Let's get this out of the way right now, I'm going to include Drew Brees. Technically, he's without contract and not an official NFC South player.
I don't really care, he'll be a Saint this season and I'm going to throw him in here. Also, spoiler alert, he's in the top spot. What about the other nine?
Anyone that follows the NFC South knows that it's an offense-heavy division.
Therefore, it's going to be tough for a defensive player to sneak onto this list.
1. QB Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Here he is. This is a fairly easy choice. As for his contract, I expect them to work something out within the next month or so, he means too much to the franchise and city for them to let anything happen, especially given their current state.
Brees will have his normal array of receivers back, minus Meachem and will be ready to go. Hopefully Mark Ingram can chip in with a running game between the tackles.
2. QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
I'm not going to lie, I didn't see this coming. I thought he would really struggle transitioning into the NFL as a rookie. Instead, he showed how intelligent he is and how quickly he can adapt in any situation. To be fair, a lot of his fancy passing numbers were a result of throwing it as far as he could and relying on Steve Smith to bring it in.
However, it's the throws in the middle of the field and short sideline passes that really stood out to me. I fully expected him to let balls sail on him quite often on his out routes as well as plant some slants in the chests of linebackers and it just didn't happen as often as I thought.
Not surprisingly, he was a wrecking ball in the running game, especially inside the five. Going into Year 2, I look for him to run a little less, pass out of the pocket a little more and continue on his quest to be one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
3. OG Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Arguably the best offensive lineman in the NFL. In my opinion, the money he received is still a little much for his position but I don't have too much of a problem with it considering the stability they will receive. Tampa is getting a top-tier lineman for the next handful of years.
4. TE Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints
Either the best or second-best TE in the NFL, Graham is a nightmare for opposing defenses in the redzone. He was the sleeper pick for many analysts last season and he lived up to that, and then some. Quickly becoming the favorite target of Drew Brees,
Graham finished his Pro Bowl season on a high note and will look to improve on it next season. The problem for opposing defenses is that corners are too small, linebackers are too slow and safeties are are a little of both. He demands double teams everywhere on the field, usually sitting in the middle of the defense and that opens up the sideline for other New Orleans targets like Marques Colston and Devery Henderson.
5. WR Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons
I'm sticking with Roddy. There isn't a whole lot I can say that you already don't know but I will point out that you shouldn't be discouraged by his drops last season or his target-to-reception ratio. It's more than likely going to be an outlier and he'll be back in top form next season, especially as Julio Jones receives more attention.
Whether you want to admit it or not, defenses paid a lot less attention to Michael Turner last year, usually allowing an extra corner to help on White, Jones or Gonzalez. This time next year? Yes, Jones and maybe even Vincent Jackson will rank higher on this list but for now, it's still all about Rowdy Roddy.
6. WR Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
He hasn't played a snap as an NFC South player yet. However, Jackson is a top of the line talent that won't drop off even though he's going to be playing with a downgrade at quarterback. Mike Williams will heavily benefit from being able to slide into the No. 2 spot, which suits him much better.
Jackson, meanwhile, is a big receiver that makes big plays. That's also what leads to his problems, he's far too inconsistent and it seems he either has a huge game or a zeroed out game. Moving into next season, he'll definitely help a Tampa offense that lacked big plays for much of last season.
7. C Ryan Kalil, Carolina Panthers
Kalil is a very good, very underrated offensive lineman. His name usually doesn't come up with the other top offensive linemen in the league, but it should. Much like Nicks, it's a given that he'll be a top-tier lineman for the next handful of years. Don't overlook the fact that he helped Newton get comfortable very quickly last season and that chemistry will only improve moving forward.
8. WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
At this time next season, there's a great chance he'll be in the top three on this list. I was higher on Jones than Green coming into the Draft and I'm comfortable standing by that now. Jones put up fantastic numbers last season despite the fact that Roddy White nearly broke records in the targets he received.
As play levels out and Jones begins to see the amount of balls that White does, his numbers will spike even higher. The aspect of his game that really sets him apart is his ability to adjust to the ball while in air and being able to run after the catch. He's going to be a top wideout for a long time.
9. CB Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Another underrated, spectacular talent. The only defensive player to make this list, he's turned himself into a shutdown corner on the field. Off the field? Concerns remain. If he can somehow keep his nose clean, he'll be one of the handful of premier corners in this game.
Being in the NFC South makes him extremely valuable, matching up against White, Jones, Colston and Smith. Hopefully Talib hasn't peaked, as many corners do at an early age. As of now, though? Talib is a top-flight corner.
10. RB Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
The case can be made that Sproles was the most effective running back in the entire league last season. However you may feel about him, his impact on the field can't be denied. While he'll never be able to handle 20+ carries a game, he remains scary to defenses while tallying around 10 carries, five or six catches and returning kicks.
If you need an all-around back that will get the job done every Sunday and keep the defense on their toes, Sproles is your man.
: Brent Grimes, Matt Ryan, Steve Smith, Jahri Evans, Jonathan Stewart, Michael Turner, Jon Beason, Marques Colston, Curtis Lofton
Anyone you think should be higher? Lower? Left off completely? Let's hear it.
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