By this point in the offseason we have a pretty good picture of what certain position groups look like around the NFL. Since there are still a couple of months remaining until training camps start firing up, let’s use this time to take a look around the NFC South and see how teams stack up at certain positions.
Today, the wide receivers are the topic of focus. The NFC South features some of the top receivers in the league in Julio Jones, Mike Evans and Michael Thomas. But a successful position group requires more than just one star at the top of the depth chart.
For the duration of these NFC South position group rankings, we will be rating the groups on a 1-4 scale in five different categories with No. 1 being the best and No. 4 being the worst. The five categories are as follows:
Drop-off factor: The drop in production from the No. 1 receiver to No. 2 and No. 3.
Returning production: Are the top producers from 2018 back with the team in 2019?
Best player: OK, the No. 1 option does mean something.
Consistency: How long have the main receivers been with the team and playing together?
Depth: Taking the “drop-off factor” and applying it to the total depth chart.
Now that we’re clear on the rules, let’s take a look at how the rankings panned out.
4. Carolina Panthers
Aggregate score: 3.2
- Top player: D.J. Moore
- Drop-off factor: 3
- Returning production: 3
- Best player: 4
- Consistency: 4
- Depth: 2
D.J. Moore was one of the top rookie receivers in the NFL last season, but he is easily the fourth-most proven No. 1 receiver in the NFC South. He and Curtis Samuel had their moments last season, combining for 94 catches for 1,282 yards and seven touchdowns, but the team lost No. 2 receiver Devin Funchess in free agency. They’ve got a good haul coming in with Chris Hogan, Terry Godwin and Aldrick Robinson, and the Panthers have Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright coming back, which helped their depth score greatly.
There is upside for this position group to surprise in 2019 as Moore and Samuel continue to grow as players, but that lack of proven top-tier talent is what has the Panthers as the bottom team in these rankings.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Aggregate score: 3
- Top player: Mike Evans
- Drop-off factor: 2
- Returning production: 4
- Best player: 2
- Consistency: 3
- Depth: 4
The Buccaneers just barely edged ahead of the Panthers on this list, getting some help from Mike Evans’ proven production and star power. All told, however, this has been a tough offseason for the Bucs at receiver. The losses of Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson will likely be felt next season, as they accounted for 117 catches, 1,590 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. Chris Godwin’s emergence as a reliable second option last season should bring some confidence in Tampa Bay’s top two options, but he and Evans might have to do a lot of heavy lifting.
The combination of Evans and Godwin should be formidable in 2019 after a good 2018, but the Buccaneers will need some unproven players to step up around them. Tampa Bay’s receiving corps took the biggest step back this offseason.
2. New Orleans Saints
Aggregate score: 2.4
- Top player: Michael Thomas
- Drop-off factor: 4
- Returning production: 2
- Best player: 3
- Consistency: 2
- Depth: 1
Led by Drew Brees, the Saints have one of the most potent passing offenses in the NFL. But Brees, one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks, distributes the ball everywhere on the field. Michael Thomas is a bon-a-fide No. 1 receiver, and Ted Ginn is an effective No. 2 when healthy, but there isn’t a ton of talent behind those two. Regardless, Brees’ ability to elevate those receivers he plays with is what earned the Saints the top depth score. They simply had the highest number of contributors at the receiver position.
With a running back like Alvin Kamara returning, the Saints are always going to have options when throwing the ball. New Orleans’ receiving corps is nothing to sneeze at, but it isn’t the sole reason for the Saints’ offensive success.
1. Atlanta Falcons
Aggregate score: 1.4
- Top player: Julio Jones
- Drop-off factor: 1
- Returning production: 1
- Best player: 1
- Consistency: 1
- Depth: 3
The Falcons check pretty much every box you would want in a receiver group. An elite No. 1 receiver capable of creating numerous matchup problems – check. A reliable slot receiver who can win in a variety of ways – check. A young, dynamic playmaker with tantalizing upside – check. Atlanta’s starting trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley would rank right up there with any other in the league. The only area the Falcons can be knocked in this division is the depth behind those three, although that’s not in any way meant to disparage the reliability of Justin Hardy in spurts.
Atlanta returns its top-two performing receivers for the third straight season, and Ridley’s emergence in 2019 makes this group not just the best in the NFC South, but one of the best in the NFL.