2020 NFC South Breakdown by Position: The Offense

2020 NFC South

During the month of August, the Last Word On Sports NFL department will be breaking down every division in the league by position. This article contains a position-by-position breakdown of the NFC South offensive units. The breakdown will contain “the best” at each position followed by “the rest” in descending order. With the various off-season additions, shuffling of team rosters, and traditional powerhouses, these rankings are sure to cause some discussions. Here are the 2020 NFC South breakdown for all offensive positions.

2020 NFC South Breakdown by Position: The Offense

Quarterbacks

  1. New Orleans Saints
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Carolina Panthers

Quarterbacks Analysis

How do you rank two future Hall of Fame Quarterbacks against one another? Ranking Drew Brees and Tom Brady had to come down to recent statistics. Over the past two seasons, Brees leads Brady in yards per game, touchdown percentage, quarterback rating, and completion percentage. Adding Taysom Hill to the mix makes the decision more concrete. Hill brings another dimension to the Saints quarterback with his running, deep throws, or overall big-play ability. Brady’s pedigree and career place him firmly in the second spot for these rankings. His leadership and intangibles are hard to measure. This could easily be a 1a and 1b scenario between Brees and Brady. 

This leaves the Falcons and Panthers in third and fourth, respectively. Matt Ryan is still a very capable quarterback even with only winning seven games in each of the past two seasons. Ryan was top-10 in completion percentage and yards while being top-15 in quarterback ratings and top-20 in touchdown percentage. This leaves the Panthers in the fourth spot mainly due to the unknown. Teddy Bridgewater has only started a handful of games in the past five years. In his five games last year, Bridgewater had a 67.9 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 99.1. This is a very limited sample but a great springboard for Bridgewater’s new starting job in Carolina.

Running Backs

  1. Carolina Panthers
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Running Backs Analysis

The Carolina Panthers slide into the number one slot for this 2020 NFC South breakdown for running backs. McCaffery had 2,392 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns in 2019, becoming only the third player in NFL history to record over 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving. For a team that only had five wins in 2019, these numbers are remarkable and clearly make McCaffery and the Panthers the best backfield in the NFC South. 

Not far behind the Panthers are the New Orleans Saints. The combination of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray makes an incredibly scary duo. Murray averaged 4.4 yards a carry in 2019, scored five rushing touchdowns, and added a receiving touchdown. Even with an injury-plagued season, Kamara still managed to put up 1,330 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns as well. 

Well behind the Panthers and Saints are the Falcons and Buccaneers. An aging Todd Gurley will be one of the only running backs in Atlanta. Gurley averaged under four yards a carry in his final year with the Rams in 2019 but did manage to score 14 touchdowns. He will need to greatly improve his rushing totals for Atlanta to have some success. 

For the Buccaneers, they are going with two unproven backs in Jones and Vaughn.  Jones only started nine games for the Buccaneers in 2019 and averaged a mere 45 yards a game. Vaughn was only a third-round pick in the NFL Draft. He did average over five yards again in the SEC but only caught 28 balls in his entire senior season. Each back will need to show some growth to be able to climb these rankings for the Buccaneers.

Wide Receivers

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Carolina Panthers

Wide Receivers Analysis – Buccaneers and Saints

From top to bottom, the NFC South might have the most talented overall receivers in all of football. Picking the best unit was nearly as difficult as picking the quarterbacks. The unit which takes the top spot is the one with two 1,100+ yards and 17 touchdowns between them. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans were each in the top 15 for yards and top 10 in touchdowns in 2019. No other team comes close to this duo but Miller will still need to assist when called upon. Miller is going into his second NFL season and it is unknown how much he will be called upon after only having 26 targets in all of 2019. The two teams in second and third boast top-five receivers in the NFL but the combination of Godwin and Evans were enough to put them in slot one for these rankings. 

Close behind is the Saints with record-setting Michael Thomas and the newly signed Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas set the NFL record for receptions in 2019, even with two different starting quarterbacks, and had nine touchdowns. Thomas also had the highest catch percentage for any receiver in football at 80.5 percent, with the next receiver six percentage points behind. Sanders meanwhile had a very respectable 51 yards a game average and five touchdowns on 66 receptions. Sanders actually averaged more yards per receptions than Thomas, 11.6 to 13.2. Smith has been spotty throughout his NFL career and will need to improve greatly to fight off some of the newly signed Saints receivers hoping to grab that last spot. 

Wide Receivers Analysis – Falcons and Panthers

It seems almost absurd to place the Atlanta Falcons third in this ranking. Julio Jones has been one of the best receivers in the NFL over the past nine years. In 2019, Jones had 99 receptions, nearly 1,400 yards, and six touchdowns. In the past seven seasons, Jones has averaged over 90 yards per game. No other NFC South receiver has over one. Calvin Ridley will need to take another step forward in his third year to advance the Falcons receiving unit. Ridley had a respectable 866 yards in only 13 games in 2019 while also scoring seven touchdowns. Gage is going into his third NFL season but has improved in each of his first two, contributing 49 receptions in 2019.

This leaves the Carolina Panthers last. D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Robby Anderson are mostly young with limited NFL experience. Anderson is the veteran of the group after coming over from the Jets in the off-season. He brings playmaking ability to the young Panthers offense. Moore showed huge growth in 2019, his second in the NFL. His yards, touchdowns, and yards per game all increased significantly from 2018 to 2019. Samuel also shows promise as his touchdowns, yards, and yards per game also have gone up in each of his three NFL seasons. Both Moore and Samuel will need to show more consistency as their catch percentage dipped from 2018 to 2019. Quarterback consistency in Carolina surely had a lot to do with this. The stability brought by Bridgewater could help the Panther receiving unit to take huge steps in 2020.

Tight Ends

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Atlanta Falcons
  4. Carolina Panthers

Tight Ends Analysis

The Buccaneers take the top spot again due to their depth in the 2020 NFC South breakdown. Each of their three rostered tight ends brings variety and strength to Tampa Bay. Cameron Brate, O.J. Howard, and Rob Gronkowski are a dangerous trio in the blocking and passing game. Brate and Howard combined for 770 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Adding Gronkowski to the mix only strengthens an already talented and diverse tight end unit.

The Saints duo follows up the Buccaneers. First, Hill is a sure-handed pass-catcher when called upon and has been a staple on the Sean Payton offense for years. Because of this, Hill is mostly a blocker but still averages over nine yards a reception for his career. Cook’s first year in New Orleans was up and down, but he and Brees started to gel as the season went on. For instance, Cook caught five touchdowns in the last four games. In three of those games, he also had a 100 percent catch rate.

The Falcons lost their premier tight end from 2019 with the departure of Austin Hooper. They brought in Hayden Hurst from the Baltimore Ravens to fill this hole. Hurst will be asked to do much more in 2020. Behind Hurst is Khari Lee. Lee has only appeared in two NFL games so expectations are hard to predict. This unit goes as Hayden Hurst goes.

The Panthers lost long-time veteran Greg Olsen in the off-season and look to replace him with Ian Thomas and Chris Manhertz. Manhertz will be the main blocking back after playing in 15 games last year. Thomas started three games in 2019 but appeared in all 16. He only managed 16 receptions and one touchdown, so he will need to take a leap forward to improve this overall unit.

Offensive Line

  1. New Orleans Saints
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  3. Carolina Panthers
  4. Atlanta Falcons

Offensive Line Analysis

The Saints come in again with the top spot for 2020 NFC South breakdown. The Saints were in the top three of sacks allowed in the entire NFL and easily the best ranking in the NFC South. Additionally, the line averaged 4.3 yards per attempt in the rushing attack, the second-best in the division behind the Panthers 4.7. The Buccaneers and Falcons averaged 3.3 and 4.2 yards per attempt, respectively. Going forward, the Saints line should be better after taking Cesar Ruiz in the first round of this year’s NFL draft. The other three teams in the NFC South were in the bottom 11 of all teams for sacks allowed.

The Buccaneers, Falcons, and Panthers allowed 47, 50, and 58 sacks, respectively, in 2019 which put them near the bottom of the entire league. The Buccaneers did the most to improve over the off-season with the signing of Joe Haeg and drafting of Tristan Wirfs. The Panthers also added to their line by signing guard John Miller who started 13 games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019. If they can keep the sack numbers down they could easily jump to the second position. The Falcons did probably less to improve over this off-season. The losses of Wes Schweitzer and Ty Sambrailo hurt an already weak line. Drafting Matt Hennessy in the third round is most likely a lateral move.

Be sure to check out LWOPF’s 2020 NFC South breakdown on defense and special teams.

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