NFC South Division Preview

by Bryce McRae on June 18, 2008 @ 15:24:51 PDT

 


Atlanta Falcons

2007 Record: 4-12

Offseason changes

Key Additions
Pos
Acquire via Key Losses
Pos
Status
Matt Ryan
QB
Draft DeAngelo Hall
DB
Traded
Michael Turner
RB
Signing Alge Crumpler
TE
Released
Curtis Lofton
LB
Draft Demorrio Williams
LB
UFA
Sam Baker
OL
Draft Warrick Dunn
RB
Released
Erik Coleman
DB
Signing Rod Coleman
DL
Released
Von Hutchins
DB
Signing Wayne Gandy
OL
Released
Ben Hartsock
TE
Signing Jimmy Williams
DB
Released
Mike Smith
HC
Hiring Byron Leftwich
QB
Released
Mike Mularkey
OC
Hiring
--
--
--
Brian VanGorder
DC
Hiring
--
--
--

Worth keeping an eye on

Positional battles

Quarterback Matt Ryan is currently third on the depth chart behind quarterbacks Chris Redman and Joey Harrington. However, the team has stated anyone could grab this job.

Receiver Laurent Robinson worked as the starter during pre-draft minicamp, but he should still face competition for the No. 2 job from wideout Michael Jenkins.

Three cornerbacks - Brent Grimes, Chevis Jackson and Von Hutchins - are all competing to be the left cornerback and nickel back.

Fading fast

Quarterback Joey Harrington enjoyed a measure of redemption last year by posting a career-high 61.8 percent completion percentage, but the rest of his numbers were mediocre. With quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Chris Redman in town, Harrington could find it tough to get many snaps this year.

Coming on strong

Running back Michael Turner, who spent his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, should be the primary back for the Falcons. He has good career averages, though they were in limited time. However, Turner could find it tougher running behind the Falcons' inferior offensive line.

Wide receiver Roddy White put up surprisingly good numbers last year considering the team's insecurity at quarterback. The fourth-year receiver broke out for 1,202 yards and six touchdowns on 83 receptions. He remains the top target even as the team shifts to a run-first offense

On the rebound

Offensive tackle Todd Weiner (knee) is returning from major knee surgery. He started 61 of a possible 62 games from 2003-06 before participating in just eight games last year. If healthy, he could get the starting job at right tackle.

Injury prone

Wide receiver Joe Horn (hamstring, foot) battled hamstring and foot injuries last year, which caused him to miss four games. He last completed a full 16-game slate in 2004. Horn, 36, is entering his 13th season this year.

Offensive/defensive scheme changes

New head coach Mike Smith plans to install an offense built around controlling the line of scrimmage and setting up the run. New offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has had success with run-first offenses in the past; the Pittsburgh Steelers featured the NFL's top rushing offense under his guidance in 2001.

Carolina Panthers

2007 Record: 7-9

Offseason changes

Key Additions
Pos
Acquire via Key Losses
Pos
Status
Muhsin Muhammad
WR
Signing Dan Morgan
LB
Retired
Jonathan Stewart
RB
Draft DeShaun Foster
RB
Released
D.J. Hackett
WR
Signing Kris Jenkins
DL
Traded
Jeff Otah
OT
Draft Mike Wahle
OG
Released
Landon Johnson
LB
Signing Mike Rucker
DL
Retired
Charles Godfrey
DB
Draft Drew Carter
WR
UFA
Dan Connor
LB
Draft David Carr
QB
Released
--
--
--
Justin Hartwig
C
Released
--
--
--
Deke Cooper
S
UFA

Worth keeping an eye on

Positional battles

Wide receivers D.J. Hackett and Muhsin Muhammad are expected to both be competing for a starting spot.

Defensive linemen Charles Johnson, Stanley McClover and Tyler Brayton are all competing for a starting end job opposite defensive end Julius Peppers.

Linebacker Landon Johnson could replace linebacker Na'il Diggs on the weak side.

Free safety figures to be wide open with defensive back Deke Cooper not returning. Rookie defensive back Charles Godfrey should get a long look here.

Fading fast

Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad left Carolina after a 2004 season that saw him catch 93 passes for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns. He returns after accounting for 100 catches, 1,433 yards and eight scores over the past two seasons combined. His best years are behind him.

Coming on strong

Linebacker Jon Beason proved to be a beast in the middle of the Panthers defense last year. He registered 140 tackles (106 solo) and intercepted one pass, though he didn't record a sack. He poured it on during the second half and is an emerging leader.

On the rebound

Quarterback Jake Delhomme (elbow) is looking to come back from Tommy John surgery, an injury more common in baseball. Delhomme has looked good early this offseason, but there is still some uncertainty surrounding his comeback because of its irregularity.

Defensive end Julius Peppers inexplicably went from one of the NFL's most feared pass rushers to a below-average lineman in 2007. He managed just 2 1/2 sacks after accounting for 13 in 2006. He's set for free agency after the 2008 season, which should give him extra motivation to rebound.

Injury prone

Wide receiver D.J. Hackett (ankle) missed 10 games during last season with the Seattle Seahawks. He has never completed a full 16-game season during his four-year career with his career-high 14 games coming in 2006.

Offensive/defensive scheme changes

None

New Orleans Saints

2007 Record: 7-9

Offseason changes

Key Additions
Pos
Acquire via Key Losses
Pos
Status
Sedrick Ellis
DL
Draft Jeff Faine
C
UFA
Randall Gay
DB
Signing Brian Simmons
LB
Released
Jonathan Vilma
LB
Trade Olindo Mare
PK
Released
Aaron Glenn
DB
Signing
--
--
--
Taylor Mehlhaff
PK
Draft
--
--
--
Bobby McCray
DE
Signing
--
--
--
Mark Brunell
QB
Signing
--
--
--

Worth keeping an eye on

Positional battles

Receiver Marques Colston is set at one starting spot, but the rest of the spots should be in play between wideouts David Patten, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Terrence Copper and Devery Henderson.

Veteran linebacker Mark Simoneau could be in the mix for a starting spot if linebackers Scott Fujita or Scott Shanle struggle.

Place kickers Martin Gramatica and Taylor Mehlhaff are both competing to be the team's kicker.

Fading fast

Wideout Devery Henderson caught 32 passes for 745 yards in 2006 and looked primed to break out in 2007. However, Henderson caught just 20 passes last year for 409 yards with only eight in the last eight games. He could be fighting for a roster spot this summer.

Coming on strong

Receiver Marques Colston was great as a rookie and even better during his sophomore season. Frighteningly for defenses, the best may be yet to come from the 6-foot-4 pass catcher. He accounted for 54 receptions, 695 yards with six touchdowns in last season's second half and is a rising star.

On the rebound

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) was acquired this offseason after playing seven games for the New York Jets last year. He underwent knee surgery last November and is walking without a limp, but he isn't 100 percent. He could benefit from returning to a 4-3 system that favors his sideline-to-sideline ability.

Running back Deuce McAllister (knees) underwent surgery on both knees last year, including microfracture surgery on his right knee. His season ended after just three games. He is on schedule to return by training camp, but the team is going to be mindful of his knees.

Injury prone

Tight end Eric Johnson (ankle) has already missed some practices this offseason with an ankle injury. Since missing the entire 2005 season with a foot injury, Johnson has missed five games combined the last two seasons as he has battled knee and groin injuries.

Offensive/defensive scheme changes

None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2007 Record: 9-7

Offseason changes

Key Additions
Pos
Acquire via Key Losses
Pos
Status
Warrick Dunn
RB
Signing Bruce Gradkowski
QB
Released
Brian Griese
QB
Trade Brian Kelly
CB
UFA
Jeff Faine
C
Signing Michael Pittman
RB
UFA
Eugene Wilson
DB
Signing Anthony Becht
TE
UFA
Dexter M. Jackson
WR
Draft John Wade
C
UFA
Aqib Talib
CB
Draft Mike Alstott
FB
Retired
Antonio Bryant
WR
Signing Jeremiah Trotter
LB
UFA
Marques Douglas
DL
Signing
--
--
--

Worth keeping an eye on

Positional battles

The team figures to give receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall a shot at seeing increased roles in the offense this season.

Rookie cornerback Aqib Talib could challenge defensive backs Eugene Wilson and Phillip Buchanon for the left cornerback job.

Quarterbacks Brian Griese and Luke McCown should compete for the job backing up quarterback Jeff Garcia.

Fading fast

Quarterback Jeff Garcia is little more than a glorified game manager at this point in his career. He hasn't played a full 16 games since 2002 and is no longer capable of carrying an offense, even for limited stretches.

Halfback Warrick Dunn returns after six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and figures to slide into a complimentary role with the club. After nearly 3,000 combined receptions/carries, Dunn looks to have little left in the tank.

Coming on strong

Running back Earnest Graham totaled 222 carries last year after recording just 52 over the first three years of his career. Injuries to the backs ahead of him were the catalyst for Graham to emerge last year. He finished the season with 898 yards and 10 touchdowns.

On the rebound

Linebacker Cato June saw his tackles slip from 142 during his final season with the Indianapolis Colts to 69 last year. An improved tackling team surrounding him and moving to new position contributed heavily to his struggles. Now with a season under his belt he should perform better.

Injury prone

Running back Cadillac Williams (knee) competed in only 14 games each of his first two years. His latest injury was a potentially career-ending patella tendon tear in his right leg suffered during Week 4 last year. Despite making significant strides, Williams is not expected to play this season.

Offensive/defensive scheme changes

None

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About Bryce McRae

Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.

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