Atlanta Falcons

We All Need Something

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFC South was the worst division in the NFL in 2022. Tampa Bay won the division but finished the season with a losing record, 8 – 9.

They did rest Tom Brady after the first drive of their final regular season game, so they were trying to rest him and not risk injury going into the playoffs. The Bucs were beaten thoroughly in the Wild Card round by Dallas, 31 – 14.

The other three teams in the division all finished 7 – 10. Do any of these teams have something to look forward to in the offseason?

Surprisingly, they all need help at quarterback. We do not know if Brady is returning for the 2023 season. He was asked this and he seemed a bit annoyed.

“If I knew what I was going to f—ing do I would’ve already f—ing done it,” he told Jim Gray. “I’m taking it a day at a time. I appreciate you asking. Thank you.”

Let’s take a look at the team needs of each franchise.

Atlanta: The Falcons have the No. 8 pick in the 2023 draft. They also have the lowest sack percentage (3.6%) and second lowest QB pressure rate (22%) in the league one year after they finished last in both of those categories.

Someone has to find a spark for the Falcons’ pass rush.

The biggest needs are quarterback, edge rusher and wide receiver. They started Marcus Mariota most of the season before playing rookie Desmond Ridder. I think the most likely scenario will be to draft a defensive player with the first pick.

One pleasant surprise was the offensive line. The unit, led by right guard Chris Lindstrom and left tackle Jake Matthews, helped to pave the way for 159.9 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the NFL.

Carolina: The Panthers have glaring needs at QB, corner back and tight end. They hold the 9th pick.

Jaycee Horn is a very good young corner, but they need to get someone opposite of him. They desperately need to find stability at the quarterback position but that is difficult.

They started three different quarterbacks and even dropped Baker Mayfield during the season. That was surprising since Mayfield started the season opener.

They also traded Christian McCaffrey to the 49ers before the trade deadline. It looks like they are in full rebuilding mode.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers are picking 19th overall. With Brady’s future unknown they need to consider quarterback, defensive back and offensive line.

They had several starting offensive linemen go down with injuries and I think that’s a key reason to why they struggled.

They also fired offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich so we do not know who will replace him yet. If Brady does retire, they will have a very tough 2023 season.

New Orleans: The Saints traded their first-round pick to Philadelphia last April. The Eagles have the No. 10 pick thanks to that deal.

Now the first pick is No. 41 in the second round. They need a quarterback, safety, defensive tackle, guard and wide receiver.

Jameis Winston has been injury prone the last two seasons and he has not played as well as expected.

The division could be wide open next season. We will get a clearer picture after free agency and the draft.

 

 

Grounded in 2022

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Going into the 2022 NFL season the expectations were low for the Atlanta Falcons.

They traded Matt Ryan in the offseason to Indianapolis. Ryan had been the starting quarterback in Atlanta since he was drafted in 2008.

Veteran journeyman Marcus Mariota signed a two-year deal and was named the starter in March 2022. They also drafted Desmond Ridder out of Cincinnati in the third round (74th overall) in the 2022 NFL draft.

I thought the Falcons were good enough to win six games before the season started. They went 7 – 10, primarily because Tampa Bay clinched the NFC South and rested several starters in the final game of the season.

Mariota had an outstanding college career. As a junior at Oregon in 2014 he won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Manning Award, Walter Camp Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and was named the AP College Football Player of the year.

He was drafted with the second overall pick in the 2015 draft by Tennessee, but he never lived up to the hype or expectations. He struggled with injuries and poor play before being benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill in 2019. He was a backup for the Raiders for two seasons before he signed with Atlanta.

He was clearly a short-term option at QB and the Falcons started the season 0 – 2 with losses to New Orleans and the Rams. They won their next two games against Seattle and Cleveland to get to .500.  They won two of their next four games, which were against San Francisco and Carolina.

Mariota was serviceable in the thirteen games he started, with a 5 – 8 record. He passed for 2,219 yards, 15 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and completed 61.3% of his passes. He also rushed for 438 yards and 4 scores.

He did play timid and make questionable plays. In the Week 2, 31-27 loss to the LA Rams Atlanta had the ball and was driving in the final six seconds. They were at the 50-yard line and had to throw a Hail Mary. He scrambled around running out the last 6 seconds, got sacked and fumbled.

Ridder started the final four games, going 2 – 2. He did not throw his first touchdown pass until Week 18 against Tampa. In those four games he threw for 708 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 picks and completed 63.5% of his passes. I’m not sure if he has done enough to not make Atlanta consider drafting a quarterback in the upcoming draft.

The future looks bright because they have some talented skill position players. Rookie Drake London (USC) was drafted 8th in the 2022 draft. He had 72 receptions, 4 touchdowns and 3 fumbles.

Fellow rookie running back Tyler Allgier (BYU) was a fifth-round pick and he played well down the stretch. He only started seven games, but he rushed for 1,035 yards, 3 scores and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.

Starting running back/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson missed five games this season due to injury.

Atlanta ranked 27th in total defense, giving up 362.1 yards per game and 22.7 points per game. They are currently looking to hire a new defensive coordinator.

“It will be refreshing to go in there as we get to more formal interviews and hear other people’s perspectives and learn a lot about people,” coach Arthur Smith said. “We’ll hire the best candidate, but the way we built it won’t change.”

The Falcons will pick eight in 2023 so they have an opportunity to draft a superstar.

 

South Games

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2022 NFL season kicks off this week. Let’s take a look at the Week 1 NFC South matchups.

New Orleans @ Atlanta: This is a classic rivalry that has been played since both teams started playing in 1966 and 1967, respectively.

The expectations for these two teams are extremely different. The Falcons traded veteran quarterback Matt Ryan in the offseason and they are in complete rebuild mode.

Marcus Mariota has taken over and he had one of the best college careers in recent memory. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and led his team to the national championship game. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft, selected by Tennessee. Injuries and inconsistent play derailed his career. Now he’s trying to reach that potential in Atlanta.

The best pass catcher on the roster is second year tight end Kyle Pitts. The Falcons drafted wide receiver Drake London (USC) 8th overall but he got hurt in the first preseason game. They also have running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who is coming off of a great 2021 season.

The Saints are replacing head coach Sean Payton who retired in the offseason. He was there since 2006 so there might be some growing pains. He was replaced with Dennis Allen, who was the team’s defensive coordinator from 2015 to 2021.

New Orleans is expected to be a playoff team if they can stay healthy. Quarterback Jameis Winston, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 draft is returning from an MCL sprain that ended his season in October.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas missed the entire 2021 season with a foot injury and he is also coming back.

“With Marcus Mariota, now we’ve got to go back and watch some Vegas film, maybe watch some Tennessee film,” Cameron Jordan said. “We’ve got to break down who he is because he’s not a traditional pocket passer like Matt was. This is going to change up their game a lot.”

I think the Saints win this game easily.

Carolina vs Cleveland: This is interesting because Baker Mayfield was traded from the Browns to Carolina in July. He was the Cleveland starting QB the past four seasons, until they signed Deshaun Watson in the offseason. We know he’s going to want to get revenge against his former team.

Running back Christian McCaffrey has been injured the past two seasons so he’s missed a ton of games. If he can stay healthy, he’s one of the best players in the league.

Watson is suspended the first eleven games of the season so backup Jacoby Brissett will play.

Cleveland has an elite back with Nick Chubb but I expect them to struggle on offense. I’m picking the Panthers to win.

Tampa Bay @ Dallas: This is a good Sunday night game of teams that made the playoffs last season. They also played the season opener in 2021 in Tampa.

Tom Brady is now 45 years old but his play hasn’t slowed down. The Buccaneers have had injuries to the interior of their offensive line that could cause some problems.

Receiver Chris Godwin tore his ACL in Week 15 last season. He’s making a good recovery and will possibly be ready to play Week 1. If he does the question is how will he look coming off the injury? It typically takes one year for the knee to fully recover.

I think the Bucs will win a close game against the Cowboys.

 

Ridder Respect

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

With the 74th pick in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft the Atlanta Falcons selected Desmond Ridder QB of Cincinnati.

With the selection Ridder looks like the future QB in Atlanta.

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota as a free agent for the 2022 season. The drafting of Ridder signals that Mariota is a bridge quarterback that will play until Ridder is ready to take over the job.

I am guessing by midway through the 2022 season the reigns of the franchise will be handed over to Ridder.

Ridder is a great athlete with an above average NFL arm. He should be able to make all the throws. He ran a 4.52 forty at the NFL Combine so he will be a threat with his legs if the pocket breaks down.

Ridder has a reputation as a student of the game with tremendous work ethic. He started 48 games at Cincinnati so experience should not be an issue.

Some mock drafts had Ridder going in the bottom of the first round so the Falcons got excellent value by him being there at the 74th pick. He finished his college career with over 10,000 yards passing, 87 TD’s to only 28 interceptions. He also rushed for 2,180 yards with 28 TD’s.

He became the Bearcats’ starting quarterback as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and passed for 2,445 yards and 20 touchdowns and gained 583 yards rushing along with 5 touchdowns. He was named the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Rookie of the Year for the 2018 season.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, Ridder completed 179 of 325 passes for 2,164 yards and 18 touchdowns against 9 interceptions, while also rushing for 650 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Ridder was named the MVP of the 2020 Birmingham Bowl leading the Bearcats to a win over Boston College.

The 2020 season would prove to be a breakout campaign for the junior QB. Ridder was named the AAC Offensive Player of the Year after passing 2,296 yards, and 19 touchdowns with 6 interceptions, while also rushing for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns. Ritter played well in the Peach Bowl in a close loss to Georgia.

Ridder led the Bearcats to national prominence in 2021 as the No. 7 Bearcats defeated No. 9 Notre Dame on the road.

Ridder went 19-of-32 for 297 yards and 2 TDs. In addition, he rushed for 26 yards and a game-sealing fourth quarter touchdown as the Bearcats snapped the Fighting Irish’s 26-game home winning streak.

Following an unbeaten 12-0 season, Ridder and the Bearcats went into the 2021 American Athletic Conference Football Championship Game ranked number four in the AP Polls, meaning a victory would see them stay in a playoff spot.

Following a 35-20 win over the Houston Cougars, they became the first Group of Five team to make the playoffs, as well as the last major undefeated team going into the post-season. Cincinnati lost to Alabama in the college football playoff 27-6 to finish with a fine 13-1 record.

 

Career highlights and awards:

2× AAC Offensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021)

AAC Rookie of the Year (2018)

2× First team All-AAC (2020, 2021)

Birmingham Bowl MVP (2020)

 

Desmond Ridder is a deal for the Atlanta Falcons.

Excellent value/need pick in third round. He brings a quiet confidence to the QB room. He brings some intangibles to the position that the Falcons have not seen in over a decade. Those are mobility, athleticism, and youth.

The Matty Ice era in Atlanta is over. The only memories that remain are the agony of blowing a 25-point lead in the Super Bowl with 2:00 remaining in the third quarter.

Can Desmond Ridder be the next great QB in Atlanta? The jury is out on that right now, but this kid has the work ethic and talent to be an above average to great NFL Quarterback.

Making The Grade?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL Draft is over and now we have an idea of what each team will look like next year.

Several players will surprise or disappoint fans as time goes on. Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see how each team did.

Atlanta: The Falcons did a good job on not reaching for a quarterback in the first round.

They selected USC wide receiver Drake London with the 8th pick. He’s a big target at 6’3 7/8 and 219 pounds. In 8 games last season he had 88 receptions for 1,084 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Calvin Ridley is suspended the entire season so he will be the #1 receiver. He should do well paired with tight end Kyle Pitts.

In the second round they drafted Edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie (Penn State) and linebacker Troy Anderson (Montana State). In Anderson’s case I think they fell in love with measurables. He’s 6’3 ½, 243 lbs. and he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash.

Ebiketie played his first three seasons at Temple. In 2021 he had 62 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.

They also drafted quarterback Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), edge rusher DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky), running back Tyler Allgeier (BYU), guard Justin Shaffer (UGA) and tight end John FitzPatrick (UGA).

Grade: B

Carolina: The Panthers selected tackle Ikem Ekwonu (NC State) with the 6th pick.

Ekwonu is a great combination of size (6’4, 310 lbs.), power and athletic ability.

Carolina had the 31st ranked offensive line last season so this helps address a serious need.

Trades for Sam Darnold and C.J. Henderson left them light on picks.

Carolina also drafted QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss), linebacker Brandon Smith (Penn State), edge rusher Amare Barno (Va Tech), guard Cade Mays (Tennessee) and corner back Kalon Barnes (Baylor).

Getting Corral in the third round may be great value for a potential starting quarterback.

Smith should compete in the linebacker rotation.

Grade: A-

New Orleans: The Saints had two first round picks and they got WR Chris Olave (Ohio State) and tackle Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa). They should both be immediate contributors.

Trevor Penning is reminiscent of Terron Armstead as a prospect. He’s an uber-athletic tackle coming from a small school. He’ll now replace Armstead, who started 93 games for the Saints over the past nine seasons before signing with the Dolphins this offseason.

Olave was extremely productive in college and he might be the best route runner in this draft class.

The other picks were CB Alontae Taylor (Tennessee), LB D’Marco Jackson (Appalachian State) and defensive lineman Jordan Jackson (Air Force).

Grade: B+

Tampa Bay: The Bucs didn’t have a first-round pick. They had two second round picks and they got defensive lineman Logan Hall (Houston) and guard Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan).

Hall will probably begin his career as a defensive tackle but could develop into a pass-rusher. Goedeke might be the biggest sleeper among interior linemen.

They also selected RB Rachaad White (Arizona State), TE Cade Otton (Washington), kicker Jake Camarda (UGA), CB Zyon McCollum (Sam Houston State), TE Ko Kieft (Minnesota) and edge rusher Andre Anthony (LSU).

I don’t think there are any All-Pro players in this draft class. This draft is more about getting role players that can help them get back to the Super Bowl.

Grade: B

Needy Falcons

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Falcons may not want to admit it but they are in full rebuild mode. They finished the 2021 season 7 – 10 and have the #8 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Atlanta traded quarterback Matt Ryan to Indianapolis in the offseason.

The Falcons signed Marcus Mariota but he is not a long-term solution. We are going to take a look at their biggest needs and the player they could select for that.

Wide receiver has to be the top need. Calvin Ridley is suspended the 2022 season for gambling. Before his suspension Ridley missed the majority of last season with mental health issues.

The #2 target, Russell Gage signed with division rival Tampa Bay in the offseason.

Atlanta should draft multiple pass catchers throughout the draft but if they get one in the first round, they can choose the best option.

That means Drake London (USC) or Garrett Wilson (Ohio State) will be selected, depending on which one is available.

Edge rusher is a big need. Atlanta only had 18 sacks last season which ranked last in the league. They released their best pass rusher, Dante Fowler Jr. and did little to upgrade the position in free agency.

Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux’s stock seems to be sliding as we get closer to the draft. Thibodeaux was the top player in the nation as a high school senior and he’s very talented. They may draft a great player that will have a chip on his shoulder.

Quarterback is also a big need. I thought they would have addressed that last year when they had the 4th pick and the 2021 quarterback class was deeper. They selected tight end Kyle Pitts with that pick.

This year’s QB class is not as good and none of them are actually good enough to be a top-10 pick. The top two options at the position are Kenny Pickett (Pitt) and Malik Willis. Pickett is more equipped to play immediately.

Nose tackle might also be a need. Grady Jarrett could be released or traded before Fall camp. Jarrett has been a force for Atlanta since being drafted in 2014. He does not fit well in defensive coordinator Dean Pee’s scheme. They want someone that can play in a two-gap system and bull rush up the middle.

Georgia’s Jordan Davis would be a good fit. If they wait until Day 2, UConn’s Travis Jones would be a good fit.

The last need is between tight end or running back. Head coach Arthur Smith came from Tennessee where they had star running back Derrick Henry.

The Falcons resigned Cordarrelle Patterson and retained Mike Smith. They also will not select a running back that high so they will still probably address the position later.

Smith loves to use two tight end sets. Pitts is the flex, but the Smith is going to want a more traditional player, who can be an efficient blocker while helping in the passing game.

This is likely a Day 3 selection, so keep an eye on Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar and Texas A&M’s Jalen Wydermyer as the best options.

Leaving The Nest

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Is there proper etiquette to trade the best player in a franchise’s history?

There’s no written rule for something like that but I’m sure the Atlanta Falcons handled that poorly. Matt Ryan has been the starting quarterback since 2008.

Last week Atlanta was one of four finalists trying to trade for Deshaun Watson. Watson ended up being traded to Cleveland and that led to this trade. Ryan, a four-time Pro Bowler was traded to Indianapolis for a third-round pick.

“This was a difficult decision, but it was made easier by Matt’s professionalism and understanding throughout,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said in a statement released by the team. “Our goal in every decision is to improve our organization for the long term. We believe today’s agreement is the best long-term decision, not only for our organization, but also the best for Matt.”

The team will take a substantial $40.5 million salary cap hit in dead money to move on from Ryan and his contract.

The Colts, who are not making any changes in the contract, will have Ryan for two years at $24.7 million in 2022 and $28.2 million in 2023.

Dead money counts against the salary cap even though the player is no longer with a team. All of the bonus money paid to Ryan accelerates into this year’s salary cap for the Falcons, who were already at $20 million in dead money mostly from the Julio Jones and Dante Fowler contracts.

“This business is not without its difficult decisions, and while this is one of the most difficult decisions we have faced as a club, we feel it is in the best long-term interests of both the Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said a statement released by the team. “On behalf of the entire Falcons organization, I wish him success as he continues his career and know that he will bring the same dedication and professionalism to his next club.”

I think this was the best-case scenario for Ryan. The Colts have a good offensive line, the leading rusher from last season (Jonathan Taylor) and a top 10 defense. He will lead the Colts to the playoffs next season.

His replacement was signed less than two hours after the team announced the trade. Marcus Mariota signed a two-year contract.

Mariota, 28, was originally selected by the Titans in the first round (second overall) of the 2015 NFL draft from Oregon. He completed 1,128 of 1,795 attempts (62.8%) for 13,437 yards, 77 touchdowns and 45 interceptions for an 89.5 passer rating in 74 games (61 starts) for the Titans and Raiders.

He has also rushed for 1,574 yards on 264 attempts (6.0 avg.) and 13 touchdowns. He has been the backup with the Raiders the past two seasons after his final season with the Titans in 2019.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was tight ends coach and offensive coordinator with the Titans when Mariota was in Tennessee.

Atlanta is in full rebuild mode. The question now is will they draft a quarterback with the No. 8 pick in this year’s draft or will they wait until next year?

This year’s quarterback class is considered weak so I believe the goal is to tank this season, so they get a high draft pick in 2023.

Wanna Bet On It

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley has made the headlines for a negative reason.

Ridley stepped away from football on Halloween, saying he needed to get his personal life in order.

He gambled on NFL games in 2021 and he has been suspended for at least the 2022 season.

The NFL released a statement Monday announcing his suspension, saying Ridley gambled on games over a five-day stretch in November 2021 when he was on the non-football injury list to address his mental health.

In a series of tweets, Monday after the suspension was announced, Ridley said he bet $1,500 total and that “I don’t have a gambling problem.” He also tweeted that he couldn’t even watch football at the time he made the bets. He added that he’s just going to “be more healthy when I come back” and that “I know I was wrong But I’m getting 1 year lol.”

The NFL determined that Ridley placed multilegged parlay bets involving three, five and eight games that included the Falcons to win via his mobile device out of state, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“There is nothing more fundamental to the NFL’s success — and to the reputation of everyone associated with our league — than upholding the integrity of the game,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Ridley notifying him of his suspension. “This is the responsibility of every player, coach, owner, game official, and anyone else employed in the league. Your actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football, and potentially undermined the reputations of your fellow players throughout the NFL.”

“For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy warranting the most substantial sanction. In your case, I acknowledge and commend you for your promptly reporting for an interview, and for admitting your actions.”

The NFL said its investigation uncovered no evidence that Ridley used inside information or “that any game was compromised in any way.” There also was no evidence that any of the Falcons’ coaches, staff or players were aware of his betting activity.

The earliest Ridley can apply for reinstatement is Feb. 15, 2023, the NFL said. He also can appeal the suspension by filing notice within three days, per the collective bargaining agreement. It is not known if he has appealed the punishment.

Multiple NFL teams reached out to the Falcons in recent weeks to inquire about trading for Ridley, and each time, Atlanta declined to enter into talks out of good faith, knowing the issues in store for their standout wide receiver.

Ridley’s contract will toll until 2023 and come off the books for 2022, opening up $11.1 million in salary-cap room for the Falcons.

Ridley was a disappointment last season because he only played a few games. It was his first season without Julio Jones because he was traded to Tennessee. Having a player not play for reasons that are not related to an injury is hard for a team to deal with.                                 The Falcons only have one receiver from the 53-man roster last season under contract; rookie Frank Darby.

Needy NFC South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2022 draft starts April 28th in Paradise, Nevada. I’m going to take a look at the NFC South and see who each team will draft in the first round.

#6 Carolina: The Panthers (5 – 12) have several positions they need to address. Quarterback is the biggest glaring weakness. They did trade for Sam Darnold last April. He started the season well but suffered fractured scapula during the game against New England and he missed seven games.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett would be a good pick if he’s still available. He had a breakout senior season, throwing for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, 7 interceptions while completing 67% of his passes.

If they don’t get him NC State tackle Ikem Ekwonu would also be a good pick. He’s a very good run blocker but he still needs to get better in pass protection.

#8 Atlanta: The Falcons (7 – 10) announced they have no plans to move on from Matt Ryan. The number one receiver Calvin Ridley only played in five games before missing the rest of the season. Surprisingly, it was not due to injury but to deal with personal issues. Atlanta also needs to improve on the offensive and defensive lines.

Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeux would be a great fit. The Falcons have struggled with getting pressure on the quarterback for a few seasons and he can change that. He had 7 sacks and 2 forced fumbles last season.

Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson could also fill a void if Ridley is traded. He had 70 catches for the Buckeyes with 1,058 yards and 12 scores.

#18 New Orleans: The Saints (9 – 8) had several injuries last season and started a few quarterbacks. They still wound up over .500. Sean Payton has resigned as head coach and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has replaced him.

Drew Brees retired after the 2020 season and Jameis Winston was supposed to replace him. He suffered a season ending injury so we do not know if they will resign him or move in a different direction. Star receiver Michael Thomas also missed all of last season.

If they pick a quarterback Matt Corral from Ole Miss will get selected.  He passed for 3,349 yards, 20 touchdowns, 5 picks and completed 68% of his passes. On paper he’s good but he struggles in big games.

Wide receiver Chris Olave from Ohio State could also be an option. He caught 63 passes for 936 yards and 13 TD’s.

#27 Tampa Bay: The Bucs (13 – 4) had a great season. They lost to the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. Tom Brady has retired after the season. I believe they will try to get a veteran QB to replace him as a free agent.  They could also lose Chris Godwin in free agency.

Boise State WR Khalil Shkir would be a good replacement. He primarily played in the slot last season. He only had 22% of his snaps were out wide in 2021. He caught 77 passes for 1,117 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green could also be an option. He is versatile and could play guard or right tackle. He has more than 35 starts in his three-year career so he has a lot of experience.

Pretenders or Contenders?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Week 4 of the NFL has just ended. We have a small sample size to observe which teams are contenders or pretenders. Let’s take a look around the NFC South to see which teams fall in these categories.

Atlanta Falcons: Pretenders. Atlanta (1 – 3) is currently in last place in the division. Statistically they rank poorly in several categories. The Falcons are 25th in rushing offense, 23rd in scoring and 23rd in total defense.

They had every opportunity to win the game against the Washington Football Team but the defense gave up a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game. If they won that Atlanta would have been 2 – 2 heading into a Week 5 matchup with the New York Jets (1 – 3).

The offensive line is still a problem because they can’t run the ball or protect Matt Ryan. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley have both gotten off to slow starts.

Ryan is 19th in passing yards, which is pretty low when you look at how often they pass. They are 24th in rushing attempts. The Falcons are destined to have a top 5 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Carolina Panthers: Contender. I’m surprised to say that about this team. Carolina (3 – 1) traded to get quarterback Sam Darnold from the Jets. In his three seasons in New York he looked like a bust. He’s playing drastically better in Carolina is 6th in the league in passing yards with 1,189.

Christian McCaffrey is the best all-around running back in the NFL but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver DJ Moore is tied for 2nd in receptions (30) and 4th in receiving yards (398). The combination of him and Robby Anderson can create explosive plays.

The defense has looked elite so far, ranking 3rd in total defense. They give up an average of 251 yards per game. They did give up 36 points to Dallas in their Week 4 loss so it appears that a good offense will not have trouble against them.

New Orleans: Pretenders. New Orleans (2 – 2) is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because they look completely different each week. They started the season with a dominating 38 – 3 win against Green Bay (3 – 1). The following week they were beat down by the Panthers, 26 – 7.

Week 3 they beat New England convincingly, 28 – 13. Playing the winless New York Giants at home looked like a slam dunk victory, right? They lost in overtime, 27 – 21. The Saints are 11th in total defense so they are solid. Jameis Winston is ranked 29th in passing with only 613 yards.

New Orleans does rank 7th in rushing offense. Star receiver Michael Thomas has not played yet, but he is expected to return around Week 7.

Tampa Bay: Contenders. The reigning Super Bowl champs return every starter from last season. Barring a major injury, I think the worst case scenario is getting to the NFC Championship. The Bucs (3 – 1) are 30th in rushing. With Tom Brady I guess you don’t have to worry about running the football.

Brady is 2nd in passing yards (1,356) and tied for 3rd in passing touchdowns (10). They have the best receiving corps in the league with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. The only loss was against the Los Angeles Rams (3 – 1).