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.
It is safe to say that Luke Kuechly is the best linebacker in the NFC South and certainly any discussion about the best linebacker in the NFL right now has to start with the Panthers middle linebacker. He has earned a number of awards from NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and two Pro Bowl appearances. He has finished in the Top 5 of total tackles each season he has been in the NFL and actually finished first twice.
The Panthers not only have the best linebacker in the NFC South, they could also make a strong case for having the second best in Thomas Davis. After suffering multiple ACL injuries and missing 39 out of a possible 48 games from 2009 to 2011, Davis has played at an incredibly high level. He has finished with at least 100 total tackles each of the past three seasons.
The Panthers helped strengthen this group even more with their selection of Shaq Thompson in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Thompson is expected to start at outside linebacker next to Kuechly and Davis. If for some reason he isn’t ready, the team has plenty of options to step into the role like Adarius Glanton, AJ Klein or even Jason Trusnik. This is certainly the most well rounded linebacker corp in the NFC South.
Lucky for the Bucs they have a caliber player like LaVonte David at linebacker because he boosts this group all the way up to number two. Since entering the NFL, David has been a tackling machine with over 139 tackles each of his first three seasons to go along with 10 sacks, six forced fumbles and six interceptions. He is the one player who would make a strong case to be the second best linebacker in this division.
The Bucs will be looking to Danny Lansanah to build on a solid season from 2014 when he made 81 tackles and three interceptions in his first season as a full time starter. The Bucs also added veteran Bruce Carter to round out the starting group. This will be Carter’s first season with the Bucs after four years in Dallas.
This certainly looks to be a linebacker group on the rise with a combination of youth and experience led by one of the outside linebackers in the game today.
The New Orleans Saints is another team that revamped their linebacker position this offseason and look to be much improved from a season ago. This group is still led by pass rusher Junior Galette on the outside who has 22 sacks over the past two seasons.
On the other side of the field the Saints hope Anthony Spencer can have a bounce back season. He has struggled the past two seasons but is back playing in Rob Ryan’s defense where he recorded 17 sacks from 2011 and 2012 while both were in Dallas. This certainly isn’t a given though as Spencer is 31 years old and there has to be a question of how much he has left.
The team also hopes another one of their acquisitions, Dannell Ellerbe, can revitalize his career in New Orleans. The Saints traded wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Miami Dolphins for Dannell Ellerbe, who in 2013 had 101 tackles for the Dolphins. However, he missed almost all of last season due to a hip injury.
This group has a lot of potential but there is major questions looming over this group about whether or not Spencer and Ellerbe can bounce back in 2015.
The Atlanta Falcons made a number of changes at linebacker and look to be much better in 2015 but are still well behind the rest of the division. The team has kept Paul Worrilow in the middle, who has been the primary starter at middle linebacker the past two seasons.
He is going to have new teammates on either side of him though with free agent signing of Brooks Reed and draft pick Vic Beasley. Both of these players should be interesting to watch in the Seattle Seahawks style defense that Dan Quinn is expected to implement in Atlanta.
One player who could be a huge boost to this group is Justin Durant, who has experience playing at all three linebackers position. Durant has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons with only 16 games played but the versatility he brings should be a huge boost for the Falcons.
|Carolina||Tampa Bay||Atlanta||New Orleans|
Depth Charts courtesy of Ourlads.com
Brandon Croce is the Lead Publisher for PantherInsider.com. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonCroce.