Tuesday, November 8, 2011
NFC South Stock Watch
By Pat Yasinskas
1. Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers defensive tackle. He suffered a season-ending arm injury Sunday. This is the second straight year McCoy has had his season cut short by an injury. There will be rumbles that McCoy is injury-prone, and some people will call him a draft bust. McCoy already was very sensitive to comparisons to Ndamukong Suh, who was taken just before him in last year’s draft. McCoy needs to put all of that out of his mind as he goes through his rehab. When he's been healthy, he has shown signs he can play. McCoy needs to come back next year and put it all together. Otherwise, that bust label might start to fit.
2. Garrett Reynolds, Falcons guard. Reynolds had won the starting right guard job in training camp. But he had struggled through much of the first half of the season. The coaching staff decided to start Joe Hawley in his place in Sunday’s victory against Indianapolis. Hawley played well, and this doesn’t look like a short-term move. Reynolds had his chance as a starter, but those days appear to be over.
3. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers running back. Blount said he was hoping to become more of an every-down back after Earnest Graham went down with a season-ending injury. But that didn’t happen Sunday in New Orleans. The Bucs simply plugged Kregg Lumpkin into Graham’s role on passing downs, and Blount was limited to playing mostly on running downs. Blount hasn’t been able to convince the coaches he’s ready to handle pass protections. If he can’t do that by the midpoint of his second season, it makes you wonder whether he ever will be able to handle that role. Blount also hurt his team with a costly unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty.
Atlanta wide receiver Julio Jones is becoming an explosive play-maker for the Falcons.
1. Julio Jones, Falcons receiver. The rookie came back after missing two games with a hamstring injury and did exactly what the Falcons envisioned when they had drafted him. Jones made explosive plays. He caught two touchdown passes -- one for 80 yards and a second for 50. He also got a couple of carries on reverses. Jones wasn’t playing badly before the injury, but the Falcons weren’t coming up with the explosive plays. While he was out, the Falcons re-evaluated their offense, and it looks like they’re starting to figure out how to maximize Jones’ talent.
2. Pierre Thomas, Saints running back. It’s tough to stand out in a New Orleans backfield that uses a three-man rotation. But Thomas stood out Sunday against Tampa Bay. He had his best game of the season, carrying eight times for 66 yards and a touchdown. Thomas averaged 8.3 yards per carry and caught four passes for 25 yards.
3. Curtis Lofton, Falcons middle linebacker. With Carolina’s Jon Beason out for the season and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma dealing with a knee problem, Lofton has emerged as the NFC South’s best middle linebacker. He was in on 12 tackles Sunday as the Atlanta defense didn’t allow a point against Indianapolis. Lofton also forced a fumble that led to an Atlanta touchdown.