Are Drew Brees and the Saints Super Bowl contenders? Scouts break down the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints
New Orleans is the defending champion in the NFC South, which produced three playoff teams last season. The Saints know their championship window with Drew Brees won't be open forever, which is why the team made a big move in the draft to add another pass rusher.
Atlanta snagged the last playoff spot and then upset the Los Angeles Rams on the road in the Wild Card Round. The Falcons signed Matt Ryan to a record-setting contract extension and gave him another weapon to throw to in first-round pick Calvin Ridley. Carolina also revamped its offense and hired Norv Turner as coordinator as the Panthers look to make another Super Bowl run.
In Tampa Bay, all of the attention surrounds Jameis Winston who will be under the microscope once he returns from his three-game suspension. The Buccaneers have plenty of offensive firepower and really beefed up their defensive line and secondary this offseason, but will it translate to more wins?
In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2018, 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.
"With so much outside focus on the Super Bowl meltdown, I thought the Falcons actually did a nice job of negotiating through what was an up-and-down emotional season for them."
"When Matt Ryan and Dan Quinn are your two leaders, the organization is in good hands when it comes to managing their team. Ryan had another solid season despite the coordinator change that proved to be a step down from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian. Sark will be better in 2018, and the Falcons must improve in the red zone, where they struggled all year, especially in the passing game."
Devonta Freeman continues to shine as one of the best all-purpose backs in the league, while Julio Jones, when healthy, is a force that cannot be contained on the outside."
"The Falcons still don’t have a legit tight end operating in the middle of the field."
"Alex Mack has been outstanding in the pivot, and Jake Matthews has improved each season after being a first-round pick in 2014. Not sure they are good enough on the right side."
"Defensively, Adrian Clayborn will be missed after he signed with the Patriots. Vic Beasley continues to be a disappointment as a finesse-oriented pass rusher only. Grady Jarrett plays with great energy and is one of their core defenders."
"Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have grown up together as pros, and both enjoyed quality seasons in 2017. Brian Poole was a nice find for them as a nickel, but they need better from their third corner."
"In a very competitive NFC South, the Falcons are right there and should find themselves in the playoffs again."
"The Panthers will be going through a huge transition in 2018. While they have enjoyed stability at the head coach and quarterback positions, virtually everything else has been up in the air from ownership to the coordinators to certain position groups."
Cam Newton was more efficient last season but still has only two years of hitting better than 60 percent of his passes. With Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, it will be interesting to see if he can advance as a passer in what will be his eighth season."
"Greg Olsen should be back from his foot injury, and he has always been Cam’s favorite target."
"Devin Funchess is the only wide receiver who returns in the same role from 2017 after they traded Kelvin Benjamin, signed Torrey Smith and drafted D.J. Moore in the first round."
"Center Ryan Kalil says 2018 will be his last year, and All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell signed with Jacksonville, but GM Marty Hurney did not address the OL in the draft. Matt Kalil was as bad at left tackle as Daryl Williams was surprisingly good [at right tackle]."
"Jonathan Stewart is gone, and it appears that Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson will be the backfield combination."
"Mario Addison gets no attention, but he is a steady NFL pass rusher. Julius Peppers is back, but at 38, it’s almost in name only."
"Luke Kuechly played 15 games in 2017, but sidekick Thomas Davis will miss the first four games due to a PED suspension."
"They like James Bradberry at corner but lost safety Kurt Coleman to the Saints. Mike Adams continues to defy his age and put together another productive campaign."
"I look for the Panthers to take a step back in 2018 and to miss the playoffs."
"The Saints were within one heartbreaking play of the NFC Championship Game, and they are all in on 2018 to reach another Super Bowl."
"Drew Brees was never going to hit the open market and is back on a two-year deal."
"New Orleans had an amazing draft last year when Alvin Kamara emerged as a big-time player and Ryan Ramczyk stepped in and performed at a very high level on the offensive side of the football."
"Michael Thomas continues to elevate his game, and Mark Ingram combined with Kamara to form a very productive duo in the backfield."
"Of course, Brees is the key, and he is really amazing to watch with his footwork in the pocket and ability to see and anticipate despite his size."
"The line lost Zach Strief to retirement, and they need Andrus Peat to elevate his play regardless of position."
"Defensively, Cam Jordan is very underrated and a force at defensive end. Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata are two sluggos on the inside that give quality reps."
"They made the 'Wow' move of the first round when they jumped up to take Marcus Davenport, the defensive end from UTSA. Interestingly enough, his best football might come in 2020 rather than during this shrinking Brees window."
"Demario Davis was added in free agency from the Jets, and he should be a stabilizing factor in the middle of the D."
"Tragic what happened to Marcus Williams in Minnesota, but everyone knows he had a terrific rookie year. Marshon Lattimore proved to be a wise first-round choice."
"This team is poised to contend again, and anything less than a Super Bowl appearance will be a disappointment for the entire organization."
"Tampa lost their way in 2017 when the expectations weighed them down in what was a hugely disappointing season."
"Without the ability to run the football on offense and the inability to stop anyone on defense, the Bucs had two different five-game losing streaks."
"Jameis Winston missed three games due to a shoulder and never seemed to find his passing rhythm, especially with DeSean Jackson."
"Not sure about their running backs, but they did draft Ronald Jones in the second round."
"Demar Dotson was their best lineman, while Donovan Smith underachieved at left tackle and proved to be unreliable as the primary blindside protector. The Bucs made Ryan Jensen the highest-paid center in football, and he was slightly above average for Baltimore."
"Mike Evans inked a new extension and has been nothing short of phenomenal since 2014. Jackson was hard to find for Winston and seems to be trending the wrong way."
"They added three key pieces to the defensive line to help Gerald McCoy. GM Jason Licht signed Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry to bring the heat and then drafted Vita Vea to secure the middle."
"Lavonte David is like Bobby Wagner in Seattle, one of the league’s least-talked-about defenders. Kwon Alexander had a down year, while Kendell Beckwith was exposed time and again."
"Their safety play was substandard, but they opted for two cornerbacks, Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart, in the second round."
"Maybe they can catch lightning in a bottle with JPP and Curry off the edges, but clearly this team is below the rest of their division, so I don’t see the playoffs being a reasonable possibility for them."