Carolina PAnthers

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.

 

Down South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

All four teams in the NFC South report to mandatory minicamp this month. Let’s take a look at some key storylines for each team.

Atlanta: The Falcons offense has been receiving some hype recently. Is it smoke and mirrors or is it legit?

Quarterback Desmond Ridder is going into his second season and he’s expected to drastically improve. He was picked in the third round of the 2022 draft and he was the backup to Marcus Mariota for most of the 2022 season. I think he’s a huge question mark and I don’t put much faith in him.

There are some playmakers like Kyle Pitts that look good on paper. As a rookie in 2021 he had over a thousand yards and one touchdown. He played ten games in 2022 and had 356 yards and 2 scores. He has great size and speed so we will see if that will make him an elite tight end.

Wide receiver Drake London had a good rookie year with 72 catches, 866 yards and 4 TD’s.

Rookie running back Tyler Allgier started seven games and he finished with over one thousand yards and 3 scores. Then Atlanta added Bijan Robinson, who was considered the best RB in the 2023 draft.

I have a feeling they won’t quite be the 1998 Vikings or 2007 Patriots offense.

Carolina: The Panthers drafted former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young with the top pick in the 2023 draft.

Now we will see if he can help turn the franchise around. Young is only 5’10 and 204 pounds so there are questions about his durability in the NFL.

Christian McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco last season, so the offense lacks playmakers.

They did sign wide receiver Adam Thielen as a free agent. His last thousand yard season was in 2018 so it looks like his best days are behind him.

Carolina also signed running back Miles Sanders as a free agent. He’s coming off of a breakout year in Philadelphia, rushing for 1,269 yards and 11 scores. The Eagles had a very good offensive line so I don’t expect the same level of production in Charlotte.

New Orleans: The Saints signed quarterback Derek Carr in the offseason. They did need a quarterback but how good is Carr? I think he’s slightly above average. Last season in Las Vegas he had the league’s leading rusher Josh Jacobs and receiver Davante Adams. In 15 games he passed for 3,522 yards, 24 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Receiver Michael Thomas has not been healthy since the 2019 season. Running back Alvin Kamara struggled last season but some of that was due to inconsistent quarterback play.

Tampa Bay: Have they thrown in the towel before the season began? The Tom Brady era is over so the Bucs signed Baker Mayfield in March.

The former top pick has been a bust through his first five seasons. He’s competing with Kyle Trask for the title of QB 1.

Tampa still has some skill players like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin so maybe he can develop some chemistry with them.

I think the NFC South will be the weakest division again this season. I expect the champion to be under .500 but maybe one of these teams will shock me.

Making The Grade

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2023 NFL Draft has come and gone. Let’s look at the NFC South and see how each team did.

Atlanta Falcons Draft picks: RB Bijan Robinson, OT Matthew Bergeron, EDGE Zach Harrison, CB Clark Phillips III, S DeMarco Hellams, G Jovaughn Gwyn

They surprised everyone by picking Bijan Robinson with the 8th pick. He was the best running back in the draft, but the position has been devalued for several years.

Last year a running back was not drafted in the first round. The Falcons desperately need to improve on defense and specifically sacking the quarterback. Jalen Carter from UGA was still available and that made the most sense.

Rookie Tyler Allgier rushed for 1,035 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2022. They also still have Cordarrelle Patterson, who takes a lot of snaps at running back. This was a luxury pick for a 7 – 9 team that has needs to address.

Phillips is small but a tenacious player. He should make an immediate impact. Harrison is a solid defensive end.

Grade: B-

Carolina Panthers Draft picks: QB Bryce Young, WR Jonathan Mingo, EDGE D.J. Johnson, G Chandler Zavala, S Jammie Robinson

The Panthers have been looking for stability at quarterback since Cam Newton left Charlotte. Drafting former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young with the 1st pick was a good move.

There are concerns about his size because he’s 5’10 and 200 pounds. Kyler Murray is also 5’10 so maybe it’s not as big of a factor as it seems.

New head coach Frank Reich is a former offensive coordinator so I’m sure he will work with Young and put him in the best position to succeed.

Mingo and Johnson address positions of need. Zavala is a powerful blocker who adds depth to the Panthers’ offensive line. Robinson’s instincts and agility will earn him playing time as a rookie.

Grade: A-

New Orleans Saints Draft picks: DT Bryan Bresee, EDGE Isaiah Foskey, RB Kendre Miller, G Nick Saldiveri, QB Jake Haener, S Jordan Howden, WR A.T. Perry

Bresee and Foskey are great fits for Dennis Allen up front after his defense has been gutted the past two offseasons.

Breese was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, but he never lived up to that at Clemson. Miller and Haener were head-scratching reaches based on what New Orleans already had. Saldiveri fills the Saints need for an athletic interior lineman.

Grade: B

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Draft picks: DT Calijah Kancey, OT Cody Mauch, EDGE YaYa Diaby, LB SirVocea Dennis, TE Payne Durham, CB Josh Hayes, WR Trey Palmer, EDGE Jose Ramirez.

Kancey brings versatility, explosiveness, and underrated leverage to the Bucs’ defensive line. They traded up for Mauch but it makes sense because he can also be moved to tackle if the team needs him there.

Diaby is very athletic but a work in progress. He will need to reach his potential to justify the mid-third-round selection.

The Buccaneers filled plenty of needs on both sides of the ball. Two glaring omissions from the class are a QB and another running back. I’m surprised they passed on Will Levis in the first round.

Grade: B

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.

 

 

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 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.

Draft Board

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2021 NFL Draft will start April 29 in Cleveland, Ohio.

We have plenty of time to speculate how teams will address their needs leading up to that.

Let’s take a look around the NFC South and look at who these teams should select with their first-round pick.

Atlanta: The Falcons started the season with five losses and finished with a 4 – 12 record. Dan Quinn was fired after the slow start.

Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith was hired as head coach once their season ended. As OC for the past two years in Nashville Smith showed us that he knows how to force feed Derrick Henry.

Atlanta has the 4th overall pick and they have a decision to make. Should they move on from Matt Ryan and draft a young quarterback? Or do they believe in the offense and select a player to help on the porous defense?

If they want to keep Ryan, then Alabama corner back Patrick Surtain II is the best pick. I feel old because I remember his dad from Madden 2003. He’s the best corner in the draft and he would instantly help the secondary.

If they decide to go with a quarterback, they will have to choose from Trey Lance (North Dakota St.), Mac Jones (Alabama) or Zach Wilson (BYU). I think Wilson is the best out of these three and should strongly be considered if he’s still on the board.

Carolina: The Panthers were 5 – 11 in 2020 and have the 8th pick.

All-World running back Christian McCaffrey missed the majority of the season. They don’t have many offensive weapons other than McCaffrey.

They did add quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and speedy receiver Robby Anderson in free agency last year. Anderson did have 95 receptions, 1,096 yards and 3 scores but he’s not a number one receiver.

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts would be a great addition. Pitts is 6’6, 246 pounds and a very good athlete. In 8 games he had 43 catches, 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. He could have an impact like Travis Kelce does for the Chiefs.

Quarterback could also be an option if they like the players that will still be available.

New Orleans: The Saints (12 – 4) have the 28th pick. First ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is expected to retire. They pick so late in the first round that quarterback is not an option.

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins would be a good pick. He’s 6’4, 260 pounds and versatile. He blocked two kicks on special teams. He had a career high 14 tackles against an SEC team (Arkansas).

South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn could also be an option. His father Joe was a receiver for the Saints.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs (11 – 5) won the Super Bowl in Tom Brady’s first season with the team. They are strong on offense so they will probably draft a defensive player.

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai would be a good pick. In 9 games this season he had 54 tackles and 5 sacks.

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon might also be considered. He had 45 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 8 games.

Down South

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Week 1 of the NFL season is in the books. Let’s take a look at what happened around the NFC South after the first week of games.

Seattle 38, Atlanta 25: The Falcons defense looked just as bad as they have the last few seasons. Russell Wilson completed 31 of 35 passes for 322 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He also had three runs for a team-high 29 yards rushing. Atlanta sacked Wilson 3 times but that did not slow him down.

Matt Ryan threw for 450 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception.

Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage each had 9 receptions for over 100 yards.

In Todd Gurley’s first game as a Falcon he rushed 14 times for 56 yards and a TD.

Atlanta outgained Seattle 506 yards to 383 but came up short all four times they tried to convert on fourth down.

The one good thing for the Falcons is Ryan surpassed John Elway for ninth on the NFL career passing yardage list.

Las Vegas 34, Carolina 30: Matt Rhule made his coaching debut as the Panthers head coach.

They had the best defense in the NFL just a few seasons ago, now they need all the help they can get.

The Raiders offense did whatever they wanted.

Second year running back Josh Jacobs rushed for 93 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Derek Carr threw for 239 yards and a score.

This was the first game for the Raiders since moving from Oakland to Las Vegas. Gruden didn’t hold back on praising Jacobs.

“That was a little bit like Walter Payton used to play,” Gruden said. “It was hot as hell. He got beat up early. He insisted on coming back and he insisted on getting the ball as a runner and receiver. He is special. He deserves some national attention — and I hope you give it to him.”

This was Teddy Bridgewater’s first game as the Panthers QB.

He had a solid game, completing 22 of 34 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown.

Former New York Jets receiver Robby Anderson also made his Carolina debut and played well. He had 6 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Of course, Christian McCaffrey had another great game. He ran for 96 yards and 2 touchdowns and he had 38 yards receiving.

New Orleans 34. Tampa Bay 23: This was the most anticipated game of the day. We all know Tom Brady left New England this offseason to become a Buccaneer.

He has a ton of offensive weapons. The Saints also feature a geriatric quarterback surrounded by playmakers.

This was the first game featuring two starting quarterbacks in their forties and they played like it.

The game started good for Brady. He rushed for a touchdown to give Tampa an early 7-0 lead.

It was downhill from there. He threw two picks and one of them was returned for a touchdown. Jameis Winston had to see himself in Brady as he watched from the Saints sideline.

“I made some just bad, terrible turnovers,” Brady said. “I obviously have got to do a lot better job.”

Drew Brees only threw for 160 yards and 2 TD’s. Alvin Kamara had a rushing and receiving score.

Surprisingly Michael Thomas only had 3 catches for 17 yards.

Throw Me The Ball

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFC South has some of the most talented players in the NFL. I think most people would agree the strength of the division is on offense.

Let’s take a look at the top five wide receivers in the division.

# 1 Michael Thomas (New Orleans): I have to admit I’m surprised at this ranking. I know he’s a very good player but he doesn’t wow you with athleticism.

In 2019 he led the league in receptions (149) and receiving yards (1,725). He was tied for second in receiving touchdowns with nine.

He’s so far ahead of the guys in second place.

Christian McCaffrey is second in receptions with 116. That’s extremely impressive considering he’s a running back but you get the point.

Thomas has been in the NFL since 2016 and his stats have gotten better every year. His worst season was his rookie year and he had 1,137 yards and 9 TD’s.

# 2 Julio Jones (Atlanta): Julio was sixth in the league in receptions (99) and second in yards (1,394).

Jones has the rare combination of size and speed. I think he’s a more talented player than Thomas but I’m basing this on numbers. He had 21 plays of 20+ yards.

Jones has been the model of consistency since entering the league in 2011. He’s been to the Pro Bowl seven times in his nine seasons.

He has two seasons with under a thousand yards and his season was cut short due to injury both times. Julio is an outstanding player but the Falcons normally have other weapons on offense so he’s not always the focal point.

# 3 Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay): Godwin had a breakout year in his third season in 2019.

In his first two years he had 93 catches, 1,367 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Last season he was third in receiving yards (1,333) and tied for second with Michael Thomas for receiving touchdowns with 9.

What makes it more impressive is he missed two games and he did this with only 86 catches. Godwin had 25 plays that were 20+ yards so he’s a big play threat.

# 4 Mike Evans (Tampa Bay): If this list were based on total career Evans would have been one spot higher.

What’s impressive is Evans has been performing well for the Buccaneers with Jameis Winston primarily at quarterback. He’s also had Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing him passes. Having very inconsistent quarterbacks is why he’s never had 100 receptions in a season. The closest he came was 96 catches in 2016.

In 2019 he only had 67 receptions but he had 1,157 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Evans is a big, 6’5 receiver so we don’t think of him as a big play threat, but he is. He averaged 17.3 yards per catch and he had 17 plays of 20 or more yards.

# 5 D.J. Moore (Carolina): He drastically improved in his second season.

As a rookie in 2018 he had 55 receptions, 788 yards and two TD’s.

In 2019 he had 87 catches, 1,175 yards and 4 touchdowns. The addition of Teddy Bridgewater should help him improve in 2020.

Down Here

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Free agency and the NFL Draft have already taken place so we have an idea of what each roster will look like.

The NFC South has received a lot of attention with the arrival of Tom Brady to Tampa. Let’s take a look around the division and make some predictions.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers made the biggest splash in free agency by signing Tom Brady. They also traded for his former retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

They drafted Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round. Wirfs played 10 games at right tackle and three at left tackle last season. He was named an All-American and he should be able to help protect Brady.

Tampa Bay ranked 25th in total defense and they probably will struggle again in 2020.

The Bucs have received a lot of hype this off season. I don’t think they can live up to it. Brady will turn 43 in August and he’s going in to his 20th season.

Think back to Peyton Manning’s final season when his play drastically deteriorated. I think age and attrition will hamper Brady. The Bucs will win 8-9 games, but they will not be legitimate contenders.

Carolina: The Panthers got rid of their franchise quarterback Cam Newton and signed Teddy Bridgewater.

They are led by All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. He’s really the only weapon on offense and they lack a talented wide receiver.

Carolina used all seven draft picks on defensive players. They did struggle defensively in 2019, ranking 31st in total defense. They gave up 28.8 points per game.

The best-case scenario would be for three or four of the players they drafted to step in and contribute immediately. That would mean they have young players making mistakes but gaining experience. The Panthers will win 4-5 games.

Atlanta: They were a tough team to figure out last season. The Falcons were bad, but they beat New Orleans and San Francisco, two of the best teams in the NFC.

They drafted two offensive linemen in the first round of the 2019 draft but they both dealt with injuries. Protecting Matt Ryan has been a recurring issue. If that can get solved, they might have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. They still were fifth in total offense.

The running game struggled last year, and it was addressed by signing running back Todd Gurley. Gurley has dealt with a knee injury that has decreased his play significantly.

They ranked 20th in total defense. Dan Quinn’s job is on the line and I think he will be fired. Atlanta should win 7-8 games.

New Orleans: The Saints were 13-3 in 2019. They were one of the best teams in the league and they return many players from that team.

Future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees sustained a torn ligament to his right thumb that caused him to miss five weeks. He’s also 41 years old so his window to win another Super Bowl is closing.

The offense has playmakers like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas that defenses have to plan for. They ranked ninth in total offense and 15th in total defense.

They will win 10-11 games. New Orleans has to hope they don’t play the Vikings in the playoffs and they will have a chance to get to the Super Bowl.