NFL Analysis


11 min read

Ranking NFL's Top 5 Defenses After 2024 Draft

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95)
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95), defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson (94) and defensive end Alex Wright (91) celebrate after a tackle during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2024 NFL Draft completed, rosters across the NFL are mostly set. As we get a good look at what teams could look like for the upcoming season, we can get a better idea of each team's quality and start to predict who the best will be.

Today, we will predict the league's five best defenses. Just like our offensive rankings, this is a season-long prediction of the best overall units. 

Defenses can be harder to project and sustain season to season, but many elements of last year’s best defenses remain the same. Still, it would not be surprising to see one of these teams drop out of the top five or for a surprising team to end up here by season’s end.

Let’s take a swing at the top five defenses of 2024:


New England Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon
Matthew Judon (9) and cornerback Christian Gonzalez, back from injury, will strengthen what is one of the better defenses in the league. Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

5. New England Patriots

You’d be forgiven if you missed how good the New England defense was last season in the midst of a 4-13 season. The Patriots were ninth in defensive DVOA, fourth in EPA per play and seventh in success rate.

There’s certainly a Bill Belichick factor to that, but it’s not as if the New England Patriots went out and completely changed the coaching staff. Jerod Mayo could have his own philosophy, but he came up playing under Belichick and was heavily involved in the defense as a coach.

The Patriots also kept most of their defense intact. After placing the transition tag on safety Kyle Dugger, the two sides agreed to a long-term extension. Dugger is one of the more versatile safeties in the league, bouncing around from deep to the slot to the box.

Having Dugger can help mitigate New England's two losses on defense, Myles Bryant and Jalen Mills. This has been a defensive back-heavy unit, as the Patriots played dime on a league-leading 25 percent of snaps last season. They’ve been one of the best defenses against the run, allowing the fewest yards per rush in the league. 

New England should get a full season from second-year CB Christian Gonzalez. Before his injury, Gonzalez played well and held up in coverage despite being targeted often. He finished 45th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap, while he had three passes defensed and a sack in four games played.

Matthew Judon will also return from injury after he was lost four games into the season. Judon did have four sacks through those four games. His return will help a pass rush that was 23rd in pressure rate and relied on heavy blitzes with six or more pass rushers (third-highest rate in the league).

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Roquan Smith, left, and defensive back Kyle Hamilton
Baltimore Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton (14) and linebacker Roquan Smith (0) anchor a top-notch NFL defense. Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

4. Baltimore Ravens

Mike Macdonald is gone, but many elements of the Baltimore Ravens' defense will stay the same. Zach Orr is the new defensive coordinator after spending the past two years as the team's inside linebackers coach, working closely with Macdonald. 

Most of the personnel losses will be covered by players brought in or already on the roster. The great thing about the Ravens' defense is there is a star to work around at every level: Justin Madubuike on the line, Roquan Smith on the second level and Kyle Hamilton in the secondary.

Madubuike re-signed and will help unlock the defensive line by keeping his pass-rush skills in the interior. His presence inside allowed the Ravens to disguise the outside pass rushers and create 1-on-1 or free rushers while sending players from everywhere in the pass rush.

Smith is such a force on the second level that he makes the job of the other linebackers easier. That sparked the development of Patrick Queen during the last year and a half. Queen went from a liability to a defender who could play to his strengths next to Smith.

With Queen in Pittsburgh, that role will likely go to 2023 third-round pick Trenton Simpson, but Smith can help smooth that transition.

In the secondary, Hamilton can do everything. He can play deep, in the slot, in the box and on the line. He’s an impact player at every spot. The loss of Geno Stone playing deep will hurt, but a healthy season of Marcus Williams could help, as well as more playing time for Ar’Darius Washington.

There weren’t many new additions on the defense, but 2024 first-round pick Nate Wiggins could make an impact on the outside opposite Marlon Humphrey with Arthur Maulet in the slot. Wiggins is thin but played good press-man coverage at Clemson and could solve Batlimore's CB2 issue. 

Baltimore also has some signs of regression that could help. Despite being the best defense in the league by points allowed per drive, this unit was one of the worst red zone defenses. That typically trends toward the overall level of the defense from year to year, meaning the Ravens could be better in that area. 

Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (95) is introduced prior to a game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Kansas City Chiefs

By the time the Super Bowl came around, there was not a defense playing better than the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s not just because there were only two defenses still playing by the time the Super Bowl came around — take how the Chiefs were playing and compare it to any defense at any other point in the season.

Most of the main pieces return on this unit that played so well throughout the regular season. It carried the team and allowed the offense to find its balance for the playoff run. L’Jarius Sneed is gone after he was traded to the Tennessee Titans, but the Chiefs appear to have faith in their younger corners to replace him.

Joshua Williams, a 2022 fourth-round pick, was fifth among cornerbacks in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap last season and led all corners with at least 100 coverage snaps in completion rate allowed. Jaylen Watson, a 2022 seventh-round pick, was 14th in completion rate allowed and about average on a per-coverage snap basis.

So much of the secondary will revolve around Trent McDuffie and everything he does for it. McDuffie was the best defensive player in the Super Bowl and showed he could be a superstar. He has played outside, in the slot and could switch between the two during the season.

The Chiefs also kept their most important pass rusher, Chris Jones, with a big extension. Jones was 12th in pressures among defenders in the regular season. His presence inside changes how Kansas City can attack with a four-man pass rush and with pressure packages under Steve Spagnuolo that can create chaos. No team converted sacks than the Chiefs, who finished with a league-high 9.3 percent sack rate.

Kansas City had all of its defensive success last season without forcing turnovers. Just 9.5 percent of opposing drives against the Chiefs ended in a turnover, which ranked 23rd. With some regression in that area, this defense could top their fundamentally sound defense with more big-impact plays.

New York Jet cornerback Sauce Gardner
New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) might be the best cornerback in the NFL and is a big reason for the Jets' success on defense. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

2. New York Jets

This New York Jets defense is just good everywhere. It’s a well-built and well-coordinated unit at or near the top of the league in almost every category. They were third in defensive DVOA while second in EPA per play and success rate. Last year, only the Ravens prevented touchdowns on a per-drive basis better than the Jets. 

Most of this unit has stayed together with a few additions that should help. The depth of the defensive line was a strength in the past few seasons — to the point where a player like Bryce Huff could be used as a third-down pass-rush specialist — though that depth has been taken away a bit.

Still, the Jets added Haason Reddick, who has been one of the best pressure creators on all downs during the past three seasons. Plus, they hope to get development out of former first-round picks Jermaine Johnson and Will McDonald.

Creating pressure with four is a staple of the Robert Saleh defense. The Jets were fifth in pressure rate last season with the league's second-lowest blitz rate. Like some of the other defenses on this list, having someone like Quinnen Williams inside can make things easier for those on the edge by pulling attention away from the outside rushers.

The Jets do not lack stars behind the line, and if the defensive line doesn't have the same impact, that is where the strength of the 2024 defense could be.

Quincy Williams is a canon at linebacker, rangy with a spear-like tackle. Of his tackles, 70.5 percent produced a positive play for the defense, which led linebackers by a significant margin.

In the secondary, Sauce Gardner might be the league's best cornerback. He’s been a shutdown player during his first two years in the league. He was fourth in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap in 2023.

However, D.J. Reed might be one of the NFL's best CB2s, allowing the Jets' corners to play sides without much worry about the dropoff in quality. Then, there is Michael Carter, who was one of the league's best slot corners last season.

At any point, the Jets have a positional group that can take over a game and make the defense look like a dominant unit. 

Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett (95), the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, leads what might be the best defense in the NFL. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

1. Cleveland Browns

This Cleveland Browns defense was incredible last season under Jim Schwartz. While Cleveland was eclipsed by Baltimore in defensive DVOA, the Browns ranked first in EPA per play and success rate. By EPA per pass play, there was as big of a gap between the Browns and the No. 2 team as the No. 2 and No. 5 teams.

If the Jets don’t have the best cornerback trio in the league, the Browns do. Denzel Ward has been great as a No. 1, as have Greg Newsome and Martin Emerson. Despite some contract disputes — Newsome and Emerson both hoping for extensions — Cleveland should get at least one more season from this trio. They’re both under contract through 2025.

Last season, the Browns played the league's highest rate of man coverage at 40.9 percent. Only six other teams were at 30 percent. That rate of man puts a lot of pressure on the corners, who have held up and locked down receivers at all three spots. 

During a breakout season, safety Grant Deplit was hurt at the end of the year. But Delpit's return will give the Browns a versatile safety that can be used anywhere. Delpit and Juan Thornhill make a dangerous safety duo.

With so much going on with the Cleveland defense last season, it could be easy to overlook what LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah did. He was all over the field and had an insane 20 tackles for loss. Even at 221 pounds, he can fly downhill and holds up well in coverage.

Of course, there is Myles Garret, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Garrett gets so much attention on the line but can still create pressure and get to the quarterback. The Browns kept Za’Darius Smith as the second edge and added Quinton Jefferson in free agency. They also drafted Michael Hall Jr. to play inside with Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris.

Only 24.8 percent of opposing drives ended in a score against the Browns, which was the lowest rate in the league since the 2019 Bills and Patriots held opponents to scoring under a quarter of the time. 50.5 percent of opposing drives ended in a punt, the 11th-highest rate for a team since 2000.

The Browns don’t have to be that dominant again to be the league’s best defense, but they have the potential to do so.