Ranking the 6 Best Defenses for the 2021 NFL Season

Max Staley
Ranking the six best defenses for the 2021 NFL season.
Ranking the six best defenses for the 2021 NFL season. / Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

"Defense wins championships" has become one of the biggest clichés in football. If anything, recent history has proven it's actually offense that wins titles. But last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers proved it's a lot more than just a snappy sentence.

But the Bucs have some real competition for the top spot this year. Here are the six best defenses in the NFL ahead of the 2021 season.

Best NFL Defenses 2021

6. New England Patriots

The New England Patriots had an absolutely filthy defense in 2019, but that unit fell off in a big way last year. That's unlikely to be the case in 2021. New England quietly added a ton of talent on defense this offseason. Star LB Donta Hightower is returning after missing 2020 due to COVID concerns. The Pats also spent big-time money on premier edge rusher Matt Judon, added Kyle Van Noy and picked up first-round talent Christian Barmore in Round 2 of the draft. Assuming Stephon Gilmore is healthy and happy, the Pats have one of, if not the, best secondaries in football. Pair that with a front seven that made a ton of upgrades, and we're betting Bill Belichick can get this defense back to playing at a top-five level.

5. Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams were the league's fourth-best defense by DVOA last year. But we're knocking them down a few pegs after some key offseason losses. Defensive coordinator Brandon Staley played a big part in this team's emergence, and he's now the head coach of the cross-town rival Chargers. Safety John Johnson also departed. However, Raheem Morris looks like a fantastic replacement, and this unit is still led by blue-chip talents in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. The Rams will be just fine.

4. Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos' secondary was this team's most notable defensive weakness. It's safe to say that issue has been addressed. The organization brought in Ronald Darby, Kyle Fuller and elite CB prospect Patrick Surtain II. Now getting a hopefully healthy season from star edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, it's hard to find many holes on this unit. Having Vic Fangio lead a defense with this much talent is a scary proposition.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers were among the best defenses in the league last year, and there's no reason to think they'll fall off. T.J. Watt leads a loaded pass-rushing unit that features the likes of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Melvin Ingram. The league's team sack leader in 2020 (56) should be up there again in 2021. With Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden patrolling the secondary, this is not a team you'll want to throw against. Pittsburgh has room to grow, too. If Devin Bush looks as good as he did before the ACL tear, he could be the X-factor that pushes this unit over the top.

2. Washington Football Team

The Washington Football Team's front seven is downright scary. Chase Young and Montez Sweat are best young edge rushing duo in the league. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are virtually unblockable on the interior. And the signing of William Jackson III in free agency should shore up an already-solid secondary. If first-round pick Jamin Davis looks like a star, there are virtually no holes on this Ron Rivera-led defense.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Still, we're ranking the Bucs No. 1 until proven otherwise. On paper, this unit is loaded from top to bottom. All 11 starters are returning from the defense that ranked No. 5 in DVOA, No. 3 in pressure rate and No. 1 in rush defense DVOA. This is the best run defense in football, and the pass defense made life hell for Mahomes and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. If young stars like Antoine Winfield Jr., Devin White and first-round pick Joe Tryon take a step forward, this unit could be even better in 2021. This is the most complete defense in football, period.

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Max Staley is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Max Staley also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username mstaley1212. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in their articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.