Every Thursday until the season begins, I’ll be going through each position group in the NFC South, ranking them by team from fourth to first. I would have loved to kick things off with wide receiver, but we’ll wait to see what happens with Julio Jones before we do that. Instead we’ll start with quarterbacks, where two teams in the division are pressing the re-set button, while the other two rely on stud veterans to carry their offenses once again.
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4. Carolina Panthers
Sam Darnold P.J. Walker Will Grier Tommy Stevens
After three years of being one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league, Darnold will take the reins in Carolina. He’ll be out to prove that Adam Gase was the problem in New York, and not Darnold’s own limitations. There’s plenty of truth to that, but Darnold’s consistently underwhelming performances don’t inspire much hope. The quarterback is only 24 however, and will be in the best situation of his career.
Walker threw five interceptions on 60 dropbacks last year, while Grier has been a disappointment as a third-round pick two years ago. Walker has won a game in 2020 at quarterback while appearing in 4 games. Out of 56 passes, he completed 32. His performance made the NFL South games better than before and accelerated Indiana-bet with his accomplishments. Stevens could be the Panthers’ version of Taysom Hill, if they can develop the Saint’s versatility.
3. New Orleans Saints
Jameis Winston Taysom Hill Trevor Siemian Ian Book
Saints QBs Drew Brees, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston – Photo by: USA Today
The Saints are one of the few teams in the NFL with an open competition at the quarterback position, although most expect Winston to win the job over Hill. Last year’s No. 2, Hill was surprisingly solid, going 3-1 as a starter and completing over 72 percent of his passes for 928 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Hill also ran for 457 yards last year, offering dual threat ability Winston doesn’t possess. The biggest concern for Hill was sacks, as he took 14 on 155 dropbacks behind a great Saints offensive line (per PFF).
That’s been a problem for Winston in his career too, but it gets lost behind the major turnover concerns. In 2019, Winston fumbled 12 times, was sacked 47 times and threw 30 interceptions. His numbers shouldn’t be that bad in the Saints’ more high-percentage offense, and Winston should be able to bring a vertical element that Drew Brees no longer could. But Sean Payton may have to sacrifice decision-making and short-intermediate accuracy in the meantime. It’s not what he prefers in his quarterbacks, but perhaps Winston has grown some in the past year? We’ll see.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan A.J. McCarron Feleipe Franks
The Falcons could not move Matt Ryan’s massive contract this offseason, otherwise they’d be at the bottom of this list. Instead Ryan remains on the only team he’s ever known, representing the Falcons’ best hope at a turnaround. While his arm seems to have declined some, Ryan is still one of the more mentally sharp and accurate passers in the NFL. The Atlanta offense will remain dangerous while he is there.
If something happens to Ryan, the Falcons might be the worst team in the NFL. McCarron hasn’t been great when given opportunity, and Franks might not be practice squad-worthy.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady Blaine Gabbert Kyle Trask Ryan Griffin
Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
It’s been a long-time (ever?) since the Bucs had the undisputed best quarterback in the division, but here we are. Brady’s numbers and situational performance last season, in an offense that asks a lot from their quarterback, was the stuff of legends. Now he gets a chance to go back-to-back as a champion for the second-time in his career.
Backing up Brady is Gabbert, who Bruce Arians recently called “the most underrated player in the NFL.” We’ll disagree there, but the Bucs could do a lot worse than Gabbert as a backup. The hope is that second-round pick Kyle Trask eventually becomes the Bucs starter after Brady, but he has a long way to go to get there. It’s still a solid backup room compared to many teams around the league.
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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