• A Belichick-led defense is a good defense: While the New England Patriots' defensive coordinator spot is technically unoccupied, the Belichicks rank as the top defensive coordinator(s) in the league.
• Lou Anarumo continues to push the envelope: The Bengals, having improved as a team overall, now field one of the NFL's top defenses.
• Ejiro Evero is set to thrive in his first year in Carolina: He helped the Denver Broncos' defense rank highly in 2022 and will now try to do the same with the Panthers.
Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins
As our summer rankings roll on, today we switch gears to talk about defensive coordinators around the NFL. With tons of movement at the coaching position this offseason, these are our top 10 defensive coordinators heading into the 2023 NFL season.
Click here to read about our top 10 head coaches entering the 2023 season.
1. BILL BELICHICK/STEVE BELICHICK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
The Patriots' defensive coordinator spot is technically unoccupied. Steve Belichick is currently the team's linebackers coach and the one who calls the defensive plays, but we all know who the mastermind is. I don’t say that to take anything away from the job Steve has done; the Patriots have been a top-seven team in the NFL in overall expected points allowed per play since 2020, including No. 1 in the league in 2022 with an EPA per play allowed figure of -0.117.
2. LOU ANARUMO, CINCINNATI BENGALS
The Bengals' coaching staff, as a whole, has ascended the ranks of reputation and recognition over the past few seasons, but Anarumo has arguably risen the most. In 2019, his first season as defensive coordinator, Cincinnati allowed 26.3 points per game, 25th in the league. Since then, the team has ranked 21st in 2020, 13th in 2021 and fifth in 2022, allowing just 19.6 points per game last season. They were also a top-five unit in expected points allowed per play in 2022.
3. VIC FANGIO, MIAMI DOLPHINS
Fangio is back under the headset in 2023, this time with the Miami Dolphins. He was the Denver Broncos‘ head coach from 2019-2021 and was a consultant for the Eagles last season. The now-64-year-old is one of the best defensive minds in the league, and he’s getting his hands on a talented defense that includes Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard, Jaelan Phillips, Jevon Holland and more. This marks the sixth time in his 36-year NFL coaching career that he will serve as a defensive coordinator.
4. DAN QUINN, DALLAS COWBOYS
It's hard to believe Dan Quinn is still a defensive coordinator and not a head coach. But since he is still manning Dallas' defense, he has to be in the top five of this list.
Quinn’s Cowboys led the NFL in total pressures last season with 337. They were also tied for fifth in interceptions with 16. On top of that, their overall defensive grade placed in the top 10, and their expected points allowed per play mark (-0.100) was third best. Quinn’s groups continue to put up great numbers across the board.
5. STEVE SPAGNUOLO, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Spagnuolo has a lot of reps under his belt as an NFL defensive coordinator. He was the Giants' defensive coordinator from 2015-2017 and has served in that position for the Chiefs since 2019. In that span, he coached three Super Bowl defenses. His group this past season ranked in the top half of the league in PFF grade and expected points allowed per play, but where his unit really shined was in coverage.
Kansas City’s team coverage grade of 90.8 was second best in the league, as was their 77.7% completion percentage allowed. Spagnuolo's crowning achievement was his use of Chris Jones this past season. Jones was an elite pass rusher as an interior player (316 snaps, 90.5 pass-rush grade) and an edge defender (267 snaps, 91.0 pass-rush grade), signaling great situational football IQ for when to put him in each alignment.
6. DON MARTINDALE, NEW YORK GIANTS
Martindale may have moved from Baltimore to New York for his defensive coordinator duties, but his aggressive nature and play calling remained intact — and successful. No team in the NFL last year played more Cover 0 or Cover 1 (man coverage) than the Giants. Their coverage and pass-rush units were in sync, yielding 136 pressures and 24 sacks while in man coverage. At 60 years old and with 18 years of NFL experience, Martindale is still dialing it up with the best of them.
7. RAHEEM MORRIS, LOS ANGELES RAMS
After being put in what looked to be a lose-lose situation as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 as just a 32-year-old, Morris climbed back up the NFL coaching ladder to now be one of the league's more respected defensive coaches. As the Rams' defensive coordinator since 2021, Morris helped orchestrate a defense that won a Super Bowl in his first season there. In his two seasons helming the defense in LA, the Rams’ 88.2 overall defensive grade ranks second in the league and their 90.0 run-defense grade is far and away the best mark.
8. BRIAN FLORES, MINNESOTA VIKINGS
After spending the 2022 season as the linebackers coach in Pittsburgh, Flores will return to a featured coaching role, this time as defensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings.
Before his time with the Steelers, Flores was head coach of the Dolphins. In his first season, they ranked dead last in points per game allowed (30.9). In his second season, they jumped all the way to fourth (21.1). In his final season, Miami fell to 15th, but their average stayed true at 21.9 points allowed per game. The Dolphins placed sixth in the league in expected points allowed per play in those final two seasons with Flores at the helm.
9. EJIRO EVERO, CAROLINA PANTHERS
Evero emerged as one of the best up-and-coming defensive minds in the league last year after what he was able to do with the Denver Broncos. The then-41-year-old became a first-time defensive coordinator in 2021, and with the headset on he helped the Broncos achieve a top-10 expected points allowed per play mark (-0.068).
Denver’s 91.2 team coverage grade was the best in the league, and they placed in the top 10 in completion percentage allowed and passing touchdowns allowed. Now with the Carolina Panthers, Evero will once again have the opportunity to make the most of a young and talented group.
10. STEVE WILKS, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Wilks was the defensive passing game coordinator and secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers in 2022 before taking over as the interim head coach following Matt Rhule's firing. The Panthers opted to go elsewhere at head coach, but the Niners, with a recent defensive coordinator vacancy, scooped Wilks up. It was a tough season for Wilks, who was put in an unfavorable spot when he took over in Carolina. But he has 14 years of experience in the league and should keep that Niners defense playing at a high level in 2023.