Today marks the beginning of a new section, where I rank the NFC South by positions. The division is poised to be one of the most competitive in the NFL and is loaded with talent. Up first: running backs, where the division got a lot deeper in the offseason.
#4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers may have improved the most on offense in the offseason. They added O.J Howard, Desean Jackson and Charles Godwin, but they still lack a premier back for Jameis Winston to lean on. The Bucs backfield experienced a plethora of injuries in 2016, which led to undrafted free-agent Peyton Barber handling the starting duties at the end of the year. Doug Martin is expected to be healthy and in the best shape of his career, but until he shows more consistency, the Tampa Bay backfield will remain the least intimidating in the division.
#3 Carolina Panthers
The Panthers will always have one of the most feared rushing attacks in the NFL with Cam Newton at quarterback. That attack now becomes a whole lot greater by adding Christian McCaffery, the Panthers first-round pick. McCaffery was mister all-purpose at Stanford and will do the same types of things for Carolina. He will line up in the backfield, slot, even out wide at times, providing a major boost over Jonathan Stewart who only averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season and is not much of a threat catching the ball out of the backfield. The Panthers definitely improved at running back, but there is still a nice gap between them and the top two teams in the division.
#2 New Orleans Saints
The final two teams are so close they could almost be called 1A and 1B. The Saints receive the second spot because of the uncertainty around Adrian Peterson. Peterson has been the best running back of a generation, but these injuries will eventually catch up to him. However, people who have doubted Adrian Peterson have been wrong 100% of the time over the course of his career. Even if Peterson cannot regain his all-pro form, the Saints still have Mark Ingram, who is coming off a career year rushing for over 1,000 yards on 5.1 yards per carry. If that is not enough, New Orleans drafted Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee in the second round. Kamara was one of the best running back prospects in the draft and tops off one of the most loaded backfields in the NFL
#1 Atlanta Falcons
The Saints probably would have been first in any other division, but they happen to be in the division with the best running back duo in the NFL. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman lit up NFL defenses last season both running and receiving the ball. The two combined for nearly 2,500 yards of offense and 24 touchdowns. Both of these guys are pro-bowl caliber running backs. With Devonta Freeman entering a contract year and Tevin Coleman looking for revenge after being injured in last year’s Super Bowl loss, defenses will be dreading going against this rushing attack for weeks in advance. The addition of Kamara almost pushed the Saints into the #1 spot, but the Falcons also drafted Brian Hill out of Wyoming. Hill may not have an impact this year, but he has the potential to be one of the best running backs in the draft.