Jim Dedmon/USA Today

Ranking the Carolina Panthers' Outside Linebackers in the NFC South

Thomas Davis is still playing at a high level at the age of 33 years of age but is it enough to move the Carolina Panthers into the top slot of the NFC South at outside linebacker?

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. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4 Points)

Strongside Linebackers: Daryl SmithDevante Bond

Weakside Linebackers: Lavonte DavidAdarius Glanton

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have two of the top three outside linebackers in this division with Lavonte David and free agent signee Daryl Smith. The Ravens released Smith earlier this offseason and he joined the Bucs on a one-year deal. The veteran outside linebacker had a very successful run with the Ravens with three straight seasons with over 120 total tackles.

The leader of this group though is Lavonte David, who has made a name for himself as one of the top outside linebackers in the NFL today. David will be entering his fifth year in the NFL and has averaged just over 144 total tackles per season. However, he is able to do a little bit of everything on the field, whether it is rushing the passer (13 career sacks) or dropping back into coverage (seven career interceptions).

The emergence of Kwon Alexander, plus the addition of Smith, gives the Bucs one of the top starting linebacker group in the league.

2. Carolina Panthers (3 Points)

Strongside Linebackers: Shaq ThompsonA.J. Klein

Weakside Linebackers: Thomas DavisDavid Mayo

At 33 years of age, Thomas Davis doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon. This past season was arguably the best of his career finishing with 105 total tackles and setting career high in sacks (5.5), forced fumbles (4), and interceptions (4).

The Panthers also have his heir apparent in last year's first round pick Shaq Thompson, who had a rather quiet rookie season. . However, the Panthers play a significant amount of their defensive snaps out of the nickel formation, which limits Thompson's playing time.

3. New Orleans Saints (2 Points)

Strongside Linebackers: Stephone AnthonyKasim Edebali

Weakside Linebackers: Dannell EllerbeDavis Tull

Stephone Anthony was a first-round pick by the Saints last year and unlike Thompson played a majority of the year. He finished with 112 tackles and one interception. However, this year he is switching positions and moving outside with the addition of James Laurinaitis.

Dannell Ellerbe is a talented linebacker however he has struggled to stay healthy the past two years, playing in only seven games. There is no question the Saints are a better defense when he is on the field, the question is just how much he will be on the field in 2016.

4. Atlanta Falcons (1 Point)

Strongside Linebackers: Courtney UpshawBrooks Reed

Weakside Linebackers: Philip Wheeler

The Falcons were able to sign a former Baltimore Raven of their own when they signed free agent Courtney Upshaw. The outside linebacker does a great job against the run however struggles defending the pass. He is coming off his best season and had 51 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Wheeler showed promise in his final season with the Oakland Raiders in 2012 and his first season with the Miami Dolphins in 2013 however has had two down seasons since then. If he can play like he did in 2012 and 2013, this Falcons defense will be better. However, that is a big if at this point of his career.

Team Defensive Line Middle Linebacker Outside Linebacker Cornerbacks Safety Total
Carolina Panthers 4 4 3 11
New Orleans Saints 3 3 4 10
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2 2 2 6
Atlanta Falcons 1 1 1 3

*Depth charts courtesy of Ourlads.com

Twitter @BrandonCroce

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