This week, the writers of Last Word On Pro Football will be selecting starting lineups consisting of the best players from each division. In this article, the NFC South offense is the focus.
2017 NFC South All Division Team: The Offense
Quarterback: Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan has had an impressive career that has exploded since the arrival of Dan Quinn. The four-time Pro-Bowler has played under two head coaches (both defensive oriented) and four offensive coordinators and consistently been successful. Coming off of his best season, which earned him the MVP and Offensive Player of the Year Award, Ryan looks to be in peak form. With more control of the offense this season, plus the loss of Super Bowl 51 to motivate him, Matt Ryan is the best quarterback in this division.
Running Back: Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Matt Ryan may have gotten the awards for the success of this Falcons offense, but Devonta Freeman was the workhorse. Freeman carries two-thirds of the rushes shared with Tevin Coleman and finished 2016 with 1,079 yards and 11 touchdowns. Freeman also poses a huge threat in the passing game. Finshing third in receptions for the Falcons, Freeman caught 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns in 2016.
Wide Receiver: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
The most exciting factor of Atlanta’s “big three” on offense is Julio Jones. If injuries were taken out of the picture, Julio Jones would have already broken records. In fact, in 2015, Jones was only 94 yards away from breaking the record for most receiving yards in a single season set by Calvin Johnson in 2012. Jones missed two games in 2016 and still finished second in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,409 yards and six touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Evans is coming off his first full season with the Buccaneers since being drafted seventh overall in 2014 and he’s looking the part. He’s still a little raw and has a few issues with drops, but Evans is still the second best receiver in this division. In 2016, Evans finished with 96 receptions for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns. Only Jordy Nelson scored more touchdowns and only Odell Beckham Jr, Julio Jones, and T.Y. Hilton gained more yards receiving.
Slot Receiver: Taylor Gabriel, Atlanta Falcons
After finishing 2016 with the number one offense, is it really shocking to see so many Falcons players on this list? Taylor Gabriel, or “Turbo” as they call him, came in to the Falcons offense and showed why he earned that nickname. Ask the Arizona Cardinals defense how fast he was. Atlanta was able to create explosive plays with Gabriel in the slot, especially screen passes.
Tight End: Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers
For the last four years, one player has been the Panthers leading receiver each season. That player is tight end Greg Olsen (yes, even in 2013 while Steve Smith was still there). Olsen has had at least 1,000 yards receiving for three straight seasons and has been the most reliable target for Cam Newton. He may not get the attention that Rob Gronkowski gets and he may not get his named tossed into the debate of greatest tight ends of all time, but Greg Olsen is dependable and the best tight end in this division.
Left Tackle: Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
Terron Armstead may very well end up missing the entire 2017 season with a torn labrum he sustained during minicamp. The rest of the NFC South isn’t very strong at the left tackle position, however, so Armstead is still the best in the division. Pro Football Focus gave Armstead a grade of 97.6 in pass blocking last season which was second best among tackles.
Left Guard: Andy Levitre, Atlanta Falcons
Andy Levitre showed a lot of improvement in 2016. Levitre went from causing 11 penalties in 2015 to only four penalties in 2016. Pro Football Focus gave him an 86.4 pass blocking grade, even though he allowed five-and-a-half sacks. Where Levitre flourishes is in the running game. Alongside his future hall of fame center, Levitre helped the duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman rush for 1,599 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Center: Alex Mack, Atlanta Falcons
Alex Mack to the Atlanta Falcons was without a doubt the greates free agent signing of 2016. Mack is a future Hall of Famer and plays at an intensity that goes unmatched. Pro Football Focus gave Mack a 90.5 OVR grade making him the second highest graded center in the NFL. Let’s not forget that Mack also played in the Super Bowl with a broken leg and still performed at a high level.
Right Guard: Trai Turner, Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay’s Ali Marpet is making a permanent switch to center. Marpet was without a doubt the best right guard in the NFC South prior to the position change. Trai Turner is the next best right guard in the division. Turner had to transition to the right tackle position last season after an injury to Daryl Williams. The transition seemed to cause a few more penalties than normal but Turner still only allowed 2 sacks all season. Not to mention allowing zero sacks from the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom”.
Right Tackle: Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints
Zach Strief is a diamond in the rough for the New Orleans Saints. Strief allowed only two sacks on 717 pass plays last season and Pro Football Focus gave him an 86.8 overall grade. Streif was also only responsible for three penalties
Now that we’ve covered the offense, take a look at the all-division defense and special teams.