1. Seattle SeahawksBesides losing starter Byron Maxwell to the Eagles, the Seahawks come into the new season with nearly every player from their iconic Legion of Boom defense. To replace Maxwell, the Hawks signed Cary Williams at a cheap deal, which works well in their favor, as Williams brings the same (maybe even better) stature to the team like Maxwell. Kris Richard taking over the entire defensive unit, the familiarity with Quinn’s work and the players should ensure that the Seahawks play in more-or-less the same way they did when they led the league in total defense last year. Not to mention, the D-line that was already very good in 2015 added the veteran free-agent talent of Ahtyba Rubin and drafted defensive end Frank Clark, who could be a real gem if he stays out of trouble in Seattle.
2. New York JetsArguably, no team in the league improved their secondary in the manner in which the Jets did in this offseason. Most notably, new defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers snagged star cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Pats, lured Antonio Cromartie into New York, landed a solid nickel option in Buster Skrine and upgraded their safety by signing Marcus Gilchrist from San Diego. And to top it all off, Leonard Williams, ranked as the best defensive player in his draft class, fell out of the top five, landing right on the laps of the Jets with a No. 6 overall pick. Added to super-talented defensive ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, you get one of the most terrifying defensive fronts in the NFC, or better yet, the entire NFL.
3. Buffalo BillsAfter improving to become one of the best defensive units in the league, the Bills have a chance of getting even better, thanks to the presence of defensive guru Rex Ryan and his defensive coordinator, Dennis Thurman. Following his amazing improvement of the New York Jets defense from a mediocre unit to one that is celebrated in the league, Ryan will get a chance to do the same in Buffalo, and he will have his trusted partner, Thurman, who jumped ship from New York to the Bills with Ryan in the offseason. Coaching issues aside, the Bills bring back almost all the core players from last season’s improved defense, with safety Da’Norris Searcy being the only noteworthy loss. And to offer depth in the secondary, they added Ronald Darby, Ron Brooks and Ross Cockrell to the cornerback. Meanwhile, the front seven already includes Pro Bowl talents Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, Jerry Hughes, who is coming off two straights seasons of 10-or-more sacks, a terrific linebacker duo in Preston Brown and Nigel Bradham, and a safety combo that is loaded with quality in Aaron Williams and Duke Williams. As if that is not enough, the secondary is profusely fused with depth in players like Stephon Gilmore, a true No. 1 cornerback, and both Leodis McKelvin and Corey Graham offering quality options as outside cornerbacks. Throw in stud cornerback Nickell Robey in the slot, there’s no doubt that the Bills will have one of the best game-wrecking crews in the NFC.
4. St. Louis RamsSt Louis Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams is a man of few words, but his Rams have been doing a lot of talking lately with their noise-attracting defensive line. At the top of their list of talented players is, of course, the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, DT Aaron Donald, who had a dominant first year in the Pros. Joining him at the crème de la crème talent of the team is Robert Quinn, a premier pass-rusher that was rigged out of the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013. And to complete their star cast in the defensive line, we have defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Michael Brockers, along with defensive ends William Hayes and Chris Long, making up a formidable talent-heavy unit. As the only point of concern, the Rams didn’t do a lot of upgrades in the linebacker corps or even their secondary in the offseason, which means that the rest of the D-line will need to stretch itself to the maximum if it is to impress like in 2014. By the way, did you know that the Rams were the only team in 2014 to post back-to-back shutout wins? Pretty interesting, right!?!
5. Miami DolphinsIt’s hard to make a claim that one man can change a middling defense to a top D-line, but when that man is DT Ndamukong Suh, then you have no option but to make an exception. Suh is a proven game-changer, so his presence in Miami guarantees better stopping-the-run defense and relentless harassing of opposing quarterbacks. And the best part about the Dolphins and their D-line is that Suh will not be going it alone, as he will have the support of stellar pass-rushers Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, who will be taking care of things from the outside, while Suh does what he does best in the middle. Additionally, Rookie Jordan Phillips should also offer a run-stuffing option for the team. Of course, outside of Brent Grimes, the Dolphins lack serious talent at cornerback, and the linebacker position is also yet to find reliability. Still, with Suh in the fold and the rest of his teammates picking up the slack, the beefed up defense should be really good, setting up the team for more success in 2015.
Other Noteworthy Solid Defenses in the NFC
Minnesota VikingsAdding middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, Michigan State product Trae Waynes and 36-year-old stopgap Terence Newman gives the team depth and a chance at impressing with a solid D-line in 2015.
Denver BroncosBringing defensive guru Wade Phillips offers a lot of hope, on top of the fact that defensive linemen Antonio Smith and Vance Walker bring veteran presence to the team. Drafting Shane Ray, a solid pass-rusher, also guarantees improvements, which could make the Broncos (who ranked third-best in the league in total defense last year) play even better defense.
Detroit LionsLosing Suh and Nick Fairley will hurt like hell, but at least the team will have Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker for damage control. Gabe Wright from Auburn was a steal at fourth round and third-round pick Alex Carter will be important for the team in the secondary. Some regression will be evident, but after ranking second-best in total defense last year, there’s just so much a fall this still-talented team will take.
Sources Seahawks.com (http://www.seahawks.com/news/2015/05/28/kris-richard-adapts-new-role-seahawks-defensive-coordinator-were-going-keep-ball-0) CBSsports.com (http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1868411/trae-waynes)