Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Through four weeks, this has been one of the worst defensive seasons I’ve ever seen in pro football.
Washington was supposed to have a “vaunted” D, right?
The Rams – led by Aaron Donald, one of the most overrated players I’ve seen in a long, long time – were supposed to be the class of the league, right?
Well, nobody can seem to stop anything. Things have flipped. The balance of defensive power has shifted. Just a quick explanation of my methodology, here:
These rankings are not necessarily for fantasy football, though they could be utilized if you wanted. What I’m considering here is this: What did we know about this D heading into the season - and maybe the past couple years or so – and how does that line up with what we are seeing through four games? Who has been consistent, who is on the rise and who is declining? I’m using yards per game allowed as a baseline stat for efficiency.
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Meh, introductions are boring, let’s go:
32. Jacksonville: 0-4 record and 31st in defensive yards allowed per game. Not worth spending time overanalyzing this very weak D.
31. Seattle: Jamal Adams got all the money, but this D still can’t stop anyone. Same story as last season, if not worse. Always fun to play fantasy players against them.
30. Atlanta: Always considered one of the worst, and they are 23rd so far this season. Slight improvement, but not enough to sway me after just four outings.
29. Houston: I like their energy, but they are still 28th on the stat sheet. A spunky bunch, without much substance.
28. Detroit: Maybe we’d have them between 30 and 32 before the season, but head coach Dan Campbell is a hard-nosed guy and DC Aaron Glenn – former Jets great! – is helping this group improve (albeit slowly).
27. Minnesota: They feel like Seattle sometimes. We just wanna stack fantasy players against them. Always seems to be an up-and-down shootout with them; at least Kirk Cousins is playing very well on the other side!
26. Kansas City: Tough to be at their best without Frank Clark at full strength. When I look at them, I see Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu. Not much else, really.
25. Washington: So what the heck is going on, here? What happens is… your group gets the hype when you have a “hot” player like Chase Young. Chase Young is one of the most popular players on the defensive side of the ball right now. Rankings tend to follow suit behind that; the substance hasn’t been there from other positions. Ranked 29th on the stat sheet right now, crazy.
24. Miami: Brian Flores is a defensive guy known for his toughness, but things are tough on this D right now with the offense sputtering. Just a messy season in Miami on the whole. Already seems like a lost year, to be honest.
23. Tennessee: For me? Just blah. On the bright side, linebacker Harold Landry III is one of the best defensive players I’ve seen live this season. Quick, strong, decisive. At least they have a diamond in the group.
22. Dallas: Things are changing a bit in Dallas. CB Trevon Diggs is out of this world right now; easily one of the best in the game. Rookie Micah Parsons leads the team in sacks and looks like the real deal. Leighton Vander Esch remains a good leader who leads with energy and enthusiasm.
21. Philadelphia: Fletcher Cox, Jason Hargrave… and?
20. Cincinnati: Whoa! This one is a surprise. They lost Carl Lawson and somehow they are ranked 7th right now. Obviously, I can’t buy in that hard. Still, we’d think 26 to 32 before the season, so 20 is a real improvement at the moment. Linebacker Logan Wilson might be the best in the game right now – FORTY tackles, 3 interceptions and a sack, already.
19. Las Vegas: Like Dallas, I see improvement. I see increased energy. The passion is there through four games. Like the aforementioned Harold Landry III, Maxx Crosby is one of the best and most impressive defensive players I’ve seen live this year.
18. Green Bay: Wow! Like Cincy, another surprise. Ranked 6th right now. I would have been thinking more like 15 to 20 before the season. Crazy when you consider the fact that Za’Darius Smith is on IR. Stud Jaire Alexander has a shoulder injury, too. How, exactly, are they performing so well?
17. Giants: Every game is close with this team, huh? Get those sweat buckets for New York fans. James Bradberry, Jabrill Peppers and Leonard Williams lead the way for this competitive D. Nothing spectacular on the whole, but they are scrappy.
16. Jets: Another wow! I can’t believe my own eyes. Ya’ll know I’m a Jets guy, and I must say I’m stunned. I’m trying to be totally unbiased, so I’m ranking them 16th. On the stat sheet, they are 13th. Quinnen Williams 3.5 sacks, John Franklin-Meyers 3 sacks, Bryce Huff 2 and 37 tackles for leader C.J. Mosley. I haven’t seen anything like this since the days of John Abraham and Shaun Ellis. Credit Robert Saleh for some of this, for sure.
15. Chicago: This tends to be where they hover, to me. Everybody plays better when you have a Khalil Mack.
14. Denver: People have been talking about Teddy Bridgewater and improved efficiency, but let’s not forget that Vic Fangio is a defensive coach. Von Miller appears to have returned from the same time machine as A.J. Green this year, and we know FS Justin Simmons is one of the studs of all studs.
13. Baltimore: 18th is surprising, thus far. Thought they might be better. I think a lot of us had them top 10 before the season, so we’ll have to monitor how things develop. Marcus Peters was a huge loss, right before the start of the year. Calais Campbell, Marlon Humphrey and Justin Houston lead the way as savvy vets.
12. San Francisco: 33 points to Detroit? 30 to The Pack? 28 to Seattle? High numbers, but still San Fran is 10th in yards per game allowed. Like Baltimore, I think a lot of us had them in a near-elite group before the season. 10th ain’t bad, but something just doesn’t feel right to me. Maybe they miss the aforementioned Saleh?
11. Indianapolis: Darius Leonard is as good as they get. Maybe the best overall? DeForest Buckner is a monster, while Xavier Rhodes continues a renaissance akin to A.J. Green and Von Miller.
10. Carolina: Speed, speed, speed. I’ve seen a lot of Carolina thus far this season. Their athleticism definitely jumps off the screen at you. Put Donte Jackson in that category with Maxx Crosby and Harold Landry III, for me. Derrick Brown is a HOUSE – steadily improving. Shaq Thompson is one of those guys who is “everywhere”, unfortunately he just went down with an injury. We’ll see how this D responds on the whole.
9. Arizona: Chandler Jones and Budda Baker… is there a better defensive duo in the game? 4-0 record, taking the league by storm, and this defense continues to ascend on the whole.
8. New Orleans: Steady. Quiet. Reliable. This offense isn’t what it used to be, thankfully they have Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis and Marshon Lattimore on the defensive side.
7. Chargers: Like Arizona, here is an athletic group on the rise. Derwin James can never seem to stay healthy, but when he’s out there, he’s easily a top-10 defensive player in the world. Joey Bosa is Joey Bosa – we know exactly what we get, there. Linval Joseph is a run-stuffing machine.
6. Rams: I mentioned it in the opening, and I tweeted it earlier today – Aaron Donald is one of the most overrated players in the history of the game. A full-length article will be coming on the topic. Anyway, Rams are 27th right now, just awful. Givin’ up yards, points, the whole shebang. If I don’t see improvement they’ll be out of my top 10 before you know it.
5. Tampa Bay: Consider the injuries to JPP, Carlton Davis, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting and Antoine Winfield. At full strength, I feel pretty comfortable with them as a top-3 unit. Right now, it’s a wait and see kind of thing with the injuries. Opposing teams still gotta worry about Suh, Vita Vea, Devin White, Lavonte David, Shaq Barrett and Jordan Whitehead. Richard Sherman has entered the fray, too.
4. Pittsburgh: 16th right now on the stat sheet, but it’s awfully tough on a D when Big Ben is this bad. Always “on the defensive,” so to speak. A strong, steady group normally, led by studs Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
3. New England: They just released Stephon Gilmore, but Belichick is more of a defensive mastermind than anything else at this point, and they still have Matt Judon, J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty. Fifth on the stat sheet right now, and we know they have the pedigree on the whole.
2. Cleveland: I’ll take Myles Garrett over Aaron Donald; I’m sorry. Guy disrupts everything. He is an absolute nightmare. Possibly the best pass rusher I have seen since Michael Strahan. Clowney is showing a little spark, too. Malcolm Smith is also a disrupter; Denzel Ward is one of those “everywhere” guys. Great group, playing extremely hard. Ranked 2nd in the stats as well.
1. Buffalo: I’ll admit I doubted them before the season… and I was dead wrong. They are just absolutely dominating right now. How about allowing 217 yards per game when second place is at 250?! Best of the best. I think they will get Gilmore, too.
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