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NFC South projected starters for 2024 NFL season: Bucs, Falcons, Saints fairly even; Panthers lack talent

With the 2024 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC South breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Kirk Cousins Edge Lorenzo Carter
RB Bijan Robinson DT Grady Jarrett
WR Drake London DT David Onyemata
WR Darnell Mooney Edge Arnold Ebiketie
WR Rondale Moore LB Kaden Elliss
TE Kyle Pitts LB Troy Andersen
LT Jake Matthews CB A.J. Terrell
LG Matthew Bergeron CB Clark Phillips III
C Drew Dalman CB Dee Alford
RG Chris Lindstrom S Jessie Bates III
RT Kaleb McGary S Richie Grant
  • Atlanta went from the league's worst quarterback situation to a top-10 group. The long-term implications have been discussed plenty. In the short term -- a vital fourth season under general manager Terry Fontenot -- the Falcons have an intriguing backup in Michael Penix Jr. to develop and potentially turn to if anything goes wrong with Kirk Cousins in his return from a torn Achilles.
  • Offensive coordinator Zac Robinson comes from the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan coaching tree. Does he have that run-game magic? Some outposts like Minnesota and Houston have been less successful on the ground.
  • Robinson has excellent players to work with. Tyler Allgeier is an incredible backup behind one of the team's most talented starters in Bijan Robinson. This offensive line has great continuity and talent, although Atlanta fell off in the run game in 2023 under Arthur Smith.
  • The receiver position is deeper. Darnell Mooney knows how to get open deep, while Rondale Moore has a chance to revive his career after an up-and-down stay in Arizona. Drake London looks like a top-10 receiver if he gets help.
  • London playing like a star despite his surroundings over the last two seasons is a reminder that you can't put all of Kyle Pitts' struggles on the situation. The tight end just hasn't moved the same in the pros thanks to health issues.
  • The offense is a top-10 group. The defensive roster is why I don't get the "turn-key contender" hype here. It's still one of the least-talented groups in the league.
  • It's a yearly complaint that the Falcons don't have enough edge pass rush. That's likely to continue, although they hope third-round pick Bralen Trice can help.
  • If the edge group is indeed a problem, the defensive tackle tandem of Grady Jarrett and David Onyemata is a solution. They are nasty.
  • Jessie Bates III was worth every penny in free agency last season, and A.J. Terrell's top-end play is Pro Bowl quality. After that, the secondary is full of players teams won't be afraid to target.
  • Raheem Morris coached up an undermanned Rams defense to average last year. He'll have to do the same again in Atlanta, or the Falcons could get stuck in their middle-of-the-pack loop.
Table inside Article
QB Bryce Young Edge Jadeveon Clowney
RB Jonathon Brooks DT Derrick Brown
WR Diontae Johnson DT Shy Tuttle
WR Adam Thielen Edge D.J. Wonnum
WR Xavier Legette LB Shaq Thompson
TE Tommy Tremble LB Josey Jewell
LT Ikem Ekwonu CB Jaycee Horn
LG Damien Lewis CB Dane Jackson
C Austin Corbett CB Troy Hill
RG Robert Hunt S Jordan Fuller
RT Taylor Moton S Xavier Woods
  • Bryce Young has a better chance at success with this group around him, including new head coach/quarterback whisperer Dave Canales.
  • The improvements begin in the backfield, where the Panthers traded up for the most dynamic runner in this draft class. Even if Jonathon Brooks isn't ready for a full workload in Week 1 coming off a torn ACL, Carolina selected him to start.
  • Diontae Johnson creates separation, which is what Young needs. Adam Thielen was that guy for the offense last year and makes more sense one spot lower on the depth chart at this point in his career.
  • Xavier Legette is a boom-or-bust first-round pick. The Panthers are hoping the one-year wonder in college can make plays after the catch in the NFL. Canales did a good job in Tampa maximizing receivers' strengths.
  • It will be interesting to see if Canales can get anything out of Terrace Marshall Jr. and Jonathan Mingo, two underperforming receiver picks from previous regimes.
  • Ikem Ekwonu remains the biggest X-factor on the offense beyond Young. The 2022 No. 6 overall pick just didn't show much progress in Year 2.
  • The Panthers spent a ton of money to sign guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. Offensive line is the position group, however, where coaching, continuity and cohesion between the five starters matters just as much as pure talent.
  • Jadeveon Clowney and D.J. Wonnum were sensible signings in an area of the roster that needed reinforcements. That said, the Panthers are still worse off on the edges than they were when they had Brian Burns.
  • Beyond Derrick Brown, it's a defensive line primarily comprised of stopgap options. That's a tough way to run a defense.
  • I liked the Josey Jewell signing at linebacker. He can stay on the field for all three downs.
  • Jaycee Horn remains a potential star at cornerback -- if he can just stay on the field. Jordan Fuller was a worthwhile pickup as a potential leader at safety. After that, the secondary has a lot of questions without many promising young players to develop.
  • Any improvements on offense could be mitigated by the defensive roster declining. This is still my choice for the least-talented depth chart in the NFL.
Table inside Article
QB Derek Carr Edge Cameron Jordan
RB Alvin Kamara DT Bryan Bresee
WR Chris Olave Edge Chase Young
WR Rashid Shaheed Edge Carl Granderson
TAY Taysom Hill LB Demario Davis
TE Juwan Johnson LB Pete Werner
LT Taliese Fuaga CB Marshon Lattimore
LG Nick Saldiveri CB Paulson Adebo
C Erik McCoy CB Kool-Aid McKinstry
RG Cesar Ruiz S Tyrann Mathieu
RT Landon Young S Jordan Howden
  • Fifth-round pick Spencer Rattler is talented enough to make the preseason more interesting to watch. If he plays well in August, he'll be an option late in the season should Derek Carr struggle or the Saints fall out of contention.
  • Last year's third-round running back, Kendre Miller, has a good chance to unseat Jamaal Williams as Alvin Kamara's backup and possibly carve out a significant weekly role. Kamara is now in year-to-year mode.
  • I listed Taysom Hill as his own position, in part because he'll be a bigger part of the offense than any third receiver option on the roster. I love the tandem of Chris Olave and Rashid Shaheed, but the team is thin after that if either gets hurt. Second-year pro A.T. Perry is probably next in line.
  • The Saints would love for tight end Juwan Johnson to step up as a more consistent part of the passing game. He didn't produce as expected last year.
  • First-round pick Taliese Fuaga is initially taking snaps at left tackle in the offseason after playing on the right side in college. No matter where Fuaga lines up, the other tackle spot will be a big question mark. For now, 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning is trying the right side after struggling to get on the field last year. It's uncertain if mainstay Ryan Ramczyk will continue to play football because of knee issues.
  • The offensive line was such a strength in the Sean Payton era, but it is now possibly the team's biggest concern.
  • The defense is deeper throughout the roster. At edge, Chase Young is in a prove-it year. Carl Granderson emerged as a difference-maker last year.
  • I liked what Bryan Bresee showed as a rookie. He has a chance to develop into a star.
  • The Saints are hoping that Pete Werner bounces back from a down year and that Demario Davis continues to be ageless. They have former Chief Willie Gay Jr. waiting in the wings.
  • Cornerback could be the deepest spot on the roster. I couldn't find room in the starting lineup for Alontae Taylor, who was miscast in the slot last season. It's still possible Taylor could be dealt to a CB-needy team. Marshon Lattimore is another trade candidate, but I suspect that would only happen during the season if things weren't going well.
  • In Dennis Allen's third year as head coach, this roster is tilted toward defense again. The Saints have a shot to win the division if the offensive line can hold up.
Table inside Article
QB Baker Mayfield Edge YaYa Diaby
RB Rachaad White DE Logan Hall
WR Mike Evans DT Vita Vea
WR Chris Godwin DE Calijah Kancey
WR Trey Palmer Edge Chris Braswell
TE Cade Otton LB Lavonte David
LT Tristan Wirfs CB Jamel Dean
LG Ben Bredeson CB Zyon McCollum
C Graham Barton CB Tykee Smith
RG Cody Mauch S Antoine Winfield Jr.
RT Luke Goedeke S Jordan Whitehead
  • The Buccaneers have less starting competition than most teams coming off a 9-8 season. The lineup appears largely set.
  • Fourth-round pick Bucky Irving has a shot to be Rachaad White's primary backup from the jump. The Bucs never consistently got their running game going last season, but they loved to run on early downs under previous coordinator Dave Canales.
  • This could be Chris Godwin's last year in Tampa. He hasn't been quite as good after ACL surgery. Third-round pick Jalen McMillan profiles as a potential option inside, where Godwin does damage.
  • Mike Evans is still a star. But is this skill-position group good enough to elevate a mid-level starting QB in Baker Mayfield? The lack of continuity at offensive coordinator, with Liam Coen replacing Canales, is a concern.
  • The offensive line going from good to great is the clearest path to excellence. First-round pick Graham Barton could be an immediate difference-maker.
  • It was tough to pick a second edge beyond YaYa Diaby. I went with second-round rookie Chris Braswell. I also wanted to pick three pure defensive linemen because coach Todd Bowles likes his heavy fronts.
  • K.J. Britt figures to be Devin White's replacement next to Lavonte David. As long as David is there, I have faith in the linebackers.
  • The Bucs surprisingly dealt Carlton Davis and will count on youngster Zyon McCollum and third-round rookie Tykee Smith at cornerback. It's a big risk.
  • It's less of a risk, however, when the Bucs have perhaps the league's best safety, Antoine Winfield Jr., covering up mistakes.
  • This is a rock-solid, if unspectacular, roster in the league's shakiest division. There isn't much talent separation between the Falcons, Saints and Bucs.

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