If you know football, it’s apparent that every position on the field matters, but only certain players can play certain positions. This is based off of factors such as size, arm length, speed, agility, etc - all variables that determine the strengths and weaknesses of players while carving out their specific roles.
But enough about the basics. The NFL is full of players who possess all of these traits, but which ones really stand out?
It’s time to take a look at the top five players on defense in the NFC South.
1) Cameron Jordan, DE, Saints
Jordan is not only one of the best defensive linemen in the NFC South, but he’s also one of the best in the NFL. After collecting just nine sacks in his first two seasons, he has strung together three double-digit sack seasons and has 50.5 sacks in the past five years - good for the second-most in the NFL out of all defensive linemen.
He also plays the run very well and this was discussed by New Orleans’ defensive coordinator Dennis Allen in a piece featured by The New Orleans Advocate last season.
“I think he’s the best all-around defensive end in the National Football League,” Allen said. “He’s constantly a pressure player; he plays relentless; he plays a ton of snaps. He plays the run and the pass equally well. I just think as far as all-around defensive ends, I think you’re hard-pressed to find anybody that’s better than him.” - Allen, via The New Orleans Advocate
Of course there is the expected support from the coaching staff, but Jordan’s defensive prowess has been noticed around the league, evidenced by his 2017 All-Pro selection and his No. 26 ranking in the NFL’s Top 100 Players for 2018.
2) Lavonte David, LB, Buccaneers
All bias aside, Lavonte David is the best linebacker in the NFC South. He has the most total tackles out of any linebacker since he was drafted in 2012 and was an All-Pro in 2013.
His stats are right up there with his main competitor in Luke Kuechly. David has almost twice as many sacks as Kuechly, three times as many forced fumbles, one more touchdown and just five less interceptions since both players were drafted in 2012.
Stats aren’t the entire story, however, because both players play different positions - even though in today’s game there isn’t that much difference between the Mike and Will positions considering the amount of nickel packages run in the NFL.
David can do everything. He can blitz, cover, play the run, and has also played Mike when called upon. He should finally get the respect he’s due if Tampa’s plan for the trenches work out.
3) Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
It’s pretty much a toss-up between Kuechly and David for the best linebacker. No matter who you pick, you’re going to have a cornerstone for your defense.
Kuechly is one of the top middle linebackers in the NFL. The Panthers’ defense has had much success with him calling the shots, rising as high as the No. 2 ranked defense in the NFL back in 2013.
As long as he stays healthy, he will remain high atop the pecking order of linebackers in the NFL. The NFC South is lucky to have two of the league’s best defenders.
4) Gerald McCoy, DT, Buccaneers
Just like linebacker, the defensive tackle position in the NFC South is stacked.
You could place either Kawann Short or Grady Jarrett at this spot and no one would really mind. The cool thing about all three of them is that they are 3-techniques who all possess the speed, power, and agility to wreak havoc on the interior line.
McCoy has led the Bucs in sacks since 2013 and is third behind Geno Atkins and Ndamukong Suh for the most sacks for a defensive tackle since all three were drafted in 2010 - and McCoy missed 10 games in 2011.
Like David, McCoy should have a stellar year if Tampa’s defensive overhaul works. He’ll cement his spot on this list when that happens.
5) Keanu Neal, SS, Falcons
The Kam Chancellor of the southeast, Neal is a budding terror for opposing offenses.
He was a natural-born hitter coming out of college and that was the main reason Dan Quinn coveted him, but he really heightened his coverage abilities in 2017, making him one of the best defenders in the division.
Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 DB Scout Kyle Posey gushed over Neal’s 2017 season in his NFL1000 review of 2017.
Keanu Neal continues to improve. The Falcons used him all over the place, and he didn’t disappoint. He’s an enforcer against the run. You won’t find three better run defenders. Where Neal really progressed was in man coverage against tight ends, though. He could always make the big hit, but he’s now reliable in coverage as well. Neal is on a fast track to be a top safety. - Kyle Posey
Expect big things out of Neal in 2018.