The Top 10 NFL Defensive Coordinators for 2021

Stoney Keeley continues his look at the NFL as the 2021 season approaches. Today, we're looking at the top 10 NFL defensive coordinators.

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It’s summertime offseason content time! As the season approaches, I’m going to be taking a look at the landscape of the NFL, position by position, over the course of the next several weeks. We’ll be talking about the who’s who of the NFL in our own little version of the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” bit they do every year. Up next, we’re talking about the top 10 NFL defensive coordinators for 2021!

I’ll start by reiterating what I said about the offensive coordinators – it’s hard to rank coordinators “without knowing the inner workings and the collaborative dynamic on each NFL team.” However, it feels like it’s a little easier on defense because there are a lot more hybrid head coach/OC types in the NFL today than head coach/DC types. The way the league is shifting, you’re seeing a lot more staffs collaborating on offense while an established defensive guy takes the reins on the other side of the ball. So, that’s an important caveat to my list. Let’s get to it.

The Top 10 NFL Defensive Coordinators for 2021

10. Patrick Graham, New York Giants – Yes, the NFC East was bad, as a whole, in 2020. But, the Giants had no business even sniffing the postseason. Yet, they were in the hunt on the very last Sunday of the regular season (sorry to bring that up, Giants fans), and that’s thanks, in large part, to the defense and the job that Graham did. This is a promising unit that Graham has on the right track.

9. Dean Pees, Atlanta Falcons – With Super Bowl rings and long, rich history as a defensive coordinator, Pees boasts one of the most impressive resumés on this list. He took a year off in 2020 after serving as DC for the Titans in 2019, and the Titans defense saw a significant dip in production. Coincidence? Maybe – but there’s a reason Pees has been around the NFL for so long. He joins first-year head coach Arthur Smith in Atlanta to give the defense a breath of fresh air.

8. Don Martindale, Baltimore Ravens – Martindale has spent a lot of time with the Ravens (hired in 2012), and the defense has consistently been one of the strong suits of the franchise. If you define good coordinators by the interest they garner as a head coaching candidate, then Martindale passes the test. There was interest heading into 2021, so I imagine it’s only a matter of time before he’s the head man somewhere in the NFL.

7. Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts – Maybe it’s because I cover the Titans and watch a lot of AFC South ball, but I feel like the job Eberflus has done since becoming the Colts DC has been a tad underrated. There’s a lot of talent on that side of the ball, and Eberflus has done a commendable job in getting the most out of it. The Colts were 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game in 2020. If Eberflus and company can catch the secondary up to speed, this is going to be one of the most menacing defenses in the league in 2021.

6. Bill Belichick, New England Patriots – I mean, if I’m going to include Kliff Kingsbury on my list of offensive coordinators, by that logic, I have to include Belichick too, right? He’s Bill freaking Belichick for crying out loud. With a wealth of defensive starters returning to the lineup in 2021 after opting out in 2020, the Pats defense should once again be one of the best units in the league.

5. Leslie Frazier, Buffalo Bills – In case you can’t tell, yes, I’m incredibly high on this Bills coaching staff – between its experience, leadership ability, and doing well to work with the talent they have in Buffalo, I dare say it could be my favorite coaching staff in the league. Frazier is heading into Year 5 with the Bills, and this roster could provide his most talented defense yet.

4. Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The ridiculously effective and fun-to-watch swarming game plan that Bowles put together in the Super Bowl could very well put him back on some head coaching watch lists. Rightfully so, the defense was on fire throughout the entire 2020 postseason. I just want to see more of that consistently over the course of a season before I put him ahead of my top three on this year’s list.

3. Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints – If you want to know the hallmark of a good defensive coordinator, just look at the impact a hiring has had on the team’s defense. Plain and simple – the eye test. Few have done a job similar to what Allen has done with that Saints defense since taking the job in 2015. They were one of the most complete defenses in the NFL in 2020 – top five in rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and points allowed per game.

2. Keith Butler, Pittsburgh Steelers – You want to talk about a lifer, Keith Butler is a lifer. He’s been with the Steelers since 2003, serving as defensive coordinator since 2015. In that time, he’s guided the Steelers defense into becoming one of the feistiest units in the entire NFL. Butler’s defenses look like the Steelers of old – flying around the ball and knocking the hell out of opposing quarterbacks. The Steelers were third in total yards allowed per game and points allowed per game in 2020.

1. Jack Del Rio, Washington Football Team – After some time off, Del Rio returned to the NFL as Ron Rivera‘s defensive coordinator, and his impact on the team turned Washington into arguably the best defense in the entire NFL. This was in the first year of a scheme switch (from 3-4 to 4-3), no less! With another year of working with all that defensive talent in Washington, dare I say, the Football Team defense should only get better. Del Rio should be considered the best DC in the league.


Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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