NFC South: 2011 NFC South soon to be stars

Soon to be stars: Gerald McCoy

June, 3, 2011
6/03/11
12:00
PM ET
Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson looks at NFC South players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

McCoy
McCoy
A biceps injury cut Gerald McCoy’s rookie year short in 2010, and comparisons to 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-Pro Ndamukong Suh of Detroit probably have overshadowed just how promising McCoy’s rookie season was. However, I think McCoy is going to be a superstar who Tampa Bay can build its entire defense around.

The Bucs used the third overall selection in last year’s draft on McCoy, and adding in other young players like fellow defensive tackles Roy Miller and Brian Price, and 2011 draft picks Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers at defensive end, Tampa Bay’s defensive line is loaded with talent. Make no mistake, though, it’s McCoy who is the most special player of the bunch.

The transition to the NFL is difficult for many rookie defensive tackles, in large part because they can no longer whip most players across from them with raw natural ability the way they did in college. McCoy has physical gifts but took some time to learn patience and to read and feel blocking schemes before his injury, and he is still a work in progress from that standpoint, but he did record four sacks in the last three games he played in 2010.

Overall, though, he is one of the quickest, most explosive and most athletic defensive tackles in the league. McCoy has a long linear build that should gradually fill out over the next few years, better enabling him to deal with the double teams and extra attention that he is sure to attract, and taking on multiple blockers will free up his teammates to get to the ball. McCoy has the ability to disrupt on his own and make the players around him better, which is exactly what you want from a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Soon to be stars: Jimmy Graham

June, 2, 2011
6/02/11
12:00
PM ET
Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson looks at NFC South players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Jimmy Graham entered the NFL last season with just one year of college football experience -- he played basketball during his undergrad years at Miami and took up football during his first year of graduate work -- but he far exceeded expectations as a rookie.

His quick assimilation has me jumping out of my chair to see what he will do in his second year, and this time next year we could very well be lumping him in with Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley as the top pass-catching tight ends in the league.

Graham’s size is the first thing you notice about him. He has a basketball build (extreme height, long arms) and will continue to fill out as he mature, but Graham’s movement skills are those of a much smaller, more compact man.

He seems to glide across the field and rarely looks uncoordinated despite his lack of football experience, and his routes are natural and will only get better with time. Even his run and pass blocking are serviceable, and they, too, will continue to improve.

Graham can run past linebackers out of the slot and stretch the field in the passing game, and it won’t be long before he is one of the elite red zone targets in the NFL. He wasn’t much of a factor early in 2010 but got more playing time later in the season, scoring four touchdowns in the final three games of the regular season.

The New Orleans offense is perfect for Graham’s skill set. Having Drew Brees distributing the ball helps any receiving target, but coach Sean Payton also uses a diverse attack with varied personnel groupings that can move a player like Graham around the formation to get favorable matchups based on his combination of size and speed, and the attention he commands can also open up room for his teammates.

Given the Saints’ offseason commitment to solidifying their running game Graham should see looser coverages this season, and based on how easy he made things look in his rookie year I can’t wait to see what he does in 2011.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Soon to be stars: Kroy Biermann

May, 30, 2011
5/30/11
12:00
PM ET
Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC South players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.

Biermann
Biermann
Many see defensive end as a massive need position still for the Falcons. While I wouldn’t be critical if the Falcons were aggressive in signing a guy like Charles Johnson or Ray Edwards to complement John Abraham, I suggest that the pairing of Kroy Biermann and Jamaal Anderson is more than adequate opposite Abraham.

Anderson seems to have hit his ceiling as a solid base end who plays the run well but is a limited pass-rusher, but I feel Biermann is on the cusp of breaking out.

Even if the Falcons were to spend big money on a free-agent defensive end, Biermann still could have a major impact as a rotational player and the likely successor to Abraham. And given Abaraham’s age, cutting down his snap count would be a wise move to keep all pass-rushers fresh as Atlanta prepares for what it hopes will be a deep playoff run.

Biermann is a tough guy who plays the run well, and while he isn’t the biggest end, he can hold the point and force outside runs back to the middle of the field. He also makes plays in pursuit thanks to better-than-advertised speed and a motor that never stops.

Rushing the passer is what Biermann does best, though. He has yet to record more than five sacks in a season and had just three last season, but his overall disruptiveness shows up on film.

Some might take the glass-half-empty view and say Biermann comes up short when getting after the quarterback, but in reality he is creating pressure that forces the quarterback to move his feet when he doesn’t want to and results in poor throws. And he should only get better with experience.

Biermann already has three years of NFL experience under his belt, and at only 25 years old and he should continue to develop his skills. He’s also played in every game in his three seasons, and it won’t be long before his production matches his potential.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider