Over the last several days, we’ve been looking at each position group on the various NFC South defenses and figuring out who has it best. With that work complete, it’s now time to move past the breakdowns at safety, cornerback, linebacker, and along the defensive line to determine which D is superior heading into 2019. You probably won’t like the answer.
Let’s get into it.
I don’t love ranking the Saints this highly for a number of reasons. I firmly believe some of their talent is overrated, most notably Marshon Lattimore, and that they’re an injury or two away from being quite average. I can’t ignore reality, however.
The Saints were around the 10th best defense in the league in terms of scoring and yardage a year ago, and they’re returning most of their personnel from that squad, plus speedy rookie Zack Baun. Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport are big question marks, but they have one of the division’s better secondaries, a solid group of linebackers, and probably the most talented defensive line on paper despite all that. I’ll be rooting for them to disappoint, but the Saints are the most talented group by a thin margin, and I think their results are pretty sustainable.
Again, I hate to say it, but this is a talented defense.
The young cornerback group is one of the biggest reasons to believe in the Bucs, but they have been painstakingly building up their front seven and have plenty to show for it. Shaquil Barrett was an absolute monster last year, Devin White is going to be a stud sooner than later, and guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh are plenty talented. Football Outsiders had them ranked as the 5th best defense in the NFL by DVOA even if the yards and points were more lackluster, and with so many young players in prominent roles, it’s fair to say they could be even better in 2020.
Why am I not putting them ahead of the Saints? Barrett is probably coming back down to earth a bit, I do think relying on so many young defensive backs carries real risk, and Antoine Winfield Jr. could be special soon but may not be in his rookie season. It’ll be a good defense, but I’m not 100% sure it’ll be a great one.
#3: Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have the talent to be the top team on this list. That may sound controversial but it’s really not, not with Deion Jones and Grady Jarrett among the best at their positions, Dante Fowler Jr. coming off a terrific year, and a secondary loaded up with promising youth. It’s just that so few of their players are proven high-end options that it’s impossible to forecast a massive leap.
I like the addition of Fowler and rookie Marlon Davidson to help lift the defensive line, I think the linebacker group will be just fine with Debo and Foye Oluokun, and I really think A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, and the rest of the gang have enough ability to make this a dangerous secondary. We’ll just have to see whether it comes together the way we want it to or not.
The Panthers won’t be down long, not with Brian Burns and Donte Jackson and a strong incoming draft class. I just think that minus Luke Kuechly and with a suspect secondary, they are probably last on this list for 2020 for a team that seems unlikely to contend.
Remember, they were worse than the Falcons a year ago, and the Falcons were a historic train wreck through the first eight games of the season. That speaks volumes.
How would you rank these defense?