Tuesday, January 24, 2012
All-NFC South team: Offense
By Pat Yasinskas
It was a big year for offense in the NFC South. The New Orleans Saints set all sorts of records. The Carolina Panthers lit up scoreboards and, when the Atlanta Falcons were on, they sometimes were spectacular.
That made for some difficult choices, but here’s my All-NFC South offense.
Tackle: Jordan Gross, Panthers. He’s getting along in years, but Gross is still the best tackle in the division.
Tackle: Jermon Bushrod, Saints. This was a really tough call because Tampa Bay’s Donald Penn seemed destined for this spot, but his play slipped as the Bucs collapsed and lost their last 10 games. I refuse to put any offensive lineman from Atlanta on this team, so I’m going with Bushrod almost by default. I know he made the Pro Bowl, but I’m not convinced Bushrod is anything more than an ordinary left tackle. But he’s better than any other tackle the NFC South had to offer.
Guard: Carl Nicks, Saints. He might be the best guard in the NFL.
Guard: Jahri Evans, Saints. If Nicks isn’t the best guard in the NFL, then Evans is.
Center: Ryan Kalil, Panthers. He’s becoming a Pro Bowl regular and might be the best center in the league.
Wide receiver: Steve Smith, Panthers. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton came along and revitalized Smith’s career. But I also think Smith deserves a lot of the credit for Newton’s success.
Wide receiver: Marques Colston, Saints. I went back and forth on this one between Colston and Atlanta’s Roddy White and Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams also got some consideration. I’m joking. Williams didn’t get one bit of consideration. White’s numbers were slightly better than Colston’s in terms of catches and receiving yards. But Colston missed a couple games with a broken collarbone and still had very nice numbers in an offense where there are a ton of other options. White had nice numbers, but he didn’t look like the dominant receiver he was a year ago. White led the league in drops.
Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Saints. This one was easy. Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez had a very nice season and is the best tight end in history. But Graham had one of the most prolific seasons ever by a tight end in only his second season. Graham should only continue to get better and, if he stays healthy, he could eventually pass Gonzalez as the best tight end ever.
Fullback: Jed Collins, Saints. In his first real NFL season (Collins was with Cleveland in 2008), he emerged as a steady role player in the league’s best offense. Collins didn’t have much in the way of numbers, but his blocking was a key factor in the offenses’ success. If Atlanta’s Ovie Mughelli hadn’t gotten injured, he’d be in this spot. But Collins is a worthy replacement.
Running back: Darren Sproles, Saints. Sproles ended up with an NFL record for all-purpose yards. Out of the backfield, he contributed as a runner and receiver and created enormous matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Running back: Michael Turner. Yeah, I'm going with two running backs because it's my team, I can want and there are two guys that deserve to be on here. Turner looked slow for most of the second half of the season. But he still rushed for 1,340 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's not a bad season by any measure.
Quarterback: Drew Brees, Saints. He threw for a league-record 5,476 yards and also passed for 46 touchdowns. Brees has been great for a long time, but he took his game to another level. He’s the reason the Saints won 13 games without a defense.