2014 NFL Preview: Best players in the NFC South

The NFC South has been one of the most competitive division over the past decade. No team has won it in back to back years. This division is diverse. If one wants high flying offense, just look to the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. If one wants dominant defense, just look to the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There is plenty of star power on both sides of the ball which makes constructing a list of the best no easy task. So without further adieu, here is the best of the best from the NFC South.

Offense

Quarterbacks

1) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

This is obvious choice. Brees has led a potent offense that has ranked in the top 10 since 2006 with multiple years at number one. And with 3 consecutive 5000 plus yard season, there is no signs of him slowing down.

2)Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

This was tough trying to choose between Ryan and Cam Newton. Ryan had a down year last season, but he was playing behind an aweful offensive line and his weapons were constantly injured. Ryan has been one of the winningest quarterbacks since coming into the league, and has one more playoff victory than Newton, so he get the nod.

Running Backs

1)Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Doug Martin was injured all of last season, but he still remains one of the most prolific running backs in the division. In his rookie season, he carried the Tampa Bucs offense in both the running and passing game as a receiver. And as of now, there is no back better than him in the division

2)Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons

This is an odd situation. Jackson did not have a good season last season. However, nobody from New Orleans or Carolina did anything to supplant Jackson as the second best running back. Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson showed flashes and could take over this spot, but neither has proven they can sustain dominance on the ground for a full season like Jackson has his entire career.

Wide Receiver

1)Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This may be a bit unexpected. Jackson has put up over 1000 yards for 5 out of the past six seasons and has been the model of consistency. Despite inconsistent quarterback play in Tampa, he has still been able to put up number. And even though the Bucs added Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jackson will still put up solid numbers this season

2)Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

This is probably the name everyone was expecting above. Jones is definitely a more talented receiver than Jackson, but I gave Jackson the nod because of health. Julio Jones has only played all 16 games once in his first three seasons, and he missed 11 games last season. And unfortunately, the nature of Jones’ injury suggests that it could be a lingering issue. But, let this be known, when on the field, Jones is the best receiver in the NFC South hands down.

Tight End

1)Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints

The other offensive no brainer. Graham has been arguably the best tight end in the league over the past couple season. His size, speed, and overall athleticism present plenty of mismatches which ultimately makes the Saints offense flow.

2)Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers

With Tony Gonzalez retired, this is really the only choice left with nobody of note in Tampa Bay. The Panthers have lost 4 of their receivers this year in free agency. This leaves Olsen as one of the only options from last year left for the Carolina passing game. The University of Miami product still has the tools to get it done as a productive reliable tight end.

Offensive Tackle

1)Zach Strief, New Orleans Saints

This is an extremely thin position with Donald Penn going to Oakland and Jordan Gross retiring. That being said, given the slim pickings, Strief has to be the choice at right tackle. He graded out as the number one right tackle last season according to Pro Football Focus. And he will continue to be one of the anchors on the Saints’ offensive line.

2)Anthony Collins, Tamap Bay Buccaneers

In a quiet offseason signing, the Buccaneers were able to upgrade their offensive line with Collins. Last season, he gave up zero sacks and one quarterback hurry in 586 pass attempts. He has a relatively small sample size, but has shown dominance as a pass blocker. With more experience, Atlanta’s Jake Matthews and New Orleans’ Terron Armstead could challenge for this spot

Offensive Guard

1)Jahri Evans, New Orleans Saints

The mammoth in the middle of the Saints’ offensive line, Evans is a 5 time All Pro and Pro Bowler. In offense that relies heavily on its guards, Evans has thrived and been one of the best guards in the league from day 1. Last season, it was no accident the Saints line struggled when he was out of the lineup.

2)Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints sweep this position group. Grubbs, along with Evans, made the Pro Bowl last season and has been a solid player since his days in Baltimore. With Brees being short in stature, he and Evans do an exceptional job keeping the taller defensive lineman out of his face.

Center

1)Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers

No changes here from last year. Kalil is one of the best centers in the league since he has been drafted. Though the Carolina line has shuffled around a little bit, Kalil has been the rock of the Panthers line.

Defense

Defensive End

1)Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers

Hardy has been a beast the past two season. Living up to his nickname the Kraken, the product from Hogwarts racked up 15 sacks last season and 26 over the past two. He made his first Pro Bowl and is becoming one of the elite talents at defensive end. It still remains to be seen what his fate it his season with some off the field issues lingering, but if he plays, expect another big season.

2)Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers

This was a tough call. I really wanted to go Cameron Jordan or Michael Johnson here. However, one cannot deny Johnson’s body of work posting 11 plus sacks 3 of the past 4 seasons. Johnson, along with Hardy anchor an absolutely ferocious defensive line that will look to carry Carolina this season

Defensive Tackle

1)Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

One of the most disruptive forces in the league, McCoy is finally living up to his top 5 draft billing. Posting 9.5 sacks and making his first All Pro team last season, McCoy is quickly ascending as one of the best young defensive tackles in the league.

2)Star Lotulelei, Carolina Panthers

The third Panther is appear on the All NFC South defensive line, Lotulelei’s name gets buried among all the star power on the Panther’s defense. But make no mistake, Star’s contribution in eating up double teams and being disruptive in the run game has not gone unnoticed among the Panthers’ defenders. The scariest part is that he is only going to be in his second season

Inside Linebackers

1)Luke Kuechley, Carolina Panthers

No thought here. Kuechley is regarded as possibly the second best middle linebacker right behind Patrick Willis of San Francisco. The brain trust of the Carolina defense, Kuechley will be an All Pro for years to come. He can no weaknesses in his game and is a truly special player.

2)Curtis Lofton, New Orleans Saints

Lofton has been a nice lynchpin in the Saints’ defense. His ability to have gone from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense has been impressive. And with Rob Ryan employing such exotic formation and plays in his defense, Lofton’s ability to adjust and lead the defense is nothing short of exceptional

Outside Linebacker

1)Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

David is possibly the most underrated defensive player in the league. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl last season despite recording over 100 tackles, 7 sacks, and 5 interceptions. Despite the lack of media attention, Lovie Smith has already compared him to Derrick Brooks.

2)Junior Galette/Thomas Davis

This is the only time I will have a tie. I honestly couldn’t decide between the two because, though both play outside linebackers, they are each asked to do different things. Galette is the prototypical 3-4 linebacker and was exceptional recording 12 sacks and being an overall disruptive force. Davis is the textbook 4-3 and provides great coverage and run support recording over 100 tackles. Gun to my head, I have to go Davis because of experience.

Cornerback

1)Keenan Lewis, New Orleans Saints

A free agent pick up last season, Lewis has been a nice revelation. Many pundits were making an argument for Lewis being a Pro Bowl snub. Whatever the case, Lewis proved last year he can be a shutdown corner, highlighted by Desean Jackson being held without with Lewis covering him.

2)Alteraun Verner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Really tempted to put one of the young corner from the Falcons here, but Verner, the free agent pick up from Tennessee did make the Pro Bowl last season. Verner is another player, like Lewis, who flew under the radar a little bit. Expectations are a bit lofty for him as he was brought in to replace Darrelle Revis.

Free Safety

1)Jairus Byrd, New Orleans Saints

Yet another free agent pickup. Byrd was signed this past offseason by the Saints in a very lucrative deal. Byrd, regarded as the second best safety in the league behind Earl Thomas, is one of the active interception leaders. He was brought in to be a ball hawk and create turnovers. His presence give the Saints one of the more formidable secondaries in the league.

2)Dashon Goldson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The hard hitter from Tampa Bay brought an attitude and a swagger to the defense last season. His ability to help in run support is exceptional though he has some shortcoming in the passing game. Nonetheless, Goldson is an integral piece in the defense being built in Tampa.

Strong Safety

1)Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints

The Saints sweep the safety position here. Vaccaro last season was the ultimate chess piece for Rob Ryan’s defense as he lined up everywhere from safety to linebacker. His versatile skill set has given Ryan the flexibility to run many defenses and formations. Before his injury last season, he was playing at a Pro Bowl level and many analyst feel he is ready to make that leap.

2)Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While the Saints take the first string spots, the Bucs take the second string spots. Barron has been a nice player for the Bucs since being drafted in the first round. He has the ability to play the deep safety position and can mix in up in the run. He is a nice complement to Goldson, and that pair combined with the front seven makes for a scary defense this season.

Special Teams

Kicker

Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

He has been absolute gold since joining Atlanta. In his four full season with Atlanta he has eclipsed 90 percent twice. At 39 years of age, his leg is still strong and can still hit from over 50 yards out.

Punter

Thomas Morestead, New Orleans Saints

Morestead has been one of the better punter since entering the league. He has one of the most powerful legs in league and is one of the best at dropping the ball inside the 20. Last season wasn’t his best, but he could be able to bounce back.

Return Specialist

Devin Hester, Atlanta Falcons

Possibly the best return man to even play in the NFL. Hester needs one more return of any kind to break Deion Sander’s record. Though he is older now, he can still be electric. His addition will vastly improve Atlanta’s special teams play.

The Best Players in the NFL by Division

 

  • onewhocares

    Please proof read your material before hitting send. Revis was not a Falcon and Barron is not a Saint.
    These amateur mistakes take away from your credibility as a journalist.