All NFC South Team
Many Saints, as expected, on this team!
All-NFC South team: Offense - NFC South Blog - ESPN
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 hereís my All-NFC South offense.
Tackle: Jordan Gross, Panthers. Heís 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 Bayís 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 Iím going with Bushrod almost by default. I know he made the Pro Bowl, but Iím not convinced Bushrod is anything more than an ordinary left tackle. But heís 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 isnít the best guard in the NFL, then Evans is.
Center: Ryan Kalil, Panthers. Heís 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 Smithís career. But I also think Smith deserves a lot of the credit for Newtonís success.
Wide receiver: Marques Colston, Saints. I went back and forth on this one between Colston and Atlantaís Roddy White and Tampa Bayís Mike Williams also got some consideration. Iím joking. Williams didnít get one bit of consideration. Whiteís numbers were slightly better than Colstonís 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 didnít 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. Atlantaís 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 leagueís best offense. Collins didnít have much in the way of numbers, but his blocking was a key factor in the offensesí success. If Atlantaís Ovie Mughelli hadnít gotten injured, heíd 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. Heís the reason the Saints won 13 games without a defense.
He's right about Bushrod. The rest of it was spot on too.
And for the All-NFC-South defensive team...
Defense wasn’t a strength in the NFC South in the 2011 season. In fact, it was a big problem for the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and only an occasional strength for the Atlanta Falcons.
But there were some solid individual performances. With that in mind, let’s roll out the All-NFC South defense.
Defensive end: Charles Johnson, Panthers. He got his huge contract in the summer, but didn’t take the money and disappear. Johnson came through with nine sacks and also played the run fairly well.
Defensive end: Adrian Clayborn, Buccaneers. Yes, I’m taking the rookie over Atlanta veteran John Abraham. I know Abraham ended up with 9.5 sacks, but 3.5 of them came against Jacksonville and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Abraham was ordinary most of the season and was on the field for only 13 percent of Atlanta’s defensive snaps. Clayborn finished with 7.5 sacks. He also was on the field for about 80 percent of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps, showed he can rush the passer and played the run well. Not much went right for the Bucs in the 2011 season. But they hit on their first-round draft pick.
Defensive tackle: Corey Peters, Falcons. He started in 2010, but was only a run-stuffer then. Peters emerged into a complete defensive tackle in his second season and showed signs he can generate a pass rush in the middle.
Defensive tackle: Brian Price, Buccaneers. Off the top of my head, I was preparing to go with Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux or New Orleans’ Sedrick Ellis. Then I looked at their statistics and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m going with Price, who quietly put together a nice season. He finished with three sacks and was one of the few Bucs who played the run well. More importantly, Price made a nice comeback from surgery on his pelvis and played through the pain of an ankle injury for most of the second half of the season.
Linebacker: Curtis Lofton, Falcons. In a year in which Carolina’s Jon Beason was hurt and New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma slowed down, Lofton emerged as the NFC South’s best middle linebacker.
Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons. The second-year pro might now be the division’s best all-around linebacker. Weatherspoon is a playmaker and plays with an attitude that the rest of Atlanta’s defense needs to copy.
Linebacker: James Anderson, Panthers. With Beason and Thomas Davis going down early, Anderson was the bright spot in Carolina’s linebacker corps.
Cornerback: Jabari Greer, Saints. He often gets overlooked, but this guy is the best cover corner in the division.
Cornerback: Chris Gamble, Panthers. Gamble got benched by coach John Fox at the end of the 2010 season and his career appeared to be on the downside. But Gamble got a fresh start with coach Ron Rivera and bounced back with a strong season.
Safety: Malcolm Jenkins, Saints. He didn’t make as many big plays as I think he’s capable of, but Jenkins is an enormous talent. If the Saints can add a pass rush, the big plays will flow for Jenkins.
Safety: Thomas DeCoud, Falcons. He was benched briefly early in the season, but DeCoud seemed to get the message that he needed to play better. He finished the season with four interceptions and 86 tackles.
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