2020 preseason All-NFC South Team: Loaded Saints stock up on both sides of the ball

Watch Now: Money-Making Angles: NFC South (1:13)

Over the next two weeks, we will unveil our preseason All-Division teams. They were compiled largely by a panel of one, though there was significant input from the writing and editorial staff at CBSSports.com after I took an initial run at the rosters on my own. 

We began Tuesday with the NFC East, continued with the NFC North, move on below with the NFC South, and finish out the conference tomorrow. Next week, it’s on to the AFC. 

Offensive Skill Positions

QB: Drew Brees (NO)

RB: Christian McCaffrey (CAR), Alvin Kamara (NO)

WR: Michael Thomas (NO), Julio Jones (ATL), Chris Godwin (TB)

TE: Jared Cook (NO), Rob Gronkowski (TB)

The quarterback position was the toughest part of this exercise. Good arguments can be made for Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and Brees. You can talk yourself into any one of them being the best QB in the division in 2020. We’re going to lean toward the guy who has continuity in one of the most efficient offenses in the league. 

This division has two of the league’s best pass-catching backs, including the best overall running back in the league. McCaffrey is a damn near guarantee for 80-plus catches, and with Teddy Bridgewater now under center in Carolina, he may catch more than ever before. Kamara took a step backward last season while playing injured, but if you look at what he was doing prior to getting hurt, it was in line with his performance in previous years. His ability to make defenders miss on swing passes and screens is instrumental to the success of New Orleans’ offense, with its emphasis on short, quick throws. 

Thomas and Jones are the two best wideouts in the NFL. They’re so good that they’re almost boring. (Note: They are not boring.) The third spot came down to Godwin or Mike Evans, and we just like Godwin’s fit with Tom Brady a bit better because he’ll be in the slot more often. Both of them are going to be monsters. 

Cook wasn’t quite as productive last season as he was the year before in Oakland, but he was even more of a factor in the red zone. That should continue in 2020 as he provides a large target for Brees to hit, especially on play action. There was zero chance Gronk wasn’t making this team. I’d honestly be terrified to leave him off. He’s the best tight and ever and until he proves he’s done, we’re safer assuming he’ll be good.

Offensive Line

OT: Terron Armstead (NO), Ryan Ramczyk (NO)

OG: Ali Marpet (TB), Andrus Peat (NO)

OC: Alex Mack (ATL)

With apologies to Jake Matthews, who is one of the best pass-protecting tackles in the NFL, the Saints have the two best overall tackles in this division. Armstead finally stayed almost entirely healthy last year and put together a strong Pro Bowl campaign in 15 games. (He’s missed at least six games in each of the three prior seasons.) Ramczyk has quickly established himself as one of the game’s best right tackles, right up there with Mitchell Schwartz and Lane Johnson

It’s easy to forget now given that he has fulfilled so much of his promise, but Marpet came into the league as something of a project out of Hobart College. He’s turned into a mauler as a full-time starter, and was Pro Football Focus’ 10th-highest graded guard in pass protection last season. Peat probably isn’t as good as his new contract and he just broke his thumb, but guard is not the strongest spot in this division so he gets the nod. Center featured some strong competition for Mack in the form of Ryan Jensen, Erik McCoy, and Matt Paradis, but Mack’s track record as one of the very best pivot men in the league won the day.

Defensive Front

EDGE: Cameron Jordan (NO), Brian Burns (CAR)

IDL: Grady Jarrett (ATL), Vita Vea (TB)

LB: Lavonte David (TB), Demario Davis (NO), Shaq Thompson (CAR) 

If you’re looking for a relative long-shot Defensive Player of the Year pick, Jordan should be your guy. He has double-digit sacks in five of the past seven seasons, including each of the last three, during which he has totaled 40.5 takedowns. He’s also an excellent run defender and one of the best in the league at batting passes down when he gets stopped on his pass rush (20 pass defenses since 2017). Shaq Barrett had the best season of his life for the Buccaneers last year, Marcus Davenport took a step forward for the Saints, Jason Pierre-Paul is still in Tampa … but Burns gets the other edge spot. He tallied 7.5 sacks during his rookie season, totaling 30 pressures on only 289 pass-rush snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He added 16 run stops on only 170 run-defense snaps as well. He looks like the real deal. 

Jarrett was deservingly given a long-term extension last offseason, and he came out and played exactly as well as he had before he got the money. The Falcons defense is rough overall, but it’s not nearly his fault. Vea, meanwhile, flashed some surprising upside as a pass rusher last season. He notched only 2.5 sacks, but he tripled his quarterback hits from four to 12. If he can tap into that more often, he’ll become an even more impactful player. 

David remains one of the best overall linebackers in the NFL, a tackle machine who is also one of the league’s best cover guys at his position. (If not the best.) Davis has just been fantastic since arriving in New Orleans two years ago, and last year was probably the best season of his career. Linebackers coach Mike Nolan left to join Mike McCarthy’s staff in Dallas so it’ll be interesting to watch what happens here, but our bet is Davis keeps it up. Thompson is still a bit of a hybrid player and he disappointed in coverage last season but the talent is there for him to get back to his previous level. 

Defensive Backfield

CB: Marshon Lattimore (NO), Jamel Dean (TB), Donte Jackson (CAR)

SAF: Marcus Williams (NO), Malcolm Jenkins (NO)

Lattimore hasn’t returned to the heights of his Defensive Rookie of the Year season, but it doesn’t matter. He’s still been damn good and there is no reason to expect that to change. I’m somewhat skeptical the Buccaneers’ secondary can repeat what it did last season, but Dean looked like the best of the bunch last year and given his size (6-1, 206) and production last year, I feel slightly better about him than Sean Murphy-Bunting

Williams is doing his best to make people forget that he was part of that play I won’t mention, which hopefully will not define his career because he’s an excellent safety. Signing Jenkins gives the Saints an upgrade next to him, even if not necessarily for the long term. 

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