Previoulsy, we discussed how the offensive positions and kicker stacked up in the NFC South. Today's installment will rank the defensive positions and punter position. In a few days, we'll cap it off with a discussion on which trends are prevalent in the division, as well as the weakness and strengths of each team -- specifically where each team should be looking to upgrade through free agency.
The rosters will be re-shaped over the next month as a result of free agency, training camp, age and injury. We'll revisit the rankings during the last few weeks of the pre-season, with a final ranking to come just before the season opener. For the purpose of the "pre-offseason activity" rankings, we are using last year's roster in addition to any draft picks or free agents added before the lock out.
It must be noted that these rankings are by positional group. The depth behind the starters carries some weight. However, if the starter at a position is an elite player, the cumulative rankings another team has at the position may not justify a higher overall ranking. Team A might have the best starter and back-up combo, but the impact of the elite player with no back-up on Team B outweighs any contribution Team A's duo could give. Some positions see more players in the game at once, like cornerback. The cumulative of these positions count more than that of a position like MLB.
Every team in the NFC South has its defense based in the 4-3 scheme. While some, like the Saints, employ the 3-4 from time to time (because they are more versatile and have the ability to do so), they are primarily built to play the 4-3. This makes it easier to compare. So continue reading to see how teams in the NFC South stack up against each other on defense.
1.Saints-- Sedrick Ellis, Shaun Rogers, Remi Ayodele, Anthony Hargrove, Tom Johnson, Swanson Miller -- Anyone who believes Shaun Rogers won't have an impact as a NT should take a close look at Minnesota's Pat Williams. Rogers gives the Saints just what the doctor ordered at the position. Ayodele (who started by default) will spell Rogers while Anthony Hargrove will move inside during obvious passing situations.
2. Buccaneers-- Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Frank Okam, Al Woods, Doug Worthington, Roy Miller, Alex Magee -- Tampa has taken a position of weakness and really bolstered it over the last year. I'll take the potential, youth, and rotation they have in place.
3. Falcons-- Peria Jerry, Jonathan Babineaux, Thomas Johnson, Trey Lewis, Corey Peters, Vance Walker -- Jerry and Babineaux played okay together last year, but many occasions they had to move Jamaal Anderson in. The Falcons were good against the rush last season, making teams really earn every yard.
4. Panthers-- Ed Johnson, Derek Landri, Nick Hayden, Andre Neblett, Terrell McClain, Corvey Irvin, Sione Fua, Louis Ellis, Tommie Duhart -- The Panthers got more than anyone realistically expected out of this position last year.
1. Panthers-- Everette Brown, Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Eric Norwood, Taylor Hilee, Tyler Brayton -- Brown and Johnson played so well last year, I can't put another team above them. Who thought Carolina would get solid play at DE without Peppers?
2. Saints -- Will Smith, Cameron Jordan, Alex Brown, Jeff Charleston, Anthony Hargrove, Junior Gallette, Greg Romeus, Jimmy Wilkerson, Mitch King -- The Saints, like Tampa, addressed their biggest need in the draft. And like Tampa, questions remain as to how soon the rookie(s) will make an impact at the position. I'll take the way this group will look at year's end over the steady duo in Carolina and the best DE in Atlanta.
3. Falcons-- John Abraham, Jamaal Anderson, Kroy Biermann, Chauncey Davis, Cliff Matthews, Lawrence Sidburry, Emmanuel Stephens -- Abraham is an impact player, but age and injury have limited his playing time. On many occasions, they'll keep him off the field on running downs. At this point, Abraham is the best DE in the division, but not being on the field for 100% of the defensive snaps and disappointing play from Jamaal Anderson weigh too much to rank them any higher. At least Biermann is solid.
4. Buccaneers-- DaQuan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, Tim Crowder, Michael Bennett, Brandon Gilbeaux, George Johnson, Erik Lorig, Kyle Moore, Stylez White, E.J. Wilson -- Tampa continued their youth movement on the defensive line with their top two draft choices this year. Will the impact be immediate with the transition the rookies have to make in a short amount of time? Probably not. However, this defensive line's potential scares me, and though the rookies won't be effective early, the guys they replace are still on the roster.
1. Panthers -- Jon Beason, Dan Connor, James Anderson, Thomas Davis, Nic Harris, Jordan Senn, Sean Ware, Thomas Williams, Jason Williams, Lawrence Wilson -- This group is by far the best in the NFC South. Watch out for rookie Lawrence Wilson; you may not hear his name on anything but special teams, but in a few years...
2. Falcons -- Sean Weatherspoon, Curtis Lofton, Mike Peterson, Kroy Biermann, Stephen Nicholas, Spencer Adkins, Akeem Dent, Robert James, Bear Woods -- How many of us were sick when Atlanta drafted Weatherspoon? I'm sure the Saints front office was. I do wonder how much Mike Peterson has left.
3. Buccaneers -- Barrett Rudd, Mason Foster, Dekoda Watson, Geno Hayes, Cody Grimm, Adam Hayward, Tyrone McKenzie, Simoni Lawrence, Niko Koutouvides, J.D. Folsom, Quincy Black -- If I didn't know for certain that Tampa was going to let Barrett Rudd walk, I might consider ranking them a little higher.
4. Saints -- Jonathan Vilma, Martez Wilson, Jonathan Casillas, Scott Shanle, Marvin Mitchell, Stanley Arnoux, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Danny Clark, Nate Bussey, Anthony Waters, Ezra Butler, Ramon Humber, Kawika Mitchell -- Hopefully the Saints will see realized potential from this group.
1. Saints-- Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson, Johnny Patrick, Randall Gay, Leigh Torrence, Mark Parson -- The Saints have something most teams would kill for - four cover corners. This team has a top five secondary in the NFL, and by the time this off-season is over, arguably the top secondary (Cincinatti will lose Joseph).
2. Falcons -- Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes, Christopher Owens, Dominique Franks -- I can't believe Atlanta only has four CB's on their roster. The duo of Robinson and Grimes make a good tandem but how well do the other guys cover in nickle and dime? I'm not sure. It's a good thing they've got five safeties and free agency. I believe Atlanta will likely leap frog Tampa if/when Aqib Talib gets suspended and free agency is all said and done with.
3.Panthers -- Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall, Captain Munnerlyn, Brandon Hogan, Robert McClain, R.J. Stanford, C.J. Wilson -- Carolina has three solid corners but the depth behind that is iffy. I hate putting Carolina last so much, but I'd rather Atlanta's top two over the Panthers top three.
4. Buccaneers -- Ronde Barber, Aqib Talib, E.J. Biggers, Anthony Gaitor, D.J. Johnson, Elbert Mack -- Until the terrorist gets taken out or Barber retires, I'll give Tampa the two spot. When Talib went down with injury last year, Tampa didn't really suffer that much. I love the addition of Gaitor, I think he's a good value pick late in the draft. Tampa really needs to add to this group in free agency.
1. Saints -- Malcom Jenkins, Darren Sharper, Roman Harper, Usama Young, Pierson Prioleau, Chris Reis, Matt Giordano -- The Saints have the most versatile group, more than a few can play cornerback in a pinch and actually came into the pros as CB.
2. Falcons-- Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Rafael Bush, Rafael Priest, Shann Schillinger -- I was really jealous watching Atlanta grab DeCoud and Moore in back to back drafts. The Falcons have gotten extremely young at the position and should have two solid starters for years to come.
3. Buccaneers -- Tanard Jackson, Sean Jones, Cody Grimm, Dominique Harris, Corey Lynch, Ahmad Black, Larry Asante, Vince Anderson -- Sean Jones really digressed last year and who knows when Jackson will play again. I do have to say I like Ahmad Black and think, once again, Tampa got good value late in the draft. (I believe they had the best 2011 draft out of all 32 teams). If Sean Jones regains his form and Tanard Jackson gets on the field, Tampa could easily jump Atlanta for the two spot and possibly best New Orleans for top honors.
4. Panthers -- Sherrod Martin, Charles Godfrey, Jordan Pugh, Marcus Hudson -- Unlike the CB position, this group truly ranks last no matter how you cut it. We could go starters, just free safety or just strong safety and Carolina would still be last every time. At least they've got good LB's and a decent defensive line.
1. Saints -- Thomas Morstead -- He's just about a top five punter in the NFL. He'll officially become one this year, I believe. How many touchbacks will he get on kick-off? I'm so happy the Saints have this guy; they won't have to worry about this position for a long time.
2. Panthers -- Jason Baker -- Baker had to punt almost 100 times last year and still managed a 43+ yard average.
4. Buccanneers -- Robert Malone -- While he's ranked last, give the rookie a break. He had a solid year one and last doesn't always mean worst, it just means 4th in this case. He did a great job last year and I believe Tampa is happy with him.
I hate to break it to you, but I'm a Saints fan. A very big Saints fan. So these rankings are through the view of my black and gold colored glasses. If you disagree with a position or two, convince me the error of my ways. Give me compelling evidence that suggests otherwise to support your opinion in the section below. I look forward to reading what you have to say.