Over the next few weeks, Brandon Croce will be ranking the NFC South by position. The team with the best position group, based on their starters as well as their depth, will receive four points all the way down to one point. The points will be totaled up to determine who has the best team heading into 2015.
Not only do the Falcons have the best wide receiver duo in the NFC South, they also have put together some impressive depth behind them. Right now, Julio Jones is the best wide receiver in the NFC South coming off a season with 104 receptions and 1,593 receiving yards, which were both good enough for third best in the NFL.
Opposite Jones is veteran Roddy White, who was the team’s number one for a number of years but as he has gotten up there in age has settled in nicely as the team’s number 2. In the past eight seasons, he has had only one with under 80 receptions. While the receptions have been pretty consistent he has seen his receiving yards drop. Last season was the second consecutive season not breaking 1,000 receiving yards after six straight seasons over that mark.
After these two, the Falcons have a nice mix of veterans like Devin Hester and youth like rookie Justin Hardy, who played college at ECU. The one player who could really set this group apart from the rest of the division is Leonard Hankerson. He was drafted in the third round by the Washington Redskins in 2011 and has struggled while in the NFL. If he can revive his career in Atlanta, this will make Matt Ryan’s life even easier.
It is impressive how quickly the Panthers’ front office was able to fix the wide receiver position. At this time last year, the team had a rookie wide receiver in Kelvin Benjamin and aging veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant. There wasn’t much else to write about after these three.
Entering 2015, this group looks much stronger and has become a strength of this offense. Benjamin looks to build off an impressive rookie season (73 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns) and hopefully will be able to do so with Devin Funchess taking some of the focus off of him.
The second round rookie Funchess has been impressive in offseason workouts this year and has quickly shot up the depth chart. Right now, he has to be considered the favorite to start opposite Benjamin.
After these two, the Panthers have Ted Ginn Jr., who they brought back this offseason, to hopefully solidify the slot position and give them much needed speed. They also added Jarrett Boykin, who two seasons ago had over 650 receiving yards, and at this point could be on the roster bubble.
The fact that a player of Boykin’s caliber could end up off the final regular season roster shows just how far this position has become. The Panthers may not have the star power at the top like the Falcons but they are certainly the deepest wide receiver group in the NFC South.
The Tampa Bay Bucs are similar to the Atlanta Falcons in they have a young wide receiver who is playing at a high level and a veteran wide receiver who has settled in as the team’s complimentary wide receiver.
Bucs’ Mike Evans was another rookie wide receiver who had a great 2014 season, finishing the season with 68 receptions, 1,051 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. This is rather impressive considering the Bucs quarterbacks a season ago.
While Vincent Jackson may not be on the same level as Roddy White, he has still been very productive while in Tampa Bay. He has caught at least 70 receptions and had at least 1,000 receiving yards in the three season he has been with the organization.
The problem with the Bucs is their depth after these two is really bad. Their next best wide receiver is Louis Murphy who has only 152 career receptions in six seasons and is coming off a season with only 31 receptions and 380 receiving yards with the Bucs.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints wide receivers may end up being pretty good thanks to Drew Brees but in terms of talent this is the weakest wide receiver group in the NFC South. The Saints traded away Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins, who was their number one wide receiver from a season ago.
That responsibility is now going to fall on second-year wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who caught 53 passes for 550 receiving yards last year. Across from Cooks will be veteran Marques Colston who has seen his stats steadily decline from 83 receptions, 1,154 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012 to 59 receptions, 902 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year.
After these two there isn’t a whole lot of depth at wide receiver with Nick Toon being the only wide receiver worth noting. He caught 17 passes a season ago for 215 yards and one touchdown but is expected to have a much bigger role in this offense in 2015.
|Carolina||Tampa Bay||Atlanta||New Orleans|
Rosters courtesy of Ourlads.com
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.