Roster Reset: New Orleans Saints back atop NFC South


No division was more disappointing -- or perplexing -- than the 2014 NFC South.

Around The NFL's Roster Reset

The division has three of the best 10 quarterbacks in football and yet all four teams continuously tripped over themselves for what felt like an unwanted playoff bid.

The Saints, perhaps the most disappointing, finished with the league's most potent offense in 2014. They also finished second to last in total defense. With a series of moving parts that did not seem to fit together, they took an opportunity to blow the whole thing up this offseason. Outside of dealing Drew Brees, it felt like there wasn't a single untouchable member of the Saints' roster. This gives us quite a new look for 2015.

The Panthers, last year's unfortunate winner, stumbled into a playoff victory over the quarterback-less Cardinals and followed that up with a less-than-inspiring offseason. As their general manager, Dave Gettleman, said at the combine a few months back: This is not a team ready to shop at Tiffany's. The finances need to be secured and the roster needs to be built from within.

The Falcons have all the pieces on offense to be dominant, but lack the necessary punch up front. On the defensive side of the ball, they have some complementary pieces, but are in dire straits when it comes to signature pass rushers. This is why Dan Quinn, the architect behind some of Seattle's best defenses, was hired to run the team and bring them into a new era.

The Buccaneers are, well, the Buccaneers. Sitting atop this year's class, they hold the entire draft in the palm of their hands. Will Jason Licht take the quarterback everyone expects him to? Or, will he throw the entire league on its heels and take a marquee edge-rusher with the No. 1 overall pick?

Our Roster Reset series will rank each team by the strength of their roster.

1. New Orleans Saints:

Why the Saints are marching again: Some of Drew Brees' best years were the ones when New Orleans was also a top-five rushing team. Adding Spiller to the mix alongside Mark Ingram gives the Saints some teeth in the trenches. Max Unger, a perfect center to pair with a cerebral quarterback, should help get their offensive line back on track as well. Add in the fact that New Orleans has two of the first 31 picks in this year's draft, and the panic over the Jimmy Graham trade begins to subside just a little.

Saints' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  RB Mark Ingram CB Brandon Browner WR Kenny Stills
  WR Joseph Morgan C Max Unger TE Jimmy Graham
  S Jamarca Sanford CB Kyle Wilson LB Curtis Lofton
    RB C.J. Spiller CB Patrick Robinson
    LB Dannell Ellerbe  

What's next?

» Get Rob Ryan the pieces he needs: The Saints aren't that far removed from having one of the best defenses in football. Let Ryan have his say on draft day and balance out the other side of the ball by drafting a cornerback and an edge rusher.

» Find a weapon to replace Jimmy Graham: Easier said than done, I know. But like 2014, this draft is packed with dynamic pass-catchers, and there should be more than a few on the board when New Orleans makes its first two picks.

» Look for some linebacker, corner value late in the draft: Dannell Ellerbe isn't exactly making us fear the core of that Saints defense, but with the right help, the former Ravens star can be a dynamic playmaker in the middle. This requires some stealthy drafting from Mickey Loomis and Co., though. Same with the nickel and safety slots.

2. Atlanta Falcons

New coach, new energy? How many times have we wondered what the Falcons might look like with a playoff-caliber defense? Atlanta made some of the best value signings of the offseason, inking Brooks Reed and O'Brien Schofield to help bolster their pass rush. Give them the eighth pick in the draft, and things start to get really interesting.

Falcons' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  WR Eric Weems DE Adrian Clayborn WR Harry Douglas
  CB Charles Gordfrey LB Brooks Reed LB Sean Weatherspoon
  RB Antone Smith DE O'Brien Schofield S Dwight Lowery
  DE Kroy Bierman TE Jacob Tamme RB Jacquizz Rodgers
    CB Phillip Adams  

What's next?

» Find Roddy White's replacement: Perhaps the 33-year-old is nearing the end in Atlanta. Julio Jones, on the other hand, is too darn good to play without a viable running mate. Give him someone to take the top off the opposition's defense.

» Secure the offensive line: Jake Matthews was a star last year, but Atlanta still has a long way to go toward keeping Matt Ryan safe in the pocket. Kyle Shanahan's scheme should help open some gaps on its own, but smart play design can only go so far.

» Complement the passing game: The days of Steven Jackson and Michael Turner are over. This draft class is packed with bell-cow bruisers ready to move the chains.

3. Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton's last ride in Charlotte? Ron Rivera brushed off any concern that Newton might eventually escape into free agency, but the fact is, he's yet to sign a contract. Perhaps he'll wait to let Russell Wilson set the QB market, but what if he wants to escape to a bigger market? How many teams would be eagerly awaiting his arrival with an open checkbook?

Panthers' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  TE Ed Dickson WR Jarrett Boykin DE Greg Hardy
  DT Dwan Edwards S Kurt Coleman RB DeAngelo Williams
    WR Ted Ginn CB James Dockery
    OT Jonathan Martin  
    OT Michael Oher  
    LB Jason Trusnik  
    CB Charles Tillman  

What's next?

» Kelvin Benjamin still needs help: He was a fantastic choice in last year's draft, but Cam Newton needs much more to move the ball. This seems like a team perennially on the verge of having a decent receiving corps but never makes it all the way.

» Greg Hardy needs to be replaced: It was obvious that Carolina was missing its top pass rusher this season, and now that he's long gone, the Panthers need to do more to reconstruct their front seven. The mark of a Dave Gettleman team, just like the mark of an Ernie Accorsi team before him, is to build around quarterback pressure.

» Build a secondary: When Gettleman was in New York, his best teams always seemed to get by without amazing talent in the secondary. The NFL is changing, though, and Carolina could use a safety and some cornerbacks to build around second-year players Bene' Benwikere and Tre Boston.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The future face of the franchise? The Bucs will have the chance to redefine their fortunes atop the 2015 NFL Draft. It's Lovie Smith's chance to do some damage with the No. 1 overall pick, but will he make the right choice? Jameis Winston is tempting in the short term, but can he develop into the dream pocket passer everyone believes he can?

Buccaneers' moves
  Re-signings Arrivals Departures
  CB Mike Jenkins LB Bruce Carter S Dashon Goldson
  FB Jorvorskie Lane S Chris Conte DE Michael Johnson
  CB Major Wright DT Henry Melton LB Mason Foster
    CB Sterling Moore OT Anthony Collins
      DE Adrian Clayborn

What's next?

» Make it work: The good news for Winston (or whomever is under center) is that he has Mike Evans. This needs to be the team's calling card, and a tandem that works together for the next 10 years. Is it possible to have that kind of connection in this league anymore?

» Sell out on Lovie: We've seen a stunning number of solid defensive players flee during Smith's tenure, mostly because of their inability to function in his defense. At this point, they've come too far to turn back now. Load up on whatever Smith needs in rounds 2-7. If you need to start over in two years, so be it.

» Use Gerald McCoy: He's the most dangerous defensive tackle in football outside of Ndamukong Suh. Find a way to make his skill set pop! Tampa Bay could desperately use a little nastiness up front, almost as much as they need corners and safeties who can fit into their defense.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast breaks down the latest moves and debates if Michael Bennett should change his tune on Jimmy Graham. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.