NFC South: The Big Question AFC

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With Julius Peppers gone from the Carolina Panthers, there’s room at the top of the NFC South. Who’s the best athlete in the division?

It’s Reggie Bush.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/Jeffrey M. BoanSaints running back Reggie Bush is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
We’re not talking best player. That would be Drew Brees, and there are other guys out there who are better players than Bush or Peppers. We’re talking pure athleticism -- speed, agility, etc.

Say what you want about Bush being a bust or nothing but a role player. He’s easily the best pure athlete in the division now that the freakish Peppers is gone. That statement’s not based on production, but if you want to see the importance of pure athleticism, go back to the Saints’ playoff victory against Arizona.

That’s the game where Bush was a huge factor as a runner, receiver and return man. He wasn’t the best player on the field, but he was the best athlete. When you throw a bunch of good athletes on the field, sometimes the very best is going to rise up, and that’s what Bush did in that game.

He’ll do that from time to time and that’s his upside. He’ll have moments when being the best athlete on the field will temporarily make him the best player on the field. That’s what he does.

He’s not the only player in the NFC South to get by on pure athleticism. I’ll give you one guy from each of the other three teams who does the same kind of thing. Again, they’re not the best players, but they’re the best pure athletes.

Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes. If he were 6-foot-1, Grimes might be the best cornerback in the league. But he’s 5-8 or 5-9 and he makes up for it with tremendous athleticism. Grimes can out-jump anybody on the Falcons and can run just as well.

Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. It took Davis a couple of years to really get the mental part of the game, but he got by on athleticism before that. Now that he’s got the two aspects going for him, Davis has a chance to be a truly special player. He might even help make up for the loss of Peppers.

Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib. He’s a bit like Davis in his early years. Talib is getting by purely on his athleticism so far, but that’s half the battle at cornerback. If he can grasp the mental part of the game, he can become a truly elite player.

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