The NFC South's battle for the division crown begins September 13th between the Saints and Buccaneers. With an abundance of talent throughout the division, the South will be one of the NFL's most competitive. The Saints News Network examined the four NFC South teams' rosters to create the NFC South First-Team Defensive Players.
NFC South First-Team Defensive Players Preview
DE: Cameron Jordan, Saints
One of the NFL’s most dominant defensive players, Cam Jordan, set a new career-high in sacks in 2019. His 15.5 sacks put him in the top three in the league and second-best in the NFC South. Along with his remarkable pass-rushing ability, Jordan plays just as well in the run, tallying 50+ stops and 15 for loss. The NFL named the Saints' 2011 first-round pick to their Top 100 Players list this summer at #23.
DT: Grady Jarrett, Falcons
Grady Jarrett agreed to a four-year contract extension ahead of the 2019 season and earned every dime. The Conyers, GA native produced his best NFL season for his hometown team by setting career highs in tackles and sacks last season. His efforts earned him his first Pro-Bowl selection and a place on the NFL’s All-Pro second team.
DT: David Onyemata, Saints
The native of Nigeria agreed to a 3-year extension with the Saints following a productive 2019 season. Onyemata started 15 games for New Orleans last season, tallying 32 tackles and 3 sacks. The 27-year-old set a career-high with 11 QB hits in 2019, starting in place of Sheldon Rankins.
DE: Jason Pierre-Paul, Buccaneers
JPP finished his 10th NFL season playing only 10 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the two-time Pro-Bowl selection was effective when he was on the field racking up 8.5 sacks. In just two seasons with Tampa Bay, JPP has collected 21 sacks and formed one of the NFC’s best pass-rushing duos alongside Shaquil Barrett.
OLB: Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers
2019 was a breakout season for the fore-mentioned Barrett. In his first season with Tampa Bay, the 2014 UDFA led the NFL in sacks (19.5) and finished second in tackles for loss (19). His efforts landed him on the NFL’s All-Pro second team and earned him his first trip to the Pro-Bowl.
ILB: Demario Davis, Saints
Despite not making the Pro-Bowl in 2019, the NFL named Davis to the league’s All-Pro first team following the season. Davis led the Saints with 111 tackles during a 13-3 season, while getting to the QB four times. The Arkansas State product tied for the league lead with 12 passes defended from the LB position.
ILB: LB Lavonte David, Buccaneers
In 2019, David tallied 100+ tackles for the seventh time in eight seasons. The Tampa Bay defense leader started all 16 games for the first time since 2016 and recorded 123 tackles, 10 for loss, 1 sack and 1 INT. David played 99% of the Bucs defensive snaps last season.
OLB: Shaq Thompson, Panthers
The new leader of the Panthers’ defense set a career-high in total and solo tackles 2019. In 14 starts, Thompson recorded 109 total tackles and 75 solo tackles. The 2015 first-round pick has yet to play all 16 games in a season but will be relied on heavily in 2020 following the retirement of LB Luke Kuechly.
CB: Marshon Lattimore, Saints
The 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year is now one of the league’s premier lockdown corners. Lattimore has snagged 8 INTs through his first 3 NFL seasons, but only one came in 2019. The Pro-Bowl selection finished his third league season with 57 tackles, 14 pass break-ups, and 1 INT.
FS: Marcus Williams, Saints
In three NFL seasons, Marcus Williams has totaled 10 INTs for the New Orleans Saints. Four picks came in 2019, including Williams’ first house call against Tampa Bay. Williams ranked second amongst NFL safeties last season in PFF grading halfway through December (90.1).
SS: Malcolm Jenkins, Saints
Jenkins returns to where it all started in 2020, rejoining the Saints after six years in Philadelphia. One of the NFL’s best tackling safeties, Jenkins tallied 70+ tackles in each of the last six seasons. The two-time Super Bowl Champion heads into 2020 as the seasoned veteran of a talented defensive backfield in the Bayou.
CB: Janoris Jenkins, Saints
The "Jackrabbit" set a career-high 5 INTs in 2019 (4 with NYG, 1 with NO). Playing just two regular-season games with the Saints in 2019, they felt Jenkins' presence most in the NFC Divisional Round matchup against Minnesota. Jenkins forced a fumble and picked up a sack in a loss but will return to New Orleans as the Saints #2 CB in 2020.
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