17 forced fumbles. The Steelers have an absolute stud at all three levels of their defense, with Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end to go with Watt on the EDGE and Bush in the middle.

1. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams were the most dominant defense in the NFL last season. Their 281.9 yards per game allowed was best in the league by a very wide margin of more than 22 yards per game. In addition, they lead the NFL in scoring defense at 18.5 points allowed per game and were second in team sacks with 53 total. They have, arguably, the best cornerback in the entire NFL in Jalen Ramsey and he’s not even their best defensive player. That is, of course, Aaron Donald. He is not only the best defensive player in the NFL but he very well may be the best overall player period. In seven season with Rams he has only missed two games total while accumulating 85.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, and 6 recovered fumbles despite being double or triple teamed on every single play. He is the “favorite” to once again win the Defensive Player of the Year award this season, as he should be favored every year. Based on their dominance last season, as long as they have Donald and Ramsey then there is no real reason to believe that they will regress as a defensive unit.

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