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Falcons ranked #1 https://www.atlantafalcons.com/_mobileview/news/ranking-the-nfc-south-s-linebackers-falcons-panthers-boast-talented-units Ranking the NFC South’s linebackers: Falcons, Panthers boast talented units Will McFadden ATLANTAFALCONS.COM AP Photos The NFC South is home to two of the best linebackers in the NFL, and it added a pair of top-tier athletes at the position in this year’s draft. RELATED CONTENT NFC South rankings: WRs | RBs | QBs | TEs | OL | DL| DBs Linebackers have become more versatile and athletic as the game has evolved, and that is certainly true within a division that features Deion Jones and Luke Kuechly. With the Buccaneers and Panthers moving towards a 3-4 scheme this offseason, their linebacker units will look slightly different than in recent seasons, but that should only make them more interesting to watch. As a reminder, for the duration of these NFC South position group rankings I will be rating the groups on a 1-4 scale in five different categories with No. 1 being the best and No. 4 being the worst. For a refresher on what each category means, click here. AP/Bill Feig T-4. New Orleans Saints Average score: 3.4 Top player: Demario Davis Drop-off factor: 3 Group production: 4 Best player: 4 Consistency: 2 Depth: 4 The Saints have some really talented players on their defense, such as Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore, but their linebacker group is a relative weak link. Demario Davis, who had 110 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2018, headlines the group, and fellow starters A.J. Klein and Alex Anzalone are back in the fold as well. That trio combined for 239 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and nine sacks last season, but there is very little depth behind those three. New Orleans used its final draft pick to select former Idaho linebacker Kaden Elliss, but it’s unlikely he will make a major impact in his first season. Craig Robertson, who had 14 tackles and a sack in 2018, is the primary veteran backup for the moment. AP/Mark Humphrey T-4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Average score: 3.4 Top player: Lavonte David Drop-off factor: 4 Group production: 3 Best player: 3 Consistency: 4 Depth: 3 Tampa Bay’s linebacker corps has been fairly underrated for the past few seasons, but many of the players who made it so are gone as the Buccaneers transition to a 3-4 scheme. Lavonte David, the leader of the group is back, but Kwon Alexander and Adarius Taylor, who combined for 105 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and two sacks, are not. Their absence will be felt, but the Buccaneers are hoping to have found their linebacker of the future in Devin White, the fifth-overall pick in this year’s draft. Thus far, White has reportedly received rave reviews from his teammates and coaches, and it looks like he’s clearly in line to be a starter on Day 1. The Buccaneers added Shaquil Barrett and Deon Bucannon in free agency, but Bucannon is really a hybrid safety/linebacker whose role decreased last season in Arizona and Barrett is more of a rush specialist than all-around linebacker. Tampa Bay’s transition to a 3-4 makes their group a little tough to evaluate as defensive ends like Noah Spence and Carl Nassib could transition to an outside linebacker role. AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack 2. Carolina Panthers Average score: 2 Top player: Luke Kuechly Drop-off factor: 2 Group production: 2 Best player: 1 Consistency: 3 Depth: 2 The Panthers could make a strong claim for the top spot on this list. Not only do they have arguably the best linebacker in the NFL in Luke Kuechly, but they’ve added some quality pieces this offseason as they too start a switch over to a 3-4 scheme. Shaq Thompson returns alongside Kuechly as the Panthers’ primary inside linebackers, and the duo combined for 209 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Panthers legend Thomas Davis is no longer with the team after leaving in free agency, and his departure will likely be felt. But as Carolina transitions its defense to a new scheme, the Panthers have brought in some notable names to play on the outside. Bruce Irvin signed with the team in the offseason, and he seems to be a strong candidate to start at outside linebacker as a pass rusher. The team also used its first pick in the draft to select Brian Burns, an athletic freak out of Florida State who was billed as one of the top prospects in this year’s class. This group will look different than in year’s past, but there is undoubtedly talent there and Kuechly is still a legitimate All-Pro. 1. Atlanta Falcons Average score: 1.2 Top player: Deion Jones Drop-off factor: 1 Group production: 1 Best player: 2 Consistency: 1 Depth: 1 Losing Deion Jones for much of the 2018 season was perhaps the most significant injury the Falcons suffered last season, which speaks volumes about his importance given who else the team lost. Jones’ range, instincts and tackling ability are simply instrumental in everything the Falcons do defensively. During his Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2017, Jones recorded 138 tackles – fourth most among all NFL linebackers – 10 tackles for a loss, 10 pass defenses and three interceptions. But what earns the Falcons the top spot on this list is that the guys around Jones are really good, too. De’Vondre Campbell does not get the level of attention he deserves, partially because of who he’s playing next to, and he’s recorded 186 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks and four pass defenses over the last two seasons. One of the best surprises for Atlanta in 2018 was sixth-round pick Foye Oluokun, a little-known player out of Yale. After Jones went down, Oluokun stepped up in a big way, earning 91 tackles despite starting just seven games. With veteran depth courtesy of Bruce Carter, Duke Riley and Kemal Ishmael behind a very good starting three, the Falcons are in great shape at linebacker.
https://www.atlantafalcons.com/_mobileview/news/ranking-the-nfc-south-s-receiver-corps-falcons-boast-an-intimidating-group Ranking the NFC South’s receiver corps: Falcons boast an intimidating group Will McFadden ATLANTAFALCONS.COM By this point in the offseason we have a pretty good picture of what certain position groups look like around the NFL. Since there are still a couple of months remaining until training camps start firing up, let’s use this time to take a look around the NFC South and see how teams stack up at certain positions. Today, the wide receivers are the topic of focus. The NFC South features some of the top receivers in the league in Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Michael Thomas. But a successful position group requires more than just one star at the top of the depth chart. For the duration of these NFC South position group rankings, we will be rating the groups on a 1-4 scale in five different categories with No. 1 being the best and No. 4 being the worst. The five categories are as follows: Drop-off factor: The drop in production from the No. 1 receiver to No. 2 and No. 3. Returning production: Are the top producers from 2018 back with the team in 2019? Best player: OK, the No. 1 option does mean something. Consistency: How long have the main receivers been with the team and playing together? Depth: Taking the “drop-off factor” and applying it to the total depth chart. Now that we’re clear on the rules, let’s take a look at how the rankings panned out. AP/Mike McCarn 4. Carolina Panthers Aggregate score: 3.2 Top player: D.J. Moore Drop-off factor: 3 Returning production: 3 Best player: 4 Consistency: 4 Depth: 2 D.J. Moore was one of the top rookie receivers in the NFL last season, but he is easily the fourth-most proven No. 1 receiver in the NFC South. He and Curtis Samuel had their moments last season, combining for 94 catches for 1,282 yards and seven touchdowns, but the team lost No. 2 receiver Devin Funchess in free agency. They’ve got a good haul coming in with Chris Hogan, Terry Godwin and Aldrick Robinson, and the Panthers have Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright coming back, which helped their depth score greatly. There is upside for this position group to surprise in 2019 as Moore and Samuel continue to grow as players, but that lack of proven top-tier talent is what has the Panthers as the bottom team in these rankings. AP/Adam Hunger 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aggregate score: 3 Top player: Mike Evans Drop-off factor: 2 Returning production: 4 Best player: 2 Consistency: 3 Depth: 4 The Buccaneers just barely edged ahead of the Panthers on this list, getting some help from Mike Evans’ proven production and star power. All told, however, this has been a tough offseason for the Bucs at receiver. The losses of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson will likely be felt next season, as they accounted for 117 catches, 1,590 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. Chris Godwin’s emergence as a reliable second option last season should bring some confidence in Tampa Bay’s top two options, but he and Evans might have to do a lot of heavy lifting. The combination of Evans and Godwin should be formidable in 2019 after a good 2018, but the Buccaneers will need some unproven players to step up around them. Tampa Bay’s receiving corps took the biggest step back this offseason. AP/Kevin Terrell 2. New Orleans Saints Aggregate score: 2.4 Top player: Michael Thomas Drop-off factor: 4 Returning production: 2 Best player: 3 Consistency: 2 Depth: 1 Led by Drew Brees, the Saints have one of the most potent passing offenses in the NFL. But Brees, one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks, distributes the ball everywhere on the field. Michael Thomas is a bon-a-fide No. 1 receiver, and Ted Ginn is an effective No. 2 when healthy, but there isn’t a ton of talent behind those two. Regardless, Brees’ ability to elevate those receivers he plays with is what earned the Saints the top depth score. They simply had the highest number of contributors at the receiver position. With a running back like Alvin Kamara returning, the Saints are always going to have options when throwing the ball. New Orleans’ receiving corps is nothing to sneeze at, but it isn’t the sole reason for the Saints’ offensive success. 1. Atlanta Falcons Aggregate score: 1.4 Top player: Julio Jones Drop-off factor: 1 Returning production: 1 Best player: 1 Consistency: 1 Depth: 3 The Falcons check pretty much every box you would want in a receiver group. An elite No. 1 receiver capable of creating numerous matchup problems – check. A reliable slot receiver who can win in a variety of ways – check. A young, dynamic playmaker with tantalizing upside – check. Atlanta’s starting trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley would rank right up there with any other in the league. The only area the Falcons can be knocked in this division is the depth behind those three, although that’s not in any way meant to disparage the reliability of Justin Hardy in spurts. Atlanta returns its top-two performing receivers for the third straight season, and Ridley’s emergence in 2019 makes this group not just the best in the NFC South, but one of the best in the NFL.
https://www.atlantafalcons.com/_mobileview/news/ranking-the-nfc-south-s-running-back-groups-all-purpose-stars-lead-the-way Ranking the NFC South’s running back groups: All-purpose stars lead the way Will McFadden ATLANTAFALCONS.COM Although the running back position has become a bit marginalized in recent seasons, the NFC South boasts some of the league’s top young backs. RELATED CONTENT Tabeek: Why a healthy Devonta Freeman is key to Falcons' success Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey have been stars since entering the league in 2017, and Devonta Freeman should be healthy after missing much of the 2018 season. Continuing my NFC South position group rankings, I’ve dug into each team’s current crop of running backs to determine how they stack up. For a reminder of what I look for in each category, click here. AP/Jason Behnken 4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Aggregate score: 2.8 Top player: Peyton Barber Dropoff factor: 3 Returning production: 3 Best player: 3 Consistency: 1 Depth: 4 The Buccaneers had the worst rushing attack in the division last year, averaging 95.2 yards per game, which were the fourth-fewest among all NFL teams. Aside from the addition of Andre Ellington and the loss of JacQuizz Rodgers this offseason, Tampa Bay has pretty much stood pat at the position. Peyton Barber will return after leading the team with 234 carries for 871 yards and five touchdowns. Ronald Jones, the Buccaneers’ second-round draft pick in 2018, had a disappointing rookie season and gained just 44 yards and scored one touchdown on 23 carries. The team could be hoping for a breakout year with Jones, but the combination of him and Barber isn’t too frightening. 3. Atlanta Falcons Aggregate score: 2.6 Top player: Devonta Freeman Dropoff factor: 2 Returning production: 4 Best player: 3 Consistency: 3 Depth: 1 Tevin Coleman’s departure was one of the few key losses in free agency for the Falcons. The longtime backfield teammate of Devonta Freeman ran for 800 yards and four touchdowns on 167 carries last season while starting in place of Freeman, who missed all but two games due to injury. Freeman should be back healthy for 2019, and the Falcons are a better team with him on the field. But it remains to be seen, after he’s missed time each of the last two seasons, if Freeman can stay on the field. Behind Freeman the Falcons have a lot of different options to work with. Ito Smith carried the ball 90 times for 315 yards and four scores during his rookie season, and Brian Hill ran wild in a Week 16 game against the Panthers, gaining 115 yards on just eight carries. Atlanta also drafted Qadree Ollison and Marcus Green, further bolstering their depth. AP/Jason Behnken 2. Carolina Panthers Aggregate score: 2.4 Top player: Christian McCaffrey Dropoff factor: 4 Returning production: 1 Best player: 2 Consistency: 2 Depth: 3 Alvin Kamara has gotten plenty of attention during his first two seasons with the Saints, but Christian McCaffrey has been every bit as impressive in his first two years in Carolina. McCaffrey was both the Panthers’ leading rusher and receiver in 2018, gaining 1,965 total offensive yards and scoring 13 combined touchdowns. His importance to the Panthers’ offense can’t be overstated. Carolina’s main loss behind McCaffrey was veteran back C.J. Anderson. Cameron Artis-Payne is back after carrying the ball 19 times for 69 yards and a touchdown last season, and the Panthers added draft pick Jordan Scarlett and former Georgia running back Elijah Holyfield to the position group this offseason. Still, this is McCaffrey’s show. AP/Perry Knotts 1. New Orleans Saints Aggregate score: 2 Top player: Alvin Kamara Dropoff factor: 1 Returning production: 2 Best player: 1 Consistency: 4 Depth: 2 Losing Mark Ingram in free agency will certainly be felt next season, but the Saints’ decision to add Latavius Murray, who gained 578 yards and scored six touchdowns on 140 carries with the Vikings last season, will help mitigate that. Of course, with Alvin Kamara still around it doesn’t much matter who the No. 2 back is. Kamara gained 1,592 combined yards last season and scored 18 touchdowns. Since joining the Saints in 2017, Kamara has averaged over 5 yards per carry and has scored 31 touchdowns. Dwayne Washington also returns to the Saints’ backfield after carrying the ball 27 times for 154 yards last season. The combination of Kamara, Murray and Washington gives New Orleans a pretty complete backfield trio.
Peyton Barber's tablet stolen, but Bucs say no concern over confidential information 6:15 PM CT Jenna LaineESPN Staff Writer Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber's team-issued tablet was stolen in Atlanta early Saturday morning, team officials told ESPN. According to police, a group of men broke into Barber's Jeep Wrangler SUV around 5 a.m. ET Saturday outside a high-rise in the Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. Along with the tablet, the men stole Barber's passport, designer sunglasses and clothing, according to police. Barber made the discovery when he saw his passenger door was ajar and his rear driver's side window was damaged, calling police shortly before 9:50 a.m. A team official told ESPN that the tablet was wiped clean remotely Saturday and that there was no playbook information on it -- just scouting video -- so there isn't concern about confidential info getting out. The Bucs do use their tablets as playbooks, however. Officers were later advised of another vehicle theft at the same location. Police say it does appear both vehicles were entered by the same suspects. Barber, who is from the Atlanta area, was visiting a friend when the incident occurred