Deke: NFC South - key players for Saints divisional foes
by Deke Bellavia,posted Aug 8 2014 1:38PM
Okay, since I keep up with the Black & Gold on daily, I’m recusing myself from naming who I consider primetime players for the Saints. I just don't know that I could narrow my list down to a reasonable number of guys. But, after talking to sports analysts who cover the Falcons, Panthers and Bucs, and by using YouTube for highlights, I compiled a list of the best of the best in the dirty, dirty NFC South. Here goes:
Down in the Sunshine State where the Buccaneers play, I think Tampa is loaded with defensive superstars and solid offensive weapons. DL Gerald McCoy is the real deal. McCoy had 9 1/2 sacks for Tampa’s defense last season and his new coach, Lovie Smith, says his star DL is the leader of the Bucs D. Tampa Bay LB Lavonte David is on the rise as an elite player in the NFL. In 2013 David recorded 145 tackles, 7 sacks and 5 interceptions. The deadly combo of McCoy and David could be the best DL/LB duo in the league. S Mark Baron is also a rising star. As the former Crimson Tide standout enters his 3rd season in the NFL, Baron will benefit greatly from having Dashon Goldson play alongside him.
On offense Tampa Bay has playmakers in WR Vincent Jackson and RB Doug Martin. But one player who can come in and make an instant impact, is rookie WR Mike Evans. The Bucs combination of Evans and fellow rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be the best WR/TE tandem in the making. Jackson requires a lot of attention and I expect QB Josh McCown to hook up with these talented rookies early and often. Evans has a 6-5 physique, which will prove to be a difficult match-up. And, Jenkins is a hard to defend 6-5 height too. Look out for these two!
Atlanta captured the #1 seed in 2010 and again in 2012, but last season the Dirty Birds looked…well…down-right dirty. Atlanta needs to get better on the O-line and they did so by drafting A&M's OL Jake Mathews. I think the WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones are too good for this team not to be able to move the ball. RB Stephen Jackson may have some gas left in the tank, but rookie RB Devonta Freeman has been thrust into the starting spot due to Jackson's hamstring injury. The Falcons got pretty good results from the 2013 draft investment in early round draft picks CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Both had their moments and should be better this season. But, if you're looking for an impact rookie on the defensive side of the ball in the South, look no further than big Rashede Hageman. The 6-6 300 plus pounder is a beast. Hageman could very well be mentioned as an NFL defensive rookie of the year performer by the end of the season. I saw him play twice when he destroyed the Nebraska O-line and he stood out in Big Ten play.
BIG CATS from Charlotte, NC
Call me what you want, but if I had Carolina Panthers stock, I'd try like hell to unload it before the season begins. QB Cam Newton was not able to work with a brand new set of WRs this off season; the RBs are a year older; and the main question--can the Carolina defense carry the load again in a division that has gotten better offensively. Without question the best players on this roster are on the defensive side of the football. DE's Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson anchor down both sides of the field, while tackling machine LB Luke Kuechly is one of the best in the game today. The addition of DE Kony Ealy helps stack an already deadly defense. If Carolina is going to be in the hunt in the NFC South, they will need an MVP like effort from Newton. Like I said, I'll stand up and say I'm wrong, if I’m proven wrong. But to me, if you have stock in these Cats you'd be wise to sell, sell, sell!