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.
The New Orleans Saints had a strong offensive line in 2014 but have made a few changes, and moves that in my opinion makes this group better now and in the future. The team did lose left guard Ben Grubbs in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs but added Max Unger at center and drafted offensive tackle Andrus Peat.
The right side of the line is getting up there in age with Jhari Evans and Zach Strief both 31 years old. At some point the team is going to need to look to the future but for at least 2015 both should be able to play at high level.
The biggest question with this group is whether or not they can find a way to get Andrus Peat on the field. Terron Armstead played well in his first season as the full time starter at left tackle and likely won’t be losing that job for some time.
The thought process though is to possibly move Strief or Peat inside to guard. However, neither player has any experience at the position. Barring an injury at either tackle position, Peat may be a spectator for most of the upcoming season.
The Carolina Panthers offensive line was awful to start the season however the coaching staff found a group that works by the end of the season. The hope is that they will be able to build on this success in 2015.
The strength of the offensive line starts in the middle with center Ryan Kalil. The four-time Pro Bowler was the only Panther on the offensive line to start all 16 games in 2014. He is one of the top centers in the game and is invaluable to this young group.
On either side of Kalil are two second-year guards, Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner, who saw a tremendous amount of playing time as rookies. Norwell, an undrafted free agent, and Turner, a third-round pick, were the first major pieces to help turn the line around. These two should continue to build on strong rookie seasons in 2015.
The question for this group once again lies at the left tackle position. Last year’s starter, Byron Bell, is now gone and was replaced by Michael Oher. The former Raven and Titan is looking to resurrect his career in Carolina after a few down seasons. If Oher plays at a high level, which certainly is a big if, this is going to be a very solid line.
The Falcons hope the free agent addition of Jon Asamoah and the return of Joe Hawley at center will help turn around an offensive line that was pretty bad last year. The addition of Asamoah will help solidify the right side of their line with Schraeder, who is a pretty good right tackle.
The key to this offensive line will be the development of Jake Matthews. He was thought of as a “can’t miss” prospect and NFL-ready but he struggled through his rookie season. He started every game in his rookie season but gave up seven sacks, nine quarterback hits and 35 quarterback hurries according to Pro Football Focus. He finished in the bottom ten in each category among tackles.
On paper this group looks solid, however it will be interesting to see how quickly the new additions can gel.
The Bucs offensive line has the most potential among any NFC South team but they are going to go through growing pains in 2015. They have two solid veterans in Logan Mankins at left guard and Evan Smith at center but these two will have rookies on either side of them.
The Bucs used their two second round picks on left tackle Donovan Smith out of Penn State and right guard Ali Marpet out of Hobart. Both players are expected to have bright futures in the NFL but as the Falcons can attest, there will most likely be some struggles starting a rookie to block a quarterback’s blindside.
|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.