In this latest series from Last Word on Sports the NFL department will be selecting the best players in each division, by position. The focus of this article is the offensive players in the NFC South for the 2020 season.
2020 NFC South All-Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Drew Brees
There is a lot of quarterback talent in the NFC South with Drew Brees (ranked number 12 on the NFL Top 100), Tom Brady (ranked number 14 on the NFL Top 100), Matt Ryan and Teddy Bridgewater, but this decision came down to Brees or Brady.
Both Brees and Brady are extremely accomplished quarterbacks and they each have a plethora of weapons at their disposal in 2020. Brady has more wins and rings than Brees, but 2020 will be Brady’s first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The former New England Patriots signal caller is cerebral and talented, but joining a new team is difficult under normal circumstances and this off-season has been anything but normal.
Brees is cerebral and talented too and he and Sean Payton have been together with the New Orleans Saints since 2006. Both quarterbacks are aging, but they are still in the top-10 at their position. Brees gets the edge over Brady due to the overwhelmingly familiarity he has with his teammates and coach.
Running Back: Christian McCaffrey
As with the position of quarterback, there are multiple great running back in the NFC South. Christian McCaffrey (ranked number six on the NFL Top 100), Alvin Kamara (ranked number 42 on the NFL Top 100) and Todd Gurley (ranked number 51 on the NFL Top 100) all play in the NFC South. While all three backs are talented, the choice here has to be McCaffrey.
The former Stanford Cardinal is arguably the best back in the league and he is the best at the position in the NFC South going into 2020. In three seasons McCaffrey has amassed 2,920 rushing yards on 623 carries and he has 24 touchdowns on the ground. He also has hauled in 303 receptions for 2,523 yards and added 15 receiving touchdowns. McCaffrey could easily be an MVP candidate in 2020.
Wide Receiver: Michael Thomas
There is also a plethora of talent at the receiver position in the NFC South. Michael Thomas (ranked number five on the NFL Top 100), Julio Jones (ranked number 11 on the NFL Top 100), Mike Evans (ranked number 30 on the NFL Top 100) and Chris Godwin (ranked number 38 on the NFL Top 100) all play in the division. Most NFL fans would agree that Thomas, Jones and Arizona Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins are the top-three wide receivers in the league, in some order.
Thomas has only played four seasons in the NFL (all with the Saints), but he’s already made three Pro Bowls (2017-2019) and been named as a First-Team All-Pro the last two seasons. Last season Thomas had 149 receptions (led the NFL) for 1,725 yards with nine touchdowns and averaged 107.8 receiving yards per game.
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones
As referenced above, Jones is a top-three receiver in the NFL. He has been in the NFL for 11 seasons (all with the Atlanta Falcons) and he has made seven Pro Bowls (including the last six seasons) and been a First-Team All-Pro twice (2015 and 2016). Last season Jones averaged 92.9 receiving yards per game and had 99 receptions for 1,294 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. If the Falcons would utilize Jones more in the red zone his numbers would be even more impressive.
Slot Receiver: Chris Godwin
Brady has played with multiple, talented slot receivers, including Wes Welker and Julian Edelman and in Chris Godwin he will now have another. Godwin took over the slot role after Adam Humphries left Tampa Bay and he has been extremely valuable and consistent in that role.
Godwin has played three seasons in the league and in that time he has played in 46 games (21 starts) and posted 179 receptions for 2,700 yards, with 17 touchdowns and he has averaged 15.1 yards per reception. In 2019 Godwin had 86 catches for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns, while averaging 15.5 yards per reception and 95.2 yards per game. He was named to the Pro Bowl last season. Both Tyler Johnson and Russell Gage deserve to be mentioned, but Godwin is the best slot receiver in the NFC South.
Tight End: Jared Cook
There are multiple talented tight ends in the division, including, Jared Cook, O.J. Howard, Hayden Hurst, Cameron Brate, and the returning Rob Gronkowski. Gronk, although one of the best tight ends the league has ever seen, must be removed from consideration since he hasn’t played since the 2018 season.
Although Cook is 33 years old, he gets the nod here. He has made two straight Pro Bowls and in 2019, his first with the Saints and Brees, he had 43 catches for 705 yards and a career high nine touchdowns. Cook was especially productive during Weeks 10-17 where he had 537 receiving yards and found the end zone seven times. There is a chance Cook is even better in 2020 now that he has a full season in New Orleans under his belt.
Left Tackle: Terron Armstead
Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk helped the Saints rank number three in the league in 2019 in adjusted sack rate. Armstead might actually be a top five offensive lineman in the NFL. In 2019 he allowed only one sack and 24 pressures, per PFF and was named to the Pro Bowl. He is one the best pass blockers in the NFL. He could be even more of a special player if he was more durable. In seven seasons with the Saints he has yet to play a full season (but did play in 15 contests in 2019) and has played in only 75 of 112 possible regular season games.
Jake Matthews, who plays left tackle for the Falcons, also received consideration, but when healthy Armstead is the best left tackle in the division.
Left Guard: Ali Marpet
Ali Marpet played right guard in 2015 and 2016 and center for the 2017 season before becoming the Bucs left guard for the past two seasons. Since entering the league in 2015, Marpet has been the highest graded offensive guard in the league. When looking at pass blocking last season Marpet was in the top five at his position.
Center: Ryan Jensen
In 2019 Ryan Jensen allowed only one sack and 15 quarterback pressures. Jensen was also extremely effective against the run last season. No one on the Bucs received much attention in 2019 because the team wasn’t very good and their former quarterback, Jameis Winston, threw 30 picks. But with Tom Brady now under center in Tampa Bay, Jensen, and the rest of the Bucs offensive line, may finally get their due.
Jensen was the easy pick here, but keep an eye on Erik McCoy, who had a stellar rookie season in 2019 with the Saints.
Right Guard: Alex Cappa
Chris Lindstrom only played in five games in his rookie season with the Falcons so there isn’t enough NFL tape on him to make him the pick here. Michael Schofield will probably continue to be average with the Carolina Panthers. Cesar Ruiz was drafted by the Saints in this year’s draft and the team is hoping he will replace Larry Warford. While Ruiz may end up being an impressive player and the Saints may have the best offensive line in the NFL, it is too early to name Ruiz the best right guard in the NFC South. That leaves Alex Cappa as the pick here.
Cappa made big strides last season, his second in the league, and he has played in 19 games in the NFL thus far. The Bucs, who might have the second best offensive line the division, are hoping he continues to improve in 2020.
Right Tackle: Ryan Ramczyk
Terron Armstead’s counterpart, Ryan Ramczyk, allowed no sacks and 20 pressures last season. For his efforts he was named first-team All-Pro in just his third NFL season. A case could be made that Ramczyk is the best right tackle in the league.
That is the breakdown of the 2020 NFC South All-Division Team on offense.
Click here for the NFC South All-Division team for defense and special teams