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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
NFC South Stock Watch

By Pat Yasinskas

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Mike Smith, coach, Falcons. For the first time since his arrival in 2008, Smith truly is taking heat and getting questioned. It’s deserved. The Falcons were supposed to be a Super Bowl contender, but they’re 2-3. You look at the roster and there’s plenty of talent. That’s when you start looking at the coaching. Smith has defended the play calling of both coordinators and said he ultimately is responsible for everything. He’s right about that. It’s time for Smith to decide if his system might need some tweaking on both sides of the ball. If he stays stubborn and conservative, he runs the risk of becoming what John Fox was in his later years in Carolina.

2. Josh Freeman, quarterback, Buccaneers. He remains a marvelous talent with all sort of potential. But the Bucs went out to San Francisco and scored only three points. That should never happen when you’ve got a quarterback like Freeman. His teammates certainly deserve a large part of the blame. But, so far, Freeman really hasn’t gotten into the same rhythm he was in last year. He’s already thrown six interceptions -- the same amount he threw all of last season.

3. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons. Much like Freeman, Ryan’s not playing the same way he did last season -- or the two seasons before that. He came out hot Sunday night, but didn’t do much of anything after the first two drives. That shows the ability is there and it makes you wonder about how the Falcons are using Ryan. It’s time to take the gloves off this guy and simply let him go out and do what he does best.

RISING

Jimmy Graham
Tight end Jimmy Graham has topped 100 receiving yards in each of his past three games.
1. Jimmy Graham, tight end, Saints. This guy now has three straight games in which he’s had 100 or more receiving yards. You can see coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees putting more trust in Graham each week and he’s getting better every time out. How long before we start talking about Graham as the NFL’s best pass-catching tight end? He’s already in the conversation.

2. DeAngelo Williams, running back, Panthers. It wasn’t too long ago that people were saying Williams was washed up and Jonathan Stewart should take over as the featured back. Sunday’s performance by Williams showed that time hasn’t come. He rushed for 115 yards on just nine carries. There’s plenty left in Williams’ tank. The Panthers would be wise to continue getting him more involved. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton is off to a wonderful start, but he’s only going to get better if the running game can take some of the pressure off him. The Panthers need Williams involved in the offense. Other than receiver Steve Smith, he’s the team’s next option as a big-play threat.

3. Patrick Robinson, cornerback, Saints. The first-round draft pick from a year ago is making an impact in his second year. He intercepted Newton on Sunday and has held onto the starting job even after Tracy Porter returned from injury. Sound familiar? Just like Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans’ first-round pick in 2009, Robinson didn’t do much as a rookie, but is becoming a very solid starter in his second season.