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Defensive Weak Spots - NFC

Preseason Matchup Analysis

By Doug Orth | 7/9/24 |

Sometime between the end of the preseason and the first week of the season, fantasy managers and analysts alike shift gears from not caring one iota about their players' matchups to making it their primary consideration when setting about 70 percent of their lineup. A tough three- or four-game stretch for a player at the beginning or end of the season should not surprise anyone who calls watching or analyzing football their job, yet many are shocked to learn some of their players open the season with three of their first five or six games against likely top 10 pass defenses or rush defenses.


I am not going to pretend as if I am shocked by this; I have exploited this shortcoming in the industry since creating Preseason Matchup Analysis in 2006. Fantasy analysts are, by and large, fantasy drafters. Drafters want to draft. Analyzing matchups requires too much effort and is too time-consuming. Every additional day spent in the lab is a day that could spent doing something more fun or winning millions in best ball. Most analysts turn to models to speed things up. Why do any more work than you have to if history gets us in the ballpark with projections? The problem is that many projection models only tell us what we should expect from a certain archetype or inform us that certain players are due for regression for any number of reasons. All of this work is helpful, but it fails to account for one important thing: the offense must still face the defense on every play. Every defense is different.

Defense may not matter as much as it used to, but it is a mistake to not account for it at all. Doing so suggests a belief that NFL games are like seven-on-seven drills. I realized as early as 2004 that I did not like the idea of my players having to face the Ravens or the Steelers, especially during the fantasy playoffs. Certainly, my approach has evolved significantly from that initial premise, but I think my track record of success speaks for itself (finishing in the black in each of the 24 seasons I have played fantasy football) and suggests there is substantial value in putting a fair amount of weight into "the matchup." The key is giving potential matchups the proper amount of weight to a player's evaluation. By itself, a matchup will not transform an every-week RB3 into an RB1 or turn a perennial WR1 into a bench option, but it is helpful for fantasy managers trying to find weekly and even season-long values and avoid potential busts.

That brings us to our focus for the second straight week. With defenses operating out of sub-packages (nickel, dime, quarter, etc.) around 75 percent of the time in today's game, it makes sense to use their likely sub-package personnel as the basis for matchup analysis. Furthermore, it helps to have an understanding of how each veteran defensive player who will be playing in those packages graded out and/or performed last year. With the help of sites like Pro Football Focus and Pro Football Reference, we can do that.

Defense is a team endeavor, so the process is never as easy as spotting a player with a weakness and having an offense exploit that matchup repeatedly. An important part of coaching in any sport is the ability to maximize players' strengths and mask their weaknesses; players either will get help from the scheme or be benched if they continue to struggle. Nevertheless, the goal of any good offense is to isolate the weak link in the passing defense as often as possible or take advantage of what may be a "soft" run defense (assuming that matches up with the run-blocking ability of the offensive line). It is also important to understand that no defender lines up across any offensive player on every play, so we are playing odds here as opposed to dealing with virtual certainties (i.e. the few shadow cornerbacks that exist usually only "shadow" about 50-60 percent of the time).

The color-coding in this two-part series is based on last year only because we have no information about this season. Last year's color codes help set the stage for this year. Film analysis and advanced analytics help us predict what may happen.

Each team table below will contain more than 11 players. Projected starters will have projected grades next to their ages, but the rotational players will not because I want the final projected scores (coverage, pass rush and run defense) for each team to reflect the defenders logging the most snaps. Much as I did for the offensive line piece three weeks ago, I will rank each team in terms of projected coverage, pass rush and run defense scores next week.

The purpose of this article (and last week's) is simple, even if the execution of it is not: attempting to identify what defenders present fantasy owners with an opportunity for success. There is a heavy amount of subjectivity that goes into my color-coding matchups in advance of the Big Board. It is my hope this process reduces most of that and gives readers a look under the hood, so to speak.


Green box - Player graded 80 or higher in that particular discipline per PFF (100-point scale)
Blue box - Player graded between 70 or 79.9 in that particular discipline
Yellow box - Player graded between 60 or 69.9 in that particular discipline
Red box - Player graded 59.9 or lower in that particular discipline
Black box - Player did not log a snap in the NFL snap or the discipline does not apply to his position

Italic (player name) - Likely (but potentially important) rotational player
# - Rookie
24 Cov - Projected 2024 coverage grade
24 Run - Projected 2024 run defense grade
Grades - Coverage (Cov) and run defense (Run D)

****All personnel stats courtesy of Ryan Weisman. Check his work out here. All grades courtesy of Pro Football Focus. ****

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Darius Robinson # ED 22 6
Bilal Nichols DI 27 5 49.4
Justin Jones DI 27 5 47.4
Zaven Collins ED 25 6 73.9
Krys Barnes LB 26 6 5 59.2 58.9
Kyzir White LB 28 6 6 59.8 60.3
Max Melton # CB 22 5 6
Sean Bunting CB 27 5 7 54.4 69.3
Garrett Williams SCB 23 6 5 57.2 53.8
Budda Baker S 28 6 7 63.1 67.0
Jalen Thompson S 25 7 5 77.0 54.6
Rotational players
L.J. Collier DI 28 47.4
Dennis Gardeck ED 29 44.5
BJ Ojulari ED 22 56.9
Mack Wilson Sr. LB 26 86.9 71.7
Starling Thomas V CB 24 44.1 53.4
Andre Chachere S 28 69.4 70.1

DC: Nick Rallis (second year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 3-3-5 - 259 snaps; base 3-4 - 254; 2-4-5 - 229

DC Comment: Rallis and HC Jonathan Gannon were about the middle of the pack in terms of blitz percentage in 2023 (22.5). That was almost perfectly in line with Gannon's defense during his final season with the Eagles in 2022 (22.1).

Run: Arizona gave up at least 111 yards rushing in 14 of 17 games and at least 91 in all of them, so the league's worst rushing defense a season ago has a ton of room for improvement. Some of it had to do with a lack of size up front, some of it had to do with a lack of talent up front and some of it had to do with a lack of health up front (11 interior linemen saw snaps and all of them missed at least two games). The Cardinals addressed one of those three shortcomings, adding some much-needed beef with Nichols, Khyiris Tonga and Jones in free agency. They also selected Robinson with their second first-round pick, landing their most talented defensive linemen in the Jonathan Gannon-Rallis era. White and Barnes' grades will likely only improve as a result of having better players in front of them in 2024, but the former is the only one who has any history of being a decent run defender. Gannon and Rallis may need more help from the secondary than they want to give to keep Arizona from being a bottom-five run defense again this season.

Pass rush/coverage: Gardeck surprisingly continues to be the Cardinals' best hope of generating some form of a consistent pass rush, although it would be a surprise if Robinson and Ojulari do not help him in that regard this season. Regardless, this is still a sub-par pass defense that is not anywhere close to as good as its pass defense ranking last season (13th) after posting only 33 sacks and 98 pressures while also surrendering 32 touchdowns and 6.7 net yards per pass attempt. Unsurprisingly, Arizona hit the reset button at cornerback, adding three of them in the draft and Murphy-Bunting in free agency. Melton and Murphy-Bunting at least give the Cardinals a chance at fielding a decent secondary in 2024, but the pass rush needs to improve significantly for it to happen. It would not be a shock if opponents were to target all of them without hesitation. Thompson and Baker have consistently played well despite the mediocrity Arizona has put in front of them for some time. The only fear with either one is their skills may decline by the time the Cardinals fix the issues in front of them.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Grady Jarrett DI 31 7 66.9
David Onyemata DI 31 6 77.1
Zach Harrison ED 22 7 68.2
Arnold Ebiketie ED 25 6 54.8
Kaden Elliss LB 28 7 8 64.8 79.0
Troy Andersen LB 25 6 5 56.0 48.2
A.J. Terrell CB 25 7 7 74.6 70.0
Clark Phillips III CB 22 6 6 58.5 65.0
Dee Alford SCB 26 7 6 72.8 62.8
Jessie Bates III S 27 8 8 90.2 89.8
DeMarcco Hellams S 24 7 7 61.3 75.3
Rotational players
Ruke Orhorhoro # DI 22
Brandon Dorlus # ED 23
Lorenzo Carter ED 28 69.6
James Smith-Williams ED 26 61.4
Bralen Trice # LB 23
Nate Landman LB 25 56.7 85.4
Mike Hughes CB 27 49.1 54.3
Richie Grant S 26 42.4 62.5

DC: Jimmy Lake (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): Lake served as the assistant head coach of the Rams in 2023 and has not called defenses since 2018-19 at the University of Washington. New HC Raheem Morris' defense with the Rams last year utilized 2-4-5 personnel on 248 snaps, 3-3-5 on 234 snaps and a base 3-4 on 209 snaps.

DC Comment: Lake is a bit of an unknown commodity in that so much of his coaching experience took place at the college level, primarily at Washington. His experience with Morris dates back almost 15 years when Morris hired him as a defensive backs coach while he was coaching the Buccaneers. Needless to say, Morris figures to have plenty of say in what happens with this defense in 2024.

Run: While Atlanta ranked 20th in rush defense a season ago, it was surprisingly tied for fourth in the league in yards allowed per carry (3.8). Even though the Falcons return most of their front seven, the loss of Calais Campbell figures to make them a bit softer against the run - and that does not include the likelihood that Morris and Lake opt for coverage over stopping the run. The return of Jarrett (ACL tear in Week 8) should soften the blow of Campbell's departure. (It needs to be noted that Atlanta surrendered an average of 134.2 rushing yards beginning the same week Jarrett was injured. Over the first seven weeks, that average was 95.3.)

Pass rush/coverage: As important as Jarrett is against the run, he is more important for the Falcons for what he can do as a pass rusher. Outside of Jarrett, it is hard to predict who else will make quarterbacks nervous. The most likely answer to that question is Ebiketie, who is an elite athlete and did very well to record six sacks on 175 pass-rush snaps in 2023. Atlanta addressed the lack of pass rush up front with Orhorhoro - a high-level athlete with a major motor. The Falcons are building a low-key quality secondary. Terrell is arguably a top-five corner, while Bates may be in a similar group among safeties. Phillips held up nicely for a rookie once he was finally able to find the field and Alford had his best year as a pro as the primary slot corner. Hellams played well enough down the stretch to push Grant out of a starting job. He should be able to remain there after Grant played himself out of the role with repeated coverage mistakes.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Jadeveon Clowney ED 31 7 74.6
A'Shawn Robinson DI 29 6 60.6
Derrick Brown DI 26 8 90.0
D.J. Wonnum ED 26 6 68.6
Shaq Thompson LB 30 6 7 59.9 65.8
Josey Jewell LB 29 7 6 64.2 63.1
Jaycee Horn CB 24 8 7 83.0 79.7
Dane Jackson CB 27 6 5 69.7 28.8
Troy Hill SCB 32 6 6 66.9 58.4
Xavier Woods S 28 7 7 81.7 73.7
Jordan Fuller S 26 8 6 63.3 75.0
Rotational players
Shy Tuttle DI 28 52.8
DJ Johnson ED 25 53.1
K'Lavon Chaisson ED 24 58.0
Trevin Wallace # LB 21
Dicaprio Bootle CB 26 64.1 53.0
Nick Scott S 29 38.8 53.6

DC: Ejiro Evero (second year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 257 snaps, base 3-4 - 228; 3-3-5 - 199

DC Comment: Carolina ranked 12th in blitz percentage (28.5 percent) under Evero in his first year with the Panthers. The Broncos blitzed at the fourth-highest rate in the league in 2022 under Evero (32.9).

Run: With an offense as inept as the one Carolina had in 2023, the defense was bound to suffer. All things considered, the Panthers held up reasonably well, finishing in a tie for 10th in yards allowed per carry (4.1). A casual observer would not have predicted that in part because opponents ran 508 times for 2081 yards and a league-high 25 touchdowns. While adding Robinson is unlikely to do much for the pass rush, adding another 320-pound body to fellow 300-pounders Brown and Tuttle - each of whom also have established themselves as good run defenders - gives Carolina a chance against power rushing attacks. Further enhancements were made on the edges, as Clowney and Woonum are effective at setting the edge. Losing Frankie Luvu hurts, but getting another strong tackler like Jewell to play aside Thompson was another nice touch for the front seven. With the upgrades in personnel and attached to what should be a much better offense, Carolina could very well be an underrated run defense in 2024.

Pass rush/coverage: Carolina was surprisingly stingy against the pass in 2023, finishing in a tie for seventh in net yards per pass attempt (5.7). It could be repeatable if Horn stays healthy and Clowney plays as he did for the Ravens last season. The most notable departure for the pass defense/rush was trading Brian Burns to the Giants, although it could be argued Clowney offers just about as much from a pass-rush perspective while adding more as a rusher. Horn is easily among the top corners in the league when he is on the field, but he has only played 22 of a possible 51 games in his NFL career. If/when he plays, fantasy managers should assume he will shadow the other team's alpha receiver - assuming it has one - and greatly reduce that receiver's effectiveness. Hill will not be an "avoid" for quarterbacks, but he is a good slot corner. Unfortunately, he turns 33 years old late in the preseason. Dane Jackson probably offers more than Donte Jackson did before he was traded to the Steelers, but that probably will not keep quarterbacks from targeting him a lot as they will probably not test Horn very often. If Horn goes down, Bootle is about all Carolina has as decent depth. Gone is Jeremy Chinn at safety, but Fuller offers more durability and maybe a bit more in run support.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Montez Sweat ED 27 7 72.9
Gervon Dexter Sr. DI 22 5 36.2
Andrew Billings DI 29 6 55.3
DeMarcus Walker ED 29 7 57.9
T.J. Edwards LB 27 8 8 75.4 76.5
Tremaine Edmunds LB 26 6 6 58.3 57.5
Jaylon Johnson CB 25 8 6 91.0 67.2
Tyrique Stevenson CB 24 6 6 59.1 60.6
Kyler Gordon SCB 24 7 6 68.2 58.3
Kevin Byard S 30 7 8 68.0 83.6
Jaquan Brisker S 25 6 7 62.4 71.7
Rotational players
Zacch Pickens DI 24 44.1
Jacob Martin ED 28 49.7
Jack Sanborn LB 23 63.8 71.1
Noah Sewell LB 22 78.8 74.8
Terell Smith CB 24 65.4 83.2
Elijah Hicks S 24 40.2 67.4
Jonathan Owens S 28 59.6 58.6

DC: Eric Washington (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 4-2-5 - 608 snaps (under former DC Alan Williams AND current HC Matt Eberflus)

DC Comment: Washington gets his first crack at a defensive coordinator job since holding the same role for the Panthers from 2018-19. Neither one of his defenses stood out in a meaningful way, which leads one to believe Eberflus will have a huge say in what goes again last season after turning around Chicago's defense following the departure of Williams.

Run: Including the midseason acquisition of Sweat, the front seven and depth pieces remain virtually intact from the end of last season - excluding the departure of Justin Jones. That is a good thing since Chicago finished tied for fourth in the league in yards allowed per carry (3.8) and first in rushing defense. Only the Ravens gave up fewer rushing touchdowns. Even though Sweat did not have the same impact on the run defense as he did on the pass defense - the Bears were doing a great job against the run before his trade from the Commanders - his presence in Chicago now only solidifies how stingy the team should be again in 2024. Edwards proved to be a great addition from the Eagles and has been a stud against the run and the pass for three straight seasons. Edmunds is running the risk of being a one-hit wonder after returning to his pre-2022 grades in his first year as a Bear. The good news - if there is any with him - is he should be better overall with another year in the system.

Pass rush/coverage: As noted earlier, Sweat's arrival had a huge impact on the pass defense. Beginning with his first game as a Bear (Week 9), Chicago yielded more than 223 passing yards only twice in nine outings. Johnson was as good as any corner by the end of the season, Gordon took a huge step forward in the slot and Stevenson started to settle in opposite Johnson around midseason. There is not an obvious weakness in the secondary now, although teams will undoubtedly take their chances more often against Gordon and Stevenson than Johnson. Byard did not play up to his usual standard following his midseason trade from Tennessee to Philadelphia, but he also did not have the luxury of time to learn a new defense or his teammates. Considering he has played at least 1,000 snaps in seven straight seasons, his presence will be welcomed after his predecessor (Eddie Jackson) struggled to stay healthy. If 2023 proves to be a one-off for Byard, the pass defense could end up being about as stingy as the run defense should be.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Micah Parsons ED 25 6 65.9
Osa Odighizuwa DI 25 6 65.1
Mazi Smith DI 23 5 31.8
DeMarcus Lawrence ED 32 8 92.2
Eric Kendricks LB 32 5 7 62.1 73.6
DeMarvion Overshown LB 23 6 6
Trevon Diggs CB 25 6 6 82.8 62
DaRon Bland CB 24 7 7 86.4 90
Jourdan Lewis SCB 28 5 6 39.5 90.8
Malik Hooker S 28 7 8 71.7 88.3
Donovan Wilson S 29 6 6 66.6 62.1
Rotational players
Chauncey Golston DI 26 49.9
Marshawn Kneeland # ED 23
Damone Clark LB 24 68.8 56.8
Markquese Bell LB 25 83.5 62.5
Caelen Carson # CB 22
Juanyeh Thomas S 24 85.9 58.3

DC: Mike Zimmer (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 3-2-6 - 419 snaps (under former DC Dan Quinn)

DC Comment: Zimmer may end up being almost the complete opposite of the kind of coordinator Quinn was. Although Dallas did not do much in terms of adding personnel to address last year's average run defense numbers, expect better results because stopping the run has typically been a priority for Zimmer.

Run: Zimmer's defenses have tended to emphasize playing the run throughout his career and the Cowboys should have the personnel in Smith and Rogers to fill the inside gaps. Lawrence has consistently excelled as a run defender and Parsons has been more than adequate, which means it will probably fall on Overshown and Kendrick's shoulders to get this unit to where it needs to be. Kendrick has long been solid against the run and has plenty of history with Zimmer dating back to their days together in Minnesota. Overshown was drawing raves in camp last offseason before tearing his ACL, so it remains to be seen what he offers.

Pass rush/coverage: Even after losing Diggs to injury early in the season, the Cowboys remained a difficult pass defense for quarterbacks for most of the season. Zimmer is likely to use man coverage at the same high rate (relative to the rest of the league) as Quinn, so any kind of fall-off from the secondary does not figure to be the result of not having the right scheme fits. With that said, it may be asking a lot for Diggs to fill the shoes of Stephon Gilmore - especially after tearing his ACL - and for Bland to enjoy anywhere close to the amount of success he had in 2023. Both Diggs and Bland are more ball hawks than elite cover men at this point of their careers, so neither player should be considered someone to avoid for fantasy purposes. Lewis struggled mightily in coverage as the primary slot and has not graded higher than slightly average for four straight seasons. Hooker and Wilson are capable enough in coverage to force the quarterback to go elsewhere, which will likely be the plan most weeks for offenses since Zimmer's emphasis on press-man coverage may not be what the doctor ordered for the corners.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Aidan Hutchinson ED 23 7 63.7
DJ Reader DI 30 8 75.3
Alim McNeill DI 24 8 76.9
Marcus Davenport ED 27 6 52.3
Jack Campbell LB 23 5 8 35.3 75.8
Alex Anzalone LB 29 6 7 66.1 70.4
Carlton Davis III CB 27 7 6 63.3 66.7
Terrion Arnold # CB 21 6 5
Brian Branch SCB/S 22 8 8 77.7 83.9
Ifeatu Melifonwu S 25 7 7 75.8 74.4
Kerby Joseph S 23 6 6 50.9 72.6
Rotational players
Levi Onwuzurike DI 26 58.3
John Cominsky DI 28 65.7
James Houston ED 25 45.9
Derrick Barnes LB 25 53.2 69
Malcolm Rodriguez LB 25 55.8 62
Ennis Rakestraw Jr. # CB 22
Amik Robertson CB 26 65.8 54.5
C.J. Moore S 28

DC: Aaron Glenn (fourth year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 4-2-5 - 410 snaps; base 4-3 - 240

DC Comment: Glenn has established himself as one of the more aggressive defensive coordinators in the league. Despite knowing he had average-at-best corners in 2023, the Lions blitzed at the 11th-highest rate in the league (28.7 percent). In 2022, Detroit ranked seventh at 31.2 percent.

Run: The Lions are living proof of how quickly a front office can turn a weakness into a strength. One season after Detroit ranked in the top four of most rushing yards, most rushing touchdowns and yards per carry allowed, it finished second in rush defense and third in fewest yards allowed per carry. The Lions could be even better in 2024. McNeill was a standout against the run last year without much help from his fellow defensive tackles. Enter Reader, whose presence alone seemed to dictate whether the Bengals were going to be good or bad against the run in any given week during his time in Cincinnati. Reader has regularly demanded a double team, which means McNeill could become a handful this year. Davenport got hurt early last season with Minnesota but was a very good run defender throughout his time in New Orleans. All the attention that will likely be paid to Reader and McNeill in the run game figures to free up Hutchinson to grade out higher in that area. Anzalone and Campbell should benefit from the front four taking up five or six blockers. Both linebackers are very good athletes who should be able to take advantage and enjoy their finest seasons as run defenders.

Pass rush/coverage: Detroit's pass defense was atrocious for several reasons in 2023, but most of its major problems have been addressed. Assuming Houston and Davenport are healthy this year, both men are capable of notching 10 sacks on a front that will guarantee each one will see one blocker. (If Hutchinson does not attract a chip or double team, Reader probably will.) The Lions should not have to blitz anywhere close to the rate they did last year because they should have at least three very good rushers on the field at all times. Even if the pass rush fails to get home from time to time, the Lions are exponentially better at cornerback with Davis and first-round pick Arnold than they were at the start of last season (Emmanuel Moseley and Cameron Sutton). When Davis is healthy and confident, he is a top-20 corner in the league at worst. Arnold may be in the same conversation by the end of his rookie season. Branch is a safety with cornerback skills and a player to be feared when he lines up at slot corner. The Lions even have enviable depth now at the position with Moseley and second-round draft choice Rakestraw among others. Melifonwu missed too much time last season but was playing very well at the end of the regular season. Joseph did not grade out well in 2023 but also did not allow a touchdown pass in his coverage in 2023 after giving up five as a rookie one season earlier.

 Green Bay
Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Rashan Gary ED 26 7 75.4
Kenny Clark DI 28 6 61.4
Devonte Wyatt DI 26 5 44.7
Preston Smith ED 31 6 72.4
Quay Walker LB 24 6 6 54.7 63.5
Edgerrin Cooper # LB 22 6 5
Jaire Alexander CB 27 8 6 78.6 59.8
Eric Stokes CB 25 6 6 45.9 76.1
Keisean Nixon SCB 27 6 6 60.4 55.2
Xavier McKinney S 25 8 7 91.2 70.5
Javon Bullard # S 21 5 5
Rotational players
T.J. Slaton DI 26 59.5
Karl Brooks DI 25 46.8
Lukas Van Ness ED 23 60.7
Isaiah McDuffie LB 24 55.5 59.6
Carrington Valentine CB 22 59.1 45.1
Evan Williams # S 22

DC: Jeff Hafley (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 565 snaps; base 3-4 - 219 (under former DC Joe Barry)

DC Comment: Hafley thankfully replaced Barry in February after the latter failed to get much of anything out of six former first-round picks (seven first-round picks if 2023 first-round pick - backup Van Ness - is included) that started for his defense at the beginning of last season. Barry's run defense, in particular, struggled to do much of anything. (Four opponents topped 200 yards against Green Bay and eight hit at least 140 in 2023.)

Run: Any change the Packers make for the better against the run will likely start with Wyatt approaching Clark's level of play sooner rather than later. Wyatt probably deserves the benefit of the doubt given how overmatched Barry was at his job, but a sub-50 run defense grade for someone with his talent is hard to comprehend. Some of the blame has to go on Wyatt. Edge players Gary and Smith have been good against the run for some time and were the most important pieces to what was often a lackluster pass rush under Barry. De'Vondre Campbell's departure to the 49ers weakens the second level of the defense, although Green Bay recovered nicely in the draft with Cooper. The second-round draft choice does not take a back seat to many linebackers in terms of passion or intensity. Walker's run defense and tackling improved greatly in his second season, so it seems within reason to believe the Georgia product could be on the verge of something special if Hafley can get more out of the first line of defense than Barry could.

Pass rush/coverage: Two more former first-round picks reside at cornerback. If he is healthy, Alexander will be a top-10 player at his position. The "if he is healthy" part has been pertinent recently, as Alexander missed 10 games in 2023- the second time in three seasons he has missed at least that many. Ditto for Stokes, who has been limited to 12 games over the last two years due to injuries. Getting 15 games from both players - plus the expected improvement from the pass rush - would probably make Green Bay a poor matchup for all but the most elite passing offenses. Nixon holds a lot of value on this team due to his ability as a returner, but his first year as a full-time slot was very much up-and-down. He will be the defender quarterbacks attack the most at the beginning of the year. The Packers overhauled their safety group, adding McKinney in free agency and using three draft picks at the position. McKinney recorded the highest coverage grade of any secondary player in the NFL last season for the woeful Giants, so he should be a considerable upgrade over the man he is replacing (Darnell Savage).

 LA Rams
Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Jared Verse # ED 23 6
Braden Fiske # DI 24 6
Kobie Turner DI 25 6 68.8
Byron Young ED 26 6 61.7
Christian Rozeboom LB 27 6 5 51.8 42.1
Ernest Jones LB 24 6 7 57.5 86.2
Tre'Davious White CB 29 7 5 79 29.9
Darious Williams CB 31 7 5 85.3 29.9
Quentin Lake CB 25 7 7 66.6 77.2
Kamren Curl S 25 7 7 67.8 63.1
Russ Yeast S 25 6 6 55.6 60.5
Rotational players
Bobby Brown III DI 23 68.8
Michael Hoecht ED 26 60.9
Troy Reeder LB 29 38.7 57
Derion Kendrick CB 23 60.4 65.4
Cobie Durant CB 26 54.7 63.2
Kamren Kinchens # S 21

DC: Chris Shula (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 248 snaps; 3-3-5 - 234; base 3-4 - 209 (under former DC Raheem Morris)

DC Comment: The biggest question facing Los Angeles entering 2024 is if Shula is prepared to run a defense for the first time since he did so at John Carroll University in 2014.

Run: Morris and Aaron Donald are gone. There is no way the Rams can recover from that, right? Well, there is no replacing Donald … BUT it is probably safe to say the team has more talent spread across its front four than any time in recent memory. Although Turner has no chance to replace Donald per se, he played well enough as a third-round pick to finish third in the Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Both he and Brown graded out against the run nearly as well as Donald last year, so there is at least some hope the Rams can remain a middle-of-the-pack run defense. While Verse and Fiske are unknowns coming in from college, each rookie should be an upgrade on the departed Jonah Williams and Hoecht, respectively, as a run defender. Hoecht does not lack for value, however, as he is a 310-pound edge player with the ability to rush the passer and step out in coverage every so often. Jones went from flashing in his second NFL season in 2022 to becoming a dominant force in 2023, but Rozeboom was far less impressive in his first shot as a key contributor. Rozeboom will probably be the one defender offensive coordinators will try to exploit the most in the run or pass game.

Pass rush/coverage: Morris seemingly pieced together a decent pass defense last season using Day 3 draft choices and journeymen. The team's top two corners last year were Ahkello Witherspoon and Kendrick; the former moved on and the latter is now a backup. That is because the Rams brought back an old friend in Williams and a former All-Pro in White. The investment in White is a worthy gamble in part because the team has a capable player to back him up in Kendrick, but it is still very much a dicey proposition because White has not played more than 11 games in three straight seasons and missed 24 of 34 contests over the last two. Los Angeles may have upgraded a bit in coverage after inking Curl to replace Jordan Fuller, but there is little question the team has more quality safety depth than it did last year after drafting Kinchens. Lake took over as the primary slot defender during the second half of the season and has shown nothing but promise since he was a 2022 sixth-round draft choice. Long story short, the Rams should be an adequate but not great defense with no major holes outside of maybe Rozeboom if White can stay relatively healthy. The only other way this defense backtracks significantly is if Shula is overmatched as a play-caller.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Jonathan Greenard ED 27 7 69.7
Harrison Phillips DI 28 7 65.6
Jonathan Bullard DI 30 5 53.7
Dallas Turner # LB 21 5
Blake Cashman LB 28 7 7 75.3 82.3
Ivan Pace Jr. LB 23 6 6 77.7 61.2
Byron Murphy Jr. CB 26 6 7 58.2 65.1
Mekhi Blackmon CB 25 7 6 71.8 63.9
Josh Metellus S 26 7 7 64.5 67.8
Harrison Smith S 35 7 6 69.5 66.2
Camryn Bynum S 25 6 8 69.7 79.1
Rotational players
Jonah Williams DI 28 61
Jerry Tillery DI 27 63.1
Jihad Ward ED 30 40.4
Andrew Van Ginkel ED 29 76.3
Kamu Grugier-Hill LB 30 59.7 40
Shaquill Griffin CB 28 67 61.9
Jay Ward S 23 74.7 63.9

DC: Brian Flores (second year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 333 snaps; 3-3-5 - 224

DC Comment: Flores showed why he is one of the best at his job in the league, overcoming a lack of talent throughout his defense by keeping offenses off-balance. The Vikings somehow led the league in both three-man rushes and blitz percentage (51.5 percent).

Run: Minnesota had no business being a top-10 run defense or middling pass defense in 2023. The case could easily be made he had bottom-five talent at multiple spots, especially defensive tackle and cornerback (after Murphy). While Minnesota is still lacking up front (Phillips is the only full-time player on the roster who has consistently graded out reasonably well against the run), Flores' blitzing nature should help the team overcome its talent deficiencies on the first level of the defense. The Vikings' biggest area of improvement was at linebacker. While swapping out Danielle Hunter for Greenard was largely a lateral move, replacing Jordan Hicks with Cashman should end up being an upgrade against the run and in coverage. Ditto for Pace taking over for Asomoah.

Pass rush/coverage: The Vikings should be in great shape on the edge no later than 2025 and possibly as early as October of this season. Turner was arguably the best pass rusher in this draft and Greenard is coming off his breakout campaign that was cut short early in Week 16. Flores will still send the blitz as much as any coordinator, but he might be able to dial back his aggressiveness a bit if Greenard and Turner prove they are up to the task. Three safeties - Bynum, Metellus and Smith - logged over 1,000 snaps for this defense in 2023 and should be counted on to do the same this season. While Metellus was Minnesota's primary slot defender last year, four players recorded at least 150 slot snaps on defense. As such, it is better to think of Metellus as more of a Brian Branch-type hybrid than a safety or corner. Smith is still playing at a high level at age 35 but not anywhere close to where he was five years ago. With that said, quarterbacks still know better than to test him if they don't have to. Bynum was not great during the second half of the season, but his first half was so good that it may have been a matter of wearing down or playing hurt. Blackmon was a pleasant surprise as a part-time player in his rookie campaign, but the hope has to be that Murphy can be the No. 1 corner that Minnesota signed him to be. There is a reasonable chance Blackmon replaces Murphy at some point, although it is also very possible another Griffin injury is what gets him back into the lineup. In the Vikings' ideal world, Murphy returns to being the player he looked like he was becoming in his final season with the Cardinals, while Griffin and Blackmon hold down the fort on the other side. With that said, expect Flores to continue blitzing a lot and for receivers facing Minnesota to do a lot of damage on short throws as a result.

 New Orleans
Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Cameron Jordan ED 34 7 72
Nathan Shepherd DI 30 5 30.3
Khalen Saunders DI 27 6 57
Chase Young ED 25 6 63.5
Demario Davis LB 35 8 7 85.4 82.8
Pete Werner LB 25 6 6 47.6 70.4
Marshon Lattimore CB 28 7 6 69.1 58.1
Paulson Adebo CB 25 7 6 80.5 66.4
Alontae Taylor SCB 25 5 5 51.8 29.7
Tyrann Mathieu S 32 8 6 87.4 71.1
Jordan Howden S 24 6 6 65.2 62.3
Rotational players
Bryan Bresee DI 22 30.1
Carl Granderson ED 27 70.8
Payton Turner ED 25 60.5
Khaleke Hudson LB 26 61.8 63.8
Willie Gay LB 26 41.1 72.7
Kool-Aid McKinstry # CB 21
Johnathan Abram S 27 48.7 77.8

DC: Joe Woods (second year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 4-2-5 - 546 snaps

DC Comment: While Woods is listed as the defensive coordinator, HC Dennis Allen runs the show. Over the last two seasons, the result has been a below-average run defense. Much of the reason for that is New Orleans has lacked a quality anchor at defensive tackle. The hope is that Bresee can be that guy at some point, but he earned the lowest grade among Saints' defensive linemen as a rookie last season.

Run: Since the team failed to bring in any major reinforcements outside of Gay, it would seem New Orleans is in for another long season defending the run. It actually could get much worse in 2024, as the top two players on the first level of the defense will be 35 years old when the season starts (Jordan and Davis). Especially if Jordan begins to feel his age, the Saints do not appear to have anyone else on the roster capable of picking up his slack against the run. Gay at least has a chance to become the successor to Davis, although the former has only flashed the level of play the latter has maintained for almost a decade. Either way, Gay gives New Orleans a chance to improve a bit against the run in 2024.

Pass rush/coverage: One of Allen's biggest problems is that his front seven cannot make up for its inability to stuff the run with pass-rush greatness. Granderson and Davis led the team in sacks last year, combining for 15 of the Saints' 34. The hope is that Young is healthy enough to be the answer, but offseason neck surgery makes him a complete wild card. IF Young is the sack and pressure artist New Orleans has been seeking for a few years, then New Orleans' secondary has a chance to show how deep and talented it is. Lattimore has struggled to stay healthy recently, but he is still one of the better ones in the game. There is a good chance he will shadow alpha receivers this season if he is as healthy as he seems to believe he is. Adebo made huge strides in 2023 and was the team's best cover man, allowing one touchdown versus four interceptions (and recording 11 pass breakups). If that level of play is the new norm for him, then Taylor will have to fight and claw to hold off McKinstry for primary slot duties. Lattimore-Adebo-McKinstry would be a highly impressive trio to throw against even the best offenses. Mathieu is getting up there in years (32), but he remains one of the best coverage safeties in the league. Whether all of New Orleans' secondary talent means anything this season will depend on players like Young and Granderson having career years

 N.Y. Giants
Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Dexter Lawrence DI 26 9 89.5
Jordan Phillips DI 31 5 30
Brian Burns ED 26 6 62.7
Bobby Okereke LB 27 7 8 82.5 74.4
Micah McFadden LB 24 5 6 57 68.1
Kayvon Thibodeaux ED 23 6 52.3
Deonte Banks CB 23 6 5 48.6 61.6
Dru Phillips # CB 22 5 6
Cor'Dale Flott SCB 22 6 5 59.4 49.2
Tyler Nubin # S 23 6 5
Jason Pinnock S 25 6 7 64.7 67.9
Rotational players
Rakeem Nunez-Roches DI 31 43.8
Azeez Ojulari ED 24 47.6
Isaiah Simmons LB 25 82.7 54.7
Tre Herndon CB 28 73.1 29.7
Tre Hawkins III CB 23 47.2 74.5
Jalen Mills S 30 52.2 84.1

DC: Shane Bowen (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 3-3-5 - 286 snaps; 2-4-5 - 242; 2-3-6 - 160 (Bowen's personnel usage with the Titans)

DC Comment: Gone are the days of former DC Wink Martindale's ultra-aggressive defenses (which ranked second in the league in blitz percentage last year at 45.4 percent). Bowen oversaw the Titans' defense for the last three seasons and enjoyed a great deal of success stopping the run. He may have some challenges to continue that success in his first season with the Giants despite the fact Lawrence is one of the few defensive linemen worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Jeffery Simmons.

Run: Phillips has not graded out well against the run for most of his career even though he is an athletic 341-pound man. Burns and Thibodeaux are very good edge rushers, but both men (in the 250-pound range) are a bit on the light side to hold up against the run play after play. On the plus side, Okereke has performed well in two vastly different defensive systems over the last two seasons and should be able to clean up most of the messes that Lawrence cannot prevent himself. McFadden is also a bit on the small side (virtually the same weight as the 235-pound Okereke) but lacks the same kind of athleticism. Given the relative lack of size - outside of the aforementioned defensive tackles - on the first two levels of the defense, Bowen has his work cut out for him trying to figure out a way to prevent New York from allowing 4.7 yards per carry and finishing 29th (or worse) in run defense again this season.

Pass rush/coverage: Perhaps the best part about the Giants' defense entering this season is that the improved pass rush should make the young secondary look better. Nubin is an instinctive center fielder who should eventually minimize the loss of Xavier McKinney. Banks was playing some of his best ball at the end of last season; both players should end up being building blocks for Bowen. The bad news is Flott and Phillips are not going to put much fear into quarterbacks anytime soon. Pinnock made huge strides in 2023 but will likely defer to Nubin when it comes to defending tight ends this season. It is also possible Mills replaces Pinnock on certain passing downs. After failing to do much with Tennessee's secondary personnel over three seasons, Bowen is unlikely to transform New York or any of its defensive backs into players fantasy managers need to be overly concerned about in 2024.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Bryce Huff ED 26 5 48
Jordan Davis DI 24 7 63.4
Jalen Carter DI 23 7 69.4
Josh Sweat ED 27 6 54.2
Devin White LB 26 6 4 58.4 31.4
Nakobe Dean LB 23 6 7 49.2 80.2
Darius Slay CB 33 7 6 65.4 62.8
Isaiah Rodgers CB 26 8 7
Avonte Maddox CB 28 7 6 39.3 71.2
C.J. Gardner-Johnson S 26 6 6 64.2 65.5
Reed Blankenship S 25 8 7 78 61.2
Rotational players
Milton Williams DI 25 69.8
Brandon Graham ED 36 72.1
Nolan Smith ED 23 65.8
Oren Burks LB 29 60.9 57.5
Zack Baun ED 27 66.9 70.3
Quinyon Mitchell # CB 22
Cooper DeJean # CB 21
Kelee Ringo CB 22 63.5 74.2
Sydney Brown S 24 64.9 56.7

DC: Vic Fangio (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 458 snaps; 3-3-5 - 221 (Fangio's personnel usage with the Dolphins)

DC Comment: Former DC Sean Desai proved to be over his head as the defensive play-caller, failing to hold onto his job for even the full season before being replaced by Matt Patricia. Enter Fangio, who is coming off a very different one-and-done in Miami. The 65-year-old has overseen top-eight total defenses eight times over the last 12 seasons. Seven of the eight "good" defenses finished inside the top 11 in rush defense and six of the eight ranked inside the top 10 in pass defense. In short, he should be the best defensive coordinator this team has had since the late Jim Johnson.

Run: Perhaps no defense disappointed more last season than Philadelphia. Despite being a top-10 rush unit, opponents still averaged 4.3 yards per carry. From a run defense perspective, it is probably fair to put most of the blame on Desai and Patricia. Davis and Carter each graded out well against the run in 2024 but will likely be more dominant with another year of seasoning - especially for the hard-nosed Fangio. Williams is a more than capable backup when Philly uses four down linemen and should be a solid starting five-technique in the Eagles' 3-4 base. Huff, Graham and Sweat may all be odd fits as outside linebackers in the base defense, but Philadelphia should be on the low end of base defense usage given how often they should be in positive game script. The biggest question regarding the run defense will once again be at inside linebacker. White has been horrible against the run in all five of his NFL seasons, Baun has been an oft-injured player who has rarely played inside and Dean has logged all of 229 snaps in his first two professional seasons.

Pass rush/coverage: The Eagles ranked 31st in pass defense, which was partly a product of a league-high 652 pass attempts and partly a product of players simply not playing up to the standard they set even one year earlier. Bradberry's play dropped off in a big way in 2023, which was one of several reasons why the team collapsed in the second half of the season. Between Fangio's ability to confuse quarterbacks with his emphasis on changing the look for quarterbacks post-snap and what should be the return of a dominant pass rush (Carter, Huff, Graham and Sweat should all feast), Slay could return to being "Big Play Slay." Philadelphia had little more than Slay last season after Maddox got hurt and Bradberry fell off. This season, there should be three worthy candidates to start opposite him (Rodgers, Ringo and Mitchell). With that kind of talent and depth coming off the edge and at cornerback, it would be stunning if the Eagles do not field a top-10 pass defense - especially in net yards per pass attempt - in 2024. Even the safety play should be on point with Gardner-Johnson returning from a one-year stop in Detroit and Blankenship establishing himself as a playmaker over his first two NFL seasons.

 San Francisco
Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Nick Bosa ED 26 8 76.4
Javon Hargrave DI 31 5 51.4
Maliek Collins DI 29 5 44.5
Leonard Floyd ED 31 6 56.1
De'Vondre Campbell LB 31 7 7 59.9 68.7
Fred Warner LB 27 8 9 83.3 90.3
Charvarius Ward CB 28 8 7 86.5 67.2
Renardo Green # CB 23 6 5
Deommodore Lenoir CB 24 7 8 74.3 79.8
Talanoa Hufanga S 25 7 7 66.3 77.1
Ji'Ayir Brown S 24 7 7 71.5 72.7
Rotational players
Jordan Elliott DI 26 45.1
Drake Jackson ED 23 38.9
Yetur Gross-Matos ED 26 66.4
Dre Greenlaw LB 27 79.5 68.3
Ambry Thomas CB 24 61.5 56.1
Isaac Yiadom CB 28 80.4 74.7
Malik Mustapha # S 22

DC: Nick Sorenson (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 4-2-5 - 541 snaps; 3-3-5 - 191 (49ers' personnel usages under former DC Steve Wilks)

DC Comment: Sorenson is being tasked with the responsibility of getting the team's defense back to days when Robert Saleh and DeMeco Ryans had the front four and secondary working in harmony and playing aggressively. In one year under Wilks, San Francisco used man coverage at the lowest rate (33.6 percent) in the Kyle Shanahan era. The biggest problem was not how much zone the 49ers played, but rather how soft they played it.

Run: San Francisco may lack a true anchor against the run - Bosa is by far the best run defender of all the key players up front - but the 49ers have been able to make up for that under Shanahan year after year. How? The offense tends to force opponents to play from behind and the defense has arguably the best set of linebackers in the league. While Greenlaw's ACL injury will be one to monitor during training camp, San Francisco did very well to add an insurance policy as good as Campbell. Warner is as good as it gets in the NFL today as a run defender and in coverage.

Pass rush/coverage: While it is difficult to call Collins an upgrade on Arik Armstead, the 49ers should still enjoy a better pass rush than they did last year. Bosa will have a full camp to be ready right away and Lloyd may be the best pass-rushing defensive end Bosa has worked with during his time in the NFL. Hargrave has graded out as a top-five interior pass rusher in four straight seasons, which should once again allow San Francisco to rush four and rely on seven in coverage. Being able to rely on Campbell and Warner to minimize the impact of short throws is a huge bonus, as is having Hufanga and Brown defending tight ends. The amount of success this pass defense will have in 2024 will boil down to how ready Green is ready for the big stage. Ward is one of the better corners in the league and Lenoir is coming off easily the best of his three NFL campaigns.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Dre'Mont Jones DI 27 6 61.8
Leonard Williams DI 30 7 68.5
Jarran Reed DI 31 5 53
Boye Mafe ED 25 6 61.3
Tyrel Dodson LB 26 7 6 88.4 86.1
Jerome Baker LB 27 7 6 74.4 56.7
Devon Witherspoon SCB 23 8 7 79.7 80
Tariq Woolen CB 25 8 4 75 37.3
Michael Jackson CB 27 6 6 76.9 71.5
Rayshawn Jenkins S 30 6 6 59.6 63.8
Julian Love S 26 8 6 80.4 55.2
Rotational players
Byron Murphy # DI 21
Johnathan Hankins DI 32 52.4
Darrell Taylor ED 27 45.2
Uchenna Nwosu ED 27 64.9 70
Tre Brown CB 26 64.1 64
K'Von Wallace S 26 70.7 60.6

DC: Aden Durde (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 749 snaps (new HC Mike Macdonald's personnel usage with the Ravens)

DC Comment: Macdonald's fingerprints figure to be all over this defense despite Durde's name appearing above. Per Sports Info Solutions, Macdonald called five defensive back packages on 79 percent of 2023 defensive snaps with the Ravens. He also earned a lot of respect around the league with his ability to use the simulated pressure packages that made scoring more difficult around the league last year than at any point in recent memory.

Run: The Seahawks could have as many as three disruptors in their base defense. Williams and Murphy could each take turns wreaking the same kind of havoc that Justin Madubuike did for Macdonald last year. Jones has not been the most consistent run defender during his professional career, but it would not be a stretch to say he has not been able to play off linemen as good as Williams and Murphy very often. As a result, Seattle could be surprisingly stout up front. The Seahawks likely benefited from moving on from Devin Bush and Jordyn Brooks, but they will likely miss Bobby Wagner. While Dodson did a fine job stopping the run in somewhat limited action for Buffalo in 2023, he has never been a full-time player. Baker has long been a very good coverage linebacker, but the 225-pounder's ability to hold up against the run has been below average for most of his career.

Pass rush/coverage: The secondary should be the one area that benefits the most from Macdonald's arrival. Kyle Hamilton emerged as a do-everything stud in Baltimore. It is likely Witherspoon will be that player in Seattle, even though the two players do not play the same position. Witherspoon, Woolen and Jackson all graded out very well in coverage last season and should benefit from what Williams, Reed and Murphy do up front. Love is coming off arguably his best season and should be freed up to play more center field than he did last season with Quandre Diggs still around. All things being equal, quarterbacks will most likely take their chances throwing at Jackson and Dodson as much as possible.

 Tampa Bay
Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Calijah Kancey DI 27 4 29.5
Vita Vea DI 29 7 67.9
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka ED 25 6 60.2
Lavonte David LB 34 7 8 68.6 75
K.J. Britt LB 25 6 6 64.4 72
Yaya Diaby ED 25 7 66.5
Jamel Dean CB 27 7 8 72.5 82.7
Zyon McCollum CB 25 6 5 46.3 71.7
Christian Izien SCB 24 7 7 67.2 81.7
Antoine Winfield Jr. S 25 8 9 84 91.5
Jordan Whitehead S 27 7 6 68.9 66.1
Rotational players
William Gholston DI 32 62.7
Greg Gaines DI 28 48.5
Logan Hall DI 24 42.2
SirVocea Dennis LB 24 72.6 48.4
Chris Braswell # LB 22
Tavierre Thomas CB 28 69.5 83.2
Bryce Hall CB 26 62.8 80.3
Tykee Smith # S 23

DC: HC Todd Bowles (sixth year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 2-4-5 - 508 snaps; base 3-4 - 290

DC Comment: Kacy Rodgers and Larry Foote are considered the team's co-defensive coordinators, but Bowles remains very much in charge of the defense. Bowles' defenses routinely are among the league leaders in blitz percentage, usually settling in around the 40 percent mark.

Run: The Buccaneers returned to being a stingy run defense in 2023 after struggling to do so for the first time in years in 2022. Getting a full (and mostly healthy) season out of Vea was a big reason for that, as few players clog a lane like he can. Unfortunately, the 34-year-old David and Britt are the only other returning front-seven players who bring the wood against the run, although Diaby finished strong in that regard. David continues to play at a high level, but the sands of time are not in his favor and Tampa Bay does not have a ready-made replacement in place for him should he slow down in 2024. Tampa Bay received some major help from do-everything safety Winfield and Dean in run support and may need more of their contributions if players who should be better against the run - such as Gaines, Hall and Kancey - fail to improve.

Pass rush/coverage: Kancey and Diaby gave this defense the pass-rushing jolt it needed late in the season, providing hope that the team will be in good shape despite losing Shaquil Barrett in free agency. There is little doubt the trade of Carlton Davis to Detroit sets the secondary back, but one factor that could have tempted the Bucs to move on from him was his durability. (Davis has missed at least four games in each of the last three seasons.) McCollum is expected to get the first shot at replacing him, but he has been a below-average cover man over his first two NFL seasons and 721 coverage snaps. Dean did not record an interception last year and gave up five touchdown catches in his coverage for the third time in his last four seasons, but he has graded out well in coverage every year since entering the league in 2019. Izien also came on over the second half of the season after being an undrafted free agent and looks to be on his way to being a very solid slot corner. Winfield is a top-five safety in the league and creates chaos in just every way possible (six sacks, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three interceptions). Whitehead is back with the Bucs after two years away and should be a significant upgrade over what the team got from Ryan Neal in 2023.

Player Pos Age 24 Cov 24 Run Cov Grade Run D Grade
Dorance Armstrong ED 27 6 58.1
Jonathan Allen DI 29 6 37.9
Daron Payne DI 27 6 58.7
Clelin Ferrell ED 27 5 47.4
Frankie Luvu LB 27 7 7 67.7 74
Bobby Wagner LB 34 7 8 60 91.5
Michael Davis CB 29 6 6 54.3 64.1
Benjamin St-Juste CB 26 6 6 56.4 75.1
Mike Sainristil # CB 23 6 6
Jeremy Chinn S 26 7 6 51.6 68.1
Jartavius Martin S 24 6 7 58.8 66.4
Rotational players
Johnny Newton # DI 21
Phidarian Mathis DI 26 32.2
Dante Fowler Jr. ED 29 62
Jamin Davis LB 25 56.5 76.1
Jordan Magee # LB 23
Emmanuel Forbes CB 23 57.6 28.4
Darrick Forrest S 25 58.4 66.9
Percy Butler S 24 58 71.2

DC: Joe Whitt Jr. (first year)

Most common personnel packages in 2023 (DL-LB-DB): 3-2-6 - 419 snaps (new HC Dan Quinn's personnel usage in Dallas)

DC Comment: Quinn and Whitt figure to each have a significant say in this defense, although Quinn hinted shortly upon his hiring that Whitt would be running things. Whitt has never been a defensive coordinator at any level, but he has extensive experience working with NFL secondaries. It seems more likely than not that the scheme will lean slightly more to the way Quinn called the shots in Dallas (more aggressive and more man coverage than most teams) and less on how his defenses looked before he took the Cowboys' job (mostly Cover 3).

Run: The Commanders were among the worst rush defenses last year. It would be an utter shock if that happens again in 2024 since Washington is so strong up the middle. Allen and Payne should be turned loose in this defense and each could demand a double team if that happens. The reason the Commanders should be much stronger against the run, however, is that the linebacker play should be so much better with Luvu (Panthers) and Wagner (Seahawks). Both players have been among the best (and most productive) linebackers in the NFL over the last two seasons (much longer in Wagner's case). Armstrong and Ferrell may not add much to the cause, but the aforementioned other four defenders may be so disruptive that the defensive ends' job may be little more than setting an edge.

Pass rush/coverage: Pass defense is where it will get a little trickier. Both Luvu and Wagner will have more success keeping running backs and short-range tight ends in check than Davis and/or Cody Barton did, but can we assign ALL of the blame for Washington's pass defense shortcomings on former DC Jack Del Rio? Probably not. Making matters worse was losing the one player from this secondary who actually graded out well in 2023 (Kendall Fuller). For Quinn and Whitt, it is a much different animal playing aggressively with Stephon Gilmore, Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland than St-Juste, Davis, Forbes and Sainristil. Quinn was thrilled to land Sainristil, who should become an immediate impact player in the slot. The jury remains out on the other three and could lead to Washington being a sieve against the pass again - unless Quinn/Whitt can ratchet up the rush. On the plus side, a healthy Chinn - durability has been a problem for him over the last two seasons - is not far removed from being an impact safety who appeared to be on an All-Pro trajectory. (He needs to stay healthy for the Commanders to not regret letting Kamren Curl leave in free agency.)

As promised, here are my projected grades for each team's defense (pass rush, run defense and coverage). A red shade means that defense is not very favorable for the opponent, yellow is slightly unfavorable, white is slightly favorable and green is very favorable.

 Pass Rush Projected Grades
Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr
Browns 31 Dolphins 29 Falcons 27 Ravens 25
Eagles 31 Giants 29 Panthers 27 Bears 25
49ers 31 Steelers 29 Chiefs 27 Bengals 25
Cowboys 30 Broncos 28 Chargers 27 Saints 25
Lions 30 Jaguars 28 Seahawks 27 Rams 24
Packers 30 Jets 28 Bills 26 Vikings 24
Raiders 30 Buccaneers 28 Colts 26 Titans 24
Texans 29 Commanders 28 Patriots 26 Cardinals 23

 Run Defense Projected Grades
Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr
Lions 76 Cowboys 71 Jets 69 Saints 66
Dolphins 75 Raiders 71 Commanders 69 Rams 66
49ers 74 Panthers 71 Ravens 69 Titans 66
Steelers 73 Colts 71 Eagles 68 Packers 65
Buccaneers 73 Vikings 71 Giants 68 Chiefs 65
Falcons 73 Texans 70 Browns 67 Seahawks 65
Patriots 73 Broncos 70 Chargers 66 Bengals 64
Bears 72 Jaguars 70 Bills 66 Cardinals 63

 CB Coverage Projected Grades
Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr
Jets 24 Dolphins 21 Colts 20 Saints 19
Eagles 22 Bears 21 Patriots 20 Cowboys 18
Seahawks 22 Rams 21 Bengals 20 Raiders 18
Bills 22 Titans 21 Vikings 20 Commanders 18
Browns 21 Packers 20 Steelers 19 Chargers 18
49ers 21 Buccaneers 20 Broncos 19 Ravens 18
Lions 21 Falcons 20 Jaguars 19 Giants 17
Texans 21 Panthers 20 Chiefs 19 Cardinals 16

 Safety Coverage Projected Grades
Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr Team Gr
Buccaneers 15 Dolphins 14 Jaguars 13 Titans 13
Falcons 15 Chargers 14 Jets 13 Cardinals 13
Panthers 15 Seahawks 14 Commanders 13 Raiders 12
Ravens 15 Saints 14 Patriots 13 Giants 12
Browns 14 Cowboys 13 Bears 13 Chiefs 12
Eagles 14 Lions 13 Bengals 13 Colts 12
49ers 14 Packers 13 Rams 13 Broncos 11
Texans 14 Steelers 13 Vikings 13 Bills 11

Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and has appeared as a guest analyst on several national sports radio shows and podcasts, including Sirius XM's Fantasy Drive, FantasyPros and RealTime Fantasy Sports. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

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