Atlanta Falcons

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Southern Expectations

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see what we can expect from these teams after free agency and the NFL Draft.

Atlanta Falcons: On paper we expect them to be the favorite to win the division going into the season.

They did sign Kirk Cousins in the offseason. Quarterback play was the team’s Achilles heel last season. They were 7-10 and finding a solid QB should improve their record by at least two games.

The offense has weapons so we expected them to draft a pass rusher. Instead, they drafted Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. with the # 8 pick. At best he becomes a starter in two years. Unfortunately, he will not be on the field immediately to help a team that is built to win now.

They did use their next four draft picks on defensive players but they still did not address their glaring need to improve the pass rush. I think Atlanta can win nine or 10 games. If they make it to the playoffs I expect them to lose in the first round.

Carolina Panthers: This team seems to be in permanent rebuild mode.

They had first year head coach Frank Reich last season and he was fired in November after starting 1-10. They finished the season with the worst record in the NFL, 2-15. They traded their 2024 first round pick in the 2023 draft to move up and select QB Bryce Young # 1.

The team was terrible so I can’t put all of the blame on Young. The # 2 pick from 2023, CJ Stroud had a great season. They will always be compared to each other so we do need to see Young get better in his second season.

In free agency they signed: Robert Hunt, Damien Lewis, A’Shawn Robinson, Josey Jewell and Dane Jackson. Hunt and Lewis are guards that will improve the interior offensive line. Robinson is a defensive tackle that has appeared in 110 games, with 74 starts.

In the first round of the draft Carolina selected wide receiver Xavier Legette (South Carolina) # 32. They really need weapons for Young so this was a good pick.

In the second round they selected running back Jonathan Brooks (Texas). He’s a great player but he tore his ACL in November so he will not be available at the beginning of the season.

I think the Panthers have improved slightly and will win five or six games.

New Orleans Saints: In free agency they signed: defensive end Chase Young, wide receiver Stanley Morgan, linebacker Willie Gay, wide receiver Cedrick Wilson, and quarterback Nathan Peterman.

In the first round they selected offensive tackle Taliese Fuaga (Oregon State) # 14. Their second round pick was cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama).

New Orleans was 9-8 last season. I expect them to win eight or nine games in 2024.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They were 9-8 and won the division in 2023. They beat Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. They exceeded expectations last year.

In free agency they signed safety Jordan Whitehead, cornerback Bryce Hall, guard Ben Bredeson and guard Sua Opeta.

They drafted center Graham Barton (Duke) # 26. In the second round they selected edge rusher Chris Braswell (Alabama).

I expect them to compete for the division title and win nine or ten games.

Around The South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2024 NFL Draft is in April so it is coming up soon. Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see who each team will take with their first pick.

Atlanta (7-10): The Falcons have the No. 8 pick. They fired head coach Arthur Smith shortly after losing to the New Orleans Saints in the season finale. Raheem Morris was hired as the new head coach.

They need to obtain a franchise quarterback but they are picking too late to address that. The top three quarterback prospects; Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels should be selected with the first three picks.

Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy might still be on the board so he might be an option. Atlanta still has the option of trading for a veteran free agent quarterback like Russell Wilson or Justin Fields. I believe they will do that, so I think they will select a pass rusher.

Florida State defensive end Jared Verse might prove to be the best pass rusher in the draft. He’s 6’4 and 260 pounds so he has good size.

In his two years in Tallahassee, he had 18 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss. It seems like we talk about how Atlanta cannot get to the quarterback every season, so this would be a great pick.

New Orleans (9-8): They have the No. 14 pick. The Saints finished second in the division and had a winning record. Head coach Dennis Allen is entering his third season and he wants to make the playoffs next season.

Quarterback Derek Carr played well in his first season in the Big Easy and he dramatically reduced his interceptions.

The biggest area that needs to be addressed is the interior defensive line.

Defensive lineman Byron Murphy II (Texas) would be a good pick here. He’s 6’1, 308 lbs. and he has the size to clog up the middle and stop the run.

The interior defensive line might become a strength because he will be paired with 2023 first-round pick Bryan Bresee.

Tampa Bay (9-8): The Bucs have the No. 26 pick. They surprised everyone last season by making the playoffs and beating the reigning NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles 32-9 in the Wild Card round.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield revived his career and played well.

Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans is expected to be a free agent. The general belief is that he will leave Tampa to go to a contending team. They will need to draft a No. 1 receiver to help fill that void.

Wide receiver Keon Coleman (Florida State) could be his replacement. Like Evans, he’s a big target at 6’4 and 215 pounds. He has not had an amazing season in college so he still needs to develop.

His best season was as a sophomore at Michigan State when he had 58 catches, 798 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Last season at FSU he had 50 catches, 658 yards and 11 TD’s.

Carolina (2-15): The Panthers were awful last season. They traded up to select QB Bryce Young with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft and they traded away their 2024 first round pick.

They will have the first pick of the second round at No. 33.

They need to help Young by surrounding him with weapons. They may select wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (Texas). He spent his first two seasons at Georgia before transferring to Texas in 2023. Last season he had 55 receptions, 845 yards and 11 scores. He’s 6’4 so he is a big target.

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch February 8

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch February 8
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Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch January 31

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch January 31
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NFC South Week 1 Recap

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL season kicked off yesterday. I’m going to take a look around the NFC South and see what we can take away from these performances.

Atlanta- 24 Carolina- 10: As a Falcons fan I’ve always been grateful to the Panthers. No matter how bad the Falcons are you can always count on one win against the guys from Charlotte.

I expected it to be a rough day for Bryce Young since he’s a rookie quarterback on a bad team making his debut. The first pick in the draft went 20-38 passing for 146 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. I expect him to get better as the season goes on.

I was curious how the Falcons backfield would look since they drafted Bijan Robinson with the 8th pick in the 2023 draft. Tyler Allgeier rushed for over one thousand yards last season as a rookie.  Allgeier rushed for 75 yards and two TD’s on 15 carries. Robinson had 10 carries for 56 yards and 6 receptions for 27 yards and a score.

“This was a super-fun first game for me,” Robinson said. “I just can’t wait to showcase what we’ve got going down the line.”

Desmond Ridder is not the franchise quarterback of the future. He was efficient passing the ball, completing 15 of 18 attempts. He only passed for 115 yards though. He does not throw the ball downfield so playmakers like Kyle Pitts or Drake London can excel. London had zero catches and only 1 target. Pitts caught 2 passes for 44 yards.

Tampa Bay- 20 Minnesota-17: This game surprised me and left me thinking the Buccaneers have a chance to win the division. It’s way too early to make that prediction but they were the most impressive NFC South team yesterday.

Tom Brady retired for good, allegedly, and they replaced him with Baker Mayfield. The former number one pick is a journeyman who is on his last opportunity to be a starter in the NFL. He passed for 174 yards and 2 TD’s. Those aren’t impressive numbers but it is a big deal that he did not throw a pick. Mike Evans caught 6 passes for 66 yards and a score.

“It just comes with playing quarterback for a long time,” said Mayfield, who hopped from the Browns to the Panthers to the Rams to before landing with the Bucs. “The most important play is the next one.”

The Vikings won the NFC North last season and made the playoffs so this is a good win. Kirk Cousins passed for 344 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also lost 2 fumbles so the defense did a good job causing turnovers.

New Orleans- 16 Tennessee- 15: Derek Carr made his debut with the Saints and he did a decent job. He threw for 305 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. He was sacked four times so he took a beating.

“I’m glad we won. That’s all I wanted to do,” said Carr. “That was one of the more physical games I’ve played in my 10 years. … We showed that we could win the ultimate physical type of game.”

Star running back Alvin Kamara is suspended the first three games of the season. Jamaal Williams had 18 carries for 45 yards, which is a paltry 2.5 yards per carry.

Second year receiver Chris Olave led the team with 8 catches and 112 yards.

New Orleans was the favorite to win the division before the season started. I think the Bucs will challenge them.

 

NFC South Rookie Of The Year?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2023 NFL season will start in a few weeks. Let’s take a look around the NFC South and see what rookies in the division will have the biggest impact.

Bryce Young, Carolina: Young was the first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft so we have to start with him. He had a lot of success at Alabama. He won the Heisman Trophy in 2021, won the SEC Championship and led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship game.

His biggest question at the next level is his size. He’s only 5’10, 205 pounds. He has a slight build so we do not know if he can take the punishment from being hit by pro defenders.

He is the projected starter Week 1 and we keep hearing positive things from his teammates.

The Panthers played the Giants in their second preseason game last week. Young finished 3-of-6 for 35 yards on two series at MetLife Stadium, making him 7-of-12 for 56 yards in two preseason games.

“I thought Bryce looked sharp,” coach Frank Reich said. “Put together a nice drive. Would have liked to have finished if off [with a touchdown]. Obviously, unhappy with the number of penalties we had.

“But I thought Bryce looked sharp. I think he wanted to throw the ball more, but I thought he looked sharp.”

Bijan Robinson, Atlanta: The Falcons picked Robinson with the No. 8 pick in the draft, which raised some eyebrows.

Rookie Tyler Allgier rushed for 1,035 yards, 3 touchdowns and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. He only started seven games so he did well in a limited role, so it did not look like the Falcons needed another running back.

They also still have Cordarrele Patterson and they are listed as the top two backs on the depth chart.

The value of running backs has gone down since most offenses showcase the passing game.

Robinson was the top rated back and he had a great career at Texas. He won the Doak Walker Award last year and he was a unanimous All-American. He rushed for 1,580 yards and 18 TD’s. Running backs can make an immediate impact so he is expected to produce like Saquon Barkley did as a rookie in 2018. Barkley had 2,028 all-purpose yards and 15 scores.

Bryan Bresee, New Orleans: Bresee was selected 29th in the draft.

He was considered as the top recruit coming out of high school but he did not live up to that at Clemson. He is 6’5, 305 pounds, so he has prototypical size for a defensive tackle.

He is a very good athlete with excellent strength so he should help the Saints interior line. In the second preseason game against the Chargers he recovered a fumble.

Calijah Kancey, Tampa Bay: Kancey was the 19th player selected and he draws comparisons to another Pitt defensive tackle, Aaron Donald.

He was a unanimous All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year.

In 2022 he started 11 games and missed two games with an injury. He had 31 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

Kancey has great speed and he should routinely make plays in the opposing team’s backfield.

I’m looking forward to see how these rookies perform in 2023.

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