The NFC South is known for high-powered offenses, fluent running games, and a young, rebuilding Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Between Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans, some of the most exciting skill position players showcase their talents every home game in their respective cities. The Most Elusive series identifies the division’s top dogs that troubles defenses every week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Although Tampa Bay has one of the youngest teams in the NFL, they are well improved from the previous year and look to pack a punch in 2012.
LeGarrette Blount’s scrappy mentality will unify Tampa Bay during their toughest trials this season, as his 30 broken tackles in 2011 ranked 10th in the NFL on the Football Outsiders' list. By recording a broken tackle on a NFL sixth best 15.1 percent of his touches, Blount showed the league that neither he nor Tampa Bay are willing to fall easily.
Upon acquiring rookie running back Doug Martin from Boise State in this year’s Draft, Tampa Bay looks to add a quick, balanced attack to complement he and Blount’s downhill running style.
Josh Freeman’s third season has been a rocky one, yet it has not been unnoticed by Most Elusive numbers. Despite defenders hurrying Freeman to get rid of the football, he managed to escape the fourth most tackles for a quarterback in 2011.
Under leadership from new head coach Greg Schiano, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have changed their football culture, and their most elusive players look to make it a winning one.
Atlanta finished the 2011 season tied for the second highest percentage of plays with a broken tackle at 7.8 percent. Their skill position players carry the ability to break off big yardage in the rushing and passing game in the open field.
Of his 318 touches last year, Michael Turner shed 42 tackles, which was noted as second best in the NFL by Football Outsiders, along with his 10th best 13.2 percent touches with a broken tackle. Turner has led Atlanta’s solid running game since 2008, rushing for over 1,300 yards in each season other than 2009 where he had fewer than 180 carries.
White had a second best 100 receptions last season and an eighth best 1,296 yards with 81 average receiving yards per game; which was also top ten among wide receivers. Together with deep threat Julio Jones, Roddy White keeps the heads of defensive secondaries on a swivel.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints have multiple weapons in the backfield to accompany their dominant passing regime: Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, and Pierre Thomas all share the workload at the running back position.
Thomas showed his elusiveness on 12.5 percent of his touches last season, averaging a NFC fifth best 5.1 yards per attempt. Thomas and his running back mates in New Orleans combined for the sixth most average rushing yards in the league last season, an extreme complement to the best passing average a year ago.
The electric Darren Sproles completed the 2011 season with 690 yards after the catch, the second most of any player. His 710 total receiving yards, the most by a NFL running back last year, proves his dynamic ability to produce out of the backfield.
If that does not validate his elusiveness, his recent dive into NFL history with 2,696 all-purpose yards in 2011 is the most any NFL player has recorded in a single season.
The 328 all-purpose yards he acquired in a post-season matchup still haunts Indianapolis four years later, and the 5’6” 190-pound speedy Sproles has shown no sign of slowing down in 2012.
Carolina is sneaking on the radar of the NFC South with an improved passing game to add to their reliable running game of the past. Jonathan Stewart was 10th in the NFL in yards after the catch in 2011, contributing more than just rushing to Carolina’s new offensive strategy.
Undoubtedly the No. 1 reason for Carolina’s new identity resides in the man who wears jersey No. 1, Cam Newton.
Newton’s five escaped sacks in 2011, were a portion of his NFL’s third best broken tackles tally for quarterbacks. The NFL Rookie of the Year led the league in rushing yards per attempt at 5.6, causing defenses to scratch their heads at his quarterback position label.
The number on Cam Newton’s jersey is somewhat symbolic, as he was the first rookie quarterback to do many things in 2011. Here are a few:
Most rushing yards by a rookie quarterback (706).
Most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (14).
First of two rookie quarterbacks to make the Pro Bowl (Andy Dalton).
Most touchdowns by any rookie in a single season (35; 21 passing, 14 rushing).
First rookie quarterback to rush and throw for at least 10 touchdowns in the same season.
Most passing yards by a rookie in a single game (432).
Most passing yards by a rookie in a single season (4,051).
First rookie to throw for at least 400 yards in back-to-back games.
Rushed and threw for at least one touchdown each in eight games; tied the NFL record
Cam Newton’s touchdown celebration in which he pretends to shed his jersey to reveal a Superman logo on his chest is ironic to his Most Elusive ability; leaving all spectators to fathom whether or not he indeed bares a “S” underneath his pads.