Welcome to the first edition of a monthly series where we take a deep dive into the NFC South! This edition will be an offseason review where we can rewind and get a snapshot of player acquisitions and players lost. Also, for fun, I have added a section of one or two UDFA players that we should keep an eye on to see if they can stick to the roster after the preseason. Without further ado, here is your Monthly NFC South Rundown!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 Record: 13-4, Finished 1st in the division, lost in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Los Angeles Rams
Caesars Sportsbook win total: 11.5 wins
Key Losses: Bruce Arians- Head Coach, Rob Gronkowski-TE, Ndamukong Suh-DT, Jason Pierre-Paul-DE/OLB, Richard Sherman– CB, O.J. Howard– TE, Jordan Whitehead-DB, Alex Cappa– OT Ronald Jones-RB, Ali Marpet– OG
Roster Strengths: Running Back, Offensive Line, Defensive Line
Roster Weaknesses: Backup Quarterback, Tight End
UDFA Watch: Aqeel Glass-QB: The second-round selection of Kyle Trask is shaping up more and more as a bust as the days go by. The team elected to sign Blaine Gabbert to back up Brady and signed Glass after the draft. Glass played at Alabama A&M and didn’t get much of a spotlight, but he won the Deacon Jones award as the best player for a HBCU two years in a row. If he can learn from Brady and grow as a QB, we could see him above Trask in the depth chart. Of course, Brady would need to actually retire for that to happen!
The Brady Factor
Unretired and unrelenting, Tom Brady is back to continue his reign of terror on opposing defenses as he looks to win one more championship before hanging it up for good. GM Jason Licht did a commendable job in patching up the roster during the offseason with the signing of Russell Gage to play the Chris Godwin role while Godwin is out.
Shaq Mason, who was a starting guard for the Patriots when Tom Brady won his last Superbowl in New England, is back to protect Brady again.
Other Roster Moves
Keanu Neal was acquired to replace Jordan Whitehead as a box stuffing strong safety, and while the Bucs did draft Cade Otton with the retiring Rob Gronkowski, there have been rumors that Kyle Rudolph could be joining the team as well. There aren’t many tight ends that can do what Gronkowski did, even in his last season, so a tight end Committee approach is a probability. Keanu Neal will be the clear replacement for Jordan Whitehead, both safeties love to play downhill and hover similarly to a linebacker.
Akiem Hicks is the Suh replacement, but he may be put in a rotation to keep him fresh and ready for the postseason. The team is breaking in a new head coach with Todd Bowles taking over from Bruce Arians. Fortunately, Bowles has coached the last four seasons with current offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. At least there is familiarity within the staff. This team is the obvious number one team in the division.
New Orleans Saints
2021 Record: 9-8, Finished 2nd in the division
Caesars Sportsbook win total for 2022: 8.0 wins
Roster Strengths: Cornerback, Edge Rusher
Roster Weaknesses: Quarterback, Tight End
UDFA Watch: Abram Smith-RB: Smith was a quality power back from Baylor who played linebacker before moving to running back by the coaches’ request. He finished the 2021 season with 1,601 yards rushing which was good enough to break the record for most rushing yards in a season in school history. He won’t be coming for Alvin Kamara‘s job, but if Alvin faces a suspension, we could see him at the start of the season. Smith could also serve as a breather back while the team keeps Kamara fresh. I also want to suggest one more guy, Lucas Krull. His collegiate stats do not jump off the box score. However, he boasts some incredible metrics such as his 10.17(81st-percentile) Catch Radius and his 106.8 (83rd percentile) Speed Score.
After fifteen seasons, Sean Payton has left the Saints organization, but there is reason to believe that this team can compete without him. New head coach Dennis Allen has been a head coach before with the Raiders, and current offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has been the Saints offensive coordinator since 2009. This coaching staff has spent many years together and is prepared to take on the challenge to win without Sean Payton. Reports out of New Orleans indicate that Jameis Winston is fully healthy after injuring his ACL in Week 8. He had possibly his most efficient season last year showing he could protect the ball and not be as reckless as he was in years past.
Speaking of medical reports, Michael Thomas‘s ankle is still a hot topic of the entire NFL Media.
Not much is known for certain, but the most recent report released was the team is hopeful he will be activated “at some point before” the 2022 season. Let’s stay tuned because I am certain I’ll be writing about his ankle many more times this year. The defense was reloaded over the offseason. While they did not sign a linebacker to fill the void left by Kwon Alexander, the team had increased the snaps played by 2021 rookie Pete Werner. Werner will likely completely take over the role. This team could sneak into the playoffs as a wild card and create a few upsets.
2021 Record: 7-10, finished 3rd in the division
Caesars Sportsbook win total for 2022: 5.0 wins
Roster Strengths: Defensive Line
Roster Weaknesses: Wide Receiver, Safety
UDFA Watch: Stanley Berryhill III-WR, Arizona: I’ll be completely honest. This is more about the lack of talent in the wide receiver room in Atlanta and not much about the player. Berryhill played three years at Arizona after redshirting and was a key contributor in his final season. He earned 1st-team All-Pac-12 honors. He could cobble together a few games if the already shorthanded receiver room runs into injury issues. Oh, and a fun fact: One other UDFA signing to note, Tyler Vrabel-OL, son of Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is now a Falcon.
Big Pass Catchers
Refusing to lean into full rebuild mode, we saw a scrappy falcons team struggle to finish with seven wins in 2021. They saw a lot of talent leave this offseason. Great players on both sides of the ball have departed, but the team is more stubborn than ever to overachieve.
While it’s difficult to imagine this team playing meaningful football in January, I do see this team moving in the right direction in the long run. The acquisition that sticks out the most is the first round selection of Drake London. He’s a potential alpha receiver paired with Kyle Pitts. If Desmond Ridder is the guy, this offense could show signs of hope.
Other Roster Moves
Casey Heyward can create an excellent duo with star corner A.J. Terrell, but they will likely rely on rookies in the linebacker core. Marcus Mariota played under head coach Arthur Smith during their time in Tennessee, so there is some familiarity there. However, his signing is more about staying competitive while the team decides if Ridder can be a great quarterback, or if they should take a quarterback early in the draft next year. It will certainly be strange to see someone other than Matt Ryan taking snaps at quarterback, but the signs are pointing to a productive struggle in 2022. Then, they can reap the benefits in 2023.
2021 Record: 5-12, finished 4th in the division
Caesars Sportsbook win total for 2022: 6.5 wins
Key Additions: Baker Mayfield-QB, Ben McAdoo-OC, Xavier Woods-S, D’Onta Foreman-RB, Bradley Bozeman-C, Austin Corbett-OG, Johnny Hekker-P, Cory Littleton-LB, Damien Wilson-LB, Matt Ioannidis-DL, Rashard Higgins-WR
Roster Strengths: Safety, Starting Cornerback
Roster Weaknesses: Tight End, Defensive Line, Quarterback
UDFA Watch: Charleston Rambo– WR- Miami(FL)- Rambo was a freshman at OU when CeeDee Lamb and Malcolm Brown dominated the receiver room, and Rambo transferred to Miami where he finished 2021 with the school record for receptions and receiving yards. He could be presented with an opportunity to take the slot role if Terrace Marshall continues to struggle to find the field.
It’s not a stretch to say that Matt Rhule is on the hottest seat of all the coaches in the NFL. However, during his time in the NCAA, he had his most successful seasons during his third years at Temple and Baylor Rhule finished each of his third seasons with ten-plus wins. The Panthers made one of the more questionable moves in the history of paid professional sports when they signed Ian Thomas to a three-year contract worth up to $16.95 million dollars, eight million guaranteed. He isn’t exactly a mauler as a run blocker. Thomas averaged 13 routes ran per game and averaged one reception per game. Not a great look!
Carolina did add two great interior offensive linemen in Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman. They doubled down and drafted OT Ikem Ekwonu further strengthening the offensive line. Unfortunately, the team lost three key defensive contributors. The replacements are fine, but I wouldn’t expect much from them. Baker Mayfield is the new big acquisition. Even with his poor 2021 behind him, he’s still an upgrade over Sam Darnold and Matt Corral.
The Panthers were able to address needs on the defensive side of the ball. The most notably signing, Matt Ioannidis, played under Matt Rhule at Temple. Cory Littleton and Damien Wilson should find the field relatively quickly with the losses of Jermaine Carter and Hassan Reddick. This year is pivotal for Rhule. If the team struggles and finishes with another losing season, we likely will have seen the last of Rhule as an NFL head coach.