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Ranking the Carolina Panthers' Defensive Line in the NFC South

We turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball as we rank each position group in the NFC South. We start with the defensive line and rank each team in the NFC South.

Over the next few weeks we will be going through the division by position, handing out our rankings to determine which team has the best roster entering the 2016 season. The position groups will be ranked based not only on the starter but the depth behind them from first to fourth with the best team receiving four points. These point totals will then be added up to determine who has the best team this season.

1. Carolina Panthers (4 Points)

Starters: Kony EalyKawann ShortStar LotuleleiCharles Johnson

Key Backups: Mario AddisonVernon ButlerPaul SoliaiRyan Delaire

The strength of the defensive line is squarely on the inside with Kawann Short, who had 11 sacks last year, and Star Lotulelei, who is a run stopper that got better as the season went on. The one thing that sets this position apart is the depth after the starters with first round pick Vernon Butler and free agent signing Paul Soliai, who could start on a number of teams.

The defensive end has plenty of talent as well but is coming off a down season with Johnson and Ealy combining for six sacks during the regular season. However, the playoffs was a different story as these two combined for six in three games. If they can bring that type of pass rush in 2016, this group can make a strong case for being the best defensive line in the entire NFL.

2. New Orleans Saints (3 Points)

Starters: Bobby RichardsonJohn JenkinsSheldon RankinsCameron Jordan

Key Backups: Darryl TappNick FairleyObum Gwacham

The Saints spent the offseason trying to rebuild their defensive line and give Cameron Jordan some help. The defensive end is one of the better pass rushers in the NFL and has 30 sacks the past three years.

To help Jordan, the Saints brought in free agents Nick Fairley and Darryl Tapp and used their first round pick on Sheldon Rankins out of Louisville. These three players should play a major role on this line in 2016.

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2 Points)

Starters: Robert AyersGerald McCoyAkeem SpenceWilliam Gholston

Key Backups: Clinton McDonaldNoah SpenceGeorge Johnson

The Bucs have one of the best defensive tackles in the game in Gerald McCoy however there is not much talent after him. Robert Ayers was a big name free agent signing but is coming off one productive season with 9.5 sacks with the New York Giants. He also is a bit injury prone and in eight seasons has only played in 16 games once.

One player to watch is second-round pick Noah Spence, who has the potential to be a dynamic pass rusher. If he is able to have an immediate impact, the Bucs would be able to jump past the Saints in these rankings.

4. Atlanta Falcons (1 Point)

Starters: Vic BeasleyRa'shede HagemanGrady JarrettDerrick Shelby

Key Backups: Adrian ClaybornJonathan BabineauxTyson Jackson

The Falcons are at the bottom of the rankings entering 2016 but probably has the brightest future of any team in the NFC South. The star in the making of this group has to be Vic Beasley, who had four sacks as a rookie, including two in the final three regular season games. He has the potential to be one of the top pass rushers in the league.

Another player who showed a ton of potential is Grady Jarrett, who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The defensive tackle played a bigger role than many may have expected and should see that role grow even more in his second season. If veterans Adrian Clayborn and Tyson Jackson can help on the edge, this group should be improved in 2016.

Team Defensive Line Middle Linebacker Outside Linebacker Cornerbacks Safety Total
Carolina Panthers 4
New Orleans Saints 3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2
Atlanta Falcons 1

*Depth charts courtesy of

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