NFC South starting lineup grades

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They are coming out quickly now, getting ready for opening weekend. Here is the NFC South starting lineup grades.

New Orlean Saints

eileenploh / Pixabay

Atlanta Falcons
QB Matt Ryan is often overrated, but mostly gets the job done. Most mistakes come from trying to do too much. His contract extension was sizable but structured well. B+
RB Devonta Freeman Speaking of overrated…though his ceiling tops out well below that of Ryan. How much does Freeman really have in the tank? B-
WR Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and R Calvin Ridley. Drafting Ridley was an odd choice for a team with 2 solid receivers and a lot of defensive issues. Still, this group will help Ryan put points on the board. B+
TE Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen. Hooper has some potential but makes a lot of critical mistakes. Paulson was a nice veteran FA addition and is a solid blocker. C+
OL LT Jake Matthews LG Andy Levitre C Alex Mack RG Wes Schweitzer RT Ryan Schraeder team is returning all 5 starters, but Brandon Fusco may push Schweitzer for the RG job. Mack is an All Pro. Levitre is an excellent run blocker but is coming off an injury. B-
DL Takkarist McKinley, Terrell McClain, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley Letting Dontari Poe leave remains a huge mistake. Claybourn is also gone (NE). Beasley and Jarrett are respectable. McKinley showed good pass rush skills his rookie season, but this group still feels soft. C
LB WLB Duke Riley MLB Deion Jones SLB De’Vondre Campbell. Jones is a Pro Bowler. Campbell is improving and has benefited from the move to SAM in 2017. Riley is behind the rest of the group and there’s not much depth. C
DB CB Robert Alford, Desmond Trufant, Brian Poole. Lack of depth and underperformance in critical situations in this group contributed hugely to the Falcons demise last season. Attempts to bolster CB this offseason with Justin Bethel (Cardinals) and Isaiah Oliver didn’t  impress me much.  FS Keanu Neal, SS Ricardo Allen. Lots of depth in this group. Allen is a true QB of the defense. C+ (safeties B+, CBs C-)
Carolina Panthers 
QB Cam Newton gets an A when it comes to natural talent, but that will never matter unless he finally gets his head screwed on straight. C
RB CJ Anderson, Christian McCaffrey. Anderson was a nice pickup, but the acquisition is getting more attention than it should. McCaffrey is a stellar pass catcher and excels at finding the end zone, but can’t realistically carry the load on the ground. C+
WR Torrey Smith, Devin Funchess, DJ Moore. Underwhelming but functional group. Can Moore be a breakout contributor? Big changes this offseason, but are the really any different in terms of where they rank than the disappointing receiving corps from 2017? C
TE Greg Olsen is among the league’s best. A
OL LT Matt Kalil, LG Amini Silatolu, C Ryan Kalil, RG Trai Turner, RT Taylor Moton. The Panthers have lost 3 starters to injury, all of whom have uncertain timetables. Matt Kalil just had his knee scoped. The depth isn’t good and the term “position catastrophe” has been tossed around by local media. D
DL Julius Peppers, Dontari Poe, Kawann Short, Mario Addison Solid across all 4 spots. Poe was a near perfect replacement for Star Lotulelei. Depth is the only potential issue. A-
LB SLB Shaq Thompson, MLB Luke Kuechly, WLB Thomas Davis. Kuechly is among the league’s best. Davis will start the season serving a four-game suspension. The Panthers have some depth to absorb that, but it’s largely unproven. B+.
DB CB James Bradberry, Kevon Seymour, FS Mike Adams, SS Da’Norris Searcy. Bradberry and Adams are the only returning starters after a season in which this group sank the entire defense. Searcy has experience but will be pushed in camp by younger candidates. Lots of questions about how the lack of depth here will impact play against teams using heavy receiver sets. C-
New Orleans Saints
QB Drew Brees can throw successfully to anyone, against anyone, protected by anyone, and he never gets injured despite advancing age. A
RB Mark Ingram (suspended 4 games PEDs), Alvin Kamara. Ingram was overrated last season and will go right back to being the Ingram we all know and hate now that he’s off the PEDs. Kamara has a ton of talent and can pick up the slack during Ingram’s suspension, but can he stay healthy? B-
WR Ted Ginn Jr., Michael Thomas, Tre’Quan Smith, Cameron Meredith. Unremarkable group? Yes. Does it matter? Not a bit. Brees spreads the ball around better than anyone in football and can make mediocre receivers look good. C+
TE Benjamin Watson, Josh Hill. Watson is a good leader who once had good physical talent, but he’s old and has had multiple head injuries. C
OL LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, RT Ryan Ramczyk. This might be the best OL in the league. They’re not an A in a vacuum, but they sure are when you grade on a bell curve. A
DL Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Tyeler Davison, Alex Okafor, R Marcus Davenport. Potentially excellent, especially in terms of depth, but can they continue to develop at the pace they achieved last year? Was drafting Davenport really the right way to go? B-
LB SLB AJ Klein, MLB Manti Te’o WLB Demario Davis. Weakest and most concerning unit on an otherwise up-and-coming, solid defense. Worst LB corps in the division. Klein has good experience as Kuechly’s backup in Carolina, but can he stand on his own? C-
DB CB Ken Crawley, Marshon Lattimore, Patrick Robinson FS Marcus Williams SS Kurt Coleman. Critical youth-driven mistakes cost them dearly in the playoffs last season. That should improve as the group ages and gains experience. B
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
QB Jameis Winston starts the season with a 3-game suspension and can’t stay out of trouble, forcing Fitzpatrick to start for the 3 opening tilts and possibly again if Winston can’t keep it together. On the field, Winston has been decent but seems to have stagnated in terms of career progress, likely a coaching issue. C
RB Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Ronald Jones. Hugely concerning unless you’re a big believer in the potential of Ronald Jones. Did it really make sense to release Doug Martin? C-
WR Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson. Evans is as good as it gets, Jackson has lost some flash but still contributes well. Depth is decent but not exceptional. A-
TE OJ Howard, Cameron Brate Howard is well on his way to being a star at the position. A-
OL LT Donovan Smith LG Ali Marpet C Ryan Jensen RG Caleb Benenoch, Demar Dotson. Tons of issues with 80% of starters returning from a disastrous 2017 group, though positions have been rejiggered slightly. This is still a bottom half of the league line. D+
DL Jason Pierre-Paul, Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen (R Vita Vea), Vinny Curry The talent level here is ridiculous, but the group underachieved horrifically last season. We mostly blamed coaching, and unfortunately that doesn’t look like it will change much. The players themselves get a B+
LB SLB Adarius Taylor MLB Kwon Alexander WLB Lavonte Davis. This group underachieved far less than others on this defense last season, and their positional coach was hired away. B+
DB CB Vernon Hargreaves, Brent Grimes, R Carlton Davis, S Chris Conte, Justin Evans. A lot of youth and inexperience in the position group. Hargreaves has had some injury issues, and the safeties concern me. C-

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