Over the past few weeks we’ve ranked every position on offense, defense, and special teams for the four teams in the NFC South. The idea of the exercise was to see which team had the best starters when compared to the other teams in the division. I’ll be honest, the reason I did this was because I believe the Buccaneers have some of the best starting players in the NFL. But as I went through the rankings, at no time did I calculate the scores in an attempt to keep my bias out of it as much as possible. Of course, being a Buccaneer fan, there is a huge level of bias as I ranked each position, but I tried to be as fair and accurate as I could.
We’ll start with the overall totals. The Falcons won the rankings scoring a total of 67.5 points edging out the Buccaneers (67) by just a half of a point. On offense, it was a tight race which ended up with the Saints (31) coming out on top followed by a tie between the Falcons (30) and Bucs (30). On the defensive side of the ball there was a little more separation where the Buccaneers (31.5) won by a 4 point margin over the Falcons (27.5). Finally the special teams showed two teams far ahead of the other pair. Those were the Falcons (10) and the Saints (9.5) over the Buccaneers (5.5) and the Panthers (5)
The rankings were done in the simplest way possible. Each position was weighted equally, which we all know if by no means true. There is simply no way a kick returner or punter are as important as the quarterback. However, when you break it down a little further, you’ll notice the Buccaneers finished last in the most important position, but also last in some of the least important ones as well. So while the low mark for QB could be damning, the fact that the Buccaneers finished 4.5 point behind the Saints and 4 behind the Falcons in special teams actually evens out the lack of added weight on the QB rankings.
Let’s look at groups. First we’ll start with the offensive line. The Buccaneers came away with 17 points (out of a possible 20) and finished 3 ahead of New Orleans (14) and a surprising 6 ahead of Atlanta. There have been a lot of people out there overlooking the returns of Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. They could have a huge impact on how this division shapes up.
How about offensive skill positions, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, tight end, and the “x” category we used to fill out the list. Here is where the Falcons made some noise. The Falcons scored 19 points out of the possible 25, with the only hiccup being Stephen Jackson who finished 3rd and could have been higher. Here’s a spot where the Buccaneers came up a little short. The lack of a TE and no true “extra weapon” player like Darren Sproles or Jacquizz Rodgers cost the Bucs. The reliance on Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson, and Mike Williams could prove to be an issue.
Defensive line is a spot that many believe the Buccaneers must improve. Well, based on the rankings Tampa Bay (9) finished tied 2nd with New Orleans. Granted, they were well behind Carolina (13.5 out of 16) and narrowly beat out Atlanta (8.5). A little improvement from Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn could really change these numbers.
The final group we’ll examine is the one where the Buccaneers really had problems a year ago, the defensive secondary. The Bucs finished last in the NFL in passing defense, and GM Mark Dominik decided to spend every resource he had this offseason to change it. And boy did it show up in our rankings. Tampa Bay finished in first place with an impressive 13.5 points out of a possible 16. A full point ahead of Atlanta (12.5) and well ahead of the Saints (8.5) and Panthers (5.5). Another interesting note is that the Buccaneers scored just 2.5 points at the second corner spot, where had Eric Wright still been around, it probably would have been 4. If not for Wright’s idiocracy the Buccaneers could have had 15 out of 16 points.
Here are a few other interesting points that I took away.
- Removing special teams, the Buccaneers scored 61.5 points out of the possible 88. Well ahead of the next best, Atlanta at 57.5.
- The Buccaneers defense scored more points than the offense, and ranked first in the division compared to the tied for second ranking for the offense.
- Tampa Bay racked up 7 first place finishes and 1 first place tie. The team that beat the Bucs overall, Atlanta, only had 4 first place finishes. Carolina had 2 and a first place tie. New Orleans had an impressive 8.
- Carolina’s offensive line scored very poorly. 3 last place finishes and a total of 9 points out of 20.
- Had Connor Barth not been injured, he likely would have scored at least 1 point higher which would have given the Buccaneers the overall title.
- Atlanta only had 1 last place finish (MLB)
- New Orleans finished last on defense, and were even assisted by Will Smith being placed with DT’s rather than his rightful DE or 3-4 OLB position.
- Carolina’s Luke Kuechly garned the most support for a player with the wrong ranking. Many believed he should have been higher. Had he been 1st, Curtis Lofton been 2nd, and Mason Foster 3rd, Carolina would still have come in last overall but their defense would have moved into a tie for 2nd with Atlanta (27.5)