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 Carolina Panthers have easily the best defensive line in the NFC South, not only with their starters but also depth across the entire line. The line is led by veteran Charles Johnson, who has been one of the more consistent pass rushers in the NFL. Since 2010, Johnson has the fifth most sacks with 52.5, one sack ahead of Buffalo Bills’ Mario Williams.
The strength of this defensive line though lies in the middle with Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. The Panthers used their first and second round picks in 2013 on the two defensive tackles. Both have shown a lot of promise in the early parts of their careers and should only get better going forward.
They also have incredible depth along the defensive line with veterans Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole as backups at defensive tackle and pass rushers Wes Horton and Frank Alexander at defensive end. The fact they can rotate so many players through and not see a huge drop in talent makes it difficult on opposing offensive lines.
The Saints are the only defense in the NFC South to run a 3-4 defense. This group is led by defensive end Cameron Jordan, who is coming off a down season with only 7.5 sacks after 14 in 2013. He is only 26 years of age and with improved play in the secondary, that number should go up for Jordan.
Opposite of Jordan is Akiem Hicks, who was drafted in the third round by the Saints in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hicks saw his sack total decrease it bit as well, dropping from 4.5 to two sacks but similar to Jordan should see an increase with the improvements in the Saints secondary.
Brodrick Bunkley is the anchor of this defense at 6’2 and 306 pounds. Any 3-4 defense needs that big body tackle who can command two offensive lineman to block him and that Bunkley.
Even though the Saints have the second best defensive line, there is a clear difference between the Panthers and Saints. The Saints don’t have the kind of depth the Panthers do. This shows just how far ahead Carolina’s line is above the rest of the NFC South.
The fact that the Bucs have the best defensive lineman in the NFC South, Gerald McCoy, speaks to just how bad the group around him is. The team locked up McCoy midway through last season with a seven-year, $98 million contract extension. However, the season didn’t end well with McCoy suffering a season-ending knee injury. Even missing the last two games of the season, he was still selected to the Pro Bowl.
Around him though, there isn’t a whole lot on the defensive line. The team brought back defensive end George Johnson, who played for the Detroit Lions last year and finished with six sacks. Opposite him is Jacquies Smith, who had 6.5 sacks for the Bucs last year.
One player that could really help this group, and leapfrog the Saints, would be Larry English. The former first round pick of the San Diego Chargers has struggled to live up to his potential in the NFL. He has only 12 sacks in six seasons and right now is listed as a backup. If he has a strong camp and can develop into a steady pass rusher, this Bucs defensive line would look much better.
The Falcons have a new head coach in Dan Quinn, who hopes to replicate the Seahawks defense that he helped build in Seattle. The team brought in Adrian Clayborn, O’Brien Schofield and Paul Soliai as well as drafted Grady Jarrett to help improve this group.
The problem is even with all their additions, they still don’t have enough pieces. Clayborn and Soliai should help solidify one side of the line but Ra’Shede Hageman and Kroy Biermann are concerning. The Falcons have certainly started the process of rebuilding this line, but they are still at least a season away from being decent.
|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.