NFL Nation: Ben Grubbs

Offensive tackle Michael Oher signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Tennessee Titans last week, becoming one of a handful of Baltimore Ravens' first-round picks not to remain with the team beyond their rookie deal.

Oher, the 23rd overall pick of the 2009 draft, will be known as a durable yet not dominant offensive tackle during his five seasons with the Ravens.

Let's take a look at where Oher ranks among the Ravens' first-round picks:

1. Ray Lewis, linebacker (1996): He will be remembered as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Few can match Lewis' resume: Two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, two Super Bowl rings, 13 Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl MVP award.

[+] EnlargeOher
AP Photos/David DrapkinMichael Oher has been a durable, if not outstanding, tackle for the Ravens.
2. Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle (1996): How revered is Ogden? He became the first pure offensive tackle to be voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility since Jackie Slater in 2001. Ogden went to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 11 seasons in the NFL.

3. Ed Reed, safety (2002): He was the 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the first safety in 20 years to win the award. Reed led the league in interceptions for three seasons, and he holds the NFL record for most career interception return yards (1,541) and longest interception return (108 yards).

4. Jamal Lewis, running back (2000): In 2003, Lewis was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year for rushing for 2,066 yards, falling just 39 yards short of the NFL's all-time single season rushing record. He carried the Ravens' offense in the 2000 Super Bowl run and still ranks as the franchise's all-time leading rusher.

5. Terrell Suggs, linebacker (2003): He became the third Ravens player to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year, earning the award in 2011 by leading the AFC with 14 sacks and topping the NFL with seven forced fumbles. Suggs has recorded 94.5 career sacks, which is 24.5 more than any other Ravens player.

6. Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle (2006): A five-time Pro Bowl player, Ngata was considered the NFL's best interior defensive lineman a few years ago.

7. Chris McAlister, cornerback (1999): The Ravens' first shutdown cornerback, McAlister forced quarterbacks to throw away from him for years before a knee injury and off-the-field issues caught up to him.

8. Joe Flacco, quarterback (2008): He led the Ravens to a Super Bowl with a Joe Montana-like run and has produced more wins than any other quarterback since 2008. But Flacco's pedestrian regular-season numbers have stopped him from becoming an elite NFL quarterback.

9. Todd Heap, tight end (2001): Overshadowed by Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the AFC, Heap remains the Ravens' all-time leader with 41 touchdown catches.

10. Peter Boulware, linebacker (1997): The 1997 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Boulware finished with 70 sacks (second all-time for the Ravens), including a team-record 15 sacks in 2001.

11. Duane Starks, cornerback (1998): He struggled mightily at times, but he had three interceptions in the Ravens' 2000 championship run including a 49-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

12. Ben Grubbs, guard (2007): He started 70 of 74 games for the Ravens and made the Pro Bowl in 2012, his last season with the team.

13. Michael Oher, offensive tackle (2009): He never missed a start in his five-year career, but he fell short of expectations because of false starts and inconsistent pass protection.

15. Mark Clayton, wide receiver (2005): He never led the team in receiving, and he had nine 100-yard receiving games. His best season was 2006, when he caught 67 passes for 939 yards and five touchdowns.

16. Kyle Boller, quarterback (2003): A flop as a franchise quarterback, Boller had one 300-yard passing game for the Ravens and seven starts where he threw under 100 yards. His five seasons with the Ravens produced a losing record as a starter (20-22) and just one more touchdown (45) than interceptions (44).

17. Travis Taylor, wide receiver (2000): Yes, Taylor is a bigger bust than Boller. The 10th overall pick of the 2000 draft, Taylor eclipsed 60 catches once and produced a grand total of two 100-yard games. If that doesn't convince you, Taylor didn't score a touchdown in his final 22 games with the Ravens.

Note: Safety Matt Elam was left off the rankings because he's only played one season.
Mickey LoomisDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMickey Loomis hasn't been afraid to make tough personnel decisions as Saints GM.
No, this isn't a fire sale you're witnessing in New Orleans.

The New Orleans Saints aren't succumbing to the salary cap.

It wouldn't even be accurate to say they're in a rebuilding mode this offseason. Because much of the new foundation is already in place.

The Saints have remained perennial Super Bowl contenders because they haven't allowed themselves to be paralyzed by their salary-cap predicament.

Instead, they've continued to aggressively spend money in free agency in recent years on new core leaders such as cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Curtis Lofton and guard Ben Grubbs -- not to mention running back Darren Sproles when he arrived in 2011.

And they'll likely make one or two similar investments in free agency this year.

Of course it's difficult -- for the fan base and the organization alike -- to see the Saints part ways with so many of their all-time great players. The Saints' recent news releases have read more like the induction of a Ring of Honor class than a series of roster cuts: Lance Moore, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Roman Harper and Jabari Greer, with Sproles reportedly next.

But the Saints haven't been forced into any of these moves. They've been tough but calculated decisions, made when the Saints feel a player's value no longer matches his salary.

And if anything, the team should be applauded for the way it has planned ahead for these departures.

I'm not saying I love every move the Saints have made. I'm especially leery about the decision to part with Sproles, who will be much harder to replace than anyone else on the list, even if he is starting to slow down at age 30.

I was equally leery about the decision to let left tackle Jermon Bushrod get away last year, since New Orleans didn't have a proven alternative in-house. But I appreciate that those decisions were value-based.

It's also worth noting that Bushrod is the only example that comes close to the Saints being burned by a decision to let go of one of their core veteran players during the tenure of general manager Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton.

"We're always trying to improve our team," Loomis said earlier this offseason, when I asked him about the way the Saints have stayed aggressive in free agency in recent years despite their cap limitations. "I think the biggest challenge of that is that you just can't afford to make many mistakes. That your margin for error is decreased."

Every year, people tend to determine the free agency "winners" and "losers" by the size of the haul.

But the Saints deserve credit for making so many choices that have panned out in recent years despite such a slim margin for error.

"It's exceptionally hard to do," said Bill Polian, the ESPN analyst and a former longtime general manager who raved last month about the job that Loomis and Payton have done in recent years to continually reshape the roster.

"It is this kind of cap management when you're a good team, a contending team, that is most valuable. And in almost every case it goes unnoticed," Polian said. "[Teams like the Saints that] continue to add good players deserve a great deal of credit."

Polian knows of what he speaks, having previously managed the Indianapolis Colts with quarterback Peyton Manning as their high-priced centerpiece.

The Saints made quarterback Drew Brees the first NFL player to make $20 million per year in 2011. In turn, they entered each of the past two offseasons at more than $10 million over the salary cap.

And now they're poised to make free agent Jimmy Graham the highest-paid tight end in NFL history -- likely more than $10 million per year. But I still expect the Saints to keep an aggressive eye on the open market, as they have in recent years.

To do so, Loomis and his staff have had to become masters in mathematics, continually restructuring contracts and back-loading deals to push cap costs into future years.

Sure, the Saints are just delaying the inevitable. But they figure they can wait to pay those bills whenever Brees retires. Their window of opportunity to win titles is now.

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints may have a difficult time replacing Darren Sproles if they decide to cut him.
Not all NFL teams like to approach the cap that way. The Green Bay Packers, especially, have never liked to spend big in free agency. And former Packers executive Andrew Brandt, currently an NFL business analyst, has pointed to the way the Saints back-loaded Brees' contract as a reason for all of these recent veteran cuts.

"I was, and am, much more conservative," Brandt said recently. "You know, having Brett Favre all those years, I never wanted to leave the team with a big hole based on pro-ration of an old contract. ... You're always going to be either releasing veteran players and/or doing these cap restructures that put more pressure on the future. They're gonna continue to have challenges. I don't think they can continue to be aggressive.

"But they've got this window. And if they keep deleting and pushing out cap, I guess they can."

One thing both Brandt and Polian agreed on is that the Saints, led by Loomis and Payton, have been successful with recent choices made in both free agency and the draft. Player personnel director Ryan Pace, college scouting director Rick Reiprish and football administration director Khai Harley -- as well as others in the front office -- also deserve plenty of credit for that.

The Saints' success with personnel decisions was never more evident than last month, when they bid farewell to longtime defensive greats Smith, Vilma, Greer and Harper. Those moves didn't hurt too much, because their replacements -- Lewis, Lofton and recent first-round draft picks Cameron Jordan and Kenny Vaccaro -- are already in-house.

Now the Saints are hoping that emerging young offense playmakers such as Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Kenny Stills can help fill the voids left by Sproles and Moore.

Perhaps they're playing with fire. But that's not the same thing as a fire sale.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ debut as a general manager went smoothly Tuesday night as he helped select his own Pro Bowl roster as a co-captain of “Team Rice,” led by Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Brees selected Saints guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs to join his team as part of the new format for the annual All-Star game, which chooses sides based on a “schoolyard draft.”

The draft, which began Tuesday night and will conclude on Wednesday night, was broken up by positions. When it came time to select the guards, Team Rice had the first choice, and fellow captains Rice and St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn deferred to Brees to make the pick.

Brees said it was a coin flip for him, but he naturally went with Evans, a five-time Pro Bowler who has been his teammate since 2006. After “Team Sanders” chose Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, Brees quickly selected Grubbs, calling it the “quickest [decision] yet.” Grubbs, a two-time Pro Bowler, has been with the Saints since 2012.

On Wednesday night, Brees will have the chance to select two more teammates – tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive end Cameron Jordan. Those choices will be more interesting, since it would be odd for Brees to see his favorite target, Graham, playing for the opposition, and it would be even more unusual to see Jordan lined up across from Brees, trying to hit him – at least half-heartedly. The game will be played in Hawaii on Sunday night.
NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Just like it played out in the NFC South standings this season, it was a neck-and-neck battle for supremacy between the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers when it came to ESPN.com’s All-NFC South team. Ultimately, the Panthers edged the Saints with 10 representatives, compared to New Orleans’ nine.

I don’t have many arguments with the list. The two Saints I would add are safety Kenny Vaccaro and guard Ben Grubbs, but I understand why it was a close call with both players. I think the safety position was the hardest to judge by far, with four candidates in a virtual deadlock for two spots (Vaccaro, Tampa Bay’s Mark Barron, Carolina’s Mike Mitchell and Atlanta’s William Moore). The outside linebacker position was also ridiculously stacked, with the Saints’ Junior Galette missing out only because Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David and Carolina’s Thomas Davis were so sensational. Galette was easily a top-10 defensive player in the division, but he played the wrong position.

I was glad to see that Saints end Cameron Jordan, cornerback Keenan Lewis and inside linebacker Curtis Lofton received proper recognition for the Saints’ remarkable defensive performance this year -- especially since the defense overall was much more stacked than the offense in the NFC South this year (with a total of 12 players to account for various fronts).

I was pretty stunned at the lack of dominant skill-position players this season. Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams was the division’s leading rusher with just 843 rushing yards. The Saints who made the list on offense -- quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, receiver Marques Colston, right tackle Zach Strief and guard Jahri Evans -- were all worthy selections. The same for punter Thomas Morstead.

METAIRIE, La. – The New Orleans Saints were well represented with five Pro Bowl selections: quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham, guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and defensive end Cameron Jordan.

Jordan is the only first-timer of the bunch, and his selection was well-deserved during a breakout season. The third-year pro has 12.5 sacks, which ranks fourth in the NFL. And he has arguably been the MVP of the defense, which has undergone a remarkable makeover this year.

Earlier Friday, Jordan admitted he was excited about the idea of being selected to his first Pro Bowl – but said he’d rather skip it in favor of a trip to his first Super Bowl.

“To make it would be a pretty good thing -- I can't lie. It'd be a nice thing to say I popped into Hawaii,” Jordan said. “But the ideal situation is I'd rather be freezing in New York than being lei'd in Hawaii."

The biggest snub on the list, in my opinion, is cornerback Keenan Lewis, who has been every bit as important to the defensive resurgence as Jordan. Lewis, who arrived as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been a true No. 1 corner, being matched up weekly against the opponent’s top receiver in man coverage. And he’s a huge reason why the Saints have gone from 31st in the NFL in pass defense last year to second this year.

As I wrote earlier, however, it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Lewis left out since he hasn’t gotten much national recognition this year, and since there are so many big names at the position. The same goes for outside linebacker Junior Galette, who also missed the cut despite 10 sacks this year.

Brees and Graham are no-brainer selections, putting up monster numbers as usual this season.

Evans and Grubbs were bigger question marks heading into Friday’s announcement, since they both battled some inconsistency during the first half of the season for an offensive line that is having a down year overall. But they are both well-established veterans and former Pro Bowlers who get to flash a lot of versatility for one of the NFL’s top offenses. They’re excellent in pass protection, athletic enough to get out in front of screen passes and solid as run blockers.

This year’s Pro Bowl was the first under a new format where players are selected regardless of their conference. And teams will be picked via a “schoolyard” draft by team captains in January. That means Jordan might be trying to get past Evans and Grubbs to sack Brees in the game -- assuming they’re not all in New York together that week.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.

Know the enemy: Saints on Johnson/Hardy

December, 20, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- For the fourth week in a row, the New Orleans Saints will be facing a dynamic duo of pass-rushing defensive ends when they face the Carolina Panthers and ends Charles Johnson an Greg Hardy on Sunday.

Obviously the Saints didn’t hold up well in pass protection last week at St. Louis. But they did do an excellent job against this same Carolina duo in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome two weeks ago, holding them to a combined 0.5 sacks in a 31-13 Saints victory.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy and Charles Johnson
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsCarolina defensive ends Greg Hardy, left, and Charles Johnson, center, have combined to make 17 sacks on the season.
The Saints won’t be in that same comfort zone Sunday, however. Not only are they playing on the road, but they’ve inserted untested rookie left tackle Terron Armstead into the starting lineup. Armstead will mostly face Hardy, though the versatile 6-foot-4, 290-pounder often moves inside on passing downs. Hardy has eight sacks and is tied with St. Louis’ Robert Quinn for third in the NFL with 20 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.

Hardy is also a fascinating personality who introduced himself during that "Sunday Night Football" game as "Kraken" from "Hogwarts."

Johnson (6-2, 285) has nine sacks and eight quarterback hits, according to PFF. Here’s what the Saints have been saying about them this week:

Coach Sean Payton: “They’ve got very good burst and quickness. When you combine that with power … the elite rushers have that edge speed, but they also can convert it to power. Then you find yourself setting for speed and then having to deal with the transitional rush. Both of those guys do that extremely well. And so when you look at their hurry and sack totals, they combine both of those elements as well as the inside rush. It’s different when you do one of those two things well, but when they do both of them well like these guys do, it becomes problematic.”

Guard Ben Grubbs: “They each have their own game. Hardy’s tall and long, long arms. And Johnson’s a big, strong, stout rusher. He’s able to turn the corner as well. But I also think those guys in the middle occupy the guards and kind of leave the tackles 1-on-1. So they’ve got a good defense. And, you know, we were able to contain them for the most part the first time we played them. But of course they’re probably gonna bring something different to see if they can get to Drew [Brees] more. …

“I went up against (first-round draft pick defensive tackle Star Lotulelei) some. But on third downs, Hardy came in as the three technique. And that’s another thing they use to their advantage. You know, a lot of guards are not used to guys that athletic in the middle. But I think Jahri [Evans] and myself did OK. But we’ll look to correct some of the mistakes we made and hopefully come out this week, on the road, with the best road game we’ve played thus far.”

Left tackle Terron Armstead: “[Hardy is] a high-motor guy. Ability to change direction. A really good player. [When they switch to nickel packages], [Mario] Addison comes, Wes Horton comes, Frank Alexander comes. All of those guys have a high motor. They work together well. They’ve got good depth. Those other guys come in and play with the same type of motor.”

Saints' run game stuck in reverse

October, 2, 2013
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METAIRIE, La. -- As good as the New Orleans Saints’ offense looked on Monday night, the run game continued to struggle.

It’s like the Saints’ rushing attack keeps taking two steps forward, then falling 3 yards back.

Sproles
Thomas
The Saints had a total of five negative runs in Monday’s 38-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. Running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson combined for a total of zero rushing yards on six carries in the first half.

There were a handful of positive runs in the game -- including Darren Sproles’ 5-yard touchdown on a well-designed draw play in the first quarter. And for the second week in a row, the Saints’ run game finished strong to help run out the clock with a big lead.

But as “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden stressed often during the broadcast, the Saints’ run game just isn’t good enough right now.

Clearly, the Saints’ offensive line still hasn’t found its rhythm yet while instituting a new outside zone-blocking scheme this year. But the traditional power runs aren’t working either.

It doesn’t help that guard Jahri Evans is still less than 100 percent because of a hamstring injury. He continued to get pushed back more than usual in both the run game and pass protection against the Dolphins. But a closer look at the TV replay showed that Evans, guard Ben Grubbs, center Brian De La Puente, left tackle Charles Brown and tight end Benjamin Watson all got blown back by the Dolphins’ line at different times on Monday night.

Grubbs got uncharacteristically destroyed by Miami defensive tackle Jared Odrick on one of the costliest runs of the game -- a 3-yard loss by Thomas on second-and-1 late in the first quarter.

It’s hard not to wonder whether the Saints miss former offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Aaron Kromer, who left this season to become offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears (this week’s opponent). But, obviously, the blame can’t fall solely on new line coach Bret Ingalls, who spent the past four years as the Saints’ running backs coach -- just like the blame doesn’t fall solely on the shoulders of running back Mark Ingram, a popular target in Weeks 1 and 2.

The problems have been more widespread than any one individual.

The Saints' offense is still keeping defenses off balance with things like screen passes, swing passes and draw plays. So the lack of an efficient run game hasn’t hurt them too badly yet. But coach Sean Payton insisted Tuesday that the Saints won’t abandon the run game and will continue to make corrections to get running in the right direction.

“The thing about looking at the tape after [Monday] night is that we’re close in a number of situations. So by no means do we look at it like, ‘Hey, we’re going in this direction,’” Payton said when asked if the Saints are planning to rely more on the screen passing game than a traditional run game. “Each week we’re looking to establish a certain type of run, whether it’s in the nickel or base, and [having] that being an important part of the game plan. It’s something that still we’re working on, and you want to avoid, more than anything, the minus plays. It’s still a work in progress and we’ll continue.

“It’s important to what we’re doing and we’ll continue to make the corrections and get to those looks.”
TAMPA, Fla. – Gerald McCoy gave the usual high praise when asked for his scouting report on New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Wednesday.

McCoy
McCoy
“It’s the same scouting any first-ballot Hall-of-Famer that’s still playing,’’ the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle said Wednesday. “We’ve got him, and then we’ve got another one right after him [in New England quarterback Tom Brady]. You scout them the best you can, you know what they can do, then you just try to figure out a way to contain them, not really stop them. There’s really no way to stop them, but you figure out a way to slow them down.”

But McCoy, who might be the most candid player in Tampa Bay’s locker room, continued to give one of the best assessments of Brees that I’ve ever heard.

“I think you’ve just got to disrupt him,’’ McCoy said. “Everybody has a weak point, and the weak point, for him, is his height -- he’s a short guy. If you can get in his face, you can slow him down a little bit. That’s why they put so much into their center and two guards, so much emphasis on those guys being good, because if you can protect his middle, he’ll kill you. So that puts a lot on me and the guys in the middle to get in his face.”

That’s all very true. That’s why the play of McCoy and rookie defensive tackle Akeem Spence will be so important Sunday when the Bucs host the Saints. Unlike most teams, the Saints build their line from the inside out.

Guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs are the strength of the offensive line. The Saints are very good at keeping the middle of the pocket wide open and giving Brees room to throw.

McCoy and Spence will have to come up with big games if the Bucs are going to have any shot at slowing Brees.
The latest installment of #NFLRank is out, and it includes Nos. 41-50 for offense and defense. This segment is filled with NFC South players. Let’s take a look.

Offense

43. Tampa Bay guard Carl Nicks

Stats & Info: Nicks missed nine games last season, his first with the Buccaneers after signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal as a free agent last offseason. Nicks earned more than $24 million last season, which ranked fourth in the NFL behind only Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson and Mario Williams, according to the Roster Management System.

Yasinskas comment: There is obvious concern about his health, because he has a staph infection and is coming off a major foot injury. But, when he’s healthy, Nicks might be the best guard in the league.

44. New Orleans guard Jahri Evans

Stats & Info: Evans has played 5,242 offensive snaps since 2008, ranking second in the NFL behind only Justin Blalock. A first-team All-Pro each of the past four seasons, Evans has started every game for the Saints in the Drew Brees era (since 2006).

Yasinskas comment: Evans is the anchor of an offensive line that has been good for a long time. Other players have come and gone, but Evans has been the constant.

45. Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson

Stats & Info: Jackson was Tampa Bay's safety valve on third down last season, ranking fourth in the NFL in third-down targets behind only Brandon Marshall, Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson. On third down, Jackson had 20 catches resulting in a first down, ranking behind only Roddy White.

Yasinskas comment: He joined Tampa Bay last season and instantly became quarterback Josh Freeman’s favorite target. He and Freeman should be even more comfortable after a year together.

Defense

41. Tampa Bay safety Dashon Goldson

Stats & Info: Goldson defended the most passes (10) when lined up as a safety in 2012. Eight of them were thrown less than 20 yards downfield, which also led all safeties.

Yasinskas comment: The Bucs knew they were getting a talented player when they signed Goldson away from San Francisco. They also have discovered Goldson brings even more to the table. He already has emerged as a defensive leader.

NFC South to date:

Offense

43. Nicks

44. Evans

45. Jackson

51. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin

65. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

70. Carolina center Ryan Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

41. Goldson

51. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

55. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David

#NFLRank Nos. 51-60

August, 23, 2013
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The latest installment of #NFLRank (Nos. 51-60) is out and the NFC South has one player on the offense and two players on the defense. Let’s take a look.

Offense

Martin
51. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin

Stats & Info: Martin had 1,926 yards from scrimmage last season, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. In Week 9, Martin became the first player in NFL history with three rushing TDs of 45-plus yards in single game

Yasinskas comment: This ranking might be a little too low for Martin. He had a great rookie season and is only going to get better.

Defense

McCoy
McCoy
51. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

Stats & Info: Since drafting McCoy in 2010, the Buccaneers defense has allowed 4 yards per rush with him on the field and 5 yards per rush when he is off the field.

Yasinskas comment: McCoy stayed healthy last year and ended up making the Pro Bowl. As long as he stays healthy, McCoy is one of the league’s best defensive tackles.

Johnson
55. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson

Stats & Info: Johnson led all defensive linemen in the league with seven forced fumbles last season. He also had 12.5 sacks, third among defensive linemen behind J.J. Watt (20.5) and Cameron Wake (15.0).

Yasinskas comment: Johnson has made Carolina fans forget all about Julius Peppers.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

51. Martin

65. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

70. Carolina center Ryan Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

51. McCoy

55. Johnson

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David

#NFLRank on Colston and Kalil

August, 22, 2013
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The latest installment of #NFLRank is out and it features players ranked from No. 61 through No. 70 on offense and defense. Only two NFC South player are in this group. Let’s take a look.

Offense

No. 65 New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

Stats & Info: Colston is one of only three players (Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker are the others) with at least 80 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards in each of the past three seasons. Colston was Drew Brees’ favorite red zone receiver in 2012, finishing with a team-high 22 targets.

Yasinskas comment: Colston is one of the league’s most underrated players. That’s because the Saints spread the ball around so much that his numbers aren’t off the charts. But Colston has been steady and dependable for a long time.

No. 70 Carolina center Ryan Kalil

Stats & Info: After starting every game for the Panthers from 2009 through 2011 and making the Pro Bowl each season, Kalil was limited to just five games last season. From 2009 through 2011, the Panthers ranked 11th in yards per rush up the middle. Last season, they ranked just 29th in that category.

Yasinskas: Assuming he’s back at full strength, there’s every reason to think Kalil can get back to being arguably the league’s best center. His return should be a big boost for an offense that wants to get more out of its running game.

Defense

None.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

65. Colston

70. Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David

#NFLRank Nos. 71-80

August, 21, 2013
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The latest installment of #NFLRank is out and it includes Nos. 71-80. The NFC South has one offensive player and one defensive player in these groups.

Offense

71. Carolina receiver Steve Smith

Stats & Info: Smith has 11,452 career receiving yards, all with the Panthers. Only five players in NFL history have more career receiving yards while playing for only one team.

Yasinskas comment: Smith is at an age where receivers tend to slow down. But he has shown no signs of decline. He still is the No. 1 receiver in this offense and he and quarterback Cam Newton seem to have good chemistry.

Defense

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

Stats & Info: Since the start of the 2006 season, Samuel has 44 interceptions, five more than the next-closest player (Ed Reed).

Yasinskas comment: Samuel isn’t what he was a few years ago when he arguably was one of the best cornerbacks in the league. Age is catching up to Samuel. But he still is an impact player, mainly because he compensates for declining physical skills with savvy.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

71. Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

80. Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David

#NFLRank and the NFC South

August, 20, 2013
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Three NFC South players were added Tuesday to ESPN.com's #NFLRank project, which ranks the top 100 offensive and top 100 defensive players in the NFL.

Offense

86. New Orleans Saints guard Ben Grubbs

ESPN Stats & Info: Grubbs played every offensive snap for the Saints last season. On third or fourth down with 2 yards or fewer to go, the Saints averaged 3.4 yards before contact per rush, third best in the NFL.

Yasinskas comment: The Saints couldn’t afford to re-sign Carl Nicks last season due to salary-cap issues. So they did the next best thing and signed Grubbs to a reasonable contract. Grubbs isn’t as dominating as Nicks was, but he’s very solid.
87. Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson

ESPN Stats & Info: Jackson is the only player to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past eight seasons. He is one of eight players in NFL history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in eight of his first nine seasons.

Yasinskas comment: Jackson might not be what he was in his heyday in St. Louis. But he still is a big upgrade over Michael Turner. We all know that Jackson can run, but I think people will be surprised by how much he’s used in the passing game.

Defense

86. Atlanta Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

ESPN Stats & Info: Since he took over as the full-time starter in 2011, Weatherspoon has defended 10 passes less than 15 yards downfield, second most among linebackers during that span.

Yasinskas comment: Weatherspoon is the closest thing the Falcons have to a star on their defense. He needs to elevate his game a bit more and start making big plays for this defense to hit its potential.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

86. Grubbs

87. Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

86. Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David
The New Orleans Saints have lost left tackle Jermon Bushrod.

He has agreed to a contract with the Chicago Bears, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Although Bushrod is the guy that was responsible for protecting Drew Brees’ blind side, this isn’t a total surprise. The Saints knew Bushrod was going to have a pretty strong market value and they knew their cap situation was going to limit what they could do to keep him. Bushrod will also be reunited with former Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who now is the offensive coordinator in Chicago.

I don’t want to diminish the loss of Bushrod, who made it to two Pro Bowls with the Saints. But this isn’t the end of the world for the Saints because they put their offensive line together differently than most teams. The Saints build from the inside out.

They paid huge money to guard Jahri Evans and good money to fellow guard Ben Grubbs. As long as the Saints are strong at the two guard positions, their philosophy is that they can get by with average guys at the other spots on the offensive line.

There’s precedent there. In recent years, the Saints let right tackle Jon Stinchcomb and left tackle Jammal Brown leave. They replaced them with Zach Strief and Bushrod. That worked out all right.

Maybe now is the time for Charles Brown to step up. Or maybe it’s time for the Saints to bring in some marginal guy from outside. Either way, history has shown that playing with strong guards in New Orleans can make a tackle look good.

Saints restructure Jahri Evans' deal

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
6:47
PM ET
We already told you about the contract restructure for New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs and the fact that linebacker David Hawthorne also has reworked his deal to give the Saints some salary-cap room.

Well, they’ve done even more.

According to a league source, guard Jahri Evans has restructured his contract to free up $3.12 million in cap space. The Saints gave Evans a $4.16 signing bonus up front, but dropped his base salary from $7.2 million to $3.04 million.

Evans had been scheduled to have a $9.86 million cap figure. But the restructure drops that figure to $6.74 million.

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