With the NFL pre-season just about a month away, many teams feel as though they have made the necessary moves to better their team, whether in free agency, via trade, or through the draft. Last week we looked at the teams who will make the biggest jump on offense next year. This week, we turn to the other side of the ball, and take a look at what teams will improve the most on defense in 2018:
Green Bay Packers:
The Green Bay Packers’ defense last year was about as “middle of the pack” as you could get, as they ranked between 17th and 26th in just about any defensive category you can find. Green Bay ranked 17th against the run, last year, giving up almost 1,800 yards on the ground. With the addition of Muhammad Wilkerson, however, to go along with an already solid front seven featuring Mike Daniels, Blake Martinez, Nick Perry, Jake Ryan, and Clay Matthews, there is potential for this number to sink far enough to place them inside the top 10. Wilkerson will not only help in stopping the opponent’s rushing attack, but also will get to the quarterback and create pressure that was lackluster for the team in 2017. The Packers have also built up a very young and talented secondary consisting of newly drafted corners Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander, 2nd year defensive backs Kevin King and Josh Jones, veteran corner Tramon Williams, and star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. If all are healthy, look for this Packers secondary to be a legitimate force for years to come.
The Texans’ defense, last season, was ranked 32nd in points allowed, as the unit was riddled with injury and mediocrity. Whitney Mercilus and JJ Watt only played 5 games, which left Jadeveon Clowney to fend for himself in the pass rush. Even if Watt comes back as half of the player he was before injury, and all 3 of them can stay healthy throughout the entirety of the year, the Texans could have one of the more dangerous pass rushing units in the NFL. You can also expect the rest of their front seven to show improvement, as linebacker Zach Cunningham showed out in his first year in the NFL, finishing second on the team in tackles behind only Benardrick McKinney, who just recently inked a new 5 year deal to stay with the team until 2023. The biggest improvement you will see in this defense, however, is in pass coverage. Bill O’Brien announced that DB Kareem Jackson would make the permanent move to safety, to pair him up with newly acquired safeties Tyrann Mathieu, who they signed back in March, and Justin Reid, who was highly regarded as the best coverage safety in this year’s draft, out of Stanford. The Texans also signed Jaguars corner Aaron Colvin, to play opposite Jonathan Joseph. Look for this tandem of new defensive backs to provide major improvements in the passing game in 2018, and help place the Texans defense back as one of the best in the league.
The Tennessee Titans have made some major changes this off-season: Signing Mark Vrable to be the new head coach, adding a slew of new playmakers, and even changing their jerseys to better fit the “Titan theme”. This defense should, no doubt, flourish in 2018, as they look to have almost zero holes overall. Last year, the Titans defense ranked 17th in points allowed, and had the 25th best secondary. This porous defense should be a thing of the past, as they acquired defensive lineman Bennie Logan from the Chiefs, to set him in a front seven with Jurrell Casey, DaQuan Jones, Wesley Woodyard, Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, and newly drafted linebackers Rashaan Evans of Alabama, and Harold Landry of Boston College. Not only are the Titans loaded up front, but they also have extremely solid backups to replace them in Will Compton and Jayon Brown. The glaring hole for Tennessee, however, was in their, previously mentioned, 25th best secondary. The Titans more than addressed this with the signing of Patriots’ number 1 corner Malcolm Butler, adding him to a rising pass coverage group of Logan Ryan, Adoree’ Jackson, Jonathan Cyprien, LeShaun Sims, and Kevin Byard. This very young group of DB’s have potential to not only fix the coverage issues of the past, but turn it into a team strength moving forward. With another year under the belts of the young guys, mixed with the addition of Butler, this Titans defense has potential to shoot themselves into the top 5 in the entire NFL.
Los Angeles Rams:
Ranked as the best defense on this list in 2017, the Los Angeles Rams made arguably the most noise of any team this off-season. The Rams let corner Trumaine Johnson walk, and acquired Broncos’ and Chiefs’ lockdown corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. On top of that, they also landed former Packers’ DB Sam Shields, who is making his NFL comeback after retiring due to injury in 2016. These new pieces, added to an already solid secondary of John Johnson, Lamarcus Joyner, and Nickell Robey-Coleman, easily put the Rams as one of the best secondaries in the entire NFL. The Rams, of course, did not stop there. They also signed former Dolphins’ defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh. The pairing of Suh with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Aaron Donald, should give nightmares to the opposing quarterbacks of the NFC West. With Suh and Donald being in the already underrated front seven of the Rams with Michael Brockers, Ethan Westbrooks, Dominique Easley, Matt Longacre, and Mark Barron, added to the much improved secondary, this top 20 defense of last year will figure to be in the conversation for best in the league next year.