Needless to say, I changed my mind.
Over the course of the weekend, some big moves were made in the NFL’s trade market and they have impacted defenses in substantial ways. The top will be shaken up in the next rankings, but I wanted to address why more in depth here.
The changes that have affected the best defenses in the NFL include DT Sheldon Richardson joining the Seattle Seahawks and T.J. Ward departing the incumbent #1 ranked defense: the Denver Broncos.
In exchange for Richardson, the New York Jets scored a second-round pick and WR Jermaine Kearse. Richardson had one more year remaining on his contract and I’m holding true to the hypothesis that players in contract years will play out of their minds. Seattle adds a top NFL d-lineman and can put Richardson back into his more natural position. The Jets, amidst all the losing, were getting a little too cute with Richardson using him as an inside and outside linebacker. He’s more natural as a 3-technique defensive lineman that will draw double teams and leave pass rushers Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril to scorch earth on their way to the quarterback.
The interior line of the defense was the biggest hole (if there was one) for this defense and if Sheldon Richardson returns to his 2014 Pro Bowl form, their defense will be a cheat code.
Another big move is the release of Denver’s hard-hitting safety, T.J. Ward. The Broncos defense is highlighted by the inhuman play of Von Miller, but the secondary is a complementary piece to that formula. Ward was a heat seeking missile for the Broncos that made receivers always have to keep looking over their shoulder. The Broncos save $4.5 million by cutting Ward and they think they can replace him. However, some worry that they can’t replace him within the locker room.
Team might feel they can replace T.J. Ward on the field, but in the LR I’m not so sure. Loved by many teammates who are upset with the move.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) September 2, 2017
Don’t be surprised if the Broncos fall off defensively, much like the Seahawks do when either Kam Chancellor or Earl Thomas III can’t suit up for the Legion of Boom.
On the other side, there’s Ward being added to the Buccaneers defense. The Bucs defense has a chance to do some things with the added disruptive presence over the top. Brent Grimes is 34 years old and he can’t be their best defensive back. This changes with Ward. I ranked the Bucs at 16, but don’t expect them to make significant leaps and bounds. Remember: the Buccaneers are taking their bye in Week 1, so trusting a defense to go 16 straight isn’t a wise decision.