Last year’s Super Bowl winners, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, represented the NFC South admirably on football’s biggest stage, defeating the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs 31-9.
The Buccaneers kicked into gear coming off of their bye week and stormed through the playoffs with a 43-year-old quarterback taking snaps, and many first-time Bucs filling out the roster; still, this did not stop them.
In this edition of “Reimagining the NFL,” the goal is to hypothesize one player acquisition that could turn every team in the division into teams worthy of competing in the playoffs or even rivaling Tampa for a berth in the Super Bowl. General Managers around the league, here is what you need to do to be the best.
The Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons stunk last year, falling to 4-12 and last place in the NFC South; Head Coach Dan Quinn and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff were fired for their performances, although it is going to take a lot more than a new man with a headset to right the ship in Atlanta.
Drafting Kyle Pitts fourth overall was a good start: he is a generational talent at the tight end position that can function as a lone receiver, in the slot, or as a set blocker. He has a massive catch radius and ran 4.44 at Florida’s Pro Day.
Enough about Pitts, here is the deal— the Falcons have an aging quarterback with one or two more good years left, an ineffective running game, and a defense that gives opponents free trips to the end zone. Yes, they may have been sixth-best at stopping the run, but what does that matter when they are giving up an NFL-worst 293.6 passing yards per game.
What the Falcons need is a vocal leader and lockdown defender that does not accept mediocrity and can accept the challenge of being the face of the team in a major market: nobody fits this need better than Jalen Ramsey.
The former Florida State Seminole can be a polarizing figure with his teammates and football media, but he gives his all on the field.
Taking after “Primetime” Deion Sanders, Ramsey has a big mouth that he backs up with terrific play. He may rub some teammates the wrong way, but if that is what it takes to turn around the franchise in Atlanta, so be it. The Falcons will take a hit on their salary cap and will need to find Matt Ryan’s replacement through the draft to balance the books, but they will improve. Ramsey would get the ATL two extra wins on his own and would follow his idol by wearing the Falcon colors.
The Carolina Panthers
The Panthers finished 5-11 and in third place in the division last season and struggled to win the scoring battle on both ends of the field, finishing in the bottom half for points scored and points allowed.
Christian McCaffrey missed 13 games with ankle, thigh and shoulder injuries, leaving him time to recover for the coming season but also meaning that he is out of practice. McCaffrey is the best player on this roster and has been responsible for carrying the offense since Cam Newton departed in 2020. Sam Darnold was acquired from the New York Jets in the offseason and will get his crack at contributing, though his career stat-line of 45 touchdowns and 39 interceptions is suboptimal; then again, the Jets can make anyone look bad.
Putting aside personal judgments of Darnold, he deserves to get a year in a new location and with a coach in Matt Rhule that runs a more college-centric offense, which should fit Darnold’s strengths well.
As a result, the best player for the new-look Panthers is a defender— a middle linebacker, to be specific, and his name is Fred Warner.
Bobby Wagner is still the best overall middle linebacker in the NFL, but Warner is six years younger at 24 and is elite at defending against the pass, giving the Panthers immediate help where they need it. Carolina also selected South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn with the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, which should be enough to move them into the top-10 passing defenses in the league.
Warner also has decent speed and range, allowing him to rack up an average of just under eight tackles per game for his career. Denzel Perryman is slated to be the starter this fall and is a serviceable player, but the Panthers are yet to find a big-name replacement for Luke Keuchly since he retired in January 2020. Warner would give that exterior quality to the brand and physical quality on the field.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Well, there is not much else to ask for. The Bucs won the Super Bowl by dominating the team thought to be the best in the NFL despite finishing second in the division at 11-5.
Tom Brady might be one-hundred-and-one years old, but he is still performing. Both lines were great, coverage was solid, they had the best run defense in the league, and special teams were solid.
The only real hole in Tampa is at running back, even though Leonard Fournette showed up in the postseason. The Bucs need a low-ego player that can catch and convert his opportunities on the ground for at least four yards: that player is Aaron Jones.
Jones is probably a top-five back in the league and is used to sitting in the shadow of another legendary quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Jones ran for 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns and caught 47 balls for 355 yards and two touchdowns last season and would seamlessly transition to the defending Super Bowl champs.
Seriously, there is nobody better for this team than Jones. Bruce Arians, put on your salesman hat and convince Jones to demand a trade to better your chances at repeating.
The New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees retired in the offseason after winning the division at 12-4 but falling to Brady’s Bucs in the playoffs. He is going to be replaced by one of Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston, and while the latter is listed first in the depth chart, this could change eventually.
The Saints were top-five in rushing and passing yards allowed and eighth in sacks, establishing themselves as an elite defensive side in football.
New Orleans also has one of the better offensive lines in the league and a top-three running back in Alvin Kamara, meaning that the only place left to look is at the pass catchers. Michael Thomas is untouchable, but backups Tre’Quan Smith and rookie Marquez Callaway and tight end Adam Trautman could be better. With a strong-arm QB like Winston stepping into the fold, the Saints need to bring in another weapon with safe hands that can stretch the defense vertically.
The New Orleans Saints need A.J. Brown, frankly; Tyreek Hill also fits the bill, but this is much more reasonable. The Titans have Julio and would be more receptive to moving off of their second-round draft pick as a result of his arrival.
Brown is big at 6-foot 226 pounds, but he has gotten past the secondary numerous times in Tennessee and has made ridiculous catches in traffic— pairing him with Michael Thomas would mean that almost every pass thrown on target would be hauled in for a big gain.
Brown is still a young player and has not shown himself to be much of an egotist, already accepting a secondary role to Julio: playing second fiddle to Thomas would be just the same, except in the Superdome.
All of these picks are within the realm of reason and improve the teams at a position they need. The division would not only be the best in the NFC, but it would also be much more competitive internally.
Tampa Bay would be the favorite to win the new-look division while the Falcons would probably improve the most. If Jameis Winston manages to fulfill the potential he showed at Florida State, the Saints and the Buccaneers could easily be Super Bowl candidates, with Tampa staring down consecutive championships. Make it happen, NFL!
Grant Mitchell is a sportswriter and multimedia contributor for the Sports 2.0 Network dealing with basketball, football, soccer, and other major sports: you can connect with him on Twitter @milemitchell to stay up to date with the latest sports news and to engage personally with him.