Best of NFL: NFC South players

June, 28, 2011
6/28/11
2:00
PM ET
Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC South:

Best leader: Drew Brees. I’ll make a case that he’s the best leader in the entire NFL. There are some other great leaders in this division, but Brees stands above them all. He’s gone out of his way to keep the Saints together during the lockout and that should pay dividends when the season gets here. Even before the lockout, Brees had complete control of the New Orleans locker room. A lot of people thought the Saints were taking a bad gamble when they brought in Jeremy Shockey a few years ago. Shockey was a controversial figure in New York and literally pushed quarterback Eli Manning around. Shockey had a short and relatively productive career in New Orleans and you rarely heard a peep out of him. That’s largely because Shockey was smart enough to realize you don’t challenge Brees.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Steve Smith
Craig Jones/Getty ImagesSteve Smith celebrated a touchdown against the Vikings by rowing a boat.
Best celebrator: Steve Smith. The Carolina receiver has been limited a bit in recent years as the NFL has tightened its rules on celebrating. But think back a few years to when the Minnesota Vikings were in the middle of a scandal after a bye-week cruise on a party boat on a lake. The Panthers played the Vikings while the story was still hot. Smith scored a touchdown, sat down and began doing a rowing motion. When reporters asked him what that was all about after the game, Smith said something like “I was out on the lake." Smith had some other good celebrations, but that was the funniest I’ve ever seen.

Best short fuse: Smith. Do we even need to explain? He’s had at least three physical altercations with teammates. And there are some in Charlotte who say they’ve been able to literally hear ticking as Smith awaits the end of the lockout and some clarity on his future.

Best QB arm: Josh Freeman. Brees and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan have very good arms, but they’re not the kind of guys who can throw the ball 70 yards down the field. Freeman can do it. Heck, I was out at one of his offseason workouts in May and he and backups Rudy Carpenter and Josh Johnson were throwing at the goal post from the 50 yard line. That’s 60 yards. Carpenter and Johnson hit the middle of the post a couple of times, but you could tell they were putting everything they had into the throws. Freeman hit the middle of the post with ease and it didn’t even look like he was putting anything close to his full body into the throws.

Best actor (penalty division): Roddy White. Opponents will tell you the Falcons' wide receiver is a master at pushing off defensive backs. I’ve witnessed it on several occasions. Heck, I’ve even been in postgame interviews when White has kind of chuckled when asked if he might have gotten away with a push off on a big pass play.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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