NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About NFC South Teams

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Scouts break down what could be a competitive NFC South this season

NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About NFC South Teams

Don’t let the disparity between the top and bottom of last season’s NFC South standings fool you – this could be one of the more competitive divisions in the NFL in 2014. Carolina may be the reigning champion, but New Orleans brought in some new pieces during the offseason, while Atlanta should fare better than 4-12 given all of the injuries it weathered last season. And then there’s Tampa Bay, who hired former Coach of the Year Lovie Smith, once again spent big money in free agency and focused on offense in the draft in hopes of turning things around.

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2014, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers.

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff. 

 

Atlanta Falcons

 

“Aside from QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones, the Falcons really have a below-average roster. With TE Tony Gonzalez retiring, WR Roddy White on the decline, an injury-plagued Steven Jackson and an offensive line that is questionable at best, it’s a bit of a pipe dream to expect Ryan to deliver a Super Bowl to Atlanta.” …

 

“LT Sam Baker was over-drafted as a first-rounder out of USC and has been bothered by back issues through most of his ordinary career. They are hoping for more out of center Peter Konz, but he and RT Lamar Holmes have really been disappointing thus far.” …

 

“Head coach Mike Smith brought in Mike Tice to help fix the OL, but with the issue being talent-based, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews was an obvious choice at No. 6.” …

 

“Defensively, you have to wonder where the pass rush will come from, they signed Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai in free agency, but both are more run-down players. Osi Umenyiora survived 16 games, but was not a factor off the edge.” …

 

“They got great mileage out of rookie free agents Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu after the injuries hit the linebacker spots, but the reality is that this is a sub-standard unit, especially with the loss of Sean Weatherspoon (ruptured Achilles).” …

 

“The back end is a work-in-progress, too. Second-year corner Desmond Trufant is more dependable than flashy and Robert Alford has promise as a potential starter. They released FS Thomas DeCoud and SS William Moore has been inconsistent since being a second-round pick in 2009.” ...

 

“They picked Dezmen Southward (Wisconsin) in the third round and he is a safety with corner speed.”…

 

“Age has hit this team and in a division where pressuring Drew Brees and Cam Newton is mandatory for success, I’m just not sure how they get back to the playoffs with no defenders that scare anyone.”

 

Carolina Panthers

 

“Defensively, they were able to mask their secondary issues with a strong, almost dominant front seven. DE Greg Hardy is a force off the corner, but will he be the same player with his contract status (franchise tag) unresolved? Both rookie DTs, Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, performed well in the Carolina rotation and should continue to control the middle of the action.” …

 

“LB Luke Kuechly is a tackling machine and true All-Pro. He has excellent key/diagnose instincts and can effectively play all three downs. It was great to see Thomas Davis get back on the field and play effectively in 2013.” …

 

“It’s hard to believe they won 12 games with this group of corners and safeties. Captain Munnerlyn signed with the Vikings and Mike Mitchell left for the Steelers during the offseason. The remaining safeties were simply atrocious last year. Robert Lester had a number of poor tackling misses that showed why he was an undrafted free agent.” …

 

“They stayed within the division and signed Thomas DeCoud from the Falcons and Roman Harper from the Saints to shore up things, but I’m not convinced either will really pay dividends.” …

 

“On the offensive side of things, it’s all about Cam Newton. When he’s hot, look out. When he’s not, he doesn’t look like the same player.” …

 

“The Panthers had two major losses in the offseason with the retirement of LT Jordan Gross and the release of WR Steve Smith, the most iconic player in franchise history.” …

 

“in many ways, trying to find a left tackle is more problematic than a WR, because there simply are not that many bodies capable of protecting the blind-side. If RT Byron Bell goes to the left side, this could be the club’s biggest roster failure and that appears to be the situation, because LT was not addressed in the draft.” …

 

“Help at WR will come from free-agent additions Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant and the Panthers went big with first-round choice Kelvin Benjamin (6-5/240) from Florida State.” …

 

“TE Greg Olsen is Newton’s favorite target and he has quietly put together a solid career.” …

 

“One thing they’ve never figured out is how to utilize RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. It has been spotty at best, and yet both have remained firmly in their backfield.” …

 

“GM Dave Gettleman struck all the proper notes in his first year as the primary decision maker, but people around the league are really interested to see what he does with at LT and with this secondary prior to the regular season.” …

 

“A lot of things went right for the Panthers in 2013 as they won the division. But there’s also no question, this team has taken several steps back since losing to the 49ers in the Divisional round of the playoffs.” …

 

New Orleans Saints

 

“Want to know how good Drew Brees really is? His receivers are not as dynamic anymore, the running backs without Darren Sproles are not special and the offensive line is very, very ordinary. It’s all about him and head coach Sean Payton who have worked together since 2006 (with the exception of the suspension year in ‘12).” …

 

“Marques Colston provides a big target, but cannot run anymore and Lance Moore was released, so a lot of pressure will fall on second-year WR Kenny Stills who flashed during the back half of the 2013 season and first-round pick Brandin Cooks out of Oregon State. Cooks should be electric in this system and might be an instant star in the league.” …

 

Jimmy Graham has rare height, body control and overall athleticism, but he won’t go to any Pro Bowls for his blocking.” …

 

“Last year, LT Charles Brown struggled to the point that they inserted rookie Terron Armstead into the lineup in December. He has a big upside, but is raw and inexperienced. It’s important to note that the Saints have two very good guards in Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans and both do a great job of setting the bottom of the pocket and not allowing immediate pressure on Brees. New Orleans re-signed RT Zach Strief and it’s amazing that this will be his third contract because he is ‘just a guy.’”…

 

“The defense made significant strides under first-year defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. DE Jordan Cameron and OLB Junior Galette emerged as legit NFL difference-makers in his version of the 3-4 and the Saints are hoping Victor Butler can return from a torn ACL that he suffered during training camp last August.” …

 

“The inside linebackers are functional, but the real strength of this unit will be the safety combo of rookie sensation Kenny Vaccaro and high-priced free agent Jairus Byrd. This may be the best tandem in the entire NFL because of Vaccaro’s ability to blitz and defend the run near the line of scrimmage and Byrd’s range from centerfield.” …

 

“With so many oversized WRs in the division, it was important that they drafted CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-3/220) in the second-round out of Nebraska.” …

 

“The Saints demonstrated they can win away from the Superdome when they went to Philadelphia and beat the Eagles in the Wild Card round, but there is no denying that this is a significantly different team when they are ‘marching home.’” … 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

“The Buccaneers are trying to recreate the Tony Dungy era with the hiring of Lovie Smith. The good news is that this defense has a chance to be very solid as they transition back to their Tampa-2 roots.” …

 

“They signed Michael Johnson from the Bengals and he will likely be the RE, but is not elite as a pass-rusher. Adrian Clayborn has the dimensions of a left end, but has a right arm deformity that really impacts his ability to play the run. DaQuan Bowers has never managed to reach expectations and has only 5.5 sacks since 2011.” …

 

“DT Gerald McCoy is one of the most unheralded players in the league and with the addition of Clinton McDonald, they should have a nice rotation on the inside.” …

 

“Lavonte David is a very impressive player on tape. He can run, hit and defend the pass. Mason Foster has always been solid in the middle…

 

“Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson pair off nicely in a strong and free safety arrangement, but the defensive staff has to be concerned about Goldson playing over the top in Cover 2.” …

 

“New free-agent signee Alterraun Verner and second-year corner Johnthan Banks are ideal zone defenders on the perimeter.” …

 

“Just like in Chicago, Smith will have to prove that he can oversee a successful offense and that’s where most of the questions are with this club. Jeff Tedford, the former Cal head coach, is the offensive coordinator and Josh McCown turned his 13-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio into a two-year/$10 million contract.” …

 

“The long-term question will be is if Mike Glennon is the QB of the future or someone else? Glennon, for the most part, showed signs of being a competent NFL starter when he started 13 games and threw 19 TDs against 9 INTs. Still, he was drafted by the previous regime and may not have the sponsorship needed to secure the spot.” …

 

“The offensive line is ‘under construction’ and has real question marks. New free-agent acquisitions LT Anthony Collins and OC Evan Deitrich-Smith are low-end starters, OG Davin Joseph was cut and LG Carl Nicks unexpected retired after losing last season due to a staph infection.” …

 

”The Bucs used all seven picks in the draft on offense, including two developmental guards. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins was their second-round selection and he should be an upgrade over Brandon Myers who is as average as it gets.” …

 

“The running game should be better with the return of Doug Martin and Mike James, who both missed significant time in 2013.” …

 

“Tampa took Mike Evans in the first round and he has rare traits (6-5/231/4.53 speed) and a large catching radius. With he and the ultra-talented WR Vincent Jackson, McCown can throw the ball ‘above the rim’ like he did in Chicago and let them go get it.” …

 

“Lovie added his kind of guys in free agency on defense and isn’t waiting around to develop an offense in his second chance at being a head coach. It’s obvious he realizes that you must create personnel mismatches and score points to win in today’s NFL.” …

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