The NFC South will not be confused with one of the NFL’s giant divisions. 500 in 2022, so we’re not exactly looking at Super Bowl contenders in this group. That said, there are intriguing aspects to all four of these clubs. The Buccaneers are now looking to fill a GOAT-sized gap following Tom Brady’s retirement, the Saints signed Derek Carr as their next QB, while the Panthers moved up to first overall to select Bryce Young. With all that quarterback turnover in the division, Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder has the most games started (four) with his current team in the NFC South, and he’s heading into his first season as a full-time starter.
Needless to say, there is a lot of uncertainty within this division. So how about we dive into some burning questions about each club?
Buccaneers: Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask to be QB1?
The Buccaneers won’t really be able to replace Tom Brady, but someone will need to line up at center for them in 2023. As things currently stand, Tampa Bay is looking at two options – Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask. The club signed Mayfield to a one-year deal in mid-March after the former No. 1 overall pick spent the second half of the 2022 season with the Rams after a failed tenure at Carolina. Mayfield went 1–3 in his four games starting for Los Angeles and completed 63.8% of his passes, recording an 84.5 passer rating. The 28-year-old has experience at the position with 72 regular season games under his belt. Meanwhile, he has thrown only nine NFL passes since the Bucs beat him in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. One would imagine that Trask is the preferred choice here given his age and advantage, but these quarterbacks are likely to struggle throughout training camp.
Panthers: What is the hierarchy of wide receivers?
The Panthers turned their wide receiver room upside down this offseason by introducing a new head coach and a rookie quarterback. As part of the deal to be No. 1 overall to select Bryce Young, Carolina fired DJ Moore, who led the team in every significant receiving category in 2022. Now, the Panthers have rookies like veterans Adam Thielen and DJ Chark along. with rookie Jonathan Mingo joining the fray which also consists of 2022 transfers Terrace Marshall Jr. Laviska Shenault and Shi Smith. That list grows even longer when you factor in tight end Hayden Hurst, who was also signed as a free agent. In the coming months, figuring out who Young has the most chemistry with and which pass receivers are clicking on offense will be a fascinating exercise in helping the offense — and its rookie quarterback — get off to a strong start.
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Santos: How will the backfield be?
Derek Carr should be able to pick up on Saints culture pretty easily thanks to his history with head coach Dennis Allen, so let’s not put the spotlight on him. Instead, we’ll look at Carr’s backfield, as the Saints have quietly revised the running back position. The club signed Jamaal Williams in free agency and used a third-round pick on TCU running back Kendre Miller. These moves come against the backdrop of Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara possibly facing an NFL suspension after he was indicted on two criminal charges stemming from an alleged Las Vegas incident in 2022. If Kamara is sidelined for any length of time, Williams and Miller would be asked to carry the load. If he escapes a suspension, this racing game will have many cooks in the kitchen.
Falcons: Is Desmond Ridder a QB franchise?
The Falcons didn’t seem all that interested in entering some of the higher-profile quarterback draws this offseason, nor did they decide to trade or select one with the 8th overall pick in the NFL Draft. The club brought in Taylor Heinicke, but it looks like he’ll just be a veteran backup to 2022 third-round pick Desmond Ridder. The Cincinnati product is poised to be a full-time starter for the team in 2023 after picking up four starting nominations to end the regular season last year. Ridder improved in each of those four games and ended with a Week 18 performance against Tampa Bay, where he threw for 224 yards, two touchdowns and had a 108.2 passer rating.
With explosive weapons throughout the offense, the 23-year-old has the opportunity to put numbers on Arthur Smith’s offense. If he can prove he can be a QB franchise worth building, the Falcons will have an extremely cost-effective player for years to come. If it does not live up to these expectations, the franchise will certainly be back on the market in the next off season.