The NFC South was an interesting division this season. It didn’t necessarily go as many people expected it to go. This season, like last season ended with an NFC South team losing in the Super Bowl, just not the one we expected. The Panthers went from first to worst the Saints had a dominant passing game but were mediocre overall, Tampa’s young roster improved immensely, and the Falcons established themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL. The NFC South has a chance to be very good, but other than the Falcons, these teams have a lot of holes to fill. While these teams were active in free agency and filled some of those holes, there are still more questions than answers heading into the draft. Just like my last article, I will be picking out the three biggest team needs of each team.
Biggest Addition: Julius Peppers
Biggest Loss: Mike Remmers
The Carolina Panthers were one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL last season. They went from 15-1 and appearing the Super Bowl to 6-10 and finishing in the basement of the NFC South and missing the playoffs. They went from dominating on the defensive side of the ball before to finishing 21st in overall defense and 29th in pass defense according to UPI.com. With that I believe with where they are picking and with a certain player at the position declaring for the draft this season the Panthers biggest need is running back. With Cam Newton constantly getting banged up and Jonathan Stewart on the back end of his career the Panthers need a game breaker at the running back position. While they finished tenth in rushing last season a lot of their production comes from Newton’s legs. The Panthers are trying to phase Newton out of the run game because of his health so they will need a bell cow who can take around 20-30 carries per game. I’m not going to name any names (Leonard Fournette) but there is a guy available who would take the Panthers offense to the next level. Add in the fact that they were 21st in passing offense, according to UPI.com, and they don’t exactly have a stellar offensive line, they will most definitely need a do it all back who can take a beating.
While many think the Panthers need an offensive tackle in a bad way, I believe corner back is a bigger need for the Panthers. While Matt Kalil is not ideal and there are questions with Michael Oher and his concussions, they have a couple of bodies that can sustain. This is not the strongest of tackle classes. This is a very deep class at corner back and that makes more sense for the Panthers at this point. As I mentioned earlier the Panthers were third to last in pass defense and did not seem to find an answer after they let Josh Norman walk. According to Pro Football focus the Panthers secondary ranked 27th. While they got some decent play from the youngsters James Bradberry and Daryl Worley and they added a guy like Captain Munnerlyn, they can afford to add some much needed depth and legitimate play maker out at the corner position. This year’s class is extremely deep and the Panthers are sitting in a nice place to add a top tier play maker in either of the first two rounds.
The final position of need for the Panthers is a pass rusher. While yes they added Julius Peppers and still have a guy like Charles Johnson, but these guys are getting up there in age. A couple years ago these two paired up would be the deadliest duo in the NFL, but they are much older now and not the same as they once were. They also traded away Kony Ealy to the Patriots. There are som nice pass rushers in this draft that they could grab in the middle rounds. Adding some young depth to that defensive line would be good for them. They would be learning from two of the best the league has seen the last couple of years at the defensive end position. This defense needs to be better this year and upgrading the defensive end position will make it infinitely better.
New Orleans Saints
Biggest Addition: Larry Warford
Biggest Loss: Brandin Cooks
The Saints have spent quite a few years in obscurity after winning a Super Bowl and being a playoff team year in and year out. The reason has not been the offense, what Drew Brees has been doing the last couple of seasons has been almost historic. They have also gotten some nice production out of Mark Ingram when he has been healthy. Their defense has been holding them back for years and that is what they will need to address in this draft. The Saints finished 27th in total defense and dead last in pass defense last season according to UPI.com. I believe their biggest need, which has been the case for a while now, is pass rusher. The Saints only had 30 sacks last season and other than Cameron Jordan they have guys like Darryl Tapp and Alex Okafor. In this division with guys like Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, and Jameis Winston they will need to get pressure on the quarterback often. They also need to help out the weak back end of their defense. One of the main reasons their pass defense was so bad was because they couldn’t bring down the quarterback enough. They have their pick of the lot with the eleventh pick in the draft.
Their second biggest need is corner back. As I mentioned earlier they ranked dead last in pass defense. They were abysmal to say the least. According to Pro Football Focus the Saints secondary were graded as the 4th worst secondary in the NFL. If it weren’t for their safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell, who weren’t all that great either, their grade would be worse. Delvin Breux’s injury forced the Saints to play Ken Crawley and B.W Webb quite a bit and they allowed passer ratings above 100.0. When Breux returned he wasn’t all that good either. In a very deep class and the addition of the 32nd overall pick that they got from the Patriots the Saints will be able to add one of the top corners in this draft to their depleted secondary. Adding a pass rusher and a corner in the first round could really change the fortunes of the Saints this season.
Like I said the Saints offense has not been the problem, it has been their defense. Continuing with the defensive theme the Saints third biggest need is linebacker. Last season they got contributions from James Laurainitis and Paul Kruger. With both being free agents it leaves an even bigger void than there was before. Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kik’aha staying healthy would be big for them, but they still need to add depth at that position. Adding a player at all three levels in the first two rounds of the draft would be a big step in the right direction for the Saints who have not been able to figure out that side of the ball for some time now.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Biggest Addition: DeSean Jackson
Biggest Loss: Akeem Spence
Looking at it now, it was a fairly successful season for the Bucs. The defense finished strong, Winston made some good strides, and they finished second in their division with a winning record. They did miss the playoffs, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. With that Winston has to be more consistent and so does their defense. According to UPI.com, the buccaneers finished 23rd in overall defense and 22nd in both passing and run defense. They were able to add J.J Wilcox and Chris Baker, but they still need to improve their defense. The biggest need for the Buccaneers is safety. Even with the addition of J.J. Wilcox they need to fill that other safety position. They did resign Conte, but he ranked 90th out of 91 safeties according to Pro Football Focus. They also have Keith Tandy, Ryan Smith, and Isaiah Johnson who aren’t all that impressive. Adding another safty to this up and coming secondary could really bring this secondary to the next level.
The second biggest need for the Bucs is running back. With Doug Martin having to sit out with a suspension it means that both Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers will have to shoulder the bulk of the carries. Even if Doug Martin wasn’t suspended he has struggled to stay healthy and hasn’t been as productive as he was his rookie season. They finally added another weapon for Winston, if they could get him a consistently productive back it would only help the Winston and the team as a whole even more. I know the backfield was banged up last season but they finished 24th in rushing offense according to UPI.com. Adding a back early would be a wise move to give this young team a boost from the back field.
While the Bucs have Robert Ayers, William Gholston, and Noah Spence the Buccaneers need to add depth at defensive end. This roster is on the brink of being very good. William Gholson is great, but Ayers is getting up there in age and Spence is still too young to know what he will turn out to be. The Bucs don’t have too many holes, but adding a good young player to the defensive line could make this defense elite. It gives them more options and it allows them to get a good rotation. It also gives them an insurance policy when it comes to injuries. With the addition of Baker they have addressed the defensive line, but with a so-so secondary you want to have an elite pass rush. They did have 38 sacks last season, but they were in no way a top defense last season. Adding a pass rusher makes this defense a lot better.
Biggest Addition: Dontari Poe
Biggest Loss: Chris Chester
Other than losing the Super Bowl and losing it in the fashion they did, it was a phenomenal season for the Falcons. Did they blow a 28-3 lead? Yes, but looking back at it, the fact they made it to the Super Bowl took everybody by surprise. This is one of the best teams in the NFL and I don’t see why they can’t get back to the big game. While they had the second ranked offense in the NFL, they were ranked 25th in total defense according to UPI.com. Even though Vic Beasley led the league in sacks, they only had 34 overall. They by no means were an elite pass rushing team. With the addition of Poe It should be better. Outside of Beasley and Freeney, who is up there in age, they don’t have a legitimate pass rusher. What will take this team to the next level is continuing to build on the step forward they took on defense last season. At the back end of the first round there should be some good pass rushers still available. Adding a good young pass rusher to pair with Beasley would give this defense a major boost.
With the retirement of Chris Chester the Falcons have a void at the right guard position. This offensive line was very good, but it could be better. Losing a major piece of that line could be bigger than people think. This team is in win now mode and they can’t afford to sleep on the offensive line. The key to this team getting back to the championship is keeping Matt Ryan up right and running the ball at a high level. Their center Alex Mack and their left guard Alex Levitre are in their thirties so adding young talent to this offensive line would be a smart move for Atlanta.
Even with the addition of Poe the defensive tackle/ strong side defensive end is a position of need for the Falcons. The Falcons finished 17th in run defense and 28th in pass defense according to UPI.com. Adding another run stuffer to pair with another pass rusher would help both of these ratings. They have a very young line backing corps and secondary. Adding to this defensive line will allow them to make more plays and alleviate pressure from them. This is already an extremely strong roster, especially on offense, so turning their few weaknesses into strengths will make this team a favorite to win the Super Bowl next season.
The NFC South was one of the oddest divisions this past season based on how it shook out. Next season it would be possible to see a three team race for the division if each of these teams address their needs accordingly. This will be one of the toughest divisions in the entire NFL next season. There are four really good quarterbacks, and with good quarterbacks anything can happen. If they can address their defensive deficiencies it’ll be a fun season in the South.