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NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About NFC South Teams

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Since the NFC South's inception in 2002, only one team has won back-to-back division titles — the Carolina Panthers from 2013-14. However, they finished with a sub-.500 record last year. With no true dominant team, this division is really a toss-up. Any of these teams could win this division, but will any of them clearly stand out from the others?

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In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2015, 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

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“The lack of difference-making talent on this Falcons roster cost head coach Mike Smith his job, so now the organization has shuffled the deck in the player personnel department and hired Dan Quinn from the Seahawks to fix the worst defense in the league."…

"Scott Pioli will have more say in the draft, but GM Thomas Dimitroff will inevitably lean on Quinn to shape their philosophy."…

"The heat is on because Matt Ryan does have franchise QB ability, but will be entering his 10th season when Atlanta moves into a new stadium for the 2017 season."...

"When healthy, Julio Jones is at the top of the league’s wide receivers, however, the offensive line has been a total failure and they still haven’t found a top-shelf replacement for Tony Gonzalez at tight end."…

"Third-round draft pick Indiana RB Tevin Coleman brings big speed to the table and he should pair off well with Devonta Freeman."…

"Amazingly, the defense is in worse shape. The Falcons were 32nd in rush, total and third down defense because they simply could not rush the passer and no one in the secondary has shut-down capability."…

"To upgrade the pressure issue, they drafted Clemson DE Vic Beasley at sixth overall and he should fit their coveted ‘hybrid’ DE/OB spot."…

"Paul Worrilow has emerged as a steady linebacker after injuries decimated the position each of the past two seasons."…

"CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are OK, but neither has the height/weight/speed to contend with the giant-sized receivers in this division, so the club took a shot in the second round on LSU CB Jalen Collins (6-1, 203)."…

"At safety, maybe William Moore will finally reach his potential in Quinn’s scheme and the club is counting on second-year prospect Dezmen Southward to become a capable starter."…

"While things have not gone well for two straight seasons, none of their NFC South brethren have run off and dominated the division, so the Falcons have real hope that Quinn can engineer a quick turnaround.”

Carolina Panthers

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“As expected, Carolina took a step back in 2014 after the retirement of LT Jordan Gross and the free agent departure of WR Steve Smith, however, the entire division literally went ‘south,’ so the Panthers got into the playoffs and actually won a game over a QB-depraved Arizona Cardinals squad."…

"QB Cam Newton was harassed and hit all year behind a porous offensive line and then capped off the season with a near-tragic car accident."…

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"In the draft, LSU’s La'el Collins was off the board due to a bizarre set of circumstances surrounding the death of a female acquaintance and Pittsburgh’s T.J. Clemmings was not a consideration at No. 25 due to a stress fracture, so they opted for Washington LB Shaq Thompson."…

"2014 first-round pick WR Kelvin Benjamin showed that he was far more advanced than people expected and looks like a future star in the league."...

"TE Greg Olsen has quietly enjoyed a very productive NFL career after being traded from Chicago in July 2011."…

"The Greg Hardy legal situation drained the entire organization on and off the field, and while he spent almost the entire season on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, the Panthers still managed to finish 10th in total defense."…

"Their front seven is strong with legit interior defensive linemen and all-star LBs Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis."…

"The secondary survived due to the emergence of two rookies: CB Bene Benwikere and SS Tre Boston, but surprisingly, the entire unit was not addressed in the draft."…

"With Newton and Kuechly as their cornerstones, Carolina will always contend for division honors, the question is can they improve enough everywhere else to challenge for a Super Bowl?."...

"The guess here is probably not due to their weaknesses at OT and in the secondary.”

New Orleans Saints

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“On paper, the Saints made a financial commitment for the 2014 season that was going to put them in position to challenge for a Super Bowl championship. Instead, they finished 7-9 and found themselves $30 million over the salary cap heading into the 2015 league year."…

"After all the contract angst about TE Jimmy Graham last year, they traded him to Seattle on the eve of free agency for a first-round pick (No. 31) and center Max Unger. The offensive line still has OG Jahri Evans and they drafted Stanford OT Andrus Peat with the 13th overall selection."…

"RB Mark Ingram was extended, while C.J. Spiller was added to the backfield in March."…

"Drew Brees is a tactical QB and needs precision around him in the form of timing and disciplined routes. WR Kenny Stills was shipped to Miami and, from afar, it appears that he and Graham were not on the same page with the face of the franchise."…

"The defense hit rock bottom in nearly every statistical category and it all began with the knee injury to Jairus Byrd after four games."…

"The Rob Ryan scheme never generated the chaos needed to create fumbles and interceptions and the Saints finished the year minus-13 in turnover margin."…

"With Seattle's first-round pick, New Orleans drafted Clemson LB Stephone Anthony who will bring leadership and production to the position.”

"If DE Cameron Jordan can return to form and Byrd and fellow safety Kenny Vaccaro bounce back from their injuries, with the addition of CB Brandon Browner to counter the big receivers in this division, New Orleans could bounce back in a big way in 2015."…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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“In the first year of the Lovie Smith/Jason Licht era, the Buccaneers were very aggressive in free agency and praised for all their additions last March. After a disastrous 2-14 campaign, veterans Josh McCown, Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson were released and Tampa Bay appears ready to start over with No. 1 pick QB Jameis Winston as the central figure in their rebuilding efforts."…

"He will have the ability to play 'above-the-rim' with over-sized WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans on the perimeter, but someone needs to emerge as a slot receiver and the offensive line has to be better than last year’s horrid group that contributed to the Bucs being 29th in rushing offense and tied for 29th in sacks allowed."…

"Penn State OT Donovan Smith and Hobart College OG Ali Marpet were both selected in the second round, so that’s a start to constructing a pocket for Winston who needs room to operate because of his leggy build and one-speed athleticism."…

"Dirk Koetter is the new offensive coordinator and he will be tasked to maximize the abilities of TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins who flashed as a rookie."…

"Defensively, DT Gerald McCoy and LB Lavonte David are Pro Bowl-caliber players, but no one else must be game-planned for by opponent offenses."…

"The pass rush was not addressed in the draft, so George Johnson (trade with Lions) and Jacquies Smith will enter camp as the opening day starters."…

"The back end has been turned over completely since 2013 with only CBs Johnthan Banks and Alterruan Verner returning from last year’s unit."…

"Safeties Mark Barron (in-season trade to Rams) and Dashon Goldson (March trade to Redskins) were both jettisoned, so while the offense has received all of the media attention, the defense has been completely re-worked from front to back, but this is a group that is a work in progress.”