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What NFC South team has the best OL?

The Falcons are near the top of the list, weirdly enough.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve ranked the NFC South’s various offensive units from quarterback to tight end, which leaves just one to cover: The offensive line.

Let’s talk about those lines now and rank them, if you’re up for it. An offseason of upheaval in the NFC South has happily made the Falcons line look pretty decent.

Atlanta Falcons

LT Jake Matthews
LG Matt Hennessy
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
T Matt Gono
T/G John Wetzel
G Jamon Brown
G James Carpenter
G Justin McCray
C/G Sean Harlow

This is a capable group. Matthews is chronically underrated, and he, Mack and Lindstrom should all be terrific this year if they’re healthy. That just leaves McGary and the left guard spot as question marks, and I expect McGary to improve. The Falcons should have capable depth between Gono, the guard grab bag, and Hennessy if he doesn’t outright win the left guard job.

Carolina Panthers

LT Russell Okung
LG Dennis Daley
C Matt Paradis
RG John Miller
RT Taylor Moton
T Greg Little
T Matt Kaskey
G Tyler Larsen
G Chris Reed
G Mike Horton

This group is in transition. Carolina made a weird trade for Okung, who was not good last year, and neither Daley or Miller was all that great a year ago either. That leaves Paradis and Moton as their only truly good offensive linemen, though their depth is certainly solid behind their starters. For a team in transition, they have the line you’d expect, as there are still many additions left to make.

New Orleans Saints

LT Terron Armstead
LG Andrus Peat
C Erik McCoy
RG Cesar Ruiz
RT Ryan Ramcyzk
T James Hurst
T Derrick Kelly II
T Calvin Throckmorton
G Patrick Omameh
G/C Nick Easton
G/C Will Clapp

This is, unfortunately, the cream of the crop. Armstead and Ramcyzk is one of the best tackle duos in football and McCoy showed great promise and ability as a starter a year ago. Ruiz is at the very least a promising rookie, which means only Peat is a weak link. He is, thankfully, quite a weak link, and the decision to cut Larry Warford may come back and bite the Saints.

Their depth is decent, too, though an injury at tackle would certainly hurt. If the Saints fall apart this year, as we all hope they will, it won’t be because of the offensive line.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LT Donovan Smith
LG Ali Marpet
C Ryan Jensen
RG Alex Cappa
RT Tristan Wirfs
T Brad Seaton
T Joe Haeg
T Josh Wells
G Zack Bailey
G Aaron Stinnie
C Anthony Fabiano

This is a big question mark for Tampa Bay. Wirfs is one of my favorite tackles in this class, Marpet and Jensen are close to great, and Smith is at least a solid starting tackle, which leaves them with a decent base. The problem is that there are question marks are right guard, not a ton of quality and proven depth, and Smith and Wirfs may not be world beaters at tackle. That’s a problem because they’ll be protecting Tom Brady, who at this stage of his career certainly needs the protection. He’s always moved around well in the pocket, but he’s also traditionally had great offensive lines in front of him in New England, and I don’t think he’ll have that here.

Who has the best offensive line in the NFC South?

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

This might be a controversial list because of where the Falcons are, and I did wrestle with this one for a while. I still think I made the right choice.

The Saints are the class of the division with one of the best young centers in the NFL, one of the league’s better tackle duos, and decent quality at guard, even if Cesar Ruiz is an unknown quantity. As much as I hate to admit it, they have the best unit in the division, both in terms of 2019 results and 2020 talent.

The Falcons are #2 because I’m a big believer in the talent. Jake Matthews remains underrated at left tackle, Alex Mack is still a great player at center, and Chris Lindstrom is going to be spectacular in a full season as a starter. I’m counting on McGary being at least solid at tackle and a capable player emerging at left guard, which I probably shouldn’t count on, but I feel like they’ll fare quite well in 2020. Look at me, being optimistic again in spite of myself.

The Buccaneers are #3 because I really wonder about three positions on that line. Donovan Smith is a fine left tackle but not a great one, Alex Cappa is merely a mediocre guard, and Tristan Wirfs is a player I like a lot but is also a rookie tackle, which means we can’t expect him to be stellar right out of the gate. They’re more than set at left guard and center, but that alone does not a line make, especially when quarterback is effectively immobile.

The Panthers, finally, are a work in progress along the offensive line like they will be most everywhere in 2020. Paradis and Moton are quite good, but Daley, Okung, and Miller are good players at best. Their saving grace is some nice depth between Greg Little and Tyler Larsen, but I’m not counting on this being a great line until they add some more pieces to it.

Hopefully, the Falcons will live up to my lofty ranking this season. How would you rank the NFC South offensive lines?