The final part of our defensive power rankings looks at the big boys on the line. As they say, you can’t teach size and that’s why the big guys tend to be drafted higher and, ultimately, paid more money. In the NFC South, the defensive line is arguably the best of the defensive units and with Gerald McCoy swapping an eye patch for sky blue, there is even added controversy.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs get a bit shafted here. From four to two is very tight and at full strength Tampa is probably third best at worst. However, assuming Jason Pierre-Paul is out for the majority of the year, the Buccaneers severely lack pass rush, relying on Carl Nassib, William Gholston and fourth round rookie Anthony Nelson. Ndamukong Suh fills the hole left by Gerald McCoy and Vita Vea returns. The Bucs finished equal 19th with 38 sacks in 2018 and ranked 24th in rush defence, slightly ahead of Atlanta. Ultimately, this line looks as though it will struggle to get off the field with Gerald McCoy and JPP – for the majority of the season at least – gone.
3. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons have some talent on the line but struggled to live up to it a year ago. Superstar Vic Beasley has 10 sacks over the last two years after 15.5 in 2016 and franchised Grady Jarrett is inconsistent against the run. Tak McKinley and Adrian Clayborn add some pass rush but there is no depth on the interior, even with Jack Crawford, or the edge. The Falcons trailed the Buccaneers slightly on defence in 2018, getting one fewer sack with 37 and allowing 16 more yards against the run, 2000 in total. With no major improvements in the offseason, fourth round rookie John Cominsky being the only one of note, the loss of JPP in Tampa is the only thing keeping the Falcons off the bottom of the pile.
2. Carolina Panthers
They’ve been busy down in Charlotte this offseason, and it the most improved defensive line in the division. A year ago the Panthers had just 35 sacks, sixth fewest in the league, but they were twelfth against the run, allowing 1800 yards. Since then, Carolina have added Gerald McCoy shoring up the interior line significantly, even if McCoy improvises, and crucially Brian Burns to add some much-needed pass rush, supported by Christian Miller on the edge. That said the left is weaker with aging veterans Dontari Poe and Bruce Irvin. Now the Panthers can pressure the passer and get of the field, the Panthers will be a tough team to score against, having stuttered to 19th in 3rd down percentage allowed and points allowed in 2018.
1. New Orleans Saints
By far the strongest unit on the Saints defence is the defensive line. Cameron Jordan, Sheldon Rankins, Malcolm Brown and Marcus Davenport create the most dominant unit in the division. They are all returning for another crack at the crown. New Orleans were three yards from giving up the fewest rushing yards in the league, though they do give up a lot of passing yards. As well as allowing just 80 yards on the ground a game, they also ranked fifth in sacks with 50, 12 more than anyone else in division. Cameron managed 12 sacks a year ago but Davenport failed to live up to expectation as a rookie after the Saints blockbuster draft trade, with just 4.5 sacks but is projected for a breakout in year two in Dennis Allen’s system. With star power across the line, the one real weakness is depth, with Mario Edwards and Sylvester Williams the only real rotation options.
Here’s how they stand so far (team average in brackets)…
Photo: AP / Mark LoMoglio