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Tuesday, December 20, 2011
NFC South Stock Watch

By Pat Yasinskas

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FALLING

1. Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver. For the first time in his career, Williams failed to record a reception in Saturday night’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Heck, Williams wasn’t even targeted a single time. Early in the season, it was easy to say Williams was getting more attention from defenses after catching 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. But Williams isn’t getting a lot of extra attention these days because defenses aren’t worried about him. He has failed to get separation, his routes haven’t been precise and he’s among the league leaders in dropped passes. Williams did show up for some of the player workouts in Tampa during the lockout. But several teammates said during the summer that Williams wasn’t there as much as most of the other receivers and spent much of his offseason in Buffalo. In hindsight, you could make the case Williams might have been better served spending more time working out with his teammates.

Roddy White
Roddy White had one of his best games of the season in a blowout win over Jacksonville.
2. Dominique Franks and Christopher Owens, Atlanta Falcons cornerbacks. They’ve each done a decent job while getting increased playing time while Brent Grimes and Kelvin Hayden were injured. But it’s looking like Grimes and Hayden will be ready to return for Monday night’s game with the New Orleans Saints. No offense to Franks and Owens, but I’m pretty sure coach Mike Smith will elect to put Grimes, the best overall athlete on the team, back in the starting lineup and put Hayden, who’s more experienced than Owens and Franks, at nickel back. When you’re going up against Drew Brees, you want your best guys on the field.

3. Kellen Winslow, Buccaneers tight end. Unlike Williams, Winslow was a fixture at the offseason workouts and he and quarterback Josh Freeman seemed to be enhancing their chemistry. But that hasn’t translated into success. Winslow has only two touchdown catches this season and the most recent came Nov. 6. In the past four games, Winslow hasn’t finished with more than five catches and 52 yards. In Saturday’s loss to Dallas, Winslow had four catches for 37 yards. He did have a 17-yard catch, but I remember thinking the Winslow of a few years ago would have gone for at least 30 yards on that play. I’m not sure if his knees, his age or all that’s wrong with the Buccaneers is catching up to Winslow, but he’s not having anything close to a good season.

RISING

1. Roddy White, Falcons receiver. We’ve had our share of fun with White’s season-long struggle with dropping passes. But the fact is, White has been playing a lot better of late. He had 10 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns in Thursday night’s win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. White has five touchdown catches in his past four games and has his season receiving yardage total up to 1,100 yards, which is much more than respectable. White relinquished his title as the NFC South’s best receiver to the Carolina Panthers' Steve Smith, who previously held it for a long time. But White is at least the second-best receiver in the NFC South these days.

2. Roman Harper, Saints strong safety. Fans rip on Harper because he’s not great in coverage and opponents have called him a dirty player. But the fact is, Harper does what he’s supposed to do. The strong safety is usually the weakest guy in coverage in your secondary. Their real job is to tackle and play almost like a linebacker. That’s exactly what Harper does. He recorded another sack in Sunday’s win against the Minnesota Vikings. That gives Harper 7.5 sacks this season. Time to put in a call to ESPN Stats & Information to find out what the record for sacks by a safety in a season is.

3. Jordan Senn, Panthers linebacker. This guy has been in the league for five years and was a backup and special-teams player until moving into the starting lineup after the Panthers had a slew of injuries at linebacker. Senn has played well in five starts, but he was never better than in Sunday’s upset victory against the Houston Texans. Senn had a team-high 14 tackles, forced a fumble and came up with a key interception. With all the defensive injuries, coach Ron Rivera has been looking for guys to step up all season and not getting much in the way of results. But Senn has made the most of his opportunity and this guy is going to have a job next year.