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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

NFC South 2024 burning questions: Can Panthers’ Bryce Younger bounce again? How will Falcons’ Kirk Cousins look?

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No division across the NFL has been extra winnable than the NFC South the final two seasons regardless of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers being the back-to-back division champions.

In 2022, the Buccaneers wheezed throughout the end line with an 8-9 document whereas the NFC South’s different three groups — the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — all stumbled to 7-10 information. Final season, Tampa Bay and New Orleans completed with similar 9-8 information with the Falcons shut behind at 7-10. The Buccaneers emerged atop the heap as soon as once more because of a better win proportion in widespread video games appearing because the tiebreaker between the 2. 

As soon as once more, it is attainable that any of the division’s 4 groups, together with the Panthers after an energetic offseason, may problem for the NFC South’s prime spot. Right here is essentially the most burning query for every workforce within the division forward of coaching camps kicking off in July.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Query: Can Baker Mayfield keep the play proven in his 2023 profession 12 months with one other new OC?

The 2023 season regarded like quarterback Baker Mayfield’s final probability to show he could possibly be a beginning quarterback within the NFL. The primary general decide from the 2018 NFL Draft signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Buccaneers final offseason after suiting up for his fourth workforce since 2021: the Cleveland Browns (2021) the Carolina Panthers (2022) the Los Angeles Rams (2022) and the Buccaneers (2023). Mayfield grew to become the one quarterback in NFL historical past to begin for 4 totally different groups within the span of two calendar years.

He was even in a quarterback coaching camp battle with Kyle Trask, Tampa Bay’s second-round decide within the 2021 NFL Draft out of Florida, one which stood as the most lasting coaching camp QB competitors of the preseason. 

Nonetheless, Mayfield definitely proved head coach Todd Bowles made the fitting alternative in 2023 by selecting him to be their man as put up profession numbers throughout the board in completion proportion (64.3%), passing yards (4,044) and passing touchdowns (28). He ranked as a prime 10 quarterback in the complete league in yards (ninth) and passing touchdowns (seventh), even throwing yet one more landing within the common season than Tremendous Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes (27 common season touchdowns in 2023). 

Baker Mayfield 2023 Season

Comp Pct

64.3%

Finest

Move Yards

4,044*

Finest

Move TD

28*

Finest

* Ranked prime 10 in NFL 

The query right here is straightforward: Can Mayfield make what he did in 2023 routine? Can Mayfield keep this degree after being re-signed to a three-year contract price $100 million with $50 million assured this offseason and after shedding offensive coordinator Dave Canales, who’s now the pinnacle coach of the Carolina Panthers? 

The excellent news is the Buccaneers have been in a position to retain five-time Professional Bowl broad receiver Mike Evans, who co-led the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns in his first 12 months with Mayfield, by re-signing him to a two-year, $41 million cope with $29 million absolutely assured. One other piece of excellent information is Mayfield’s new offensive coordinator is somebody he has already labored with earlier than in Liam Coen. 

Coen was the Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator beneath head coach Sean McVay in 2022 when the Rams claimed Mayfield off of waivers following a lackluster stint with the Panthers. Mayfield famously helped rally the Rams again for a 17-16 win on “Thursday Evening Soccer” towards the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14 of the 2022 season, a sport during which Los Angeles trailed by 13, 16-3, with 12:20 left to play. Mayfield tossed the game-winning, 23-yard landing to broad receiver Van Jefferson with 9 second remaining that day. 

Tampa Bay definitely hopes Coen can get the fourth quarter model of Mayfield from that night time and the 2023 season iteration of their $100 million quarterback persistently going ahead. 

Carolina Panthers

Query: Can Bryce Younger rebound after a horrific rookie season?

The rookie marketing campaign for quarterback Bryce Younger, the 2023 NFL Draft’s first general decide, was the manifestation of the Carolina Panthers’ worst-case situation for the diminutive passer’s first 12 months within the NFL. 

Younger’s 5.5 passing yards per try and 73.7 passer ranking each ranked because the worst within the NFL final season, making him solely the second first general draft decide rookie to rank final in each for the reason that 1970 AFL/NFL merger together with Troy Aikman again in 1989. His 5.5 yards per move try are the fourth-fewest in a single season in NFL historical past, amongst quarterback with not less than 500 move makes an attempt. Brutal stuff. 

Fewest move yards/try in a season all-time (min. 500 makes an attempt)

2003

DET Joey Harrington

5.2

2001

CAR Chris Weinke

5.4

2014

OAK Derek Carr

5.5

2023

CAR Bryce Younger

5.5

Nonetheless, not all of Younger’s struggles in 2023 have been purely on him. Carolina’s offense allowed the fourth-highest quarterback stress charge within the NFL final season (42.1%), which resulted in him being sacked a Panthers single-season document 62 occasions. His pass-catchers did not assist him out a lot, both, as Carolina totaled the NFL’s fifth-lowest anticipated factors added per goal, a metric partially indicating his receivers weren’t all that open even when Younger was in a position to ship the soccer their approach.

The Panthers have been on a mission to improve the offensive ecosystem round Younger this offseason. They threw stacks of money at their offensive line this offseason, signing longtime Seattle Seahawks beginning offensive guard Damien Lewis to a four-year, $53 million contract in addition to inking former Miami Dolphins guard Robert Hunt to a five-year, $100 million contract with $63 million assured. 

Basic supervisor Dan Morgan additionally flipped cornerback Donte Jackson and a sixth-round decide to the Pittsburgh Steelers in alternate for broad receiver Diontae Johnson and a seventh-round decide so as to add one other regular veteran presence for Younger to depend on. Then, he spent three of the Panthers’ first 4 picks within the 2024 NFL Draft on offensive assist: South Carolina broad receiver Xavier Legette (thirty second general), Texas operating again Jonathon Brooks (forty sixth general) and Texas tight finish Ja’Tavion Sanders (a hundred and first  general). 

Between all of the assets poured into Younger’s supporting solid and hiring Dave Canales as his head coach, the previous Buccaneers offensive coordinator who helped repair Baker Mayfield, the second-year quarteback ought to have what he must take a significant step ahead in 2024.

Atlanta Falcons

Query: What is going to Kirk Cousins appear to be at age 36 coming off a torn Achilles?

There seems to be a considerably pure assumption that Kirk Cousins, who performed like a top-five quarterback within the first eight weeks of 2023 earlier than tearing his Achilles, will merely bounce again and preserve enjoying a gradual, Professional Bowl-caliber degree of soccer at age 36. 

Is that basically life like although? The Falcons are definitely banking on that hope after signing Cousins to a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million in assured cash this offseason. 

Kirk Cousins Weeks 1-8 in 2023

Comp Pct

70%

fifth

Move Yards

2,331

2nd

Move TD

18

T-1st

*Tore Achilles in Week 8

In keeping with CBS Sports activities Analysis, there are solely 4 notable examples of quarterbacks tearing their Achilles later of their careers after which returning to play. Solely one among them, Professional Soccer Corridor of Famer Dan Mario at age 32, returned to throw not less than 10 extra touchdowns than interceptions post-Achilles tear. What Cousins and New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers try to do in 2024 — play high-caliber soccer post-Achilles tear whereas on the improper facet of 30 — is just unprecedented. 

Notable QBs after tearing Achilles

  • 1993 Dan Marino at age 32 … 86 extra begins (50-36, 122 TD, 84 INT, 2 Professional Bowls)
  • 1999 Vinny Testaverde at age 36 … 68 extra begins (70 TD, 76 INT)
  • 2000 Jim Miller at age 29 … 21 extra begins (26 TD, 19 INT)
  • 2002 Trent Dilfer at age 30 … 19 extra begins (20 TD, 28 INT)

It helps that Cousins’ move safety is not altering a lot in high quality after leaving the Minnesota Vikings to affix the Falcons. Minnesota’s Professional Soccer Focus pass-blocking grade of 74.4 ranked because the second-best within the NFL final season whereas Atlanta’s ranked third (74.2). The Falcons are additionally constructed to run the soccer with three former first-round offensive linemen: left sort out Jake Matthews, proper sort out Kaleb McGary and two-time Professional Bowler Chris Lindstrom at proper guard.

Leaning on second-year operating again Bijan Robinson, whose 1,463 scrimmage yards final season have been essentially the most amongst rookies in Falcons historical past and the second-most amongst rookies within the NFL throughout 2023 behind Rams broad receiver Puka Nacua, ought to assist ease Cousins’ burden. Robinson did say he’s making ready to be utilized like San Francisco 49ers operating again Christian McCaffrey, the 2023 NFL Offensive Participant of the 12 months, in 2024. 

That may be supreme for Cousins’ sake. Nonetheless, there’s a probability 2024 eighth general decide Michael Penix Jr. may even see the sphere sooner than anticipated ought to the 36-year-old’s well being waver once more.

New Orleans Saints

Query: Can the Saints generate extra of a move rush to assist out their prime 10 protection?

The free company acquisition of quarterback Derek Carr did not pay instant dividends for the New Orleans Saints, however Carr did warmth up on the finish of the season, offering some hope that he can stabilize their offense in 2024.

Derek Carr 2023 Season 

W-L

5-7

4-1

Comp Pct

66.2%

74%

TD-INT

11-6

14-2

Passer Score 89.4 118.9

Nonetheless, if the Saints are going to problem among the league’s greatest which have top-tier quarterbacks, they should have a extra menacing move rush. Head coach Dennis Allen’s protection performed at a prime 10 degree in key conditions buy-and-large, rating fourth within the NFL in third-down conversion charge allowed (34.5%) and takeaways (29), in addition to in factors allowed general (19.2 PPG allowed, eighth-fewest within the NFL). 

However the move rush was a problem in 2023 regardless of these strong numbers. Their 34 sacks have been tied for the fourth-fewest within the NFL, and their 72 quarterback hits have been tied for the third-fewest within the league. New Orleans’ quarterback stress charge of 33.3% ranked eleventh final season, not a lot better. It is price noting eight-time Professional Bowl defensive finish Cameron Jordan, a 2010’s All-Decade Staff member, registered simply two sacks in 2023 — the second fewest of his profession after totaling one his rookie 12 months in 2011. At age 35 in 2024, it is clear the Saints cannot financial institution on him to hold their move rush anymore. 

New Orleans’ two most notable notable defensive entrance additions have been 2020 second general decide Chase Younger, who they signed to a one-year, $13 million deal, and Northern Iowa defensive sort out Khristian Boyd, a sixth-round draft alternative (199th general) who stood out on the East-West Shrine Bowl in February. Will these two gamers — plus the presence of 2024 second-round cornerback Kool-Assist McKinstry, an All-American out of Alabama, on the backend — be sufficient to assist add sufficient juice to the Saints’ move rush? We’ll simply have to attend and see.

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