Key Questions: NFC South

Michael WhooleySenior Writer IMay 9, 2009

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 28:  Quarterback Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons celebrates with running back Michael Turner #33 after Turner scored a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams at Georgia Dome on December 28, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

The 2009 NFL Draft is in the books, and despite the holes many teams were able to fill with their selections, there are still questions surrounding all 32 squads. The Bruno Boys though are here for you, attempting to shed light on the key issues surrounding all 32 NFL teams. This time we take a look at the NFC South.


Atlanta Falcons

Will Matt Ryan be able to build off of his stellar rookie campaign, or will the quarterback endure a sophomore slump?

The transition from playing on Saturdays to Sundays didn't seem to bother quarterback Matt Ryan at all last season as the rookie quarterback threw for 3,440 yards, 16 TDs, and just 11 INTs. In fact, having Ryan under center was a big part of the rapid turnaround for the Falcons who went from a 4-12 team in 2007 to an 11-5 playoff team in 2008. Now, fantasy owners and Falcons fans alike are left wondering if Ryan can repeat that type of play in 2009 or if the dreaded sophomore slump looms.

The Bruno Boys are here to quell any fears our readers may have in regards to Ryan's sophomore campaign. There's no reason to think that Ryan won't repeat what he did last season. In fact, there's every reason to believe that he'll be even better. Besides the obvious fact that he now has a full year of experience reading NFL defenses under his belt, Ryan will also succeed because of the situation the Falcons have placed the young quarterback in.

With a solid running game built around Michael Turner, who amassed 1,699 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs in 2008, the Falcons are not asking Ryan to win every game for them on his own, alleviating much of the pressure that can lead quarterbacks to making mistakes. The solid ground game also keeps defenses honest, not allowing them to drop defenders back in Ryan's passing lanes. Add to that the fact that the Falcons were active in finding Ryan another target to go along with stud wide receiver, Roddy White, this off-season, securing the services of future Hall of Fame tight end, Tony Gonzalez, who is coming off a 96 catch, 1058 yard, 10 TD campaign of his own, and Ryan's prospects for 2009 look very appealing. 


Carolina Panthers

Did the Panthers make a mistake in signing quarterback Jake Delhomme to a 5-year, $42.5 million contract extension? 

It's always nice to see a team reward a player for a job well done, but does Delhomme's performance last year constitute a job well done? Not only were Delhomme's year-end numbers simply average (3,288 yards, 15 TDs, and 12 interceptions) for a quarterback, but we're talking about a man here who had eight games last season in which he threw for less than 200 yards, including a 7-for-27 game for 72 yards, a TD, and four INTs against the Oakland Raiders. Furthermore, while football is a team game, Delhomme can almost single handedly be blamed for the Panthers playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals last season, a game in which he threw five costly interceptions.

It seems this move was made for no other reason than to provide the team with cap relief. Which if that is the case is more justifiable. But, rather than stake their future on the arm of Jake Delhomme, perhaps it's time for the Panthers to bring in a young QB to compete for the job. I mean, it's hard to believe that the Panthers will go anywhere with Delhomme under center if he plays like he did in 2008.


New Orleans Saints

With perhaps the league's most potent offense, can the Saints play enough defense to make it to the playoffs?

Rosters throughout fantasy football were littered with New Orleans Saints in 2008, which only makes sense considering the Saints owned the top offense for both yardage and point purposes in the NFL. Fantasy owners looking to capitalize on that fact gave roster spots to everyone from quarterback Drew Brees, to former practice squad wide receiver Lance Moore.

However, you'd be hard pressed to find any fantasy team utilizing the Saints' defense last season. And, who could blame fantasy owners for staying away? After all, the Saints were only the 23rd best defensive squad for fantasy and NFL purposes.

The 24.6 points per game that the Saints allowed opponents went a long way towards the team's 8-8 finish in 2008, good for dead last in the NFC South. The team doesn't want the same thing to happen again. In an attempt to take advantage of their potent offense and make a deep run into the playoffs, the Saints went on a spending spree on the defensive side of the ball this off-season.

Focusing on their biggest weakness, their pass defense, the Saints added defensive end Paul Spicer to put greater pressure on opposing QBs and add to the 28 sacks the team compiled last season. They also added to the secondary, bringing in former Minnesota Vikings' safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Jabari Green from Buffalo.

Staying in a defensive mindset, the team drafted Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins with the 14th pick of this year's draft. All of those moves should pay dividends, and while they may not make the Saints the Pittsburgh Steelers, they should at least make the defensive unit average. With the Saints offense, that may be enough.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Can the Bucs find a solid QB to run the show when their choices are limited to Brian Griese, Byron Leftwich, Luke McCown, and rookie, Josh Freeman?

First and foremost, let's get one thing straight, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not going to try and get involved in any shootouts during the season. Rather, they'll rely on their top 10 defense to keep games close and grind out victories with their running game. Thus, the Arizona Cardinals' aerial assault, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not be.

That's good news because none of the signal callers the Bucs have on their roster are guys that can win a team ball games. Rather, at best, they're game managers. In that line of thinking, the best option the Bucs have to place under center is probably former Jaguars' quarterback Byron Leftwich, who has the best TD to INT ratio at 54 to 38.

If Leftwich, or whoever comes out victorious in the off-season battle,  can avoid making crucial mistakes at inopportune times, the Bucs have a great shot at winning games. However, if you're forced to rely on a Bucs' quarterback for fantasy purposes, don't expect a big payoff come season's end.