NFC South: Phillip Rivers
As we get into the slowest time of the NFL year, I've decided to start doing some positional rankings for the NFC South.
I'm going to rank the top players at each position and you're welcome to agree or disagree -- that's what the comments section and the mailbag are for.
We might as well start at the top and go with quarterbacks.
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans.
There's no other choice. The guy threw for more than 5,000 yards last year.
2. Matt Ryan, Atlanta.
He could turn out to be better than Brees eventually. Ryan is already very good, but he's not there yet.
3. Jake Delhomme, Carolina.
Yeah, it's hard to forget that playoff loss to Arizona. But John Fox and Marty Hurney are sticking with Delhomme because he generally doesn't lose games, which fits their philosophy.
4. Josh McCown, Carolina.
That's right, I said "Josh'' McCown. I know his brother Luke looks to be the starter in Tampa Bay right now. A lot of people might not realize it, but McCown is part of the reason the Panthers didn't go out and bring in another quarterback. By the way, he has 31 NFL starts. His brother has seven. Plus, if McCown has to play for the Panthers, his job will be to hand off to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
5. Joey Harrington, New Orleans.
Yes, I know Mark Brunell is technically the backup in New Orleans and he's a fine one if you're looking for a veteran guy to come in and start one game. But let's just say that Brees suffers some sort of long-term injury. Harrington, who was never as bad as the reputation he got in Detroit, wouldn't be a bad alternative over the long haul. With New Orleans' offensive talent around him, Harrington could even crack the top three in this division.
6. Luke McCown, Tampa Bay.
The Bucs have made some comments about how McCown could be like Brees was when he was in San Diego and the Chargers drafted Philip Rivers. That allowed the Chargers to bring Rivers along slowly and get some nice compensation for Brees when Rivers was ready. Sounds like a great template for the Bucs to follow as they clear the way for Josh Freeman. Nice idea, if it works, but like we said, nobody knows what McCown has after seven career starts.
7. Brunell, New Orleans.
Yeah, we already alluded to the fact that Brunell is coming up on his 80th birthday. But just having a guy with his experience on the sidelines makes you feel better about your quarterback situation.
8. Chris Redman, Atlanta.
I was going to put Tampa Bay's Byron Leftwich here, but that was before I looked back to see what Redman and Leftwich did together when they were teammates in Atlanta in 2007. Redman started four games for a dismal team, but didn't play badly. Leftwich just started two dismal games.
9. Freeman, Tampa Bay.
I was going to put Leftwich here, too. But that was before I went back and took a hard look at his career stats. I'll make the case Leftwich has had precisely one good season - 2004 in Jacksonville. Since then, he hasn't completed 60 percent of his passes and his career has been in free fall. Can't see any reason that should change now. By the way, Freeman has the talent to someday top this list.
10. Leftwich, Tampa Bay.
I thought long and hard about going with Carolina's Matt Moore or Atlanta's D.J. Shockley here, but I'm going to give Leftwitch one edge. The guy is a veteran, who has played through some injuries and has a little bit of leadership skills. If McCown's injured or incapable, and Freeman's not ready, Leftwich might be able to hold the starting job on a temporary basis.
|Julian Finney/Getty Images|
|Surrounded by reporters on Wednesday, Drew Brees discusses the Saints' upcoming game against the Chargers.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
WATFORD, England -- On the edge of a soccer pitch, masquerading as a football field, Drew Brees sold New Orleans.
"Just like London is one of those spots where people feel like they need to visit when they come to Europe," Brees said, "well, New Orleans is one of those spots that if you're European and you're coming to the States and you want to know where to go, hey, come to New Orleans. I think the culture is unlike any other in our country and, certainly, you want to share that with the world."
The quarterback of the Saints suddenly has become the unofficial tourism director for New Orleans. Brees' latest spiel came with about 50 members of the British media in attendance Wednesday after the Saints had finished practice for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers.
"I think that post-Katrina, maybe a lot of people have kind of forgotten about New Orleans or think that there's still so much damage there that it's not worth going," Brees said. "There are a lot of things that still need to be done. But, in a lot of ways, I think New Orleans has come back better than ever."
For Brees, New Orleans has turned out to be paradise found.
Nearly three years after being cast aside by the Chargers, Brees has established himself as the face of the Saints and an ambassador for New Orleans. He did it in the aftermath of one of the most vicious hurricanes ever to strike the United States.
Weathering difficulty is nothing new for Brees. He dealt with plenty of that in San Diego. He'd been the starting quarterback for three seasons when the Chargers brought in Philip Rivers, a first-round pick, in the Eli Manning trade with the Giants. At that moment, Brees knew that meant his time in San Diego would come to an end at some point.
Brees actually wound up holding onto the starting job as Rivers stood on the sidelines and general manager A.J. Smith and coach Marty Schottenheimer feuded over what to do at quarterback and a lot of other things. With Smith favoring Rivers, Brees had two very productive seasons. But a shoulder injury at the end of 2005 made it easy for the Chargers to let him go and clear the way for Rivers.
Brees doesn't dwell on his San Diego days much anymore, but that period is coming up a lot as he prepares to play his former team.
"I guess ever since I signed with New Orleans, I knew the day would come," Brees said. "I feel like I'm still preparing the same way I would for any opponent. I know a lot of those guys, and there might be that extra added motivation to win or put more pressure on myself, but I'm really trying to approach this as just another game that we need to win."