PFF ranks Saints as most improved NFC South team
By Ty Anania
ProFootballFocus recently released their picks for most improved teams in each division, and the New Orleans Saints won the honor for the NFC South.
As we’ve already detailed, the entire NFC South got better — on paper — this offseason. The Falcons on defense, the Panthers and the Bucs on offense. But the New Orleans Saints made some substantial upgrades to both sides.
Ultimately, I think coaching losses for the Falcons and the Panthers undercut what roster improvements they made. This is particularly true for the Falcons. They still have elite offensive weapons, but they lost one of the most creative offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan. They’re still the team to beat in the NFC South, but their offense won’t be impossible to guard like it was in 2016.
The Panthers lost DC Sean McDermott. It remains to be seen how dramatically that will impact their defense, as Ron Rivera is still the top dog of that unit. But they also lost some key contributors on that side of the ball. Their offense is miles better, sure, with the addition of weapons like McCaffrey and Samuel. But they also lost their outside threat in Ted Ginn Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin is veering too close to the “Bust” label, reportedly arriving at training camp 50 lbs. heavier than where the Panthers want him.
So the competition, in my mind, is between the Bucs and the Saints. PFF seems to agree. Here’s what they had to say:
"It’s hard not to like what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did over free agency and the draft, but the Saints draft was so good I think it edges it. Marshon Lattimore slipping to No. 11 could prove to be a steal, as he was the clear best corner in the draft. Last season, he allowed an NFL passer rating of just 31.9 when targeted, and gave up only 18 catches all season. Ryan Ramczyk was the best tackle prospect in the draft, allowing just 12 total pressures all season, and their next four picks in the draft could all make significant impacts as rookies. Adrian Peterson coming on board for a modest contract could also prove to be a high-reward move for little risk, as he has a habit of defying convention when it comes to what he should be able to do physically over his career."
The cream of the Bucs crop in free agency was DeSean Jackson, the speedy wideout who could open up the offense for Mike Evans. Then they landed O.J. Howard in the draft, and another receiver in Chris Goodwin. That could spell another dangerous offense in the NFC South, which suddenly has powerhouse potential between the Saints, Bucs and Falcons.
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But no team in the division was able to so secure upgrades to both sides of the ball. Ultimately, that fact combined with the value the Saints were able to pull from the draft tipped the scales in their favor.
PFF clearly loves Lattimore. With good reason. And while injuries remain a question-mark for OT Ryan Ramczyk, PFF has love for him as well. To land “the best tackle prospect in the draft”, as they put it, with the 32nd pick is nearly unheard of.
Players have yet to take a single rep. It’s a bit early to start calling these things. But what the Saints have managed so far on paper looks damn good.
And if their improvements towards the end of the season, and their assumed health coming into 2017, mean anything, the Saints should be looking at their first playoff berth in four years.
Unfortunately for the Saints and for the rest of the league, PFF ranked the Patriots, the defending SuperBowl champions, as the most improved team in the AFC East. And that’s not even counting the fact that they were missing Gronk for most of the season. If anyone is going to steal the chip from them this year, it’s going to take more than a bit of luck.