NFC South Offseason Grades

Atlanta Falcons (C-)

The Falcons continue their fall from the top which started in the second half of Superbowl 51. They lost Austin Hooper to Cleveland, a good all-round tight end who was becoming a consistent safety blanket for Matt Ryan whenever Jones wasn’t open. Hooper had increased yearly in receptions, yards and TDs (75 rec, 787 yds and 6TDs in 2019). The Falcons replaced him with former first round pick Hayden Hurst. Hurst has talent but was severely upstaged by Mark Andrews in Baltimore. The Falcons traded a 2nd round pick for the 26 year old tight end who has only ever been a backup despite his first round pedigree. A large risk which felt like a reach to replace a player they wanted to keep around. They also lost Vic Beasley, De’Vondrae Campbell and Adrian Clayborn. All of which will leave a whole along the D-Line and outside linebacker.   The 3 of them accounted for half of the Falcons’ sacks last year (14 of 28). They did sign Dante Fowler Jr to ease the losses, but he can’t be counted on to stop the opposition’s rushing attack. Two good signings were the one year deals of Todd Gurley and Laquon Treadwell. Low risk high reward signings who can both add a spark to the Falcons offense if they can regain prior form or reach potential.

With their first-round pick, the Falcons selected AJ Terrell. A consensus second day player, he was a reach at a position of need. Inconsistent throughout college at Clemson, he is not a polished day one starter. He can get grabby and that will only be exploited at the next level. Due to the loss of Desmund Trufant in free agency, Terrell will need to be starting early to partner Isaiah Oliver. Davidson is a consistent D-Lineman who has good strengths. May be slightly to slow at the snap to worry top-tier O-Lineman but is a solid pick. Hennessy gets to sit behind Alex Mack for a year which will only help, Walker is a smart linebacker who should excel on special teams and his versatility could see him on the field for a few snaps a game, even if he’s not a full time starter. Hofrichter can battle for kicker or punter, after being declared as a kicker by the Falcons, it seems he will be battling with Koo but Ryan Allen’s job may also be in doubt if Koo wins the kicking job.

Carolina Panthers (B+)

Getting Teddy Bridgewater was a great signing. He looked near his pre-injury self when filling in for Drew Brees last year. He is also a guy that the rest of the team will play for. Everyone wants him to come back from the awful injury and a 3-year $63 million deal isn’t going to cause issue for the Panthers if he doesn’t succeed. Signing Anderson will only add weapons to a usually weak receiving core. But Moore, Anderson and Samuel (if he isn’t traded) will be a good, diverse top 3 for the Panthers. Weatherly will add experience to a very young D-Line. They are a little weak at guard but their wasn’t many options in free agency. The best decision may be letting James Bradberry walk. He is a good corner, but not worth they 3-year $43.5 million contract he got from the Giants. This does leave a weak cornerback depth chart (Eli Apple will most likely be CB2) but this team is not building for this season but instead the future.

The future D-Line for the Panthers will be ridiculous. I still think it was a mistake not selecting Simmons but it seems the Panthers weren’t confident on how to use him so selecting the monster of Brown to eat up the interior of the line was the next best option. To partner him with Gross-Matos is creating a monster for the future along with impressive second year player Brian Burns. All under 23 years old, they can all learn from Kawann Short for the next 2 years. Late in the second, the Panthers drafted Jeremy Chinn. He may struggle in man coverage, but he is a large safety with significant upside. However, it is likely he will be thrown right into the NFL level competition after playing college at Southern Illinois. Pride Jr is a corner who also has high upside. His speed has helped him recover from mistakes in college, it won’t be as helpful in the NFL though. Robinson is a great pick from a football persepective. Day 2 talent at day 3 price because of his academic fraud that left him expelled from West Virginia. He went to the XFL and now can be a useful safety for the Panthers. Roy and Thomas-Oliver are unknown quantities at their positions. Roy only had one good year and Thomas-Oliver changed from WR to CB. All the Panthers picks were on the defence after addressing offense in free agency. A good offseason for the Panthers which will pay off down the road.

New Orleans Saints (B)

Replacing Bridgewater with Winston was a great move, especially with Winston on such a cheap contract. If Brees has too miss games, Winston still gives the Saints a chance to win. Signing Jenkins to a 4-year $32 million contract is a risk at 32 years old but there is an out after 2 years. Sanders will only boost the receiving corps and forms a deadly duo with Michael Thomas. His instant impact was seen last season with the 49ers and Brees is a far superior QB to Garoppolo. Signing Andreas Peat to a 5-year $52 million contract was a great move. It locks up one of the best young guards in the game at a salary which will be kind to the team in 3 or 4 years. This led to the release of Larry Walford, but Ruiz will take his spot after being drafted. Vonn Bell left for the Bengals but the Saints have depth at both safety spots. The Saints are still a little weak at linebacker but Anzalone will only improve.

The Saints only had 4 picks in the draft this year after 3 draft day trades. They selected Ruiz in the first round. By far the best interior O-Lineman in the draft, he can start at centre and move McCoy to guard or he can replace Walford at guard. Protecting Brees is top priority entering what is likely his final season. Baun will help add spark to the LBs but his limited pass rush moves will be an issue. He doesn’t have the athletic frame to beat long tackles either. Trautmen can instantly becoming the second TE on the roster ahead of Josh Hill and behind veteran Jared Cook. Stevens is a dual threat QB to potentially replace Taysom Hill if he is traded for (by a very desperate team).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (A+)

The Bucs signed Brady. That’s already an A+ because not only is he an improvement over Winston, but he will increase the play of others on his team. Reports are that he is already amazing the Buc’s players with his leadership (and centre Ryan Jensen with instructions on how to use a towel on game day). To add to this, Brady bought along Gronkowski to add to an already strong TE depth chart. That now creates a lethal receiving group with Gronkowski, Evans, Godwin and OJ Howard / Cameron Brate (assuming one of them is traded). They managed to resign Suh to keep stuffing opposing run games and smartly allowed Carl Nassib to leave due to the contract he got (3 year $25.25 million). Franchise tagging Shaq Barrett will allow for the Bucs to learn if last year was a fluke or a sign of the future. This all put with a young group of DBs (Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Winfield Jr) leads to a great offense and defence for the upcoming season.

The draft was also great for the Bucs. Getting Wirfs in the first round was great. The weak spot last year was the O-Line and whilst Brady does move well in the pocket, he can’t escape well … at all. Wirfs does overstep often so pass protection may be slightly underwhelming early in his career but his upside is huge and his athleticism will ignite the previously invisible run game which can take some pressure off of Brady. Winfield Jr has incredible instincts at safety and will push for the starting job almost immediately. Vaughn can power away inside and add juice to the run game which was lacklustre for the last few seasons in Tampa. Him and Jones will form a good 1-2 punch. Johnson will be loved by Brady. A receiver who does not drop the ball and makes no mistakes. He may not set the world alight, but his consistency will be important and propel him to the 3rd WR spot. Davis gets to learn from Suh and Vea and Calais will be a great returner on punts and kicks, great value for a seventh-round pick. This team has a great chance to be Superbowl bound.

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