Defensive line is an area new Panther GM Dave Gettleman was determined to improve immediately and I think we all agree he did just that via the draft. But was it enough to make the Panthers defensive line the best in the NFC South? The Panthers shiny new rookie DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short have yet to play a down so that makes my decision on who to put at the top difficult.
Making it even harder is the fact run stuffing DT Roy Miller bolted from the Bucs and they do not appear to have adequately replaced him in my view. So though the Bucs unquestionably had the best run defense statistically last season I think they have regressed with the loss of Miller and will therefore find teams willing to run more rather than test their improved pass defense. For these reasons I give the Panthers a slight edge over the Bucs.
Here’s how I currently rank the NFC South defensive lines with the best back-up in parentheses:
#1 Carolina Panthers
Charles Johnson - Star Lotulelei – Dwan Edwards (Kawann Short) – Greg Hardy
#14 Rush 110; #13 Pass 223; #9 Sacks (39); #10 Overall
The Panthers only weakness in their front 7 was at DT and they addressed that in a serious way. Add that to one of the best DE sack tandems in the NFL in Johnson and Hardy and I think this defense will be even better than their #10 ranking in 2012.
#2 Tampa Bay Bucs
DaQuan Bowers - Gerald McCoy - Gary Gibson (Akeem Spence) - Adrian Clayborn
#1 Rush 82; #32 Pass 297; #29 Sacks 27; #29 Overall
The Bucs were the best against the run in 2012 but you didn’t need to run against them since their pass defense was so bad. Bowers and Claiborn are two highly rated players that still need to prove it on the field. Plus their depth is a handful of Panther cast offs in Gibson, Derek Landri and Andre Neblett. Overall this defense will be better in 2013 but the defensive line will not.
#3 Atlanta Falcons
Kroy Bierman – Jason Babineaux – Peria Jerry (Corey Peters) - Osi Umenyiora
#21 Rush 123; #23 Pass 242; #28 Sacks 29; #24 Overall
In the offseason the Falcons parted with long time Panthers nemesis John Abraham and inserted Umenyiora, an even swap in my view. Otherwise the Falcons did very little to improve their defense line in the offseason. Outside of top 10 draft pick Peria Jerry suddenly shedding his ‘bust’ status this defensive line will still be the 3rd best in the division.
#4 New Orleans Saints
Akeem Hicks (Kenyon Coleman) - John Jenkins - Cameron Jordan
#32 Rush 147; #31 Pass 292; #25 Sacks 30; #32 Overall
This defensive line wasn't very good before they switched from the 4-3 to a 3-4. Scheme switches usually result in a team not having the right personnel out of the gate which the Saints did not. They subsequently drafted some talent to play the nose and one DE spot but this unit still has the potential to be a total train wreck in 2013. Throw in the fact their best player DE Cam Jordan has to learn a new position and this defensive line will struggle in 2013.