NFC South: 2013 NFC South top 25

NFC South Top 25: No. 5

July, 15, 2013
7/15/13
8:22
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 5:

Darrelle Revis, cornerback, Buccaneers

What he did in 2012: Revis had one interception and one forced fumble before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season for the New York Jets.

Why he’s No. 5 in 2013: The Bucs made one of this offseason’s biggest splashes by trading for Revis and handing him a huge contract. But the move has plenty of upside. Assuming Revis can get back to full strength, he could return to his position as perhaps the league’s best cornerback. That would be a very welcome addition to a pass defense that ranked last in the NFL last season. Revis has the ability to take away half the field and his presence could turn a young and promising Tampa Bay defense into one of the league’s better units.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 6

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
9:14
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 6:

Cam Newton, quarterback, Panthers

What he did in 2012: Newton threw for 3,869 yards with 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also carried 127 times for a team-high 741 yards and eight touchdowns.

Why he’s No. 6 in 2013: A lot of people say Newton hit a sophomore slump. I don’t buy that. The team started badly and the Panthers weren’t using Newton properly. Their offense was out of sync the first half of the season. But the team changed things up in the second half of the season and went with a more conventional running game, which allowed Newton to focus on being a thrower. That worked well and the Panthers finished strong. Coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula are well aware of how things improved in the second half of last season and it’s pretty obvious they’re planning on following that approach. The read option might be seen from time to time, but it’s not going to be the focal point of Carolina’s offense. That’s a good thing. Let DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart handle the running game. Let Newton be a quarterback. If used properly, he can be a very special quarterback.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 7

July, 11, 2013
7/11/13
12:22
PM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 7:

Doug Martin, running back, Buccaneers

What he did in 2012: As a rookie, Martin instantly became Tampa Bay’s all-purpose running back. He carried 319 times for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 49 passes for 472 yards and one touchdown.

Why he’s No. 7 in 2013: The scary thing about Martin is he put up phenomenal numbers behind a makeshift offensive line. Pro Bowl guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks are coming back from injuries and that means Martin’s numbers should only escalate. This guy earned the trust of the coaching staff with last year’s performance and I think that only means more touches in Martin’s future. I’m not saying he’s ready to put up Adrian Peterson numbers. But, if I had to draft a running back for my fantasy football team, I’d have Martin very high on my list.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 8

July, 10, 2013
7/10/13
8:14
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 8:

Jimmy Graham, tight end, Saints

What he did in 2012: Graham caught 85 passes for 982 yards and nine touchdowns. But Graham, who played much of the season with an injured wrist, also had a league-high 14 drops.

Why he’s No. 8 in 2013: I think Graham’s wrist impacted his play more than people realize. He was a sure-handed receiver in 2011 and I think the wrist explains the drops. I expect Graham to take a huge step forward this season. He’s a matchup problem for every defense he faces due to his rare combination of size and speed. The return of coach Sean Payton from suspension also should help Graham. New Orleans’ offense still put up big numbers last season, but things seemed just a little out of sync. With Payton back in the fold, I expect New Orleans’ offense to get back to being more precise.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 9

July, 9, 2013
7/09/13
8:32
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 9:

Luke Kuechly, middle linebacker, Panthers

What he did in 2012: He led the NFL with 164 tackles. Kuechly also produced one sack and two interceptions while earning the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Why he’s No. 9 in 2013: Kuechly’s rookie season was only a sample of what he can do. He didn’t even get to play in the middle until Jon Beason went down with a season-ending injury. Once he got settled in the middle, Kuechly showed he’s a sideline-to-sideline player and a tackling machine. All that came without a lot of help in front of him. But the Panthers imported help for Kuechly by drafting defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short with their first two picks in this year’s draft. Lotulelei and Short are going to command a lot of attention from guards and centers. That means Kuechly will be free to roam and that’s not good news for opposing offenses.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 10

July, 8, 2013
7/08/13
10:04
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 10:

Roddy White, wide receiver, Falcons

What he did in 2012: White had 92 catches for 1,351 yards and seven touchdowns while helping the Falcons reach the NFC Championship Game.

Why he’s No. 10 in 2013: White is 31, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. He has grown into a very polished and mature receiver that no longer gets by solely on his physical skills. The Falcons have become a pass-first offense and that’s why there are enough balls to go around for White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. White and Jones might form the best starting receiver tandem in the league and I only expect them to get better after the addition of Steven Jackson. He should provide a little bit of a threat in the running game and that will mean defenses won’t be able to devote as much attention to Jones and White.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 11

July, 5, 2013
7/05/13
8:28
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 11:

Ryan Kalil, center, Panthers

What he did in 2012: Kalil’s season was limited to five games before he went out with a Lisfranc foot injury.

Why he’s No. 11 in 2013: Prior to the injury, Kalil was viewed by many as the top center in the NFL in recent years. All indications are that Kalil is well on the way to recovery and should be able to get back to his former level. Kalil and left tackle Jordan Gross are the anchors of this line, and Carolina is expected to get back to more of a power running scheme this season. Kalil should be coming back with plenty of motivation. Last preseason, he took out a full page ad in The Charlotte Observer and promised a Super Bowl championship. That obviously didn’t happen, so Kalil might be looking to make up for it.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 12

July, 4, 2013
7/04/13
9:26
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 12:

Carl Nicks, guard, Buccaneers

What he did in 2012: After being signed away from the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, Nicks appeared in seven games before going out for the rest of the season with a toe injury.

Why he’s No. 12 in 2013: Back in his New Orleans days, Nicks was viewed by many as the best guard in the league. Assuming he’s at full health, there’s no reason Nicks can’t get back to dominant form. The Bucs’ plan of teaming him and Davin Joseph as the starting guards went awry when Joseph suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. But Joseph also is expected to be back at full strength. That could give Tampa Bay the best guard tandem in the NFL and running back Doug Martin could end up being even more productive than he was in a stellar rookie year.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 13

July, 3, 2013
7/03/13
8:24
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 13:

Darren Sproles, running back, Saints

What he did in 2012: Sproles carried 48 times for 244 yards and a touchdown, and caught 75 passes for 667 yards and seven touchdowns.

Why he’s No. 13 in 2013: Sproles didn’t have quite as much impact in 2012 as he did in 2011. But you can attribute that to the Saints having a down year and being without coach Sean Payton for an entire season. I can only imagine that Payton spent a lot of his time away thinking about more ways to use Sproles. I think Sproles’ numbers will spike this season, because Payton knows he has a rare talent as a runner and a receiver, and he’s going to take advantage of it.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 14

July, 2, 2013
7/02/13
8:21
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 14:

Charles Johnson, defensive end, Panthers

What he did in 2012: Johnson had 41 tackles, 12.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

Why he’s No. 14 in 2013: Johnson has made Carolina fans forget all about Julius Peppers. He’s become one of the game’s most consistent pass rushers and it doesn’t hurt that he has Greg Hardy, who also reached double-digit sacks last year, on the other side. They form the most dynamic pass-rushing duo in the division and they’re about to get some help. The Panthers used their first two draft picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short. Their arrival means offensive lines have to pay more attention to the interior. That’s only going to make Johnson and Hardy more dangerous on the outside.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 15

July, 1, 2013
7/01/13
8:19
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 15:

Gerald McCoy, defensive tackle, Buccaneers

What he did in 2012: McCoy had 30 tackles, five sacks and one forced fumble as he made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career. He also was a major reason why Tampa Bay had the league’s top-rated run defense.

Why he’s No. 15 in 2013: McCoy showed last season that he can be a dominant defensive tackle when he’s able to stay healthy, something that was a problem in his first two seasons. But, now that McCoy has had a taste of success, I expect his career to keep progressing. With McCoy, Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, the Bucs have a lot of early draft picks invested in their defensive line. There’s a feeling within the organization that the defensive line is ready to blossom into something special. If that happens, it will be largely because McCoy has taken his game to another level.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 16

June, 28, 2013
6/28/13
9:35
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 16:

Vincent Jackson, wide receiver, Buccaneers

What he did in 2012: In his first season in Tampa Bay, Jackson caught 72 passes for 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns.

Why he’s No. 16 in 2013: Jackson should only get better in his second season in Tampa Bay. Jackson’s 19.2 yards per catch last season showed how he can stretch the field, and he opened the way for receiver Mike Williams and running back Doug Martin to have big seasons. That means defenses are going to have to devote more attention to Williams and Martin, and Jackson could end up with even more opportunities than he had last season. The key, however, will be quarterback Josh Freeman, who is headed into a year that is crucial for his future. But Jackson could end up being Freeman’s best friend. The thing Freeman does best is throw the ball downfield. Jackson already has shown he can get open on deep routes.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 17

June, 27, 2013
6/27/13
8:33
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 17:

Tony Gonzalez, tight end, Falcons

What he did in 2012: Gonzalez caught 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns while helping the Falcons reach the NFC Championship Game.

Why he’s No. 17 in 2013: Gonzalez spent most of last season saying he was 95 percent certain he would retire. But, when the season ended, the Falcons begged him to come back. They pointed to his 93 catches as proof that he still had plenty left. They pointed to the fact that they were 10 yards away from the Super Bowl as incentive for a man that has never played in one. Eventually, Gonzalez reversed course and decided to play another season. He’s 37, but I’m not expecting Gonzalez to be much different than he was a season ago. It’s not about speed or athleticism at this point. It’s about the savvy Gonzalez has and the chemistry he shares with quarterback Matt Ryan. Gonzalez still will find ways to get open and Ryan is going to get him the ball. Along with receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, Gonzalez forms what has to be considered one of the best pass-catching trios in the NFL.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 18

June, 26, 2013
6/26/13
9:15
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 18:

Dashon Goldson, safety, Buccaneers

What he did in 2012: In helping the San Francisco 49ers reach the Super Bowl, Goldson had 69 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble.

Why he’s No. 18 in 2013: Signing Goldson was the first big move the Bucs made in the offseason because they believe he can help fix a pass defense that ranked No. 32 in the league in 2012. Last season, the Bucs used Ronde Barber at free safety. Barber did a decent job, but often played in the box and that forced strong safety Mark Barron to end up in coverage more than the team wanted. Goldson is more of a natural center fielder and his presence should free up Barron from deep coverage duties and allow him to take more advantage of his physical style of play. Goldson also is known as a leader and he’s been on some teams that have won big. The Bucs are hoping Goldson’s ability and experience can help improve the entire defense.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

NFC South Top 25: No. 19

June, 25, 2013
6/25/13
9:09
AM ET
We continue my NFC South Top 25 with No. 19:

Sean Weatherspoon, linebacker, Falcons

What he did in 2012: Had 95 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble while missing three games due to an injury.

Why he’s No. 19 in 2013: When coordinator Mike Nolan took over prior to last season, he made it clear he was going to build his defense around Weatherspoon. With Curtis Lofton leaving via free agency, Weatherspoon was thrust into the role of the leader of the defense. He embraced that role and had a strong 2012 season, but it was interrupted by the injury. Weatherspoon has been a good player in his first three seasons, but I don’t think he has hit his full potential yet. The Falcons believe that Weatherspoon is capable of making more big plays.

For previous entries in the NFC South top 25, click here.

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