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 have an incredibly talented duo at safety with Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd. However their first season together did not go as well as they would have hoped. The Saints signed Byrd as a free agent to a six-year, $54 million contract last offseason but Byrd was only able to play four games due to a torn lateral meniscus injury he suffered in practice. When he is on the field, he is a ball-hawking safety who has 12 interceptions and five fumble recoveries in 77 career games.
Kenny Vaccaro is a safety with a ton of potential but is coming off the worst season of his career. Pro Football Focus rated him as the third worst safety last year out of 86 safeties. I am not ready to write him off though and the combination of these two, when healthy, is the best in the division.
While injuries are a concern, the Saints do have depth in Rafael Bush who has developed into a decent safety for this defense. This is the one position that the Saints are the clear winner in the NFC South.
The Panthers started last year with two new starters with free agent signings Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud. One of those signings worked out very well with Harper, who was the only Panther to start every game last year in the secondary. He is getting up there in age at 32 years old but the experience he brings to this young secondary is a huge boost for them.
Meanwhile, DeCoud struggled for most of the season and was eventually released and replaced by rookie Tre Boston. The former Tarheel finished the regular season with 26 total tackles and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown in Week 17 against the Falcons. Boston showed a lot of promise at the end of last year and hopefully can take that next step in 2015.
The front office added extra depth to the position with the signing of Kurt Coleman. The former Kansas City Chief and Philadelphia Eagle has experience playing both safety positions. It would not be a surprise to see him eventually work his way into a platoon at strong safety with Harper.
The Bucs also found a safety in free agency this year with the signing of Chris Conte. The former Chicago Bear had an injury riddled season last year starting with shoulder surgery prior to the season. During the season, he missed four games and leaving an additional seven games due to injury. Conte has experience playing in this defense though as he spent his first two seasons playing under Lovie Smith in Chicago.
Next to Conte is Bradley McDougald who took over the strong safety position after the team traded Mark Barron to the St. Louis Rams. He finished the season with 50 tackles and one interception however he has some serious competition behind him for the starting role.
The Bucs claimed safety DJ Swearinger off of waivers after the Houston Texans released him this offseason. Swearinger is a hard-hitting safety out of the University of South Carolina who isn’t afraid to play near the line of scrimmage. This is going to be an interesting training camp battle for the Bucs’ fans to watch.
We will first start with the good for the Falcons’ safeties and that is William Moore, who when healthy is a pretty good safety. However that is a very big if considering he has played in a full 16-game season only once the past four seasons. This past year he missed 11 games due to injuries. A healthy Moore in 2015 will make a tremendous difference for this young Falcons’ defense.
Panthers’ fans will recognize the player expected to start at free safety and that is Charles Godfrey, who played for the Panthers for six seasons. The team tried to move Godfrey from safety to nickelback last year but he was not able to fill the role, especially coming off an Achilles injury.
After he was released he found a home in Atlanta and the 29-year old will be looking to prove he can still be a quality safety. There is a number of questions with this group and because of that they have to finish as the worst safety group in the NFC South.
|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.