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NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About NFC South Teams

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers

2017 Athlon Sports Pro Football Magazine

The NFC South is one of the best divisions in football, but that doesn't mean there arent some questions surrounding the top teams. While the Falcons are predicted to win the division, the Panthers, Buccaneers and Saints all have their own franchise quarterback that you can never count out.

All eyes will be on how the Falcons respond to their Super Bowl collapse, but fans also should watch to see if am Newton and the Panthers can bounce back from a disappointing 2016 campaign. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston and Saints QB Drew Brees both look more than capable of leading their teams to the playoffs, but questions remain on how each team's defense will be able to hold up.

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In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2017, 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 Falcons proved that they are capable of winning a Super Bowl with Matt Ryan as the quarterback.”

“The signing of center Alex Mack was significant, because he set the bottom of the pocket and consistently provided openings for Devonta Freeman, who had a spectacular season.”

“Julio Jones is simply one of the best players in the entire league and proved to be almost indefensible when he is healthy.”

“The offensive coordinator change will be interesting to follow as Dan Quinn tabbed Steve Sarkisian as his new play caller to replace Kyle Shanahan.”

“Quinn has changed the mentality of the Falcons’ defense, and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is a part of that equation.”

“He’s being counted on to produce at a high level in 2017 in combination with free-agent signing Dontari Poe (Chiefs).”

“Vic Beasley can flash major potential, but he is more finesse than physical as a run defender and pass rusher, and they moved up in the draft to select UCLA’s Takk McKinley.”

“Linebacker Deion Jones was sensational in his rookie season and should continue to excel in this scheme.”

“The Falcons re-upped with both of their homegrown corners in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but truthfully, neither jumps to mind as a top-shelf cover guy.”

“The mental challenge of coming back from the most difficult of Super Bowl defeats is going to be Atlanta’s biggest test, but Quinn and Ryan are both wired to respond and lead this team back to the playoffs.”

Carolina Panthers

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“Ironically enough, the Panthers were second in the NFL in sacks with 47 while finishing 29th in passing yardage allowed. Those two stats alone demonstrate the lack of experience and playmaking ability in the back end of their defense.”

“After they literally walked away from Josh Norman and the franchise tag last April, they invested heavily in the draft and selected three rookie corners. James Bradberry and Daryl Worley flashed potential, but it was trial-by-fire for that duo.”

“Coach Ron Rivera has already announced that Cam Newton will not be featured and leaned on as a primary ball carrier anymore, so they picked Christian McCaffrey in the first round to complement Jonathan Stewart as a runner and increase Newton’s proficiency in the passing game.”

“With their power-forward style wide receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess on the outside and tight end Greg Olsen patrolling the middle, their offensive success really comes down to their line play and Newton’s accuracy. Cam hit an alarmingly low 52.9 percent of his passes last year, so McCaffrey and fellow rookie Curtis Samuel should give him two more accessible options.”

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“Matt Kalil (Vikings) was signed to be the left tackle, but he has been a shadow of himself in recent years. Trai Turner is a standout at right guard, but look for rookie Taylor Moton to win the right tackle job at some point during the season.”

“Of course, the real question centers around star linebacker Luke Kuechly, who missed six games with a severe concussion.”

”This team must play ball control, shorten the game and protect its young secondary in order to reach the playoffs again.”

New Orleans Saints

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“Winning one Super Bowl is hard, but is it fair to ask if the Saints have maximized their time with Drew Brees as the quarterback? Defensively, they have tried different coordinators, added free agents and drafted to that side of the football, and yet nothing has really worked.”

“Sheldon Rankins returned from a fractured leg to total four sacks in nine games.”

“They traded Brandin Cooks for the Patriots’ first-round choice and landed cornerback Marshon Lattimore and tackle Ryan Ramczyk in the draft.”

“The Saints made a splash in secondary free agency by signing Adrian Peterson, so it appears that he has come to grips with the reality of being part of a backfield committee rather than ‘The Guy.’ Mark Ingram returns off his best overall season with 1,043 yards rushing and 46 receptions. He’s still the No. 1 guy.”

“The offensive line is suspect, and they have yet to get much out of former first rounder Andrus Peat, who has been below average thus far.”

“Without Cooks, Brees loses a dynamic playmaker, but New Orleans has plenty left. Michael Thomas emerged as a rookie with 92 receptions and nine touchdowns, and Willie Snead has turned himself into a trusted target, too.”

“They need another big year from defensive linemen Cameron Jordan and Nick Fairley to help their secondary.”

[Editor's note: Nick Fairley will not play this season because of a heart issue that was discovered during the offseason.]

“The reality is that the Saints must regain their homefield advantage in the Superdome, where they have gone a paltry 11–13 over the past three seasons.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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“The Bucs certainly look like a team on the rise with a young franchise quarterback in Jameis Winston. Now, the trick for management will be putting enough assets around him and constructing a defense that can compete in a division loaded with quality signal callers.”

“Winston is exactly what most forecasted when he was the top choice overall in 2015. He’s a classic pocket passer with leadership qualities that connect him to his peers and a player that others believe in. In order for him to reach elite status, he must reduce his interceptions (18 in 2016).”

“Doug Martin will complete the remainder of his four-game suspension during the first three weeks of the season. Fifth-round pick Jeremy McNichols could surprise as a rookie.”

“Tight end Cameron Brate had a breakout campaign in 2016 with eight touchdowns, but the Bucs received a gift in first-round selection O.J. Howard. He was one of the cleanest prospects in the entire draft and should flourish with Winston.”

“The club is very excited about the addition of DeSean Jackson and what his vertical speed can bring to the offense in connection to Mike Evans, who had a monster season last year.”

“The offensive line is good enough but is a middle-of-the-pack unit overall.”

“As long as Gerald McCoy is in the mix, the Tampa front will always have a chance to control the run and rush the passer.”

“The Bucs have a set of modern game linebackers in Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. Both can run and hit and tackle in space.”

“Their secondary continues to improve and finished with 17 interceptions last season.”

“In Year 3 of the Winston era, there are huge expectations for a team that could reach the playoffs. But they are in a really tough division. No bad teams in the NFC South.”