Roster turnover for every NFC South team
Returning for the 2016 season, PFF’s snaps lost series takes a detailed look at the playing time void created by players who have left each team this offseason, whether they were traded, cut, left via free agency, or retired.
Because each unit plays a different number of snaps over the course of the year, we will be looking at what percentage of each teams’ total snaps are in need of replacement, rather than raw snap-count totals. Each team will have a ranking following their percentage of snaps lost, with the first-ranked team in each category (offense, defense, and total) representing the team with the smallest portion of their playing time in need of replacement.
A few caveats before getting into the good stuff:
- Suspensions and injuries that may limit 2016 snap counts are not considered.
- “Biggest losses” are purely in terms of snap count, not necessarily in terms of impact.
- All snap counts are regular-season only.
With those qualifiers in mind, let’s dive into the NFC South.
Overall snaps lost: 18.80 percent, 10th-smallest loss in the NFL (2015: 28.33 percent, 22nd)
Offensive snaps lost: 11.70 percent, ninth (2015: 25.71 percent, 21st)
Biggest losses: WR Roddy White (944), WR Leonard Hankerson (344)
After 11 years in Atlanta, the Falcons elected to let the 34-year-old White go after he recorded his lowest receiving yardage total since 2006. Hankerson was waived late last season after dealing with hamstring issues, and will spend 2016 with the Bills.
Replacement plan: Atlanta signed former Bengal Mohamed Sanu to a five-year deal to be the second wide receiver behind Julio Jones, so he should cover for most, if not all, of White’s snaps. Sophomore Justin Hardy could improve on his 340 snaps from a season ago, though he’ll compete with Nick Williams and Eric Weems for snaps at receiver.
Defensive snaps lost: 25.90 percent, 17th (2015: 30.96 percent, 22nd)
Biggest losses: LB Justin Durant (661), DE Kroy Biermann (520), S William Moore (510), DE O’Brien Schofield (506)
After being released in February, Durant returned to the Cowboys, where he spent the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The Falcons elected not to re-sign Biermann, who has spent his entire career in Atlanta since being drafted in 2008. Moore ended the season on the injured reserve list, and also found himself released in February; the 31-year-old safety is still looking for work. A one-year rental from the Seahawks, Schofield was not re-signed, yet remains open to coming back to play for Dan Quinn again this year.
Replacement plan: The Falcons picked up Courtney Upshaw, a former Raven who figures to start at strong-side linebacker, then further bolstered their linebacker corps with second-round pick Deion Jones (LSU). Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn both played fewer than 550 snaps in their debut season in Atlanta, and should see bigger roles in the defense this season. Finally, first-round pick Keanu Neal (Florida) is the prospective starter alongside free safety Ricardo Allen.
Overall snaps lost: 19.36 percent, 12th (2015: 16.13 percent, fifth)
Offensive snaps lost: 6.39 percent, first (2015: 16.66 percent, ninth)
Biggest losses: WR Jerricho Cotchery (435), G Amini Silatolu (246)
The 34-year-old Cotchery was allowed to walk after a solid season as Carolina’s fourth receiver, pulling in 485 receiving yards while playing less than half of the team’s snaps. Silatolu was allowed to leave despite playing well in Andrew Norwell’s place during a midseason injury, and has signed with the Bears.
Replacement plan: Silatolu only saw the field when Norwell went down for a four-week stretch, so he could be replaced by a clean bill of health. Cotchery falls into the same boat; Kelvin Benjamin was the Panthers’ top wideout before missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL, and should more than make up for Cotchery’s 435 snaps.
Defensive snaps lost: 32.33 percent, 25th (2015: 15.61 percent, sixth)
Biggest losses: CB Josh Norman (1,079), S Roman Harper (964), CB Charles Tillman (723), DE Jared Allen (558)
A late removal of the franchise tag saw Norman chase the dollar signs to Washington, signing a five-year deal that will pay him like one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Harper is reuniting with the Saints after a couple of respectable seasons with the Panthers. With 13 seasons under his belt, Tillman retired after a late-season ACL tear put the 35-year-old’s future in doubt. Allen also capped off an impressive career in Carolina after 12 years and 136 career sacks.
Replacement plan: Charles Johnson missed half the season with a hamstring issue, so if he’s healthy, he’ll be able to replace most, if not all, of Allen’s playing time. Bené Benwikere should see a modest bump in play time if he remains healthy, and Robert McClain should be a significant part of the defense after playing just 35 regular-season snaps late last year. Tre Boston will add youth to the safety position in Harper’s wake, and in drafting corners in the second and third round, the Panthers will hope to further rejuvenate their secondary with players like James Bradberry (Samford) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia).
New Orleans Saints
Overall snaps lost: 21.56 percent, 16th (2015: 29.89 percent, 26th)
Offensive snaps lost: 20.49 percent, 19th (2015: 33.01 percent, 26th)
Biggest losses: TE Ben Watson (1,003), RG Jahri Evans (820), WR Marques Colston (580)
Watson turned in the best statistical year of his career last season and converted that into a two-year deal with the Ravens. The Saints let Evans go after 10 years with the team, and he’ll now suit up for the Seahawks in 2016. Taken three rounds later in the same draft as Evans, Colston was released, too.
Replacement plan: The Saints pulled in TE Coby Fleener from the Colts on a five-year deal, and he’ll end up as Watson’s younger—but more expensive—replacement. Second-round pick Michael Thomas (Ohio State) could pick up where Colston left off, behind Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks as the Saints’ third receiver. New Orleans’ 2015 first-rounder Andrus Peat should be in for a full-time role this year after pulling spot duty last season at several positions.
Defensive snaps lost: 22.63 percent, 11th (2015: 26.76 percent, 18th)
Biggest losses: CB Brandon Browner (1,039), DT Kevin Williams (564)
Browner’s departure will be addition by subtraction, as the veteran cornerback racked up 23 penalties and a league-worst coverage grade last season. He’ll reunite with Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, looking to revitalize his career. Williams retired this summer after grading positively in every season since PFF began grading, including his final season with the Saints at age 35.
Replacement plan: First-round pick Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) should be able to match Williams’ snap count, and adding Nick Fairley (Rams) should more than compensate for any losses on the defensive line. Keenan Lewis struggled to find playing time last year amidst a slew of injury issues, but if he’s ready to go by Week 1, he’ll make up for Browner with ease—and provide an upgrade while doing so.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Overall snaps lost: 17.98 percent, seventh (2015: 22.49 percent, 13th)
Offensive snaps lost: 10.74 percent, eighth (2015: 14.89 percent, sixth)
Biggest losses: LG Logan Mankins (1,043), FB Jorvorskie Lane (212)
Mankins retired after 11 seasons with the Buccaneers and Patriots despite a strong final year, grading at 16th overall among 82 qualifying guards. The Bucs are in good shape here as their second-biggest loss on offense is a fullback who played just 19 percent of the team’s snaps last season.
Replacement plan: Tampa Bay picked up Lane’s replacement in the sixth round, grabbing Dan Vitale out of Northwestern. They also nabbed J.R. Sweezy from the Seahawks to replace Mankins, though he’s unlikely to be an upgrade after back-to-back seasons of negative grades.
Defensive snaps lost: 25.22 percent, 16th (2015: 30.09 percent, 21st)
Biggest losses: CB Sterling Moore (729) DT Henry Melton (523), LB Danny Lansanah (384)
Moore was solid during his lone year in Tampa Bay, but he’ll continue his NFL career in Buffalo. After a subpar year against the run—without compensating enough as a pass-rusher—Melton hasn’t found a suitor this offseason. Lansanah had a respectable 2015 season, and joins the Dolphins at age 30.
Replacement plan: The Bucs spent the 11th-overall pick on Vernon Hargreaves (Florida), so odds are they see him starting—or at least contributing—in the nickel. Alterraun Verner’s play fell precipitously last season, but if he can find his form again, he could improve on the 596 snaps he played last season. Once cut by the Ravens, Daryl Smith signed with Tampa Bay, though like Verner, his play fell quite a bit in 2015. A couple of defensive tackles already on the roster could increase their playing time this year, as Clinton McDonald and Akeem Spence both saw fewer than 300 snaps a season ago.