The NFL is approaching its first Sunday of the 2019 regular season, which means all the talk and hype is about to be put to the test with the real thing. Before the new year gets fully underway with Week 1, the Bucs Nation staff got together to compile a team of the best players from the best division in football.
So, without further ado, we present our 2019 All-NFC South Team. We start today with a look at the offense and special teams.
QB: Drew Brees* (New Orleans)
The NFC South has some good quarterbacks, so the fact that Brees was a unanimous pick for this spot says a lot about him. Believe it or not, he is entering his 14th season with the Saints. In his 13 years, he has a 68.5% completion percentage, 62,089 yards and 440 touchdowns in 205 games. Just last year, he broke the records for career completions and career passing yards. He also became just the third quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams. As Brees gets deeper and deeper into his career, more and more records are falling. Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston are all distantly behind Brees, a certain future Hall of Famer.
RB: Alvin Kamara (New Orleans)
Only two seasons into his career, Kamara is one of the most dangerous running backs in the entire league. Even in splitting time with Mark Ingram, the former Tennessee Vol was a threat on the ground. In two years, he has 1,611 yards and 22 touchdowns to go along with his greatness as a receiver. He has caught 81 passes in both of his first two seasons, totaling a combined 1,535 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches. Even with Latavius Murray replacing Ingram, the 2019 season is still expected to be Kamara’s first as a true No. 1 back. At the very least, he’s the No. 1 guy on our all-division team, earning the nod over Christian McCaffrey (two votes).
WR: Julio Jones (Atlanta)
Jones was voted as one of the two wide receivers by all but one voter. He has surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last five seasons and six of his eight seasons overall. Even with as much respect as he does get, it still feels like the veteran can fly under the radar sometimes. Perhaps it was his dip in touchdown numbers a couple of years ago or maybe it’s simply because everyone has grown accustomed to his greatness. But the 2011 first-rounder is a stud, and he isn’t slowing down. In 2018, he caught 113 passes for 1,677 yards and eight touchdowns. Yeah, and 1,677 yards wasn’t even a career-high. In 2015, he totaled 1,871 receiving yards. That’s kinda good.
WR: Michael Thomas (New Orleans)
Thomas narrowly got the nod here over Mike Evans. A case certainly could’ve been made for Evans, but the division just features too many top receivers. Thomas has topped 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, going over 100 catches in the last two years. His catch rate has been ridiculous, especially last year. He caught 85% of his 147 targets in 2018 on his way to a spot on the All-Pro First Team.
TE: O.J. Howard* (Tampa Bay)
Our second unanimous pick from the offense is Howard, who enters his third year in the NFL with the potential to break out as one of the league’s top tight ends. In 24 career games, he has caught 60 passes for 997 yards and 11 scores, averaging 16.6 yards per catch. The 2017 first-round pick has proven himself as a blocker as well, but it’s his pass-catching ability that gives him a chance to be one of the NFL’s greats. If he stays healthy in 2019, he’s a candidate to pass 1,000 yards.
LT: Jake Matthews (Atlanta)
As the No. 6 overall pick from the 2014 draft, Matthews came into the league with a lot of expectations. He struggled as a rookie, but since then, he has improved a great deal. By 2016, he was a top performer on Atlanta’s offensive line. The team clearly liked his progress, picking up his fifth-year option in April of 2017 before giving him a five-year, $75 million contract in July of last year. The Texas A&M product earned a Pro Bowl selection last season as a replacement. In five NFL seasons, he has played in and started 79 of a possible 80 regular season games.
LG: Ali Marpet* (Tampa Bay)
The Bucs get their second unanimous selection on the offense in the form of Marpet. The versatile lineman out of Hobart College has been one of Tampa Bay’s best players since being drafted in the second round of the 2015 draft. After becoming the highest-picked Division III player ever, he has seen time at both guard positions and spent a year at center, proving to be a valuable piece for the team. Last October, he signed a well-deserved five-year, $55 million extension with the Bucs. Earlier this week, he was named an offensive captain.
C: Alex Mack (Atlanta)
Mack is the third first-round pick on this offensive line. He was selected 21st overall by Cleveland in 2009 before becoming a steady contributor on the Atlanta offensive line in 2016. In each of his first three seasons with the Falcons, he has been named to the Pro Bowl. He was also a second-team All-Pro pick in 2016 and 2017. Overall, he has six Pro Bowl selections in his 10 NFL seasons. The soon-to-be 33-year-old has started all 16 games in nine of his 10 years, making him a reliable anchor along the offensive line.
RG: Trai Turner (Carolina)
Turner was a surprise early entrant in the NFL Draft back in 2014, but it worked out OK. He was a third-round pick and has been in Carolina ever since. He won the starting guard job as a rookie, and he dominated. In 618 snaps, he didn’t allow a sack. He continued his rise in 2015, being named Pro Football Focus’ fourth-best guard in the league. When he’s healthy, Turner is one of the best around. He has been to four consecutive Pro Bowls and at 26, he still has time to get even better.
RT: Ryan Ramczyk* (New Orleans)
The 32nd overall pick in the 2017 draft gets a unanimous nod here. He is still early in his career, but he’s already proven to be extremely reliable at the tackle position. He started the first four games of the 2017 season at left tackle as an injury replacement before moving to right tackle for the final 12 games of the year. He was an all-rookie pick by the Pro Football Writers Association before playing nearly 95% of snaps in year two. By Pro Football Focus’ standards, Ramczyk was tied for the sixth-highest overall grade among tackles in the league and fourth in run blocking. There was no other pick here.
K: Wil Lutz (New Orleans)
Matt Bryant might’ve seemed like the expected pick here, but Lutz won out with four of seven votes. Bryant earned two, while Graham Gano got one. As good as Bryant and Gano have been, you can’t really argue with Lutz as the division’s top kicker. After going undrafted in 2016, he has made 87 of his 100 career field goal attempts. He has made nine of his 15 kicks from 50-plus yards out. On extra point attempts, he is 148 of 153. In the current NFL landscape, a lot of teams have shaky kicking situations. Thanks to Lutz, New Orleans is not one of those teams.
P: Thomas Morstead (New Orleans)
Well, whaddya know? Yet another New Orleans Saint gets picked for this offensive roster. Morstead, a fifth-round pick in 2009, has one Pro Bowl selection and one Super Bowl ring to his name, going largely underappreciated over the years. In 10 seasons, he has averaged under 45 yards per punt just once — in his rookie year. Of his 570 career punts, he has had 199 downed inside the 20-yard line. His career average is 46.9 yards per punt, with a net average of 41.5. Back in March 2018, the SMU product signed a five-year extension with the Saints.
KR/PR: Alvin Kamara
There aren’t many options here, but that doesn’t mean Kamara’s case isn’t a great one. When he’s gotten the chance to return kicks or punts, his speed and vision have served him well. He has returned 15 kicks in his career, averaging 31.5 yards per return and scoring one touchdown. The score was a 106-yarder against Tampa Bay at the end of his rookie season.
*denotes unanimous selection