2024 NFL defense rankings: Evaluating all 32 defenses after NFL free agency

Who has the best NFL defense in 2024? Our weekly NFL defense rankings examine every unit across the league every week to determine the best defenses in the NFL. You can also check out our NFL offense rankings.

Let’s dive into our latest NFL defense rankings, reviewing the best and worst defenses in football ahead of the 2024 season following NFL free agency. We’ll also provide additional updates following trades and the 2024 NFL Draft.

NFL defense rankings: Best, worst NFL defenses after free agency

32. Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals have the worst defense in the NFL right now. A season removed from ranking 31st in EPA per Play (0.091) and last in Success Rate (47.7 percent), the biggest additions made to the Cardinals defense in NFL free agency were Mack Wilson Sr. and Sean Murphy-Bunting. Neither player inspires confidence for defensive improvement. We do expect quality additions via the 2024 NFL Draft, but the Cardinals’ defensive depth chart is the worst in football right now.

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31. Carolina Panthers

We feel bad for Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Everio. While he does have cornerback Jaycee Horn and defensive tackle Derrick Brown, Carolina doesn’t even have starting-caliber edge rushers. If you can’t put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they’ll have no trouble attacking your No. 2 corner and nickel. It’s going to be a very rough year for the Panthers defense and it shouldn’t reflect on Everio.

30. Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are rebuilding, which has resulted in quite the talent exodus for this defense. Losing Justin Simmons is a sizable blow and it’s becoming evident that Sean Payton is going to rebuild his offense before this defense starts to see significant additions made. Expect the Broncos to have one of the worst NFL defenses in 2024, music to the ears of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert.

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29. Los Angeles Chargers

We love the hiring of Jesse Minter as defensive coordinator and the fact that the Los Angeles Chargers managed to retain both Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack is fantastic for this pass rush. However, we’ve been burned time and time again by a unit that can’t stay healthy. The Chargers’ defensive coaching staff is far better than it ever was with Brandon Staley, but we’re going to need to see the investment at cornerback and linebacker before buying into a turnaround and even then health is a concern.

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28. Washington Commanders

Dan Quinn certainly wasn’t our favorite head-coaching hire in 2024, but he’ll improve the worst NFL defense in 2023. The Washington Commanders overhauled their linebacker corps, landing Frankie Luvu and Bobby Wagner. Not only that, the ever-versatile Jeremy Chinn is now being plugged into Quinn’s system and Washington at least added depth at edge rusher with Clelin Ferrell and Dorance Armstrong. This won’t be a good defense, but at least it shouldn’t be allowing highlight plays and 30-point games at an alarming rate like it did last year.

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27. New York Giants

Thanks to the addition of Brian Burns, the New York Giants won’t have to lead the NFL in blitz rate just to create any semblance of pressure. Pairing Burns with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence will create one of the best pass-rushing trios in the NFL. New York is going to need career-best production out of all of them because outside of cornerback Deonte Banks, there isn’t anyone in this secondary who looks like a starting-caliber player in coverage.

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26. Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles pass rush is an undeniable strength and there’s no telling what second-year defensive tackle Jalen Carter can do with all of that attention on containing the outside pass rushers. However, the Eagles’ secondary and linebacker corps still look dreadful on paper. James Bradberry and Darius Slay both appeared to lose the battle to Father Time last year. While a reunion with C.J. Gardner-Johnson might help slightly, we simply don’t see the talent on Philadelphia’s roster to make Vic Fangio’s system work.

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25. Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo simply didn’t have the talent or experience in the secondary to make his system work last year. Fortunately, safety Vonn Bell has returned and Cincinnati add playmaker Geno Stone at free safety. The Bengals’ defense would still greatly benefit from adding another edge rusher and we don’t trust their No. 2 cornerback situation, but this unit shouldn’t be quite as bad as we witnessed throughout the 2023 season.

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24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense certainly benefitted from facing three NFC South offenses six total times in 2023. However, a seven-game stretch in the second half of the season saw the Buccaneers surrender a 93.4 QB rating and a 10-5 TD-INT ratio. The important thing this offseason was retaining Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield Jr. but cornerback and edge rusher are glaring issues that prevent this as of now from being a top-20 defense.

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23. Seattle Seahawks

It’s going to take a full season for the young Seattle Seahawks defenders to learn Mike Macdonald’s system. That’s what happened in Baltimore and while it will greatly benefit Seattle in the long run, the growing pains will be painful. It also doesn’t help that safety, off-ball linebacker and edge rusher are all weaknesses on the Seahawks’ depth chart right now.

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22. Indianapolis Colts

Inexperience in the Indianapolis Colts secondary was arguably their biggest problem last season. Up front, Indianapolis can get after you with DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, Kwity Paye and Samson Ebukam. It’s that unproven secondary and average play at linebacker, though, that makes this a below-average defense especially because Gus Bradley’s system is far too well-known and exploitable for offensive coordinators. Indianapolis certainly would’ve benefitted from adding L’Jarius Sneed, but that evidently wasn’t in the cards for general manager Chris Ballard.

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21. Los Angeles Rams

The retirement of Aaron Donald dropped the Los Angeles Rams considerably in our NFL defense rankings. If one of the best defensive linemen in NFL history stuck around, Los Angeles would have a top-12 defense in 2024. Instead, we see a secondary that we love and some exciting, young talent (Kobie Turner and Byron Young). There just isn’t a game-wrecker and Donald’s departure is going to be felt for a long time.

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20. Tennessee Titans

It’s certainly surprising to see the Tennessee Titans be this aggressive in improving their defense in a single offseason, considering they were previously viewed as more of a retooling team. However, new defensive coordinator Dennard Wilson now has a top No. 1 cornerback in L’Jarius Sneed to pair with a very solid started opposite him in Chidobe Awuzie, with Roger McCreary holding down the slot. Suddenly, a Titans’ secondary that has been a weakness in the last three years becomes a strength. If the Titans’ pass rush led by Jeffery Simmons, Arden Key and Harold Landry III can up their game in 2024, Tennessee could finish with a top-15 defense in football. For now, they move up from 28th to 20th after the offseason.

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19. Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins will have to work their way back up the defensive order during the 2024 season. Bradley Chubb is returning from an ACL tear in December while Jaelan Phillips faces a long recovery from a torn Achilles. To make matters worse, Christian Wilkins is gone. We will credit Miami for the sneaky-good additions they made at bargain prices (Kendall Fuller, Jordan Poyer, Shaq Barrett and Anthony Walker Jr.) but the big absences loom large heading into the 2024 season.

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18. Atlanta Falcons

Ryan Nielsen is gone and the Atlanta Falcons are right back to having a glaring hole at edge rusher. It does help that Grady Jarrett is returning from last year’s season-ending injury and we love what Raheem Morris does with defenses. Still, there are enough concerns about the lack of proven edge rushers and the weakness at cornerback outside of A.J. Terrell to expect defensive regression from Atlanta.

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17. Buffalo Bills

Going all-in for several years finally took a toll on the Buffalo Bills defense with salary cap casualties resulting in sizable losses this offseason. While some are optimistic Von Miller will return to form, we’re not counting on that from a 35-year-old edge rusher who looked like he didn’t belong on the field last year. There are also some concerns at safety, but Buffalo is getting Matt Milano back for the 2024 season. We’ll be starting the 2024 season low on Buffalo’s defense, but this will likely also be its floor in our NFL defense rankings for the fall.

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16. Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions needed to make some improvements after what transpired in the second half of the 2023 season. Heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, mission accomplished. Carlton Davis III will provide the desperately needed assistance this Lons’ secondary needed on the outside. As for the pass rush, Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeil are now supported by Marcus Davenport and DJ Reader. There are injury risks with this defense, but its ceiling and consistency can be so much higher in 2024 compared to last year.

15. Minnesota Vikings

Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores delivered one of the best single-season turnarounds in the NFL last year. While he lost pass rusher Danielle Hunter, the additions of Jonathan Greenard, Blake Cashman and Andrew Van Ginkel more than makeup for it in an improved Vikings’ front seven. Still, we’d like to see Minnesota improve at cornerback before it ascends further up our 2024 NFL defense rankings.

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14. New Orleans Saints

Age is really starting to catch up to the New Orleans Saints. Cameron Jordan will be 35 in July, Demario Davis is 35, Tyrann Mathie is entering his age-32 season and Marshon Lattimore hasn’t played like a No. 1 cornerback in the last two years. We also have to provide a reminder that turnovers aren’t always reliable. If the takeaways (fourth-most in 2023) drop, you might start seeing more regression from a defense that allowed an 89.1 QB rating and 112.3 rush ypg in the final six weeks of the 2023 campaign.

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13. Jacksonville Jaguars

The addition of defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen is monumental for the Jacksonville Jaguars defense, arguably one of the biggest moves in the NFL across the offseason. He transformed the Falcons’ pass rush (3.6% sack rate and 14.6% pressure rate) in a single year (7.1% sack rate and 23% pressure rate). If adding Nielsen wasn’t enough, Jacksonville also brought in standout defensive tackle Arik Armstead (86.5 PFF pass-rushing grade in 2023). There are still vulnerabilities in the secondary, but the Jaguars’ defense will be much improved in 2024.

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12. Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears kept All-Pro cornerback Jaylon Johnson from leaving, even on a deal that might prove a bit team-friendly a few years from now. Matt Eberflus is also going to keep calling defensive plays, which matters because Chicago held its opponents to a 24-20 TD-INT line, 78.8 rush ypg and allowed just 5.8 net yards per attempt after September. A defense that has a No. 1 corner (Johnson), a high-end pass rusher (Montez Sweat), a strong linebacker corps and just added veteran safety Kevin Byard can consistently be one of the NFL’s top-12 defenses throughout the 2024 season.

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11. Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers defense has been haunted by the safety position since Nick Collins’ career-ending neck injury. Xavier McKinney, who played at an All-Pro level last season with New York, is the perfect safety for new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley’s 4-3 scheme. Talent on Green Bay’s defense was never the question either. Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, Jaire Alexander, Devonte Wyatt and Quay Walker provide more than enough to field a top-10 defense. Hafley’s more aggressive, press coverage approach with McKinney providing the do-it-all role in the back end can lead to a top-10 defense.

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Top 10 NFL defenses in 2024

10. Las Vegas Raiders

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

From Weeks 4-18 last season, opponents averaged just 210.6 passing yards per game with a 14-13 TD-INT rate and an 83.4 QB rating. Maxx Crosby was dominant, leading a front that averaged nearly 3 sacks per contest. Now, the Raiders have added defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Las Vegas already boasts the best defensive line combo in the NFL and this front seven can play at an elite level. For now, what separates the Raiders from the other units atop our NFL defense rankings, is a questionable secondary with red flags at cornerback.

9. New England Patriots

Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots’ defense flew under the radar this past season. Masked by a lifeless offense, an injury-depleted Patriots defense held its last eight opponents to 181.1 passing yards per game, 84.6 rushing yards per game and allowed just a 32.4 percent third-down success rate. While Bill Belichick is gone, New England is getting corner Christian Gonzalez and edge rusher Matthew Judon back for the 2024 season. Plus, there’s improved depth in the secondary. Led by head coach Jerod Mayo, the Patriots should maintain one of the best defenses in the NFL next fall.

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8. Pittsburgh Steelers

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When Alex Highsmith, T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward are on the field together, the Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush is a daunting challenge for any opponent. To make matters worse for offensive linemen, rookie Keeanue Benton blossomed as an interior pass rusher in 2023. Now, Pittsburgh has upgraded at linebacker with Patrick Queen and even if he doesn’t play at an All-Pro level, he’s a monumental upgrade over what came before him. Pair all of that with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and breakout corner Joey Porter Jr., you have a Steelers defense that should keep playing at a near-elite level.

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7. San Francisco 49ers

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The San Francisco 49ers have been near the top of our NFL defense rankings, but the regression is undeniable. No matter who this team adds at off-ball linebacker, there’s no replacing Dre Greenlaw (Achilles). We’re confident that Leonard Floyd can be more consistent for San Francisco than Chase Young, but cornerback remains a glaring need. One thing that will certainly help, getting safety Tualanoa Hufanga back. While we’re not as confident in the 49ers maintaining a top 5 unit, they’ll have one of the 10 best NFL defenses in 2024.

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6. Houston Texans

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We’re buying all the stock in the 2024 version of the Houston Texans defense. In their first year in DeMeco Ryans’ system, Houston held opponents to just 90.1 rushing yards per game with a 3.3 yards per carry average and a 30.8 percent third-down success rate after Week 5. Now, edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. enters his second season, he’ll now be supported on the opposite side by Danielle Hunter with Denico Autry inside. Houston also addressed its glaring hole at linebacker with Azeez Al-Shaair, who knows Ryans’ system and thrives as a run defender. Plus, the secondary added more depth with Jeff Okudah. The Texans can have one of the best defenses in the NFL next season.

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5. Baltimore Ravens

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The Baltimore Ravens had the best defense in the NFL in 2023. Unfortunately, greatness comes at a cost. Baltimore lost play-calling savant Mike Macdonald, while defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver also left the team. On top of that, linebacker Patrick Queen, safety Geno Stone and cornerback Ronald Darby left in NFL free agency. All of those losses take a toll, especially in the first year. With that said, a unit boasting Kyle Hamilton, Marcus Williams, Marlon Humphrey, Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce and Odafe Oweh should still result in one of the NFL’s best defenses next season.

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4. Kansas City Chiefs

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After trading away L’Jarius Sneed, the Kansas City Chiefs drop from the No. 2 spot in our NFL defense rankings. While we have confidence that general manager Brett Veach can find replacements at cornerback, losing the dynamic duo of Sneed and Trent McDuffie is a blow for this secondary. Kansas City also lost linebacker Willie Gay Jr. this offseason. The Chiefs should still have a top five NFL defense in 2024, but losing depth and multiple starters will likely result in more inconsistency from a once-dominant unit.

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3. Dallas Cowboys

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Stephon Gilmore and Dan Quinn are gone, but the Dallas Cowboys will welcome back top cornerback Trevon Diggs at the start of the 2024 season. Hiring defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also helped Dallas upgrade at off-ball linebacker, poaching Eric Kendricks in NFL free agency. We do not doubt the Cowboys’ ability to get after the passer and the Diggs-DaRon Bland combo will make plays. However, this run defense has fallen short countless times and while a new system might change that, it could also mean growing pains as players get acclimated early in the 2024 season. Plus, defensive tackle is still a weakness.

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2. Cleveland Browns

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The Cleveland Browns brought the band back together. Cleveland had the best NFL defense in 2023 for a few months, holding opponents to a 55.6 percent completion rate and 73.2 QB rating with 34 sacks and a 10-9 TD-INT rate in the first 12 weeks. Then, Myles Garrett suffered a shoulder injury and a banged-up Browns’ defense allowed a 13-9 TD-INT rate with just 15 sacks in its final 16 games. A healthy version of this unit can deliver one of the best NFL defenses in 2024, especially with more familiarity with Jim Schwartz’s scheme.

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1. New York Jets

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The New York Jets should have the best NFL defense in 2024. Losing Bryce Huff is a blow for this pass rush, but Jermaine Johnson showed great improvement last season and the cornerback tandem of Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed means generating pressures is easier for the defensive front. A defense that allowed the second-fewest yards per play (4.6) last season should be even better next fall with a healthy Aaron Rodgers keeping the Jets’ offense on the field far more frequently.

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NFL defense stats 2023

NFL defense rankings FAQ

What is the best defense in the NFL?

The New York Jets have the best defense in the NFL right now.

What NFL defense is best for fantasy?

NFL defenses that generate a lot of takeaways and sacks, including the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns are great defenses for fantasy.

What is the NFL defense rankings?

Sportsnaut’s NFL defense rankings evaluate and rank all 32 NFL defenses each week, reviewing their performances and projecting how they’ll perform in their upcoming game based on matchups and NFL defense stats.

What NFL defense is best for fantasy?

NFL defenses that generate a lot of takeaways and sacks, including the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns are great defenses for fantasy.

What team has the most sacks 2023?

The Baltimore Ravens lead the NFL with 57 sacks. The Dolphins, Ravens, Chiefs and Bills are the only NFL teams with 50-plus sacks this season.

NFL team sack leaders

NFL teams with fewest sacks

  1. Baltimore Ravens –57 sacks
  2. Kansas City Chiefs – 54 sacks
  3. Miami Dolphins – 53 sacks
  4. Buffalo Bills – 53 sacks
  5. Indianapolis Colts – 49 sacks
  1. Arizona Cardinals – 33 sacks
  2. New Orleans Saints – 33
  3. Chicago Bears – 29
  4. New York Giants – 29
  5. Carolina Panthers – 24

Who is the number 1 defense in NFL?

The Cleveland Browns have the No. 1 defense in the NFL through the first 17 weeks of the 2023 season.

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Who has the best defense in NFL history?

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The 1985 Chicago Bears had the best NFL defense ever. Led by three Hall of Famers – Mike Singletary, Richard Dent and Dan Hampton – Chicago allowed just 101 total points on its way to winning Super Bowl XX, including an NFL record two shutouts in the playoffs. In addition, the 1985 Bears’ defense held opponents to a 50.2 passer rating with a 46.5 percent completion rate and 17-37 TD-INT ratio in 19 total games and opponents averaged just 76 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry across 19 contests in the regular season and playoffs.

Who has the weakest pass defense in the NFL?

The Washington Commanders have the worst pass defense in the NFL, allowing a league-high 104.1 QB rating, 259.3 passing yards per game and 35 passing touchdowns in 16 games.

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What is the best NFL pass defense?

The Cleveland Browns have the best pass defense in the NFL, holding opponents to a 72.7 QB rating with a league-low 56.4 percent completion rate and a 20-17 TD-INT ratio in 16 games.

What’s the top 5 defenses in the NFL?

The top 5 NFL defenses are the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets.

Who gives up the most passing yards in the NFL?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers allow the most passing yards in the NFL, allowing 260.3 passing yards per game.

What teams have the best defense in the NFL?

The Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys have the best defenses in the NFL based on our 2023 NFL defense rankings.

Who has the best run defense in the NFL?

The Chicago bears have the best run defense in the NFL, allowing a league-low 84 rushing yards per game.

Who has the worst defense in the NFL 2023?

The Washington Commanders have the worst NFL defense right now.

What defense allows most rushing yards?

The Arizona Cardinals allow the most rushing yards per game, allowing 147 rushing yards per contest to opponents this season.

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What team has the most sacks in a season?

The Chicago Bears set the NFL record for most sacks in a season with 72 sacks in 16 games in 1984. Most recently, the 2022 Philadelphia Eagles became just the fourth team in NFL history to record 70 sacks in a single season.

NFL sack leaders 2022
  1. Joey Bosa, San Francisco 49ers – 18.5 sacks
  2. Haason Reddick, Philadelphia Eagles – 16 sacks
  3. Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns – 16 sacks
  4. Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs – 15.5 sacks
  5. Matthew Judon, New England Patriots – 15.5 sacks

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NFL sack leaders by year
  • 2022: Joey Bosa, San Francisco 49ers – 18.5 sacks
  • 2021: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers – 22.5 sacks
  • 2020: T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers – 15 sacks
  • 2019: Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 19.5 sacks
  • 2018: Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams – 20.5 sacks

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