In our recent Call It poll we asked you to vote on which NFC South team has the best defensive line.
The poll was sparked by Matt Williamson’s Insider post, which had the New Orleans Saints as the division’s best. When I threw the question at you, there wasn’t major disagreement with the Saints having the best defensive line in the division.
More than 6,800 of you voted and 44 percent gave the nod to the Saints. Makes sense. Although there’s not a dominant defensive line in the division, the Saints clearly are the best. They’ve got Will Smith, who has been a very good defensive end at times, and Sedrick Ellis, who has emerged as a force in the middle. The Saints also recently added defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan should provide a long-term upgrade at defensive end.
But, after we got past the Saints, there were some surprises in the voting. Tampa Bay was second with 29 percent, Atlanta third at 16 percent and Carolina fourth at 10 percent. I’m a bit surprised that Tampa Bay finished so far above Atlanta.
The Falcons do have the division’s premier pass rusher in John Abraham and the best interior player in Jonathan Babineaux. True, they’ve got some holes at other spots, but a healthy Peria Jerry could provide a huge boost for the interior and the Falcons are likely to go out and get one of the best pass rushers on the market whenever free agency opens.
But I think the voting reflects some speculation on what could happen in 2011 with Tampa Bay’s defensive line. In 2010, the Bucs weren’t very good up front. They had no pass rush and rookie defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price each showed some promise before having their seasons ended by injuries.
The Bucs just added defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers with their top two picks in this year’s draft and they still could look to add more help. McCoy and Price are expected to be healthy and, if Clayborn and Bowers live up to their billing, the Bucs suddenly could have a very good defensive line. It could be better than Atlanta’s and it could even end up being better than New Orleans’. But we won’t know until those players get out on the field.
Carolina’s fourth-place finish was not a surprise. But new coach Ron Rivera has some talent to work with. Defensive end Charles Johnson emerged as a pass-rushing force last season and the Panthers used two third-round picks on defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua.