The NFC South is always one of the most fun divisions to watch. Each year a new candidate takes the mantle of division champ. Rarely, does a team go back-to-back seasons with the crown. A year after the Atlanta Falcons went to the Super Bowl, it was the resurgent New Orleans who reclaimed their place in the playoffs.
But not withering were the Atlanta Falcons or Carolina Panthers. Both teams made the playoffs under the wild card banner and Atlanta actually pulled off an upset in the opening round of the playoffs defeating the No. 3 seed LA Rams.
So where do things stand after the offseason? Pretty much where they were left following the 2017 campaign. There were no big changes in the division. When three out of four teams make it to the playoffs there really is no need to overhaul anything, it’s just a matter of continuing to fix up the spots that are under-producing. So, how did these teams fare? Lets give it a look…
Atlanta Falcons: B+
1.) Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
2.) Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado
3.) Deadrin Senat, DT, USF
4.) Ito Smith, RB, Southern Miss
6.) Russell Gage, WR, LSU
6.) Foye Oluokun, LB, Yale
With no glaring need on the roster, the Atlanta Falcons were free to add to their roster as see fit. Nabbing Ridley, arguably the best receiver in the draft, with their first pick was a win. Outside of starting receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu there wasn’t much left on the depth chart. Ridley will likely contribute immediately. Smith, another weapon added for Matt Ryan, was a strong pick as well. While he’s not the biggest back (Smith is listed at 5’9″), Smith is ultra productive. He had three straight seasons rushing over 1,000 yards and in those seasons racked up 40 touchdowns. Not to mention he added another seven scores off of 132 receptions. Oliver and Senat, add needed depth. The secondary play waned in 2017, so Oliver will provide needed assistance. Senat, much the same along the defensive line. With the mammoth Dontari Poe gone, Senat will help fill the void.
Carolina Panthers: B
1.) DJ Moore, WR, Maryland
2.) Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
3.) Rashaan Gaulden, CB, Tennessee
4.) Ian Thomas, TE, Indiana
4.) Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
5.) Jermaine Carter, LB, Maryland
7.) Andre Carter, LB, North Carolina
7.) Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
The Panthers brought in a quality yield, but one thing sticks out considerably. They failed to address the hole on their offensive line left after -All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville over free agency. Beyond that miss, the Panthers addressed many needs. Cam Newton has had a dearth of wide receiving options over the years, but Moore finally gives him a weapon who can lineup all over the field. In Thomas, they have a budding receiving threat who should learn a lot playing behind Greg Olsen. Jackson and Gaulden, address a defensive secondary that has failed to grow after the departure of Josh Norman. Gaulden, plays with swagger and may move to the free safety spot left vacant by Kurt Coleman. Haynes, adds youth and depth to their pass rushing corps. The team can’ rely on Julius Peppers forever. Haynes should learn a lot playing behind the future Hall-of-Famer. He had 32 sacks over his career at Ole Miss.
New Orleans Saints: C+
1.) Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA
3.) Tre’quan Smith, WR, UCF
4.) Rick Leonard, OT, Florida St.
5.) Natrell Jamerson, S, Wisconsin
6.) Kamrin Moore, CB, Boston College
6.) Boston Scott, RB, Louisiana Tech
7.) Will Clapp, C, LSU
The Saints made a huge trade to jump up and select Davenport to open their draft. In moving up from No. 27 to No. 14, the Saints gave away a fifth-round selection this year and next year’s first-round pick. That is a lot to give up to select an edge rusher. Nothing against Davenport, he is immensely talented and could live up to the trade, but he is also very raw at this point. He never had a double-digit sack season at UT-San Antonio. Smith, is a classic Saints’ receiver. He provides a big target, but is also raw, having only played organized football for five years. That being said, his numbers did go up each year culminating with a 1,000 yard campaign and 13 touchdown season to cap his college career. Leonard and Clapp, add needed depth along their offensive line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B
1.) Vita Vea, DT, Washington
2.) Ronald Jones, RB, USC
2.) MJ Stewart, CB, North Carolina
2.) Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
3.) Alex Cappa, OG, Humboldt St.
4.) Jordan Whitehead, S, Pitt
5.) Justin Watson, WR, Penn
6.) Jack Cichy, LB, Wisconsin
Defensive tackle wasn’t the greatest need for the Bucs, but when a talent like Vea falls to you it would be foolish to pass on the player. Vea, is a colossal man and has freakish athletic ability. Paired with veteran Gerald McCoy, the Bucs may have just created the best defensive tackle tandem in the league. Jones, was a strong addition early in Round 2. He has the speed that makes him a threat every time he touches the ball. He’s not the biggest back, but the production is undeniable. How big his workload will be will be intriguing to watching. The Bucs had the worst pass defense in the league last year and clearly had to try and remedy that through the draft. They added two strong cornerbacks in Stewart and Davis. Stewart, has some off field issues, but has the versatility that is welcomed at the position. Davis, is a big, physical corner who isn’t afraid to mix it up in the run game. He doesn’t create a lot of turnovers, but broke up 29 passes in college.