The NFC South was the worst division in the NFL last season, with the Buccaneers finishing first at 8-9 and becoming the fourth sub-.500 team in the 21st century to make the postseason.
In the offseason, all four teams made quarterback changes — some better than others. New Orleans signed a veteran starter in hopes of a turnaround like the Rams had in 2021 with Matthew Stafford. Carolina grabbed its possible franchise player with the No. 1 overall pick.
Atlanta, meanwhile, is putting its trust in a second-year QB with a lot to prove and a new backup while Tampa Bay added a former Heisman winner to possibly fill the shoes of the GOAT.
Here's a ranking of each team's QB situation from worst to best:
Starter: Desmond Ridder | Backup: Taylor Heinicke
With four games left in a throwaway season, the Falcons benched Marcus Mariota for 2022 and rolled the dice with their third-round pick, Desmond Ridder. In his debut, he passed for 97 yards and no TDs but showcased mobility (38 yards rushing) and didn't commit a turnover.
The 23-year-old failed to generate a TD in his first three starts but steadily improved, stealing a one-point win over the pitiful Cardinals in his third game. Ridder's best performance came in a season-finale win over the Bucs, throwing for 224 yards and two TDs.
2nd career start. On the road. Facing a top 10 defense fighting for the playoffs.— London/Ebiketie Breakout ‘23 (@DiehardFalcFan) June 25, 2023
Desmond Ridder showed up vs the Ravens. 22/33, 218 yds, 85.2 rating.
He threw strikes & threw with confidence. His best rookie game imo. ATL can be legit if Ridder consistently plays like this. pic.twitter.com/BLIERcwwEP
Ridder didn't blow anyone away during his four-game stretch, but his ability to limit turnovers and squeak out a couple wins earned him the starting job. If consistent, Ridder should be able to keep the Falcons in games against opponents in the middle of the pack and below — which will be often as an NFC South team. However, he didn't look like a franchise savior in 2022.
In the offseason, the Falcons signed former Commander Heinicke, a 30-year-old who outplayed Carson Wentz last season. In nine games, he threw for 1,859 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions and led Washington to an upset win over the Eagles. If Ridder flops, he could be a solid starter, but he's not a long-term answer for any team.
Starter: Baker Mayfield | Backup: Kyle Trask
The Bucs haven't officially named their starting QB, but it's likely they'll go with Mayfield, the former No. 1 overall pick signed to a one-year contract worth up to $8.5 million.
Mayfield broke records during his rookie season in Cleveland and led the Browns to their first playoff victory in nearly 30 years, but his conflict with upper management in Cleveland as well as injuries and inconsistency are why he has played for four teams since 2021.
The 28-year-old showed glimmers of his Heisman self during a short stint with the Rams last season. Two days after joining the team, Mayfield led an improbable 98-yard game-winning drive against the Raiders and was named NFL Offensive Player of the Week. He later threw 230 yards and two touchdowns in a 51-14 win over the Broncos.
Baker Mayfield joined the team on Tuesday. He led a game-winning drive on Thursday. We love football. pic.twitter.com/ylYk2eb22f— NFL (@NFL) December 9, 2022
Tampa Bay's last-place running game must be fixed for Mayfield to be successful. If he's forced to throw a lot or make hasty decisions every third down, he'll turn the ball over. New offensive coordinator Dave Canales should help the situation, but Mayfield is a huge question mark.
The Bucs have expressed confidence in Trask, who played rarely (nine passes total) behind Tom Brady for two seasons. The former Florida star, a second-round pick, hasn't started as a pro.
Starter: Bryce Young | Backup: Andy Dalton
Despite concerns over his 5-foot-10, 204-pound frame, the Panthers went all-in on Young with the first pick in the draft. The last time they picked first, in 2011, they selected Cam Newton, who won MVP and led Carolina to a franchise-best 15-1 season and a berth in Super Bowl 50 during the 2015 season.
Young is athletic and, per head coach Frank Reich, has a football IQ comparable to legendary Colts Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning. During his two seasons starting at Alabama, the Heisman winner racked up 8,200 passing yards and 79 touchdown passes.
Young is undersized and will quickly feel the difference between college and NFL defenses, but the game is changing. Quarterbacks under six feet have achieved success, notably Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson.
The 21-year-old may struggle at times in his debut season, but he should excel if he can adapt his abilities and remain healthy.
Sam Darnold under pressure vs. Bryce Young under pressure: pic.twitter.com/u4H3BaPxLh— Armandoavenue (@armandoavenue) June 27, 2023
Dalton, a 35-year-old veteran, threw for 2,871 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions with the Saints last season. He should prove to be a valuable mentor for Young — and a decent starter if things go horribly wrong.
Starter: Derek Carr | Backup: Jameis Winston
After signing Carr to a four-year, $150 million deal this offseason, the Saints should be the most confident NFC South team heading into the new season.
Until Young proves himself, Carr is the the most stable QB in the division. He's a four-time Pro Bowler with nine seasons of experience and a reputation for being available. He has never started fewer than 15 games in an NFL season
But Carr — who threw 14 picks for the second consecutive season in 2022 — has a limited upside. The Raiders benched him last season with a 6-9 record.
With the right offensive schemes, Carr could throw for more than 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, as he did in 2019 and 2020. The Saints have a competitive supporting cast and solid defense that allowed the fewest points in the division last season.
And don't forget about the NFC South's other Heisman winner. Winston isn't the Pro Bowler he was in 2015, but he's the best backup in the division despite a penchant for turnovers (96 career picks).