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NFL Draft

Which NFC South Team Has The Best Non-QB Roster?

  • The Draft Network
  • June 18, 2020
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The NFC South looks just a little bit different and is now home to arguably the greatest quarterback ever. 

Tom Brady’s move to Tampa Bay sent everything into a tailspin during free agency and changed the dynamic of the division. How Brady, at 43 by the time the season starts, will perform in the Buccaneers’ offense will be one of the most intriguing storylines to follow. 

What made him so successful in New England was coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ well-built team. How does the Buccaneers roster, and the other rosters in the NFC South, hold up when removing the starting quarterback from the equation?

The New Orleans Saints, who finished 13-3 last season, sans Drew Brees can rely on one of the best offensive lines—or at least best offensive tackles—in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons (7-9) have some high-powered offensive weapons and the Carolina Panthers (5-11) should just prepare for another losing season.

If the NFC is going to be known for one thing, its offense, then the NFC South is coming to command a lot of that attention.

Let’s take a closer look.

New Orleans Saints

If there was ever a time to look at how successful the Saints can be without their Hall of Fame quarterback, it was last season when they finished with their sixth divisional crown since 2006 despite Brees missing five games. It helped to have an elite back-up quarterback—Teddy Bridgewater, who will be a starter for the rival Panthers—but the Saints’ success was also because of their almost annoying depth at nearly every position.

The offense is littered with talent, including tackles Terron Armstead (left) and Ryan Ramczyk (right), who are two of the best in the NFL. New Orleans now sports a top wide receiver duo as well after adding Emmanuel Sanders to line up across from Michael Thomas, who can rightfully self-proclaim being the best receiver in the league

Thomas was awarded Offensive Player of the Year last season after setting single-season records for receptions (149) and receiving yards (1,725); he has produced 1,100-or-more yard seasons all four years of his career. Sanders, who saw his best years in 2014-16 with the Denver Broncos, hopes Brees’ level of play will bring him back to the top tier. 

Those are only four players. There’s a healthy Alvin Kamara to consider, who will be looking for a big extension after the 2020 season, and Jared Cook, who highlights the tight end room—without continued bragging about the Saints’ offense, it’s clear they are the best in the NFC South.

What sets New Orleans apart in a division loaded with offensive talent is its defense, starting with defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is coming off a career-best 15.5-sack season. The Saints were smart to fill their holes in the offseason after ending the year ranked 13th in scoring defense (21.3). They added free-agent safeties Malcolm Jenkins and D.J. Swearinger and linebacker Zack Baun with their third-round draft pick. New Orleans has been plagued by unfortunate luck in the playoffs, but it has no shortage of talent or ability to overcome questionable calls when the postseason comes around.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There are a lot of ifs here, and both Tampa Bay and Atlanta finished with the same record last season, but the Buccaneers have the edge here because I like their potential slightly more than the Falcons.

It starts with a solidified receiving corps featuring Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who will be the two of the top pass-catchers in the league, with the recently un-retired tight end Rob Gronkowski providing an added layer of security for this offense. Gronkowski joins a tight end room that already features O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. 

All of those players are behind a top offensive line. The Buccaneers ranked seventh after the 2019 season; the Saints edged them out by rounding out the top five. Ryan Jensen and Ali Marpet return as the core of the O-line after combining for an 80.4 pass-blocking grade, which ranked second among all offenses, according to Pro Football Focus. Tampa Bay filled the hole Demar Dotson left in free agency with 13th-overall pick Tristan Wirfs, who was considered a top offensive lineman in the stacked 2020 class.

However, Wirfs is unproven and the marriage between this offense and Brady is still questionable. Another big if lies in the defense, who were one of the worst in points allowed last season (averaging 28.1 points allowed per game). The upside here is their run defense is literally the best. Tampa Bay allowed a league-low 73.8 rushing yards per game last season and returns stars Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, and Lavonte David. Shaquil Barrett provides another anchor for the Buccaneers and is coming off a league-leading 19.5-sack season. The Buccaneers are hoping for a strong rookie campaign from second-round pick Antoine Winfield Jr.; and if everything comes together for Tampa Bay, it could give New Orleans a run for its money.

Atlanta Falcons

One could argue there are very few unknowns on Atlanta’s offense. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are the stars of the show and Todd Gurley replaced Devonta Freeman in the backfield. The Falcons added more depth to the offensive line while still hoping for 2019 first-round picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary to develop.

Atlanta traded for Hayden Hurst, who is, by consensus, more athletic than the former TE Austin Hooper and instead of opting for a top pass-catcher in say, CeeDee Lamb, they drafted cornerback A.J. Terrell with the 16th overall selection. But the Falcons lost a key defensive player in free agency and have been riddled with injuries, so much so they couldn’t be placed ahead of the Buccaneers in this exercise. 

Cornerback Desmond Trufant is now in Detriot and Atlanta will need Terrell ready to play on day one. The Falcons’ defense also ranked at the lower end of the points-allowed spectrum and gave up an average of 24.9 points per game in 2019. 

Can Atlanta’s additions help them contend in this offensive-heavy division? I don’t love their odds. Neither do the sportsbooks. The Falcons are +900 to win the division and +2500 to win the conference

Carolina Panthers

Oof.

The turnover on the Panthers offense alone is worrisome; pair that with new head coach Matt Rhule and they are going to have a tough time next season. Carolina is easily the only team out of contention this season. 

The Panthers sport one of the league’s best, and highest paid, running backs in Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver D.J. Moore, who had a breakout sophomore season; but they’re missing a lot of other parts. Joe Brady can do his best to reignite the offense. He’ll be working with Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robbie Anderson—all good, can be great, targets—in the receiver room, but a shaky offensive line. There’s at least a glimmer of hope on offense, but when it comes to the other side of the ball: again, oof.

Carolina lost Luke Kuechly after his sudden retirement this offseason and still, with him, ranked second to last in scoring offense (allowing 29.4 points per game) last season. The Panthers opted to add proven players to their secondary by signing cornerback Eli Apple and safety Tre Boston in free agency and drafted defensive end Derrick Brown and edge-rusher Yetur Gross-Matos via the draft. Carolina still has Shaq Thompson in the heart of the defense and experience in the middle of the defensive line to lead the younger players, but this is very much a rebuild and more often than not, those aren’t pretty—at least not yet.

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