New Orleans is the two-time defending NFC South champion while no other team finished better than 7-9 last season. The Saints hope their Super Bowl window is still open while Atlanta, Carolina and Tampa Bay are looking to turn things around.
The Falcons have the offense to compete with pretty much every team but need better results (and health) from their defense, which is now overseen by head coach Bruce Arians. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera needs Cam Newton to stay healthy and for his defense to find its roar again. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are starting over with Bruce Arians as head coach with everyone looking to see if Jameis Winston is ready to take that big leap forward.
In order to get an accurate assessment of the NFC South heading into 2019, 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.
"The Falcons hit rock bottom due to a rash of injuries across their offense and defense."
"Dirk Koetter takes over the offense, and head coach Dan Quinn doubles down as his own defensive signal-caller."
"Koetter must protect Matt Ryan and run the football more effectively in 2019, which will help their D."
"Despite misguided criticisms of his play, Ryan was superb in hitting about 70 percent of his throws for 4,924 yards, 35 touchdowns and only seven interceptions."
"They allowed Tevin Coleman to walk in free agency with the idea that Devonta Freeman will return from his knee injury and Ito Smith can spell him."
"Austin Hooper had 71 catches and four touchdowns, so he looks to be a long-term answer."
"Julio is Julio, just incredible production every year. He is a powerhouse on the outside and actually improved his red zone play."
"James Carpenter was added at left guard to solidify the blind side, then they drafted Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary to secure the right side." [Editor's note: McGary underwent a heart procedure in early August and it's unknown when he will be cleared to return to practice.]
"Defensively, Quinn has to improve a unit that was 31st on third downs."
"Quinn needs Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley to reach their pass-rush potential."
The loss of Deion Jones to a foot injury was devastating; he is their leader and the epitome of today's modern linebacker."
"Robert Alford left for Arizona, so Isaiah Oliver will get first crack at the spot opposite of Desmond Trufant."
"I look for Atlanta to get back on the winning side of the ledger and push for the playoffs in 2019."
"Anytime there is an ownership change, the coach and GM are on high alert, and that is the case in Charlotte. After a 6–2 start followed by a seven-game losing streak, Ron Rivera and Marty Hurney are on notice for 2019."
"Cam Newton had his best season as a passer in the transition to Norv Turner's offense. He hit a career-best 67.9 percent but still threw 13 interceptions in 14 starts."
"Christian McCaffrey looks exactly the same in the NFL as he did at Stanford — an extremely productive and versatile performer."
"Devin Funchess left in free agency, but they have faith that DJ Moore is going to emerge as a true No. 1 after a 55-catch rookie season. Curtis Samuel is a dynamic offensive threat and has made progress as a pro receiver. With Greg Olsen only starting nine games, rookie tight end Ian Thomas was a pleasant surprise with 36 receptions."
"Tackle Taylor Moton is their most underrated player, and they signed Matt Paradis to solidify the middle of the line."
"The pass rush was below average, so Bruce Irvin was added in free agency and Brian Burns drafted from Florida State. Mario Addison continues to perform at a high level and now has 42 sacks in his past five seasons."
"Donte Jackson and James Bradberry are two young corners on the rise. Jackson is learning to harness his raw speed and registered four interceptions as a rookie, while Bradberry is a big, durable corner who can match the power forward-type receivers in the league."
"With Newton, the Panthers are always capable of winning any game, but overall they are a middle-of-the-pack team with only marginal playoff hopes."
"No team in recent memory has gone through the heartbreak of two devastating playoff losses more than the Saints. As an organization, they are trying to keep their Super Bowl window open with a crowbar in hopes that Drew Brees can deliver one more championship before he retires. However, the reality is that some of his downfield throws don't have quite as much pop, and his inability to escape is noticeable, too. Still, he hit 74.4 percent and knows how to protect the football as evidenced by his 32-to-5 TD-to-INT ratio."
"Michael Thomas was unstoppable. The scheme works beautifully, but Thomas is a master against zone coverages and is a handful against man. They have big expectations for Tre'Quan Smith, who caught 28 passes and five touchdowns as a rookie."
"Alvin Kamara is a spectacular talent, and he will have a new backfield mate in Latavius Murray. Kamara averaged 17 touches per game; that number should increase to 20 in 2019."
"The offensive line was secure in surrendering only 20 sacks, but they lost center Max Unger to an unexpected retirement, so they drafted Erik McCoy in the second round. Meanwhile, Ryan Ramczyk might be the best right tackle in football."
"The expectation is that Sheldon Rankins will return from a torn Achilles. Cameron Jordan continues to be a tremendous player having posted another 12 sacks in what was his eighth NFL season. Look for Marcus Davenport to emerge as a double-digit sacker in his second year."
"It's not quite time for the Teddy Bridgewater era to begin, but 2019 could be the last realistic shot at a Super Bowl with Brees."
"In today's NFL, no GM gets to hire three head coaches, but that's exactly what Jason Licht has been given the opportunity to do. He chose close associate Bruce Arians, and now both are tasked with getting Jameis Winston to a franchise-level of play. In starting nine games, Winston threw 14 interceptions and is simply too careless with the football."
"The biggest area that can help the Bucs is in the turnover margin, where they finished 31st in the league at minus-18."
"Peyton Barber was functional last year (871 yards and five touchdowns), but Ronald Jones needs to get in the mix, too."
"O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate combined for 64 catches and 11 touchdowns, and, realistically, those numbers should climb in 2019."
"DeSean Jackson went back to Philadelphia, but he never got on the same page with Winston, so look for Chris Godwin's production to increase alongside Mike Evans, who is one of the best players in the entire league."
"Lavonte David is the definition of a modern-day linebacker in that he plays with tremendous instincts and speed. And first-round pick Devin White will plug in and play well."
"Jordan Whitehead was a nice fourth-round find for the Bucs last year, but they need tons of growth from Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart."
"DC Todd Bowles has some pieces to work with, yet his biggest job will be from the neck up with a group of players who lost a ton of confidence in 2018."