The Draft Scout Roster Grades: NFC South

Our team-by-team look at every division in the NFL continues with the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints dominated the division for 15 years with Drew Brees at the helm, but with his retirement and the rise of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2021 NFL playoffs, a new king is on the thrown. Can Tom Brady and Co. keep the pace they set down the stretch last year? Can the Saints remain competitive without Brees? And what will a restart in Carolina look like for Sam Darnold at quarterback? And finally, which team has the best roster. We break it all down below.

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Atlanta Falcons

2020 Record: 4-12

Free Agent Additions:
RB Mike Davis, RB Cordarrelle Patterson, S Erik Harris, OLB Barkevious Mingo, S Duron Harmon

Draft Class:
TE Kyle Pitts (Round 1, Pick 4)
S Richie Grant (Rd 2, Pick 8)
OT Jalen Mayfield (Rd 3, Pick 4)
CB Darren Hall (Rd 4, Pick 3)
C Drew Dalman (Rd 4, Pick 9)
DT Ta’Quon Graham (Rd 5, Pick 4)
DE Ade Ogundeji (Rd 5, Pick 38)
CB Avery Williams (Rd 5, Pick 39)
WR Frank Darby (Rd 6, Pick 3)

Subtractions:
WR Julio Jones (trade), C Alex Mack, SS Keanu Neal, G Justin McCray, DE Charles Harris, FS Ricardo Allen

Overall Roster Grade: C

The Falcons still have quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but the loss of Julio Jones will no-doubt impact the offense even with the addition of elite tight end prospect Kyle Pitts via the draft. The offensive line should be solid as younger players move into starting roles at center and potentially at left guard, but the lack of a premier run game could be a factor for new head coach Arthur Smith. Mike Davis is a bruiser, but can he be the back the Falcons need?

Defensively, this roster was full of big-name talents that didn’t play up to their salaries or draft stock. Those players were largely purged in the off-season but what remains is a group that needs players to step up in the secondary and on the edge. It could be a long year for defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

The Falcons aren’t in a true rebuild, but given the team’s tight salary cap window and age of star players Ryan and Grady Jarrett, it might not be long before we see them drafting a quarterback of the future and truly rebuilding on both sides of the ball.

Carolina Panthers

2020 Record: 5-11

Free Agent Additions:
QB Sam Darnold (trade), DE Haason Reddick, LB Denzel Perryman, OC Pat Elflein, T Cameron Erving, DE Morgan Fox, CB A.J. Bouye, TE Dan Arnold

Draft Class:
CB Jaycee Horn (Round 1, Pick 8)
WR Terrace Marshall, Jr. (Rd 2, Pick 27)
OT Brady Christensen (Rd 3, Pick 6)
TE Tommy Tremble (Rd 3, Pick 20)
RB Chuba Hubbard (Rd 4, Pick 21)
DT Daviyon Nixon (Rd 5, Pick 14)
CB Keith Taylor (Rd 5, Pick 22)
OG Deonte Brown (Rd 6, Pick 9)
WR Shi Smith (Rd 6, Pick 20)
LS Thomas Fletcher (Rd 6, Pick 38)
DT Phil Hoskins (Rd 7, Pick 4)

Subtractions:
WR Curtis Samuel, QB Teddy Bridgewater (trade), RB Mike Davis

Overall Roster Grade: C

The Panthers made a lot of moves this off-season and brought in potential difference-makers at quarterback, pass-rusher and linebacker before attacking the draft with a class that received an “A+” grade from me.

But everything Matt Rhule and Co. do hinges on the play of quarterback Sam Darnold. Will a new home and new offense benefit Darnold the way it did Ryan Tannehill when he got away from Adam Gase? I tend to think it will, as will having Christian McCaffrey. Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore to throw to. The offensive line isn’t great, but has pieces that could make it solid if the skill players can stay healthy to support it.

Defensively, the Panthers have a ton of speed and got a potential shutdown corner in Jaycee Horn. They’ll be fast, attacking and tough in the middle. They’re a strong safety away from being dominant.

It’s probably too soon to talk playoffs in Carolina, but the Panthers will be a much better football team in 2021.

New Orleans Saints

2020 Record: 12-4

Free Agent Additions:
TE Nick Vannett, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon

Draft Class:
DE Payton Turner (Round 1, Pick 28)
LB Pete Warner (Rd 2, Pick 28)
CB Paulson Adebo (Rd 3, Pick 12)
QB Ian Book (Rd 4, Pick 28)
OT Landon Young (Rd 6, Pick 22)
WR Kawaan Baker (Rd 7, Pick 28)

Subtractions:
QB Drew Brees (retired), DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Janoris Jenkins, DT Sheldon Rankins, CB Justin Hardee

Overall Roster Grade: B-

Limited salary cap space and a draft choice late in each round made it very difficult for the Saints to add the kind of firepower you might expect in the off-season an historically great quarterback retires.

Instead, they’ll rely on Jameis Winston and/or Taysom Hill at quarterback and lean heavily on Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas to move the ball offensively. New Orleans has an excellent coach in Sean Payton and a very good offensive line, which could take pressure off whomever is under center this fall. But the team repeating as NFC South champions would be a surprise given uncertainty at quarterback.

Defensively, the Saints still have Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore so they’re in good shape, but they need youngsters like Marcus Davenport and Zack Baun to take on larger roles in 2021.

The Saints appear to be down, mostly at quarterback, but they shouldn’t be counted out.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2020 Record: 11-5; Super Bowl Champions

Free Agent Additions:
RB Giovani Bernard

Draft Class:
DE Joe Tyron (Round 1, Pick 32)
QB Kyle Trask (Rd 2, Pick 32)
OT Robert Hainsey (Rd 3, Pick 32)
WR Jaelon Darden (Rd 4, Pick 24)
LB K.J. Britt (Rd 5, Pick 32)
CB Chris Wilcox (Rd 7, Pick 24)
LB Grant Stuard (Rd 7, Pick 32)

Subtractions:
OT Joe Haeg, CB Ryan Smith

Overall Roster Grade: A+

When the defending Super Bowl champions return everyone—all 22 starters and all coaches—from the previous season, it’s easy to feel great about their roster. That’s how the Tampa Bay Bucs look on paper as the team returns in-tact minus a few bit players and with the addition of a full draft class.

Offensively, the Bucs have the advantage of more time for Tom Brady and his supporting cast to gel after a 2020 off-season that largely didn’t exist. That showed as Brady and his receivers didn’t look to be on the same page early in the year as they struggled with chemistry and injuries. It’s scary to think the Tampa offense could be better in 2021, but they should be.

The defense could also be better as key players like Devin White continue to improve and a young secondary gels together even stronger. The depth on defense is outstanding, especially in the back-end, and presents match-up problems for all kinds of offenses.

The expectation will be a Super Bowl for the Buccaneers, and the early look at this roster shows they’re talented enough to repeat.