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The 2021 All-NFC South team brings an interesting mix of talent from across the division, with the New Orleans Saints tying the reigning-Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 14 players each (8 on the first team for New Orleans, 9 for Tampa Bay). It was tough for the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons to elbow their way into the lineup, but each bottom-feeder landed some players on the second team.
All stats are sourced from Pro Football Focus. To better reflect modern teams, I went with the most-common personnel groupings in the game today, which are reflected by each squad’s tendencies — three receivers sets on offense and nickel packages on defense. So there are only two linebacker spots available compared to five defensive back openings, for example.
I also only considered players who were on their teams in 2020 while remaining for 2021, so much-hyped rookie draft picks like Jaycee Horn and Kyle Pitts won’t be considered. That’s also the case for free agent pickups across the division.
Here is who made the cut:
QB: Tom Brady (first team)
Sep 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) under center against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Matt Ryan Here's the obligatory flowers for Brady, with Ryan winning the war of attrition to back him up. Hopefully Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill prove deserving of recognition very soon, though we shouldn't write off Sam Darnold just yet given his Panthers supporting cast, which is already the best he's ever enjoyed in the NFL.
RB: Alvin Kamara (first team)
Dec 6, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara (41) battles with Atlanta Falcons safety Ricardo Allen (37) while running with the ball during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Christian McCaffrey Kamara had his best season last year and should continue to be leaned on with a murky quarterback outlook in New Orleans. It's no fault of McCaffrey's that he went down with a season-ending injury, but it's no fault of Michael Thomas's, either. Both star players are going into 2021 looking to reassert themselves as premier talents at their positions.
TE: Rob Gronkowski (first team)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) can't make the catch on a pass from quarterback Tom Brady after getting past New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Demario Davis (56) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Second team: Adam Trautman It was a toss-up between Trautman and Cameron Brate, Gronkowski's teammate, with Atlanta's Hayden Hurst also earning some consideration after a career year. But in the end the nod went to Trautman, who should get greater opportunities than both of them while making a bigger impact as a blocker -- maybe he and Kyle Pitts get these spots next year.
WR: Calvin Ridley (first team)
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) evades New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore (23) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Atlanta. The New Orleans Saints won 21-16. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Second team: Chris Godwin Ridley won the crown by leading the division in both targets (137) and receiving yards (1,374), and the departure of Julio Jones puts him on an even taller trajectory. Godwin didn't have the eye-popping numbers expected when Brady came to town but he's still one of the better route runners around the league.
WR: D.J. Moore (first team)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) crosses the goal line in front of New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) and outside linebacker Demario Davis (56) on a touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Second team: Robby Anderson Moore emerged as one of the NFL's most dangerous big-play threats, doing damage before the catch (his average depth of target: 13.7, second only to Ridley in the division) and after it, averaging an NFC South-best 5.9 yards picked up on the run. Anderson eclipsed the 1,000 yards mark in his first year with the Panthers and could improve now that he's working with Darnold again.
WR: Mike Evans (first team)
Nov 17, 2019; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) exits the tunnel before a game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Michael Thomas Evans did catch more touchdown passes than anyone else in the division (13), but he nearly tied his career low in receiving yards (1,006 against 2017's 1,001) and disappeared in some big games against Saints Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore. Thomas is looking to reestablish himself on top of the wide receivers hierarchy not just in the NFC South, but across the NFL after an injury-plagued aberration in 2020.
LT: Terron Armstead (first team)
Jan 13, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead (72) lines up against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter of a NFC Divisional playoff football game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Jake Matthews Armstead remains the best of the best, maybe even around the entire league. Donovan Smith felt like the pick here for second team, but a deeper dive showed he committed 11 penalties against Matthews' three while allowing twice as many sacks. He's a weak link in the Buccaneers offensive line.
LG: Ali Marpet (first team)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive guard Ali Marpet (74) in action during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
Second team: Andrus Peat Marpet is the runaway top left guard in the division, and it's pretty ugly after him. Peat has struggled to turn in consistently-positive game tape when he's not injured. The Panthers and Falcons both rolled the dice on upgrading the position.
C: Erik McCoy (first team)
Sep 9, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints center Erik McCoy (78) in the second half against the Houston Texans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Matt Paradis There's a case to be made for any of the non-McCoy centers to get the second team nod here, though I went with Paradis owing to his lack of mistakes (just one penalty on 1,029 snaps last year). McCoy is quickly on his way to being ranked among the NFL's best linemen regardless of position.
RG: Alex Cappa (first team)
TAMPA, FL - AUGUST 23: Alex Cappa #65 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks on from the bench during the fourth quarter of the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Raymond James Stadium on August 23, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Will Vragovic/Getty Images)
Second team: Chris Lindstrom Both players had annoyingly strong 2020 seasons, doubly so considering the Saints didn't get much return out of their investment in rookie draft pick Cesar Ruiz. He's got a lot of ground to make up to earn consideration on this list next year.
RT: Ryan Ramczyk (first team)
Dec 25, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) in the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Tristan Wirfs Here's an honorable mention for Taylor Moton, the Panthers right tackle who is about to join Ramczyk among the league's highest-paid blockers. He'd be an easy pick here if the position weren't so crowded, with Wirfs making a smooth transition to the right side after playing left tackle in college and giving up just one sack as a rookie.
LDE: Shaquil Barrett (first team)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) looks to pass as Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) works against offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk (71) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Second team: Cameron Jordan. Yeah, yeah, congrats to Barrett on backing up his breakout 2019 season with another big year. If Jordan hadn't regressed as a pass rusher he'd have the first team spot, so this is a solid consolation prize. Dante Fowler Jr. hasn't lived up to expectations for Atlanta.
RDE: Brian Burns (first team)
Oct 11, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) under pressure from Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (53) during the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Jason Pierre-Paul Burns is one of the few bright spots on Carolina's defense, and he's rapidly improving. He'll be a problem in the division for a long time. Credit to Pierre-Paul for bouncing back so well from a terrible injury. Marcus Davenport could make this list next year, if he remains healthy -- his per-snap production wasn't too far behind Trey Hendrickson's off the right end spot.
DT: Grady Jarrett (first team)
Dec 22, 2019; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) reacts after they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Vita Vea Jarrett still remains one of the NFL's best interior rushers, but Vea would have made a serious push for the first team if he hadn't missed so much time with an injury. He's the nose tackle who impacts every play, run or pass. Others considered here included Panthers first rounder Derrick Brown and Steve McLendon, who the Buccaneers acquired mid-season to fill in for Vea.
DT: Ndamukong Suh (first team)
Feb 4, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ndamukong Suh (93) against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: David Onyemata Tampa Bay has built a special defensive line. Hopefully the Saints can match it, which will happen if Onyemata continues to progress. He's still chasing his first double-digits sacks season but will have ample opportunities to contribute. Suh might be the most consistent interior rusher in the division; he's averaged 50-plus pressures all 11 years he's been around.
LB: Lavonte David (first team)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers inside linebacker Lavonte David (54) leaves the field during the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Second team: Shaq Thompson David has been one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL throughout his career -- he makes plays at the line of scrimmage (leading NFC South linebackers with 57 stops, including 12 tackles for loss) and when dropping back in coverage (his five pass deflections led the division in 2020). Thompson is another building-block for Carolina; he avoids mistakes, drawing just one penalty and missing only 11 tackles last season while playing 100-plus snaps at linebacker, defensive end, and defensive back.
LB: Demario Davis (first team)
New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Demario Davis (56) celebrates after a stop against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Second team: Deion Jones Davis wasn't the same impact player we saw a year earlier, but he's still among the league's best off-ball linebackers. So is Jones, who is one of the few linebackers with the chops to defend the slot in coverage. Devin White just missed the cut, but it's clear where he must improve to get his due credit: cleaner tackling (he led the division with 16 missed tackle attempts). If he can remain a force player against the pass while improving in run defense, White will push other talented players down the ladder.
FS: Marcus Williams (first team)
New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams (43) intercepts a deep pass bu Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the first half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Second team: Antoine Winfield Jr. Williams finally refined his tackling technique, and the results speak for themselves: he missed just two times throughout the entire 2020 season, leading to a division-best missed rate of 3.4%. Winfield had a rougher year as a rookie, missing 11 times (11.7%) and intercepting just one pass against Williams' three. The Buccaneers free safety has sky-high potential, but like Williams he's experiencing a learning curve.
SS: Malcolm Jenkins (first team)
Dec 13, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New Orleans Saints strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) before action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: Jeremy Chinn It was the sort of season Saints fans hoped for years ago from Jenkins, who returned to lead the secondary by word and example. Chinn is a really impressive, versatile defender who could have also made this list at linebacker (well, if it weren't so stacked). If he can learn to tackle more efficiently (he missed 18 times) and hold up better in the red zone (he gave up 6 touchdown passes), he'll be dangerous.
DB: C.J. Gardner-Johnson (first team)
New Orleans Saints safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (22) celebrates win front of Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive tackle Donovan Smith (76) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Second team: Isaiah Oliver There are flaws to Gardner-Johnson's game (like his 16 missed tackles) but he's been a consistent source of positive plays for the Saints, making big stops in run defense and breaking up 11 passes into his coverage. It's telling that he was ranked fourth among all defensive backs in the NFC South in both targets and the lowest NFL passer rating (84.4). Compare that to Oliver, who was thrown against just two more times while allowing the division's worst NFL passer rating (130.1).
CB: Carlton Davis (first team)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (24) flies through the air as he teams up with strong safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (31) to take down New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill (7) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Second team: Marshon Lattimore There were some rough moments for Davis like the multiple touchdowns he allowed to Tyreek Hill in their regular season meeting, but his high moments were too strong to ignore. So were his division-leading 14 pass breakups. He's the standard Lattimore must chase to regain status as a top-five corner in this league; here's hoping Packers third-wheel Allen Lazard doesn't torch him again in the season opener.
CB: Donte Jackson (first team)
Sep 23, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson (26) is introduced before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Second team: A.J. Terrell Jackson is a highly competitive cover corner with some ball skills, and he figures to form quite a tandem with rookie draft pick Jaycee Horn if he enjoys better health. If he can stay on the field, he'll be a problem. Terrell was thrown to the wolves right away, and struggled for it; no NFC South corner allowed more receptions (71) or receiving yards (901), with pretty poor ball skills. But the signs are there for him to make a big jump -- watch him run step-for-step with Tyreek Hill and Henry Ruggs III.