Rex Ryan yesterday declared his defense will be elite this season as the Jets coach claimed his unit will rank as one of the top five in the NFL.

“We will be” Ryan said. “Right now we’re not there. Obviously we’ve got to make some improvements especially from this past week but I’m certainly confident that we’ll be where we always are or better.”

Where the Jets always are — at least under Ryan — has generally been in the NFL’s year-end top-five. But last season that wasn’t the case as they ranked eighth. They’ve slipped in each year of Ryan’s tenure; in 2011 they ranked fifth. In 2010 they were third. In 2009 they were first.

Darrelle Revis who was their top defensive player missed the bulk of last season and now plays for the Buccaneers. Three of last year’s key starters — Pro Bowl safety LaRon Landry fellow starting safety Yeremiah Bell and defensive tackle Mike DeVito — also are gone. And second-year linebacker Quinton Coples is already injured.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine also left and has been replaced by Dennis Thurman. Additions this season include safety Dawan Landry — LaRon’s brother — defensive lineman Antonio Garay linebacker Antwan Barnes and first-round picks Dee Milliner at cornerback and Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle.

What gives Ryan the belief his defense can — and will — rank in the top five?

“I guess my history” he said. “And knowing what it looks like. We have a lot of good players. There’ll be a lot of new faces in there.

“But you put that decal on the side of your helmet that says ‘New York Jets’ then you have to be special. You have to understand that there’s expectations that come along with it. I expect our guys to play extremely well.”

Ryan has an impressive enough defensive track record that he has earned this benefit of the doubt — even though he’s hardly immune to making guarantees. Still the Jets defense looked pedestrian in Saturday’s preseason victory over the also-ran Jaguars as Blaine Gabbert and Co. scored on three of their four first-half drives against the Jets’ starting defense and scored 13 points.

Not surprisingly though Ryan’s players are plenty confident.

“We let people run the ball on us [in 2012] had bad communication in the back end and we still finished eighth” defensive lineman Mo Wilkerson said. “So if we do everything right there’s no reason why we couldn’t be No. 1.”

Added Barnes: “I believe [Rex] all the way. ... He’s been in this game for a long time and he won’t lead us astray.”