NFL Future Power Rankings and NFC South

May, 23, 2012
5/23/12
12:36
PM ET
Trent Dilfer, Gary Horton, Mel Kiper Jr. and Matt Williamson got together and came up with an outstanding project that looks a few years down the road. Check out this Insider post in which they have NFL Future Power RankingsInsider for all teams.

The rankings are based on what the panel projects teams will look like in the 2015 season. The panel used the following criteria -- roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching staff -- and weighed each in order of importance to come up with the rankings. You can see a more detailed explanation of the methodology here.

From an NFC South perspective, the rankings don’t look all that different from results in recent years or what most people are projecting in 2012.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireWith young stars like TE Jimmy Graham, the Saints are likely to be contenders for years to come.
The panel says the New Orleans Saints, who have won two of the past three division titles, will be the division’s best team in 2015. The panel notes the bounty scandal and its punishments, but the consensus seems to be that the Saints can overcome that because there’s a strong nucleus in place, as well as a good coaching staff and front office. Horton notes the Saints have to build around guys like Jimmy Graham and Mark Ingram in the future. I think it’s true that the Saints have to develop some more young stars in the next few years. But, as long as Drew Brees is the quarterback, the Saints should be a top-10 team.

After the Saints, there’s a bit of a surprise. Although the Saints and Falcons have been the class of the division in recent years, the panel doesn’t see that quite being the case in 2015. The Falcons are No. 13 and the Panthers are No. 12.

Let’s start with why the Panthers are viewed as a team on the rise. Dilfer sums it up well by saying quarterback Cam Newton has an incredibly high ceiling. In 2015, Newton will be just approaching that ceiling. There’s no doubt the future looks bright for Carolina, but the Panthers may have to replace longtime stars Jordan Gross and Steve Smith before too long.

I disagree with the panel slightly on the placement of the Falcons. I think Atlanta will be a top-10 team in 2015 and probably each year between now and then. I agree with the panel that the Falcons have some old players at several positions, but I think general manager Thomas Dimitroff gradually will address those issues. As long as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones stay healthy and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon continues to emerge as a defensive star, I think the Falcons will be an annual playoff contender.

The Buccaneers are No. 19. While that ranking is last in the division, the Bucs have been in the 20s and 30s in a lot of recent rankings. The panel sounds optimistic about the Bucs in discussing the young talent and the new coaching staff. But there are a lot of unknowns. If quarterback Josh Freeman can get his career back on track and coach Greg Schiano can make the transition from college to the NFL, I think the Bucs have a real chance to jump up in the rankings when 2015 actually rolls around.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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