Ranking the NFC South position groups rolls on, this time diving into the starting offensive line units around the division. Perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL resides in the South, while the Bucs unit is the best on paper that we’ve seen from the team in quite some time.

Here’s the other rankings of the divisional position groups that have been completed so far:

Quarterbacks
Wide Receivers
Running Backs

4. Carolina Panthers

LT Russell Okung
LG John Miller
C Matt Paradis
RG Michael Schofield
RT Taylor Moton

If Russell Okung has anything left in the tank at nearly 33 years old after playing just six games a year ago, that would be a big win for the Panthers. They haven’t had quality left tackle play for a long time, and even if it would just be for a season, Okung playing well would be huge for Teddy Bridgewater.

On the right side Taylor Moton is quietly building a strong early career for himself, as he’s set to be one of the biggest names in free agency next offseason if he can put together a strong 2020 campaign. He’s one of the few young bright spots on the Panthers roster.

Unfortunately Carolina’s interior offensive line appears to be heading in the opposite direction after trading Trai Turner a few months ago. Will 2019 draft picks Greg Little and Dennis Daley move to guard and claim starting spots? Or will average veterans in Schofield and Miller get the call once again? Paradis was a big free agent signing who the Panthers desperately need to return to his Denver form after struggling mightily last season.

Because of Okung’s injury history and Paradis’ recent drop-off, the Panthers are an easy pick for the worst offensive line in the division. That’s bad news considering I’m not sure they’re going to get the type of quarterback play needed to elevate the unit.

3. Atlanta Falcons

LT Jake Matthews
LG James Carpenter
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary

The Falcons are banking their long-term offensive line success on the play of first round picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, both of whom struggled as rookies. Lindstrom didn’t play enough to get a great feel for how he’ll fare in the league, but I was a big fan of his coming out of college. I can’t say the same for McGary, who I had a fifth round grade on.

Jake Matthews’ consistently high level of play has continued for five seasons now, and you can count on him being a stud again in 2019. At some point 34-year old Alex Mack is gonna fall off, and we already saw a little bit of slippage last year. The Falcons don’t really have a starting-caliber left guard right now, unless rookie Matt Hennessy steps into that role and shines right away.

Atlanta’s offensive line has three major questions marks, one aging-but-still-good center and a quality left tackle. I think concerns about protecting Matt Ryan this season should be very real, but if the second-year players surprise, Atlanta’s OL outlook could change quickly. It’s not like they haven’t invested in their front, they just have yet to see positive results from their recent picks.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LT Donovan Smith
LG Ali Marpet
C Ryan Jensen
RG Alex Cappa
RT Tristan Wirfs

The good news for the Bucs is that I don’t believe they have any below average starters in the lineup this season, which hasn’t been said about their offensive line in awhile. But while it may be the strongest the unit has been in some time, the right side still has plenty of questions to answer.

Alex Cappa took a big step forward in becoming a league average player last season, but can that progress continue in 2020? He has to keep getting stronger and more consistent with his technique to make good on his solid set of tools. Speaking of tools, Tristan Wirfs’ physical and athletic ceiling is through the roof, but rookie tackles generally take a little while to get rolling against NFL-caliber pass rushers. Expectations should be somewhat tempered out of the gate.

Fortunately for the Bucs, Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen were two of the best players in the NFL at their positions last season, both looking remarkably comfortable in the Bucs new offensive scheme. Donovan Smith was a bit of a roller coaster early in his career, but his play does seem to be stabilizing as a good, not great left tackle in the NFL. That’s still better than what a lot of teams around the league can say for their tackles.

The Bucs offensive line isn’t an elite unit, but it’s a group that showed a lot of growth from players like Cappa, Smith and Jensen last season, which was much-needed in a new offensive scheme. I’m hopeful that level of play can be at least maintained in 2020, if not improved upon.

1. New Orleans Saints

LT Terron Armstead
LG Andrus Peat
C Erik McCoy
RG Cesar Ruiz
RT Ryan Ramczyk

Not only do the Saints have what is easily the best offensive line in the NFC South, they might have the best unit in the entire NFL. If Terron Armstead is healthy, he and Ramczyk are two of the top eight tackles in the league. The Saints are the only team in the league that can say that.

McCoy looked like one of the best centers in the NFL as a rookie, and Peat is a solid starter who has improved over the course of his career. It remains to be seen how the team will handle the loss of right guard Larry Warford, but Cesar Ruiz was a top 20 player on my board. I think he’ll step in right away despite being just 21 years old when the season starts.

The Saints have two elite tackles, a center that appeared on his way to elite status last season and a pair of guards who you can expect to be at least above-average in 2020, if not better in the case of Ruiz. The biggest concern moving forward is Armstead and Peat’s health. Armstead has still never played all 16 games in a season (although he hit 15 a year ago), and Peat has missed nine of 32 possible games over the past two seasons.

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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Spitfire

I really hope the Bucs start drafting more Olinemen every year. There should be at least one drafted in the first 3 rounds every single year with 1st round talent whenever possible. A great Oline can make a 6 ft cast off a HOFer in NO and a 4th round avg nobody in Dallas contend for a crazy contract. I hope Wirfs proves to be a great Tackle, Cappa gets even more mean and Heag pushes them there. I would Love to see the Oline finally gel and push forward. Rate this item:Thumb UpThumb DownSubmit Rating+5-1 Rating: +4. From 6… Read more »

danielob

Sounds like we match up well with the Falcons and Panthers as far as strength up the middle, Suh and Tua should do well, not so much against the Saints. I agree that Donovan Smith needs to step up this year but he is consistent and dependable as far as availability, which is a biggie in the NFL. With the turmoil with the Saints and Brees ticking off his team it will be interesting to see how team chemistry is. Hopefully professionalism will prevail.

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GrayBalls

Suh and who?

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Dman

Sorry, Jon, but putting the Bucs at #2 is a joke. Everyone blames our RB’s, our former QB, but watching opposing D lineman blow past these guys the last few years, why are we working so hard to just own up to it. Marpet is our one good OL. An upgrade with a rookie RT is a start, but that doesn’t take us from the cellar to #2.

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Hockey Duckie

Wait… You say Lindstrom struggled as a rookie, but praised Cappa in year 2?   2019 PFF Grades RG Lindstrom = 66.6 (rookie) RG Cappa = 62.7 (year 2)   I call that being biased.   According to Football Outsiders, we ran up the gut 70% of the time and ranked 19th overall in production up the gut. We didn’t upgrade our iOL.   Also, using FBO, the Falcons has a similar run block game, but a far superior pass blocking unit.   Also, the Falcons added iOL Hennessy. The weak spot for the Falcons was at LG and RT.… Read more »

Dave

You call him being biased? I call your analysis of the Falcons very generous. Their OLine was brutal last year. Their run blocking was a joke in basically every metric you can use. And i think you’re ignoring some pretty obvious stats about just how bad their pass blocking really was last year. Ryan was sacked a career high 48 times in 15 games. And was hit the 2nd most in the league at 135 times. Oh, and they also had 43 penalties, which was 6th most in the NFL. But at least they were consistent. They couldn’t open up… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Dave
Hockey Duckie

Dave, you need higher level math to understand FBO. Teams are ranked according to Adjusted Sack Rate, which gives sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent   Raw stats says Atlanta has 50 sacks, but their adjusted sack rate was 6.6% The adjusted sack rate takes into account the scope of attempted passes. Tampa has 47 sacks and their adjusted sack rate was 7.6%.   Atl: 50 sacks on 684 passing attempts. TB: 47 sacks on 630 passing attempts.   There’s a difference between raw sacks and sacks with scope (adj sack rate),… Read more »

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