Because this series has started with the offense, we’ve thus far been able to at least credibly argue that the Falcons are the best team at the positions we’ve highlighted. That won’t continue indefinitely, of course, but I think we’ve got another strong argument today.
That’s because we’re comparing receivers across the NFC South. In this instance, you’re stacking a very good Atlanta corps up against a promising Tampa Bay one and a top-heavy, strong New Orleans one. Carolina may someday get there, but their receiving corps has been somewhat of a shambles for years, and the selection of D.J. Moore out of Maryland in the first round is not going to change that overnight.
Still, let’s dive in. Let’s start, as we are wont to do, with Atlanta. Julio Jones is widely considered one of the two or three best receivers in football, and despite the lack of touchdowns that is used as a cudgel against him, he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber talent. Atlanta can also bring excellent possession receiver Mohamed Sanu to bear, just drafted promising rookie Calvin Ridley in the first round, and figure to round out their depth chart with sure-handed Justin Hardy, speedster Russell Gage, and potentially solid former UDFA Marvin Hall. It’s a good group, albeit one defined by Julio.
The Buccaneers belong in the conversation, as well. We all know how good Mike Evans is—he’s one of the most difficult assignments for the Falcons’ talented cornerbacks every year—but there’s a lot of other talent here. DeSean Jackson is still theoretically a useful deep threat, even if he’s been a disappointment in Tampa Bay so far, and Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries are relatively young players with a short but encouraging track record of success. Tampa Bay’s depth chart goes four deep with at least useful players, and that’s potentially quite valuable.
They’re followed by the Saints, a high-variance group that has the potential to be amazing. Michael Thomas is legitimately one of the NFL’s better young receivers, a player so good he has to be accounted for at all times. Ted Ginn is still a potent (if drop-prone) deep threat, and new addition Cameron Meredith has shown he’s a very capable receiver. Rookie Tre’Quan Smith has real potential, too. The problem for the Saints is that Ginn is 33, inconsistent, and extremely reliant on his speed, and Meredith is coming off a knee injury and may not be 100% at all this year. Thomas will be terrific, but no one else is a sure bet just yet.
Then we come to Carolina, which belongs in the basement for now. The Panthers have done a lot of work to re-build a poor receiving corps, and if rookie D.J. Moore can blossom into a #1 option early, they’re not all that far away from being quite good. Devin Funchess is a tall, athletic target who put together a decent 2017 campaign as the team’s nominal top option, and Curtis Samuel has the potential to be a quick, dangerous option out of the slot. Jarius Wright and Torrey Smith are unobjectionable options that shouldn’t get opportunities ahead of the likes of Funchess and Samuel but might because Carolina is weird. That Moore, Funchess and Samuel trio could be quite good sooner than later, at least.
Frankly, these are all at least solid groups with the potential to be more, but I think the Falcons look the best on paper for the year 2018. That’s not likely to be true when we talk about tight ends in a couple of days, but it’s pretty impressive that the team has a decent claim to having the best quarterback, running back and receivers groups in their division.
How would you rank the NFC South’s receiving corps?