NFC South Defensive Changes


Atlanta Falcons

2014 Ranks - Pass: 26th; Run: 30th

Can the Falcon's defense improve significantly under the tutelage of new head coach Dan Quinn?

Can the Falcon's defense improve significantly under the tutelage of new head coach Dan Quinn?

Key Losses:
S Dwight Lowery (+1.1)
CB Robert McClain (-8.1)
DT Corey Peters (+0.9)
CB Josh Wilson (-6.2)
DE Osi Umenyiora (+1.9)
DE Jonathan Massaquoi (+1.6)
LB Sean Weatherspoon (-8.3)

Key Additions:
DE Brooks Reed (+2.5)
LB Justin Durant (+1.0)
DE O’Brien Schofield (+1.6)
DE Adrian Clayborn (-18.1 in 2013)
OLB Vic Beasley (Round 1, Pick 8)
CB Jalen Collins (Round 2, Pick 10)

Notes:

  • According to Football Outsiders, the Falcons' defense was ranked dead last in DVOA. 
  • CB Desmond Trufant (+13.5) was the lone bright spot, grading as the 6th best cornerback in 2014.
  • The Falcons hired Dan Quinn as the new head coach. Over the past 2 years, Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks during which they were the most dominant defense in the league. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Favorable

In addition to hiring a new head coach, the Falcons have made sweeping changes to their defensive personnel. Unfortunately, it will take more than a new regime and a couple highly drafted rookies to right the wrongs of one of the worst defenses in 2014. 


Carolina Panthers

2014 Ranks - Pass: 14th; Run: 26th

CBs Josh Norman (pictured) and Bene Benwikere filled in admirably when thrust into the starting role in 2014. 

CBs Josh Norman (pictured) and Bene Benwikere filled in admirably when thrust into the starting role in 2014. 

Key Losses:
DE Greg Hardy (+25.4 in 2013)
S Thomas DeCoud (-5.8)

Key Additions:
S Kurt Coleman (+4.6)
OLB Shaq Thomas (Round 1, Pick 25)
CB Charles Tillman (-6.3 in 2013)

Notes:

  • Releasing him was understandable, but the loss of DE Greg Hardy definitely hurts this defense as his replacement, DE Kony Ealy (-14.9), graded bottom 5 at his position.  
  • OLB Shaq Thomas was a puzzling pick as he was projected by most to get drafted in the 3rd round.
  • Cornerbacks Antoine Cason (-9.7) and Melvin White (-9.3) started the season, but struggled. Out of 108 qualifying cornerbacks, both finished in the bottom 15. Midway through the season, they were supplanted by Bene Benwikere (+7.6) and Josh Norman (+3.7) who fared much better. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Neutral; Run: Favorable

The Panthers improved against the pass as the season went on, especially when they benched CBs Cason and White. However, I have reservations about whether or not former 5th round picks Benwikere and Norman can continue playing at a high level.


New Orleans Saints

2014 Ranks - Pass: 27th; Run: 32th

The Saints really struggled last year but with the return of Byrd, the acquisition of Browner, and a return to form for Vaccaro, the secondary has potential at least. 

The Saints really struggled last year but with the return of Byrd, the acquisition of Browner, and a return to form for Vaccaro, the secondary has potential at least. 

Key Losses:
LB Curtis Lofton (-21.5)
CB Corey White (-17.8)
CB Patrick Robinson (-0.9)
DT Tyrunn Walker (+8.0)
DE Junior Galette (+20.3)

Key Additions:
LB Dannell Ellerbe (-13.5)
CB Brandon Browner (-5.0)
ILB Stephone Anthony (Round 1, Pick 31)
OLB Hau’oli Kikaha (Round 2, Pick 12)


Notes:

  • S Jairus Byrd returns after playing less than a handful of games before going down for the rest of the year with a torn meniscus. He’ll have his work cut out for him if he wants to prove he’s worthy of being the 3rd highest paid safety in the league.
  • Although CB Brandon Browner graded quite negatively in 2014, the veteran is solid in coverage and should be a significant improvement over the likes Corey White who graded as the 3rd worst corner of 2014. 
  • S Kenny Vaccaro regressed majorly, grading at -19.0 after a solid +3.1 in his rookie season. He was playing hurt last season and may return to form once healthy. 
  • On July 24th, DE Junior Galette was cut by the Saints. Apparently, Galette's off-field issues and attitude were becoming a problem and the team found it necessary to part ways. While it may have been best for the team in the end, the loss of Galette is huge as he was by far their highest graded defensive player last year. His +29.1 pass rush grade was 2nd among all 4-3 defensive ends and 6th among all players in the league. 
  • The next highest graded defensive player on the Saints was DT Tyrunn Walker, who is also gone. 
  • The Saints ranked 25th in sacks in 2014, with just 34. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Favorable

After finishing 2013 as the 4th best defense overall (points per game), the Saints nosedived to 28th in 2014. The precipitous drop was puzzling. Which Saints defense will we get in 2015? The stifling 2013 version, or the leaky one from 2014? While the secondary has potential, it seems likely that the Saints will struggle to generate pressure with a defensive line that is missing its top two pass rushers from the year before.  


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2014 Ranks - Pass: 24th; Run: 13th

DT Gerald McCoy and OLB Lavonte David were both first team All-Pros in 2013 but even they couldn't overcome the lack of talent around them. 

DT Gerald McCoy and OLB Lavonte David were both first team All-Pros in 2013 but even they couldn't overcome the lack of talent around them. 

Key Losses:
DE Michael Johnson (-12.6)
LB Mason Foster (-8.2)
DE Adrian Clayborn (-18.1 in 2013)

Key Additions:
LB Bruce Carter (-13.2)
DE Henry Melton (+10.5)
CB Sterling Moore (+3.7)
S Chris Conte (-3.0)

Notes:

  • OLB Lavonte David and DT Gerald McCoy are studs but the rest of the defense is still a bit lacking in talent.
  • The Bucs still need a competent corner opposite CB Alterraun Verner (+12.3). Reports are that CB Sterling Moore will be relegated to playing as the nickel corner. 
  • DE Henry Melton definitely helps the pass rush. His pass rush grade of +15.8 was 6th among defensive tackles. 

2015 Matchup Projection - Pass: Favorable; Run: Unfavorable

It's still McCoy, David, Verner and the rest. But in Lovie Smith’s second year and with QB Jameis Winston heading the offense, let’s see if this team can play with more fire than they showed in 2014.