As a part of our preparation for the upcoming NFL season, Dylan White and I decided to dive deep into every team’s offseason, picking the most interesting players and storylines to follow this season. Accompanying these players and storylines are draft class summaries, teams’ strengths, weaknesses, and record predictions. Here is my 2019 NFC South Season Preview. NFC North is up next!
2019 Draft Grade – B+, Brian Burns was the big addition of the Panthers 2019 draft class. He’s a quick, athletic edge rusher who will make an immediate difference for an already solid Carolina defense. Greg Little was a good value pick and gives the Panthers a talented backup incase of injuries. Will Grier was a good get in the 3rd round, but he is unlikely to see any meaningful playing-time barring an injury to Cam Newton.
Player to Watch – DJ Moore, WR: With Devin Funchess gone, DJ Moore is Cam Newton’s clear #1 target to throw to. Although Christian McCaffery is going to be a workhorse for Carolina, definitely expect a boost in DJ Moore’s targets. Fellow wideout Curtis Samuel could see similar increases as well.
Positional Strengths – Running Back, Defensive Tackle, Middle Linebacker
Positional Weaknesses – Defensive Back, Big-Bodied Wide Receiver
Projected Record – 9-7
2019 Draft Grade – C-, I was quite puzzled by the Falcons draft strategy. They ended up with 2 first-round picks (#14 and #31), taking offensive linemen, Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. While both players are solid, I didn’t have either projected to land in the first round. This being said, the Falcons definitely improved their offensive line and have more flexibility to move them around.
Players to Watch – Devonta Freeman, RB: With Tevin Coleman now in San Francisco, Freeman is the clear #1 back in Atlanta. After an injury-plagued 2018, Freeman should have much higher success in the upcoming season as long as he can stay healthy.
Keanu Neal, SS: Neal missed all of 2018 after tearing his ACL in week 1, but he is primed for a great comeback. The leader of a sneaky-good defense, a healthy Neal is a necessity for the Falcons to make it far in the talented NFC South.
Positional Strengths – Safety, Wide Receiver
Positional Weaknesses – Tight End
Projected Record – 8-8
new orleans saints
2019 Draft Grade – C, Another team with a limited amount of picks, New Orleans only had one selection in the top 100 picks. They managed to pick up a decent center in Eric McCoy, and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson could be a value pick in the 4th, but no one in this draft class offers elite upside for the Saints.
Player to Watch – Michael Thomas, WR: After signing a huge contract extension, Thomas is now the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL. That puts a lot of pressure on Thomas to keep up his elite production, even with his future Hall-of-Fame quarterback, Drew Brees, entering his age 40 season. The only concern here would be Thomas drawing a lot of double coverage without other talented wideouts around him. Even so, expect another huge year for Thomas.
Positional Strengths – Offensive Tackle, Quarterback
Positional Weaknesses – Linebacker, Wide Receiver Depth
Projected Record – 8-8
tampa bay buccaneers
2019 Draft Grade – B, Replacing Kwon Alexander with Devin White is huge. The Bucs have relied on Alexander and Lavonte David to lead their defense, and White should fill Alexander’s role perfectly. The majority of their selections wound up on the defensive side of the ball, so no major improvements on offense should be expected.
Player to Watch – O.J. Howard, TE: It has become clear that O.J. Howard is one of the best young tight ends around. The unique athleticism makes Howard a deep threat risk unlike any other player at his position. 2019 should be Howard’s best season as he should have Jameis Winston as his QB for the entire season. Without much of a run game, Howard, along with Cameron Brate and Mike Evans, will all receive a large number of red-zone targets
Positional Strengths – Tight End
Positional Weaknesses – Running Back, Offensive Tackle, Cornerback, Safety
Projected Record – 6-10
Best QB?: Currently, I would have to say the NFC South had the strongest group of starting quarterbacks. Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston have all been very good in past years. While all four are not equal in terms of status, they can all post great numbers on a weekly basis, and it will be a good contest to see who leads NFC South QB’s by the end of the season.
Elite RBs: Its clear Saquon Barkley is the best running back in the NFL, but with Ezekiel Elliot and Melvin Gordon both questionable to start the season, it is increasingly likely that Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffery are the 2nd and 3rd best RBs of 2019. With Mark Ingram gone Kamara could see even higher volume, and McCaffery is said to be looking even better than last year. Though Atlanta and Tampa Bay don’t have elite running backs, McCaffery and Kamara make this a division worth watching.
All division team
QB: Matt Ryan, ATL RB: Christian McCaffery, CAR
WR: Julio Jones, ATL WR: Michael Thomas, NO
TE: O.J. Howard, TB C: Alex Mack, ATL
OT: Jake Matthews, ATL OT: Ryan Ramczyk, NO
OG: Trai Turner, CAR OG: Ali Marpet, TB
DE: Cameron Jordan, NO DE: Brian Burns, CAR
DT: Grady Jarrett, ATL MLB: Luke Kuechly, CAR
LB: Lavonte David, TB LB: Deion Jones, ATL
CB: Marshon Lattimore, NO CB: Desmond Trufant, ATL
FS: Ricardo Allen, ATL SS: Keanu Neal, ATL