How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

November, 10, 2009
11/10/09
11:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas

Falling

  Williams
1. DeAngelo Williams, Panthers running back. Yeah, I know he put up big yardage totals the last two weeks and that’s great. But a problem has emerged here. Williams, who had only lost one career fumble before this year, suddenly has lost three this season.

Williams' fumble late in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans essentially sealed the victory for the Saints. Williams may be the NFC South’s most productive runner. But I know coach John Fox is very serious about not turning the ball over. If the fumbling trend continues, Williams’ number of carries will be cut in a hurry.

  Peppers
2. Julius Peppers, Panthers defensive end. He had played a nice series of games recently. But just when you think it’s all coming together, “Pep’’ goes out and has one of those games where he disappears and is a total nonfactor. Did you see him do anything Sunday? I sure didn’t.

When you’re making $18 million a year and you’re the best natural athlete on any field you walk on, you should at least make a couple of plays.

  Shockey
3. Jeremy Shockey, Saints tight end. Shockey had a very quiet game against the Panthers. But, in yet another sign that he really may have matured, Shockey didn’t pout after the game. He praised the Carolina defense, particularly linebacker Jon Beason, his workout partner in Miami in the offseason.

Shockey seemed very sincere when he kept emphasizing the important thing was that the Saints won the game. The Shockey of old used to spend a lot more time worrying about personal statistics rather than how the team fared.

Rising

  Babineaux
1. Jonathan Babineaux, Falcons defensive tackle. In a season that’s been a disaster for just about every NFC South defensive tackle, Babineaux has been the one big exception. He’s supposed to be a run-stuffer, but Babineaux came up with 2.5 sacks Sunday.

That’s why Babineaux easily is the best defensive tackle in the NFC South. The only other guy that’s even in his class is New Orleans’ Sedrick Ellis and he’s been sidelined by injury the last couple of games.

  Freeman
2. Josh Freeman, Buccaneers quarterback. Freeman got his first career start and the Bucs got their first win. Coincidence? No. Freeman is far more talented than Byron Leftwich and Josh Johnson, who were starting earlier in the season.

The Bucs wanted to bring Freeman along slowly because they were afraid of ruining him. But what he showed Sunday and what Leftwich and Johnson did in their time as starters kind of makes you wonder why the Bucs didn’t just go with Freeman from the beginning.

  Thomas
3. Pierre Thomas, Saints running back. The guy just seems to get better each week and he’s firmly established himself as the main running back. He runs, catches and blocks at high levels and he’s very dependable.

Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis entertained the idea of signing Edgerrin James in the offseason and they considered taking Beanie Wells in the draft. They did neither and they’re better off for it.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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