Returning Starters: Mario Addison (DE), Kawann Short (DT), Shaq Thompson (LB), Luke Kuechly (LB), Thomas Davis (LB), James Bradberry (CB), Mike Adams (SS)
Notable Additions: Ross Cockrell (CB), Da’Norris Searcy (FS), Dontari Poe (DT), Donte Jackson (CB) Draft, Rashaan Gaulden (CB) Draft
The epitome of defensive consistency, the Panthers have held the top defense in the division since 2012. They have always relied on a dominating front seven and this year appears to be no different.
Carolina got better in the trenches by bringing in Dontari Poe to team up with Kawann Short. Ross Cockrell should make up for the absence of last year’s starter Daryl Worley after Bashaud Breeland failed a physical upon his attempt to sign with the Panthers.
The Panthers also added rookies Donte Jackson and Rashaan Gaulden to help anchor the secondary. If they develop like Carolina intends, then this unit will easily be top-five come 2018.
Returning starters: Grady Jarrett (DT), Brooks Reed (DE), Vic Beasley (DE), Deion Jones (LB), De’Vondre Campbell (LB), Robert Alford (DB), Desmond Trufant (DB), Ricardo Allen (FS), Keanu Neal (SS)
Notable Additions: Isaiah Oliver (CB) Draft, Deadrin Senat (DT) Draft
The Falcons potentially have the best defense in the NFL after finishing ninth in the league last year. If Vic Beasley can regain his 2016 form and if Takkarist McKinley develops like he is supposed to then the Falcons are going to be a nightmare on defense. They return nine starters, not including nickelback Brian Poole.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, this ranking isn’t based off potential. There are questions on the interior line - disregarding Grady Jarrett - and at linebacker. Sure, Deion Jones is a stud but Duke Riley and De’Vondre Campbell still have a lot to prove.
Oliver and Senat both add valuable depth and can help the tip the scales in Atlanta’s favor as the season progresses.
Returning Starters: Cameron Jordan (DE), Alex Okafor (DE), Sheldon Rankins (DT), Tyeler Davison (DT), A.J. Klein (LB), Ken Crawley (CB), Marshon Lattimore (CB), Marcus Williams (FS), Von Bell (SS)
Notable Additions: Demario Davis (LB), Patrick Robinson (CB), Kurt Coleman (FS), Marcus Davenport (DE) Draft
The Saints dramatic improvement on defense was fun to watch in 2017, but they are still in the lower half of a loaded division. Just like the Falcons, however, if the additions rise to their potential, then New Orleans’ defense will be tough as well.
Tackling machine Demario Davis strengthens the second level of the defense and should have immediate success behind Cameron Jordan and Sheldon Rankins. As long as the secondary continues to improve, then Drew Brees and the offense will just have to play complementary football - instead of carrying the team like in years’ past.
Returning Starters: William Gholston (DE), Gerald McCoy (DT), Lavonte David (LB), Kendall Beckwith (LB), Kwon Alexander (LB), Brent Grimes (CB), Vernon Hargreaves III (CB), Justin Evans (FS), Chris Conte (SS)
Notable Additions: Jason Pierre-Paul (DE), Vinny Curry (DE), Beau Allen (DT), Vita Vea (DT) Draft, Carlton Davis (CB) Draft, M.J. Stewart (CB) Draft
Tampa Bay could go from worst to first in terms of defensive performance in 2018, but there are still way too many questions to be answered and way too many pieces that need to come together in order for that to happen.
No one really has any confidence that defensive coordinator Mike Smith will be able to get this unit to make a giant leap. The talent is there on paper, but the execution is still a major concern.
The Bucs should show major improvement on defense this season, but even a mid-league ranking would be considered a major improvement when considering they were ranked dead-last in the NFL last season.
Who do you think has the best defense in the NFC South?
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