Seattle Seahawks boast NFL's best defensive nucleus


Every Thursday, Chris Wesseling rolls out the power rankings for one specific NFL position.

So far, we have ranked the top running backs, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive tackles, wide receivers, defensive ends, kick returners, running backs, linebacker duos, wide receiver duos, safeties and cornerbacks in the league.

With the end of the season approaching, we are beginning to look forward to next season. Last week, we asked which organization has the best nucleus of offensive talent. This week, we turn our attention to the other side of the ball.

The premise is this: If I am the best coaching candidate on the market, which defensive personnel would I most want to take over?

1. Seattle Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have constructed a roster so deep that the Seahawks' defense leads the NFL in multiple categories despite the losses of linebacker K.J. Wright and Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Browner. The defensive backfield harbors two legitimate candidates for Defensive Player of the Year in Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. The defensive front has plenty of bodies to throw at opponents even if Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel test the free-agent market.

2. San Francisco 49ers

This defense is anchored by the NFL's most daunting 3-4 linebacker corps since Jim Mora's Saints featured Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, Vaughn Johnson and Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson from 1987 to 1992. The defensive line is more than solid. The secondary features a pair of up-and-comers in nickel corner Tramaine Brock and hard-hitting rookie safety Eric Reid.

3. Kansas City Chiefs

Tamba Hali and Justin Houston were the NFL's most effective tandem of outside linebackers before injuries struck. Dontari Poe and Derrick Johnson are Pro Bowl candidates for their work in the run game. The secondary has been vulnerable over the past month with no help from the pass rush, but still has above-average talent with Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith. Deep and experienced, this defense can be a shut-down unit when healthy.

4. Carolina Panthers

Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are arguably the top linebacker duo in the league. The front four is superb, though Greg Hardy will need to be retained via the franchise tag. The NFL's top scoring defense would rank higher if not for a trio of free-agent starters in the secondary, led by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

5. St. Louis Rams

Other defensive lines such as the Jets, Lions and Bengals get tossed around as the NFL's most dominant, but the Rams' rotation led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers is the ideal combination of talent, age, contract status and depth. James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree make a fine duo at linebacker. This defense can still use upgrades in the secondary, as it has been susceptible to big plays.

6. Arizona Cardinals

Coordinator Todd Bowles' defense boasts a legitimate star at all three levels, with Calais Campbell, Daryl Washington and Patrick Peterson. The major questions involve Karlos Dansby's free agency and Tyrann Mathieu's ability to return to form following surgery to repair a torn ACL and LCL. It certainly helps that ageless pass rusher John Abraham signed a two-year contract with Arizona.

7. New York Jets

As far as 3-4 defensive lines go, the Jets' trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Sheldon Richardson is peerless. Wilkerson will be in the market for a mega-contract, but Harrison and Richardson are cheaply under team control for the foreseeable future. This defense needs major help at the back end, where first-round cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson have fallen well short of expectations.

8. Cleveland Browns

One of the early-season's stingiest defenses has fallen on hard times of late with Desmond Bryant out of the lineup. As long as Bryant returns to full health and Barkevious Mingo develops into a difference-making pass rusher, this front seven can be among the NFL's most imposing. The secondary leans heavily on cornerback Joe Haden and strong safety T.J. Ward. The latter has expressed an interest in returning to Cleveland rather than testing free agency.

9. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens' greatest asset is that there is no glaring weakness on defense. This defense is solid at all three levels, with Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil as the backbone. There's also room to grow, with young talents such as cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Matt Elam emerging as key contributors. Impending free agents include inside linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive end Arthur Jones and strong safety James Ihedigbo.

10. Detroit Lions

The front seven boasts Pro Bowl-caliber talents in Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and DeAndre Levy. That trio is bolstered by Stephen Tulloch as a solid starter and Ziggy Ansah as an intriguing developmental project. As has always been the case under Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham, this defense's Achilles' heel remains coverage at the back end. An infusion of talent is needed at cornerback.

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11. Buffalo Bills
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
13. Cincinnati Bengals
14. Philadelphia Eagles
15. New Orleans Saints
16. Green Bay Packers
17. Houston Texans
18. New England Patriots
19. Denver Broncos
20. Miami Dolphins
21. New York Giants
22. Indianapolis Colts
23. Tennessee Titans
24. Dallas Cowboys
25. Minnesota Vikings
26. San Diego Chargers
27. Atlanta Falcons
28. Pittsburgh Steelers
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Chicago Bears
31. Washington Redskins
32. Oakland Raiders

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