The offenses of the NFC South were, for the most part, awful last season. Other than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFL’s second best in terms of total yardage in 2021, the rest of the division’s teams were ranked 28th (New Orleans), 29st (Atlanta) and 30th (Carolina). Key departures in free agency for all four squads could make scoring harder to come by in the future, even with Tom Brady unretired. Here are the top playmakers of 2022 in a division lacking top-end talent that makes up for it with potential stars.
The NFC South Dream Team (Offense)
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Buccaneers
The obvious pick, but that would have been true even if Brady were just semi-decent, rather than an ageless robot. The rest of his competition amongst the NFC South’s starters is rather lackluster, albeit with high draft pedigrees. Carolina’s Sam Darnold and Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota were both taken with the second overall selections, while New Orleans’s Jameis Winston was picked first overall in 2015, a spot ahead of Mariota. There’s obviously some degree of talent here, but it’s tough to see this trio as long-term starters.
Running Back: Alvin Kamara, Saints
If this was last season, the clear choice would have been Christian McCaffrey; the all-purpose threat is the best running back in football when healthy. The problem is, CMC has played a total of 10 games over the past two campaigns. Kamara is a bit McCaffrey-lite, with lower rushing numbers and similar receiving production, but his ability to stay on the field is what gives him the edge; he’s missed just eight games in five years. Entering 2022, it’s hard to bet on McCaffrey’s health over Kamara’s consistency.
Wide Receivers: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, Buccaneers; DJ Moore, Panthers
Evans and Godwin have a great claim not only as the best wide receiver duo in the NFC South, but all of football. With the latter agreeing to a three-year contract extension this offseason, expect more jump-ball touchdowns and crisp route-running in Tampa Bay. To fill the third spot, choosing between DJ Moore and Michael Thomas was arguably the most difficult decision on the entire list. Similar to the Kamara v. McCaffery debate, availability is the best ability. Moore’s consistent offensive output, with three straight 1,000-yard seasons before the age of 25, ultimately trumps Thomas’s incredibly high ceiling, as the Saints star has been stuck on the sidelines since 2019 due to injuries.
Tight End: Kyle Pitts, Falcons
Based on how they played in 2021, the division’s best tight end would be Rob Gronkowski, who seems increasingly likely to come out of retirement and suit up for the Bucs. However, don’t be shocked to see Kyle Pitts become not only the NFC South’s best, but among the NFL’s elite tight ends in 2022. It’s no secret why the Falcons took Pitts fourth overall last year, the highest pick ever spent on a tight end; his elite combination of height, catching ability and speed is unprecedented at the position. Without Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage, expect Atlanta to feed Pitts a steady diet of footballs en route to a breakout season.
Tackles: Ryan Ramczyk, Saints; Tristan Wirfs, Buccaneers
Ramczyk has been one of the league’s premier right tackles since he entered the league in 2017. With Terron Armstead leaving the Saints for Miami, Ramczyk might be asked to shift over to the left side, although it’s anybody’s guess right now. Wirfs, another right tackle, has been regarded as one of the NFL’s top offensive linemen since his rookie season two years ago. Wirfs may have gotten even better in 2021, as he managed to improve his already-stellar PFF score. Regardless of where they play, these two offensive line anchors show no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Guards: Shaquille Mason, Buccaneers Chris Lindstrom, Falcons
Heads were turned when Tampa acquired Mason from the Patriots, and rightfully so; the Bucs only needed to give up a fifth round draft pick to get the two-time Super Bowl winner. While he’s never been recognized as a Pro Bowler during his seven-year career, the experienced Mason is everything a contending team could ask for in an interior lineman. Lindstrom shined last season on an otherwise mediocre Atlanta line, recording his highest PFF score since being drafted three years ago. At just 25 years old, he’s a long-term piece the Falcons should look to extend relatively soon.
Center: Ryan Jensen, Buccaneers
Jensen enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2021, being named to his first Pro Bowl. It seemed likely that he would land somewhere other than Tampa in free agency, but then Tom Brady returned and convinced his center to resign with the club on a three year, $39-million dollar deal. While old in football years at 30, Jensen is one of the NFL’s iron men; over the past four seasons with Tampa, he missed 43 of a possible 4,933 offensive snaps.