Carolina came up short in its quest to win a Super Bowl, but the three-time defending NFC South champion is very much a threat to play on Super Sunday again. New Orleans still has the offense to be a contender, but the Saints’ success could once again hinge on the defense. Tampa Bay has a new head coach tasked with assisting Jameis Winston in his development, while Matt Ryan and Atlanta are hoping their offense can find its form so the Falcons can be considered a threat once again.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2016, 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.
“I’m not big on Matt Ryan, who is an overrated and overpaid commodity at quarterback. He is a streaky pocket passer who can be very productive when in rhythm but struggles to recover when hitting setbacks."
"This offense will still revolve around Julio Jones, who is a top-five wide receiver that can win with both size and speed."
"The Falcons were smart to dump Roddy White, who was in steep decline. They’re banking on newcomer Mohamed Sanu, a big possession wide receiver who can make plays in traffic but has suspect hands."
"Center Alex Mack was the big free-agent addition and will instantly upgrade the offensive line from run, pass and leadership perspectives."
"Devonta Freeman had a breakout season in 2015. He is a strong one-cut runner with good base, vision and balance as well as a receiving threat out of the backfield."
"Atlanta looked to upgrade the defensive end spots with free-agent signings Derrick Shelby and Courtney Upshaw. Shelby is a run-stopper who has some interior pass-rush skills in sub packages; Upshaw is more of a two-down end/outside linebacker who lacks juice off the edge."
"2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley had a disappointing rookie season. He gets overpowered in the run game and lacks strength and top motor as a pass rusher, although he has the burst and athleticism to potentially be a factor."
"The line and linebackers were the weakness of this defense last year.”
“The Panthers are poised to make another deep run into the playoffs thanks to Cam Newton and the defense."
"Newton had by far his best season as a pro in 2015 and is the consummate dual threat at quarterback. Though he is one of the NFL’s least-accurate starters with his sub-60 percent completion percentage, Newton has elite ability to make plays on the move and is indefensible near the goal line."
"Jonathan Stewart is a big, strong one-cut RB who has good speed but major durability issues."
"One of the biggest additions to the 2016 Panthers will be the return of Kelvin Benjamin from a knee injury. He is a massive possession wide receiver who can win jump balls down the field though he lacks ideal speed and has inconsistent hands."
"Ted Ginn Jr. will step into a complementary role as the outside speed threat who can take the top off the defense. Ginn, though, drops way too many passes."
"Luke Kuechly is the NFL’s best MLB as a tackling machine who can take on blocks with sideline-to-sideline range. Plus, he’s excellent in coverage and consistently making plays on the ball."
"Weak-side linebacker Thomas Davis is a veteran leader who still has the athleticism to be effective in space versus both the run and pass."
"At defensive tackle, Star Lotulelei is a powerful run-stuffing 1-technique, while Kawann Short is a quick, athletic one-gap 3-technique who is a beastly pass-rusher.”
“Look for this team to be in a lot of shootouts in 2016. If the Saints can improve even slightly on defense, they will be in the playoff hunt."
"Emphasis was placed on improving the interior of the defensive line by spending first- and fourth-round picks on Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata as well as signing Nick Fairley in free agency."
"Cameron Jordan is a difference-making end who is effective versus both the run and pass. However, the Saints lack a bookend to provide much pass rush or run-stuffing opposite him."
"Outside linebacker Stephone Anthony flashed some elite traits as a rookie, but they will need new middle linebacker James Laurinaitis to return to form after a disappointing 2015 season with the Rams."
"Delvin Breaux and Keenan Lewis are big press cornerbacks but might not be great fits for Dennis Allen’s blitz-happy scheme because they lack the requisite quickness and agility to match up on an island."
"While there may be a slight decline in his play, Drew Brees is still a top-five quarterback, and New Orleans will be competitive as long as he is at the helm."
"They have a solid center in Max Unger but need improvement at the guard spots."
"Mark Ingram leads a pedestrian stable of running backs. C.J. Spiller did not provide the anticipated spark last season."
"New tight end Coby Fleener should provide pass-catching production, though he is a little soft as a blocker.”
“The Bucs surprised a lot of folks by racing to a 6–6 start and into the playoff hunt before dropping their final four games, which helped contribute to the firing of head coach Lovie Smith."
"This team is poised to make another run at .500 — and maybe even finish a game or two better than that — under Dirk Koetter."
"Much of Tampa Bay’s success will depend on Jameis Winston continuing to develop in his second NFL season. He performed well for a rookie, showing the poise and pocket passing needed to develop into an upper-echelon quarterback, though his average mobility and immaturity issues could be hindrances."
"The rushing attack found new life in 2015 thanks to Doug Martin bouncing back from injuries. While questions remain about his consistency and durability, Martin is a hard runner who fights for extra yards and runs with good base and balance."
"The receiver position lacks depth but has one of the more talented young wideouts in the league in Mike Evans, who has excellent size and ball skills to win in traffic and be a massive red-zone threat despite lacking top speed and separation ability."
"Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has a lot of talent, but something is missing in terms of consistency, effort and durability."
"Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy remains one of the best 3-techniques in the league.”