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NFC South projected starters for 2023 NFL season: Falcons go old-school; Bryce Young in a good spot

With the 2023 NFL Draft and most of free agency in the rearview, Gregg Rosenthal will project starting lineups for all 32 teams, because that's his idea of fun. Check out the NFC South breakdowns below.

Table inside Article
QB Desmond Ridder DE Calais Campbell
RB Bijan Robinson DT Grady Jarrett
WR Drake London DT David Onyemata
WR Mack Hollins Edge Lorenzo Carter
TE Kyle Pitts MLB Troy Andersen
TE Jonnu Smith WLB Kaden Elliss
LT Jake Matthews CB A.J. Terrell
LG Matthew Bergeron CB Mike Hughes
C Drew Dalman CB Jeff Okudah
RG Chris Lindstrom S Jessie Bates
RT Kaleb McGary S Richie Grant
  • Desmond Ridder doesn't face true competition with Taylor Heinicke as his backup. But I still believe it's possible coach Arthur Smith could bring in former pupil Ryan Tannehill in a trade with Tennessee, depending on how August goes for the Falcons and Titans.
  • Everything is built toward the run. Not only is Tyler Allgeier an overqualified backup to first-round pick Bijan Robinson, but the offensive line features starters across the board who are better as run-blockers. Between the development of incumbents, especially Kaleb McGary, under Smith and the addition of second-round pick Matthew Bergeron, It's an improved group up front.
  • Jonnu Smith didn't fit in New England. He does fit with his old friend Arthur Smith in Atlanta, where the Falcons figure to use plenty of two-tight end sets. At this point, Jonnu is likely to get more playing time than any third receiver candidate currently on the roster.
  • Assuming Mack Hollins is this team's WR2, the next best options at wideout are KhaDarel Hodge and ... Scotty Miller? The roster-building for this season remains unfinished.
  • The depth at tight end is typical of a much improved overall roster in Year 3 under general manager Terry Fontenot.
  • The team is deeper at edge, but how much better is it? I only listed Lorenzo Carter as a surefire starter. Bud Dupree is here, but Atlanta could desperately use a breakthrough from a young player like Arnold Ebiketie, Adetokunbo Ogundeji or rookie Zach Harrison.
  • I love the additions of David Onyemata and Calais Campbell up front, even if the Falcons paid a lot for the 500 snaps Onyemata will end up logging. This team will be tougher to run against.
  • Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen will be a speedy, boom-or-bust, sneaky-hard-to-spell-correctly duo at linebacker. Elliss had some ferocious moments as a spot starter in New Orleans.
  • Don't assume Jeff Okudah will start. I have him penciled in, but there is a reason it only cost Atlanta a fifth-round pick to acquire the former first-round pick from Detroit. Veteran Mike Hughes has been better overall as a pro, and rookie Clark Phillips III could make sense as a nickel back.
  • The defensive line and secondary are where this team improved the most.
  • Falcons brass has built a team to win in the 1980s. I'm not sure that will work in 2023, but I appreciate them doing things differently. They have a chance to scrape out a division title if they get passable quarterback play, although you can say that about every team in the NFC South.
Table inside Article
QB Bryce Young DE Derrick Brown
RB Miles Sanders DT Shy Tuttle
WR DJ Chark Edge Brian Burns
WR Adam Thielen Edge Yetur Gross-Matos
WR Jonathan Mingo MLB Shaq Thompson
TE Hayden Hurst OLB Frankie Luvu
LT Ikem Ekwonu CB Jaycee Horn
LG Brady Christensen CB Donte Jackson
C Bradley Bozeman Slot Jeremy Chinn
RG Cade Mays S Vonn Bell
RT Taylor Moton S Xavier Woods
  • Bryce Young joins a situation that is better than what awaits most quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. Frank Reich is a proven play-caller and quarterback tutor. The offensive line and defense should be strengths. I even like Andy Dalton as the mentor in the QB room. 
  • There's also the fact that, unlike most teams picking first in a draft, the Panthers are coming off a seven-win season. But the depth chart at receiver is evidence things are not perfect.
  • In DJ Chark, Adam Thielen, Jonathan Mingo and Terrace Marshall, at least the Panthers have four legitimate rotation receivers. It's just that they might all be third options on a better team.
  • Mingo has No. 1 potential as a true X receiver, but it's a lot to ask him to thrive in that role as a rookie. 
  • It wouldn't be a surprise if the Panthers added another veteran running back during camp behind Miles Sanders. Chuba Hubbard is the current backup. 
  • The offensive line made big strides last season, including Ikem Ekwonu improving after a slow start at left tackle. The problem is that potential starters at guard Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen are coming off serious injuries
  • Brian Burns is another key player whose status is uncertain for the start of the year, because of ankle surgery. New defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero could have a bumpy transition, because the Panthers are thin at edge rusher. 
  • As third-round picks go, DJ Johnson has a chance to have a big role. He's crazy athletic. If Burns isn't ready to start the season, some combination of Johnson, Marquis Haynes and Yetur Gross-Matos are the top options to start on the edge. 
  • Evero was fantastic in Denver. But he wants to run a 3-4 defense, and there could be an adjustment period as the Panthers bring in players to fit his system. The focus this offseason was more on the offense.
  • At least there's a lot to work with in the secondary. Vonn Bell was signed partly to free Jeremy Chinn up as the team's nickel defender. Cornerback Jaycee Horn is a future star, and Donte Jackson is a reliable starter. 
  • The offense should be catching up to the defense in Carolina this season, but they have a long way to go. Young will have to hit the ground running if the Panthers are to have a chance at contention.
Table inside Article
QB Derek Carr DE Cameron Jordan
RB Alvin Kamara DT Bryan Bresee
WR Chris Olave DT Nathan Shepherd
WR Michael Thomas DE Isaiah Foskey
WR Rashid Shaheed OLB Pete Werner
TE Juwan Johnson MLB Demario Davis
LT Trevor Penning CB Marshon Lattimore
LG Andrus Peat CB Alontae Taylor
C Erik McCoy CB Paulson Adebo
RG Cesar Ruiz S Tyrann Mathieu
RT Ryan Ramczyk S Marcus Maye
  • Two things can be true: Signing Derek Carr to play quarterback helps stabilize the Saints, and quarterback play was far from the Saints' biggest problem last season.
  • Carr has a ton of exciting weapons in New Orleans. Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed and Juwan Johnson are young players who should only get better. Shaheed's speed is wild. Johnson is an athletic marvel. Can this Saints staff develop offensive talent like former coach Sean Payton used to?
  • Michael Thomas is the skeleton key, but there is enough depth here for the team to survive even if he's hurt again.
  • Could Alvin Kamara (pending the outcome of his legal issues) be traded during the season if New Orleans is struggling? The presence of highly paid backup Jamaal Williams and third-round pick Kendre Miller make it possible.
  • This offensive line carries the highest variance of any in football. 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning is a mystery after dealing with two major injuries as a rookie. It could be a strong group with excellent continuity if Penning pans out, but there are injury concerns at literally every position.
  • The Saints drafted two defensive linemen to start, first-rounder Bryan Bresee and second-rounder Isaiah Foskey. Both players appear capable, but for a reminder of why this is a risky strategy, just take a look at the career so far of 2021 first-round pick Payton Turner (three total sacks in 13 games).
  • The Saints still remain thin at defensive tackle. Bresee is more of a pass-rusher than a run-stopper. Nathan Shepherd, Khalen Saunders and Malcolm Roach are also at the position.
  • Like the 49ers, the Saints will lean on their linebacker group to unlock the rest of the defense. Pete Werner can do it all, and Demario Davis is a rock.
  • This cornerback group has a chance to be great. Alontae Taylor was dominant in matchups against Drake London and Davante Adams last season. Paulson Adebo slumped after a strong 2021 rookie campaign, but the skills are there.
  • New Orleans is surely hoping Year 2 of Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye in this system yields better results, because the veteran duo was a clear downgrade from what we've seen on previous Saints teams.
  • I don't see enough pass rush in this defense, and there's a risk of it getting older fast, with Davis (34), Cameron Jordan (33) and Mathieu (30) all in key roles. The gains in the offense could be mitigated by a decline in a defense that was good but not great a year ago.
Table inside Article
QB Baker Mayfield Edge Shaq Barrett
RB Rachaad White DT Calijah Kancey
WR Mike Evans DT Vita Vea
WR Chris Godwin Edge Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
WR Russell Gage ILB Devin White
TE Cade Otton ILB Lavonte David
LT Tristan Wirfs CB Carlton Davis
LG Robert Hainsey CB Jamel Dean
C Ryan Jensen CB Zyon McCollum
RG Cody Mauch S Ryan Neal
RT Luke Goedeke S Antoine Winfield Jr.
  • The idea of Baker Mayfield playing under first-time coordinator Dave Canales doesn't get me excited to watch Bucs football. Mayfield should be the heavy favorite to start in Week 1 over third-year pro Kyle Trask.
  • Rachaad White and Chase Edmonds are the top running backs. Look for a lot of fantasy football debates about White's value, because he has a huge opportunity to produce. The Bucs' 2023 draft class was a great one in terms of the paths to playing time for White and Trask.
  • The first two notes make the Bucs sound like a team that is totally rebuilding. The rest of the roster looks more like one that was built to win fast and often while Tom Brady was around.
  • Russell Gage didn't catch on with Brady last season, but he's a great third receiver behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. That's a strong veteran trio, even if there is no depth beyond them to turn to in the event injuries strike.
  • The receiver situation is typical of this roster. There are still plenty of solid veteran starters with championship rings here, but the lack of quality draft picks over the last few years has depleted the depth throughout.
  • The team's best offensive player, Tristan Wirfs, is likely switching to the left side, with 2022 second-round pick Luke Goedeke moving from guard to right tackle. It's a risk, but Wirfs has been lights out since being the fourth tackle taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.
  • Robert Hainsey is a total guess as the final starting guard. He played well at center when Ryan Jensen was hurt. The line has a chance to be above average.
  • The interior defensive line should be tough. Lightweight rookie pass-rushing defensive tackle Calijah Kancey landed in a perfect spot next to Vita Vea. Greg Gaines and Logan Hall provide quality depth.
  • The Bucs need Joe Tryon-Shoyinka to finally level up on the edge. The third-year pro has a great first step, but he just hasn't produced yet and can get washed out in the running game.
  • Keep an eye on Devin White. He asked for a trade, and his performance last season was a bit rocky -- even Todd Bowles' public defense of White included an admission by the coach that White loafed on at least one play. Is White in Tampa for the long term?
  • It's an upset the Bucs were able to keep Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean the last two offseasons. The secondary is versatile. Bowles has invested a lot in this defense, and it will be asked to carry the team, something the unit failed to do a year ago, when Tampa finished 13th in defensive efficiency.
  • I'm not sure what to make of this Bucs squad. A winning record isn't out of the question if everything breaks right, but none of their strengths look strong enough to make up for the quarterback position.

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