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Tuesday, December 27, 2011
NFC South Stock Watch

By Pat Yasinskas

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

FALLING

1. LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers running back. He lost a fumble on Tampa Bay’s first offensive play against Carolina and coach Raheem Morris benched Blount, who has had fumbling problems all season, until the second half. Tampa Bay has all sorts of problems, but if you asked me to single out the biggest culprit among the players, I’d go with Blount. He ran for 1,000 yards as a rookie in just about half a season and probably won’t do that for this full season unless he runs wild in the finale against Atlanta. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. My main gripe with Blount is that he’s held back the entire offense because the coaches won’t use him as a pass-catcher or pass-blocker. If you haven’t learned to pass block by the end of your second NFL season, you probably never will pick it up.

2. Atlanta’s defense. I’m sure some members of the Falcons’ organization aren’t happy the Saints were still throwing the ball late in Monday night’s game. Understandable because the Saints did push the limits of decorum a little bit. But there’s an easy way for a defense to prevent that. Play better earlier in the game and you won’t put yourself in a situation where a team is blowing you out.

3. Michael Turner, Falcons running back. He carried 11 times for 39 yards Monday night. I know the Falcons had to go away from the running game after they fell behind. But this was the fifth straight game in which Turner has failed to rush for 100 yards. He has been on the injury report with a groin problem in recent weeks. Makes you wonder if the injury might be holding him back.

RISING

Brandon LaFell
Brandon LaFell celebrates his touchdown reception this past Saturday against Tampa Bay.
1. Drew Brees, Saints quarterback. His stock has hit an all-time high and that’s saying something. He broke Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season and he did it in a victory. Brees is having a season for the ages, but he has made it clear it will only be meaningful if it culminates with a second Super Bowl title.

2. Brandon LaFell, Panthers receiver. He had his first career 100-yard receiving game against Tampa Bay and that included a 91-yard touchdown catch, the longest in franchise history. A lot of people say the Panthers should draft a receiver early and pair him with Steve Smith. I say that’s not necessary. They invested an early pick in LaFell last year. It often takes receivers some time to develop. Plus, Carolina put in a whole new offense this season. LaFell seems to be picking it up and the coaches are happy with his progress. David Gettis, who missed his second season with an injury, also will be back next year. Put LaFell and Gettis with Smith and the Panthers might already be set at receiver.

3. Darren Sproles, Saints running back. He sort of got lost in Brees’ shadow, but Sproles had another huge all-around game Monday night. He rushed five times for 67 yards, caught two passes for 22 yards and a touchdown and added a 92-yard kickoff return. The biggest difference I see between last year’s Saints and this year’s team is the addition of Sproles. He has brought different elements to the offense and the special teams.