vafalconfan Posted May 9, 2011 Share Posted May 9, 2011 Scouts Eye: NFC South By Matt WilliamsonScouts Inc.Each Monday, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. breaks down a key position group in a division. He last reviewed AFC North running backs. Today, he reviews and ranks the NFC South defensive lines from best to worst.1. New Orleans SaintsThe Saints are much better off on the defensive line now than when the season ended. There is a lot more position versatility here with the addition of Shaun Rogers and first-round pick Cameron Jordan. Both players could excel in an even or odd front, and creative defensive coordinator Gregg Williams now has a lot more options at his disposal. I expect both Rogers and Jordan to make huge impacts on every down. Jordan never should have fallen as far in the draft as he did. He should be a big strong-side end to complement Will Smith and then kick inside on passing downs. He also could play the five-technique when Williams decides to show that look and Smith kicks out to more of a 3-4 outside linebacker role. Rogers can play end or the nose in an odd front and also is a very underrated but exceptional interior pass-rusher. Keeping Rogers fresh will be of paramount importance, but he can be as disruptive as any defensive tackle in football. I loved this signing. Sedrick Ellis stepped up his game last season and did record six sacks. But he is not yet a dominant player in either phase of the defensive tackle position. Having Rogers alongside Ellis could help a great deal. Remi Ayodele is also still in the mix, but is an early-down run plugger. At end along with Smith and Jordan, Alex Brown plays the run well and has a good understanding of leverage and blocking schemes, but his quick-twitch abilities have suffered over the years. He is no longer a suitable outside pass-rusher on throwing downs. Brown is now a rotational role player. Jimmy Wilkerson and Anthony Hargrove are up for free agency. Wilkerson should not be a priority, but Hargrove is a big-bodied end who can also play tackle in a pinch. However, Hargrove's pass-rush prowess is less than exciting. Jeff Charleston has some similarities to Hargrove, and although he won't see a lot of snaps ideally, he is serviceable. One player to take note of is seventh-round selection Greg Romeus. This could be a redshirt year for Romeus, but many considered him to be a high draft pick before his injury issues. If he's fully recovered, Romeus has starting potential -- perhaps just not this season. The Saints' run defense certainly wasn't great, but their pass-rush was the bigger problem in 2010. Although this line looks to be improved, adding a designated edge pass-rusher type in free agency could really put it over the top. Or, third-round pick Martez Wilson could potentially fill that designated speed rusher position on passing downs. 2. Atlanta FalconsThis group is better than it often gets credit for. Even better, Atlanta doesn't have any prominent members of the defensive line up for free agency. John Abraham had a strong 2010 season and shows no signs of slowing down.Although he isn't a young player, John Abraham still had a tremendous 2010 season, and his ability to get after the quarterback should not be in question. He has shown no lapse in his play with age whatsoever. Kroy Biermann starts opposite Abraham but also gives way some to Jamaal Anderson. Although Anderson is a terrific run-stopping force, Biermann is a much better pass-rusher than his sack numbers would indicate. Another young end who could factor in is Lawrence Sidbury. The same could be said for Chauncey Davis. Seventh-rounder Cliff Matthews probably won't see a lot of playing time and seems like a good candidate for Atlanta's practice squad. Many considered defensive end as the Falcons' top need heading into the draft. They apparently disagreed. I think this unit is good enough to win with considering the depth. Jonathan Babineaux is one of the best defensive tackles in football but rarely gets the credit he deserves. He makes a lot of plays in the backfield versus the run, but he isn't huge and can struggle snap after snap at the point of attack. But Babineaux is simply a great interior pass-rusher. The Falcons need another defensive tackle to step up next to Babineaux. Corey Peters did some good things in his rookie season, but overall he could not be considered a success yet. Improvement should come in year two for Peters. The Falcons do need much more from former first-round selection Peria Jerry. Vance Walker has some ability but is tough to count on against the run. Atlanta's run defense wasn't nearly good enough last season, as evidenced by the ugly statistic of 4.6 average yards allowed per rush. Although the Falcons lack a massive wide body in the middle of this defense, there is a lot of athletic ability up front and a decent rotation of players. But the production versus the run must improve. 3. Tampa Bay BuccaneersThe Buccaneers have made great efforts in the past two drafts to improve in this area, and that improvement is bound to become evident before long. But it is tough to get around the fact that only the Broncos recorded fewer sacks than Tampa Bay did last season. And only the Bills allowed a higher rushing yards-per-attempt average (4.7) than the Buccaneers. The wild card for the Bucs now and in the future is Da'Quan Bowers, an immense talent but also a player who enters the league with durability concerns. If he can overcome those obstacles, Tampa Bay may have landed the steal of the draft. Bowers would be exactly what the doctor ordered. Even if the Bucs have to monitor his practice and playing time strictly, as long as limited snaps are very productive, they will have a much improved defense. More pass-rush is obviously needed -- Stylez G. White led this team with a paltry 4.5 sacks in 2010, even though he missed the last month of the season with a biceps injury. Bowers is capable of being that pass-rushing force, but White isn't really lacking in this department. I see White as a No. 2 pass-rusher and not someone who can flourish when opposing protection schemes focus on him. Like White, Kyle Moore missed time with an injury (shoulder). Moore now should be a solid depth player and his starting job should go to first-round pick Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn has very good size and physicality and will probably start on the right side. Both of Tampa Bay's top picks do have some medical risks. Moore will never be an upper tier pass-rusher, so he needs to make his living against the run. Like many Bucs defensive linemen in 2010, Moore did not accomplish that goal. In fact, Tampa's defense was terrible versus the run in 2010.The defensive line is built around Gerald McCoy. McCoy has already proved that he can get after the quarterback from his three-technique position. So far, he has lived up to his high draft slot, and I expect him to quickly establish himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the league. Brian Price didn't get a chance to make a huge impact as a rookie because of a pelvis injury, but from what we have seen, he seems capable of starting at this level. Tampa Bay has used so many high picks on defensive linemen that Roy Miller can get overlooked. Miller needs to step up his all-around game, but he is powerful and should free up those around him. Miller or Price will start next to McCoy. Defensive line depth was a real problem a year ago, but that looks to be corrected. Both the tackle and end positions should have a talented and deep -- albeit young -- rotation. This line has the potential to be among the best in the league as soon as this upcoming season, but I just can't put it over Atlanta and New Orleans right now because it is too unproven. 4. Carolina PanthersThe key here is the status of their best lineman, Charles Johnson, who is up for free agency. Depending on the labor agreement, Johnson could be a restricted free agent or unrestricted. The Panthers had better pray that he doesn't hit the open market unrestricted. Many teams will line up for his services. I was shocked that Carolina didn't franchise Johnson, who is 24, but instead the Panthers used it on their starting center, Ryan Kalil. Johnson had 11.5 sacks and established himself as one of the better 4-3 defensive ends in football. He has power, speed, agility and a repertoire of pass-rush moves. He also shows the ability to stand up offensive tackles in the run game. Everette Brown is a former high draft pick who hasn't done enough to get excited about. This could be a make-or-break season for Brown -- and he would really suffer if Johnson left. Tyler Brayton makes a lot of money but produces little. He could be let go. Carolina needs more of an edge presence than Brayton can provide. Greg Hardy had an intriguing rookie season and could be primed for much more action, even if Brayton and Johnson remain with the team. Hardy has an all-around game, and his abilities are apparent. Keep an eye on him. Entering the draft, it could be argued that the Panthers' need at defensive tackle was as great as it was at quarterback. Although Carolina did not have a second-round selection, it did act accordingly by selecting Terrell McClain and Sione Fua with its next two picks after Cam Newton's selection first overall. Still, it is hard to imagine that defensive tackle will be a team strength in 2011, unless Carolina can land a prominent free agent at the position. If that doesn't occur, expect the Panthers to use a rotation. Derek Landri saw plenty of snaps at defensive tackle but has not been a dynamic enough player. Nick Hayden and Ed Johnson are not much better -- if at all. These two need to step up their run defense. It must be noted, however, that Carolina was the only team in the division to hold opposing runners to under 4.0 yards per rushing attempt.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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