Let’s start the conversation from the inside-out, where the Bucs boast one of the best interior linemen in Gerald McCoy.
Of course, McCoy has faced some criticism himself with some fans and media questioning his true abilities and passion for the game.
Regardless, the veteran in the middle has had a pretty solid career since entering the NFL out of Oklahoma.
He’s not the only talent roaming the middle part of the trenches every Sunday in the NFC South though, let’s compare:
4. Dontari Poe and Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
Before Falcons fans completely come unhinged and just stop reading all-together, realize what I’ve come to realize writing this, the interior starters in the NFC South are a tight group when it comes to talent.
True, your team is getting the last place spot here, but it isn’t as bad as that may seem on the surface.
Atlanta made bolstering their interior defensive line a priority, as evidenced by signing Dontari Poe.
However, Poe worked in a 3-4 with the Chiefs more than the 4-3 Atlanta will run, and has only tallied 2.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
His impact goes beyond sack numbers, certainly, but how he fits in the Falcons’ scheme is still to be determined, and he wouldn’t be the first big-time interior lineman to fizzle out for his new team.
3. Nick Fairley and Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints
The Saints don’t seem to have a true nose-tackle type they can just plug the middle with, instead relying on two guys who look to get to the quarterback themselves on a regular basis.
Fairley came to New Orleans at a pivotal moment in his career.
His numbers fell off after two impressive years following an injury shortened rookie season.
After living in the cellar with the St. Louis Rams in 2015, he looked for new life when he headed to “The Big Easy”.
He found his rejuvenation and turned in 6.5 sacks in 2016 surpassing his previous career high while playing in every contest for his new team.
Sheldon Rankins played second fiddle up front for this team, and despite having his own injury struggles, still amassed four quarterback sacks.
Fairley is 29, but if Rankins can find a way to stay healthy, the Saints could have a solid duo coming up the middle of opposing offensive lines in 2017.
2. Gerald McCoy and Chris Baker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If we’re ranking hype then the Buccaneers’ duo goes straight to the top of the list.
For years, fans of this team have watched Gerald McCoy be the only really effective interior defensive lineman on a frontline which struggled more than they succeeded.
Now, with the addition of Chris Baker, there is some hopes the All-Pro will reach statistical and performance heights we’ve never seen.
Finally, the Bucs have paired their stud with a formidable partner, now we just have to see if the production matches the potential.
1. Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers
This duo racked up 10 combined sacks between just the two of them while starting all 16 games together.
Returning for 2017, the two of them are primed to do even more as Carolina looks to get things going back in the direction of their 2015 Super Bowl campaign.
Familiarity and consistency are perhaps the most important factors when ranking pre-season potential, and with this team returning the only pair of full-time starters this year, they take the cake on this one.
The Panthers win round one of three for this grouping and take an early lead. This doesn’t mean they have the best defensive line though, and believe me, these pairings are very close to each other.