Defensive X-Factors for Each team in the NFC South
The 2023 NFL draft and free agency is in the rear view, and the rosters for the teams in the NFC South specifically are shaping up. In this write-up, each team in the NFC South which includes the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons defensive x-factors are exhibited.
On either offense or defense, a team has a player or coaching personnel that will have profuse influence on how extensive success will transpire on the field. Who are the game-changers on defense in the NFC South?
1. Carolina Panthers: Cornerback Jaycee Horn
Carolina Panthers cornerback Jaycee Horn was selected eighth overall in the 2021 NFL draft out of South Carolina.
Horn has been one of Carolina’s best defenders outside of star outside linebacker Brian Burns. Horn suffered a foot injury early in the 2021 season and returned as a starter in 2022. In 2022, Horn garnered 37 solo tackles and led the team in interceptions (3).
Injuries is what has hindered Horn since coming into the league. As mentioned prior, a foot injury cut his season short by playing only 3 games in 2021. In 2022, Horn suffered a rib and wrist injury that he had to endure for the majority of the season as he played in only 13 games. It was reported that the former number eight overall pick suffered an ankle sprain during the offseason and missed minicamp and OTA’s.
Horn is the highest drafted defensive back in Panthers franchise history, and the Panthers are hoping Horn can reach his full potential heading into this third season, fully healthy of course.
2. Atlanta Falcons: Jessie Bates III
The Atlanta Falcons signed former Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III in free agency to improve their defense that has been lowly ranked for the better part of five years.
Bates III has been one of the premier safeties in the NFL, as he was a second-team all-pro selection in 2020. Bates III is a physical safety that can roam anywhere on the field and is credited for his durability by missing one game since being drafted in 2018 by Cincinnati.
The former all-pro safety joins an Atlanta defense that was ranked 25th in pass defense and 27th in overall defense in 2022. Alongside Bates III is safety Richie Grant, who as drafted in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft from UCF. Grant started in all 17 games in 2022 and recorded 70 solo tackles, 7 pass deflections and 2 interceptions.
Also in the secondary is 2021 second-team all-pro cornerback A.J Terrell and former Detroit Lions corner back Jeff Okudah who signed during the offseason.
Bates III will provide leadership and experience to the Falcons young secondary, as the former Bengal played in seven playoff games and in Super Bowl 56 with Cincinnati.
3.Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Outside Linebacker Joe Tyron-Shoyinka
Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Joe Tyron-Shonyinka was drafted thirty-second overall in the 2021 NFL draft out of Washington.
Since joining Tampa Bay in 2021, the former Washington Husky has recorded 8 sacks thus far which doesn’t measure up to his draft status.
The 6-foot-4 258 pound linebacker will have to improve his game heading into 2023 if he wants to be the future of Tampa Bay’s linebacker core in the coming years. If Tyron-Shonyinka can play to his potential this upcoming season, the Buccaneers pass rush could be one of the leagues best.
In 2022, the Buccaneers ranked 22nd in league pass rush win rate at 37 percent.
4. New Orleans Saints: Cornerback Marshon Lattimore
New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore has been one of the prominent safeties since coming into the league in 2017.
Lattimore was drafted eleventh overall in the 2017 NFL Draft by New Orleans out of Ohio State. Lattimore won the 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of Year award by garnering 43 solo tackles, 18 pass deflections and 5 interceptions during this rookie season. The former Ohio State Buckeye is a four-time pro-bowler (’17, ’19-’21) as he aims to lead the Saints secondary in 2023.
Lattimore suffered a kidney injury in week 5 against the Seattle Seahawks during the 2022 season and played in only seven games for the Saints. The former defensive rookie of the year will be a huge contribution to a Saints defense that was ranked fifth in total defense in 2022 with the likes of strong safety Tyrann Mathieu, free safety Marcus Maye and cornerback Paulson Adebo in the secondary.