The 2019 NFL regular season is just days away, which means REAL football is nearly back. No more speculation and no more exhibitions. Real games that count. Before the new year kicks off, the Bucs Nation staff got together to compile a team of the best players from the best division in football.
Yesterday, we announced the division’s best on offense and special teams. Below, we round out our 2019 All-NFC South Team with the defense.
DE: Cameron Jordan* (New Orleans)
A unanimous selection, Jordan was the easy pick here. He has finished with double-digit sacks in four of the last six seasons and has totaled 20-plus quarterback hits in each of the last four campaigns. The 30-year-old four-time Pro Bowl selection is coming off of a 2018 season that saw him finish with 12 sacks and 21 quarterback hits. In his eight-year career, Jordan has started 127 of a possible 128 games and has played in all 128 of his team’s games.
DT: Grady Jarrett (Atlanta)
Six out of seven voters picked Jarrett, the 26-year-old Falcons tackle, for this spot. Despite missing two games in 2018, the former Clemson standout set a new career high for sacks with six while also racking up a career-high 16 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles. A fifth-round pick in 2015, Jarrett has certainly outplayed his draft position. He got the nod here most notably over Kawann Short (one vote) and former Buc/current Panther Gerald McCoy.
OLB: Lavonte David (Tampa Bay)
David was the only Buc to receive a vote on the defensive side of the ball, and for good reason. The seven-year veteran has been a bright spot on Tampa Bay’s bad defenses throughout his whole career, failing to hit the 100-tackle mark just once (2016). In his career, he has 884 tackles (106 for loss), 21.5 sacks, 10 interceptions, 18 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries and 38 passes defended. He just has a nose for the ball and can be seen all over the field making plays each and every Sunday. He is moving to inside linebacker in 2019, but we know what kind of outside linebacker he can be, so he can still fill that slot on this defense.
ILB: Luke Kuechly (Carolina)
Kuechly was nearly a unanimous selection, falling just one vote short. He has never finished under 100 tackles in his career and despite battling injuries, he has remained among the elite of the elite as far as NFL linebackers go. Last year, the six-time Pro Bowl selection finished with 130 tackles (93 solo), two sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He hasn’t slowed down, anchoring the middle of that Carolina defense effectively year after year. If Lavonte David wasn’t moving to inside linebacker, his lone inside vote probably goes to Kuechly, making him a unanimous pick.
CB: Marshon Lattimore* (New Orleans)
Our second unanimous selection on the defense is its youngest member. Lattimore is just two seasons into his NFL career, but he has already become one of the game’s top corners. In two years, the 23-year-old has 111 tackles (92 solo), seven interceptions, 30 passes defended, five forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. Tasked with covering some of the game’s top receivers — especially within his own division — has only brought the best out of him. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Lattimore is a guy that NFC South quarterbacks are having nightmares about for years and years to come.
S: Keanu Neal (Atlanta)
Despite tearing his ACL in Week 1 of the 2018 season, Neal is the pick here. Five of seven voters named him as the division’s top safety even after him missing last season. That says a lot about his first two seasons in the NFL, where in 30 games, he picked up a combined 218 tackles (153 solo), one interception, 14 passes defended and three fumble recoveries. After being named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team in 2016 and earning Pro Bowl honors in 2017, the former Florida Gator is primed for a big comeback in 2019.
*denotes unanimous selection