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NFC South projected starters: Saints boast NFL's top triplets?

Gregg Rosenthal will project post-draft starting lineups for all 32 teams -- because that's his idea of fun.

Atlanta Falcons

» Don't be surprised if Calvin Ridley challenges Mohamed Sanu immediately for the nominal No. 2 receiver job. Sanu is an incredibly valuable role player, but he has logged fewer than 80 percent of available snaps in each of his first two seasons with Atlanta, while failing to eclipse 705 receiving yards in either campaign.

» On a well-constructed roster without any glaring flaws, this offensive line risks being "meh." The Falcons brought in guard Brandon Fusco to help with the unit's toughness on short-yardage carries.

» This is a big season for tight end Austin Hooper. When the team's offense slowed down late in the 2017 season, Hooper all but vanished. With so much defensive attention aimed at Julio Jones and the team's running backs, there should be room for the third-year pro to do more.

» The Falcons handed late free-agent signing Terrell McClain $4 million, making him a strong candidate to get starter-worthy snaps at defensive tackle. Third-round pick Deadrin Senat and veteran Jack Crawford will also try to help replace Dontari Poe.

» Atlanta's defense was peaking late last season and had the look of a Super Bowl-type unit if the offense had cooperated. The team has an embarrassment of homegrown talent ready to take the next step to stardom (see: Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal).

» The team's x-factor could be Vic Beasley, who regularly had fewer than 30 snaps per game down the stretch last season, only a year removed from being in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Beasley has moved back to defensive end full time, so he can focus only on rushing the passer.

» A strong secondary should get better with the addition of Isaiah Oliver, who might match up with big receivers (like Mike Evans and Michael Thomas) better than Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Since Oliver makes sense as an outside cornerback, the team could move Alford or Trufant to the slot in Atlanta's nickel packages.

Carolina Panthers

» The jury is still out on whether Norv Turner can rejuvenate Cam Newton's career, although I'm optimistic. Rookie wideout D.J. Moore has the versatility that Devin Funchess and trade pickup Torrey Smith lack, but counting on a rookie to be the team's leading wideout is asking a lot.

» Christian McCaffrey played 746 snaps as a rookie last season, nearly double what Jonathan Stewart saw. The Panthers upgraded their backup spot with C.J. Anderson, so I wouldn't expect McCaffrey's workload to suddenly explode.

» It was telling Carolina didn't draft an interior lineman despite losing Andrew Norwell in free agency. Tyler Larsen did a fine job when he played the last two years, while the Panthers already spent a 2017 second-round pick on Taylor Moton, who has flexibility to move inside to guard.

» Carolina is an outlier in today's NFL, a team that leaves three linebackers on the field on the vast majority of passing downs. Shaq Thompson has earned the right, which is a plus because the team's secondary is thinner than at any time in recent memory.

» The secondary is a problem. After James Bradberry, who didn't step up as hoped last year, the only cornerbacks with NFL experience are castoffs. Safety is manned by 37-year-old Mike Adams and possibly Da'Norris Searcy, who flamed out with the Titans last year. The team would love it if second-round cornerback Donte Jackson and third-round safety Rashaan Gaulden emerged.

» That's a rad-looking defensive line, especially with former first-round pick Vernon Butler and defensive end Wes Horton coming off the bench.

New Orleans Saints

» This team won't miss Mark Ingram that much during his four-game PED suspension to start the season. Alvin Kamara is primed to be the team's lead back and the roster is built to support Drew Brees throwing the ball 40 times a game like Drew Brees is supposed to. The additions of former Bears wideout Cameron Meredith and third-round pick Tre'Quan Smith give this team an incredibly high offensive ceiling.

» Kamara can be a top-five back and Michael Thomas is already a top-10 receiver; along with Brees, they could challenge the Steelers as the best QB-RB-WR trio in football.

» No playoff team lost more games from starters due to injury last year, yet the Saints still could have won the Super Bowl with a few breaks going their way. The return to health for left tackle Terron Armstead and the rest of the nasty offensive line should give the team a boost.

» After coming up short in the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes, New Orleans is thin at defensive tackle. Sheldon Rankins will rotate with Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata. The team's edge rusher situation is similarly short-staffed, which is why the Saints overpaid to move up in the first round for Marcus Davenport. Davenport's presence takes pressure off Alex Okafor, who is coming off Achilles surgery.

» Cameron Jordan told me back in April that he's never seen so many middle linebackers on one team in his life. Demario Davis has the money and pedigree to get the job. A.J. Klein was signed to play it last year, while Manti Te'o and Craig Robertson have both played it in the past. The Saints appear so traumatized by all their linebacker misfires in the past that they responded by overstuffing the position.

» The projected starting lineup above at linebacker is the one with the highest ceiling. Alex Anzalone would help New Orleans' team speed if he can stay healthy enough to keep the weak-side job in his second year.

» Marshon Lattimore changes the entire Saints defense. With Patrick Robinson back in New Orleans playing the slot and one of last year's starting safeties (Vonn Bell) possibly coming off the bench, this is the deepest, most talented Saints secondary of the Sean Payton era.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

» If not for the guaranteed money in DeSean Jackson's contract, the Buccaneers might have considered cutting him just to open playing time for Chris Godwin. I listed Godwin here even though Adam Humphries is their slot receiver because Godwin is too talented and showed too much as a rookie to keep on the bench. They must find him playing time.

» Cameron Brate was more productive, but last year's first-round pick at tight end (O.J. Howard) actually played more snaps in 2017. They both should have big roles again, with Howard's share of the offense growing.

» If Ronald Jones pans out, Jameis Winston has one of the NFL's best groups of offensive weapons around him. Unless Donovan Smith improves, however, the offensive line could still be sub-mediocre at protecting the franchise quarterback.

» The Bucs seem likely to cut expensive former free-agent signing J.R. Sweezy, which opens the right guard spot up to competition.

» It's amazing how much better that defensive line looks, especially with Noah Spence, William Gholston and free-agent pickups Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein coming off the bench.

» Tampa drafted three players in the second round, all at positions of need. It would be a surprise if Ronald Jones doesn't beat out Peyton Barber for the starting running back job in the long run, if not by Week 1. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart could have been reaches and will now be asked to play off coverage -- despite the fact that they excelled in college with physicality. Davis and Stewart will battle former No. 11 overall pick Vernon Hargreaves and Ryan Smith for snaps at cornerback, with Brent Grimes the only surefire starter.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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