10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While the team of the offseason made its headlines through acquisitions on the offensive side of the ball, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a legitimate top 10 defense that will prove to be vital for the team’s success in 2020. The defense has the perfect combination of young talent and veteran leadership along with one of the better defensive coordinators in the NFL. Last season, the defense was often left out to dry by a quarterback who would consistently turn the ball over in opponents’ territory in Jameis Winston. However, Tampa Bay statistically had the best rush defense in the entire league, holding opposing teams to only 3.3 yards per carry behind an elite front seven.
Highlighted by Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul and sack machine Shaq Barrett, the Buccaneers are able to generate pressure with only three pass rushers, making Todd Bowles’ 3-4 scheme a perfect fit for the team. Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White are the underrated leaders that use their speed and mental processing to make plays sideline to sideline. The one glaring weakness of the team is their secondary, ranking 25th in touchdowns allowed through the air. However, the selection of safety Antoine Winfield Jr. in the draft looks to bring reinforcement and much-needed leadership to the struggling secondary. Overall, the Buccaneers are one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL and expect to hear much more about the talent of the group as the Buccaneers make national headlines this upcoming season.
9. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have consistently been among the best defenses in the league for the past decade under Mike Zimmer, and one can expect them to remain amongst the leagues’ best in 2020 due to very little roster turnover on the defensive side. In 2019, the Vikings found themselves in the top six in the entire league in points allowed and turnovers forced. In perhaps their best performance of the season, Minnesota neutralized the NFC offensive powerhouse in the New Orleans Saints, holding Alvin Kamara to a mere 21 rushing yards, Drew Brees to barely over 200 yards passing and kept reception leader Michael Thomas out of the end zone.
Minnesota possesses talent on all three levels of their defense, such as Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris who combine for the best safety tandem in the entire league. Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks is among the smartest players and best run stoppers at the position. Most importantly, the Vikings are able to produce constant pressure in pass rush, led by defensive end Danielle Hunter. Hunter’s pass-rushing ability off the edge is paramount to the defense’s success, recording 14.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons and at least 12.5 in three out of the last four. Minnesota is filled with talent and great coaching on the defensive side of the ball, and do not expect that to change next year.
8. Tennessee Titans
Was there more of a surprise in the 2019 season than the Tennessee Titans? Looking back at last season, it is easy to credit their deep playoff run to the powerhouse that is Derrick Henry and the shocking emergence of Ryan Tannehill. While rightfully so, many fail to recognize the performance of their defense as the team advanced further than any analyst projected them to. Under fiery coach Mike Vrabel, Tennessee found ways to shut down offenses led by Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson in consecutive weeks on the road to make it to the AFC championship game. In all three games, the defense did not allow any more than fourteen points and forced multiple turnovers in both playoff games.
While star ballhawk safety Kevin Byard is the face of the defense, it is the additions to the team and the return of rising young players that makes this team a prime candidate to make another leap forward in 2020. 2019 first-round pick Jeffrey Simmons is expected to become a breakout player for Tennessee, who was only able to play the final nine games last season due to an ACL tear back in college. A consensus top-five pick at defensive tackle before the injury, Simmons is filled with potential and has the ability to become the best player on the defense. The addition of Vic Beasley, Johnathon Joseph and the selection of LSU corner Kristian Fulton adds great role players to a team already with great depth. While the defense is not filled with household names, they are an outstanding collective unit that will once again prove to be a force in 2020.
7. Los Angeles Chargers
Injuries and a lot of bad luck plagued the Chargers throughout the 2019 season, and their defense was no exception. Without All-Pro safety Derwin James for the majority of the season, the defense was not able to overcome constant turnovers from Philip Rivers and the offense and dropped from 12-4 to 5-11. Despite a drop-off in record, Los Angeles’ defense remained in the top six in yards allowed and top five in passing yards allowed. Going into 2020, Los Angeles has made major upgrades throughout the offseason to once again be one of the elite defenses in the league.
With the return of James, Los Angeles’ secondary is loaded with talent, something vital to have in a division with Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Star cornerback Casey Hayward and nickel Desmond King are now accompanied by free agent and fellow All-Pro Chris Harris. Harris has been an elite cornerback in Denver for years, which included a 35-game streak of not allowing a receiving touchdown, and still proves to be a very good player at age 31. On the defensive line, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram remain among the best pass-rushing duos in the entire league. Former Viking Linval Joseph is an underrated signing at defensive tackle, as offensives will have to consistently double team him against the run. The selection of Kenneth Murray in round one fills out their defensive roster perfectly, with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley needing a middle linebacker to run his 4-3 scheme. Bradley has been the defensive coordinator on both the 2013 Seahawks and 2017 Jaguars, and the talent is there for him to coach another top defense here in LA.
6. Chicago Bears
It was just one season ago when the “Monsters of the Midway” were the most feared defense in the entire NFL, good enough to carry a Mitchell Trubisky squad to a 12-4 record and a home playoff game in 2018. In 2019, the defense seemingly took a small step back in key statistics and was unable to make up for the deficiencies of the struggling offense. Chicago dropped from 36 turnovers forced to 19 and dropped from the number one team in points allowed to outside the top three. The impact of the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was felt last season, yet the Bears still remain among the best defenses of the NFL.
It is hard to talk about the Chicago Bears without mentioning top edge rusher, Khalil Mack. The future Hall of Famer is a game-wrecker, and expectations are for him to be a double-digit sack artist once again. Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller highlight a loaded secondary, as both former all-pros continue to play at the top of their game. The defense’s x-factor, however, is middle linebacker Roquan Smith. The former leader of Georgia’s SEC Championship team has continued to be a very good player for Chicago, with many projecting this year to be a breakout season. A dominant season from Smith, with all the talent around him, could be the key to the Bears reclaiming their spot as top defense and make another playoff run in 2020.
5-1 of the best defenses of the NFL will come out Monday, July 13.
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