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NFL Draft

NFC South Superlatives: Best, Underrated & Breakout Players

  • The Draft Network
  • July 16, 2020
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Unfortunately, the possibility of a 2020 NFL season seems to be uncertain at this point, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t project forward, look ahead to the future, and most importantly, have a bit of football-related fun.

Fourth in our division-by-division series, I analyzed the NFC South and all of its inner-workings, handing out certain “Superlatives” to players across the division.

Here are the results.

(AFC South Superlatives can be found here.)

(AFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

(NFC West Superlatives can be found here.)

Most pressure to succeed: Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We start with a pretty obvious one.  

After shocking the football world and signing with the Bucs this offseason, Brady has separated himself from coach Bill Belichick for the first time in his career. Although whatever he does from now until his retirement won’t stop people from nitpicking his Hall of Fame career, poor play without Belichick will spell an immense amount of “system QB” labels for Brady, which ultimately makes this season such an important part of his everlasting legacy.  

This is seemingly unfair due to the fact Brady is both 42 years old and past his prime, but fans and media members don’t want to hear sound reasoning in this regard—they want results. With talented weapons and a returning Rob Gronkowski, it’s Super Bowl or bust for both Brady and the Bucs, which puts the pressure squarely on his old, brittle shoulders.

Could also win:  

  • Most likely to lead the league in jerseys sold

https://twitter.com/Buccaneers/status/1241055679651237890?s=20

Most likely to disappoint: Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Seemingly decades removed from his magical 2017 and 2018 seasons, Gurley has struggled ever since, showcasing a startling lack of explosion and burst as a ball-carrier in 2019. Hindered by numerous knee surgeries and other medical issues, Gurley’s game has essentially been sapped, with the Rams recognizing as much and releasing him (despite his huge contract) this offseason. Still only 25, it’s easy to get excited about Gurley returning to Georgia and bouncing back on a one-year, prove-it deal with the Falcons, but the chances of this being the case are slim to none.

He’s likely to start the year as Atlanta’s primary ball-carrier, but I wouldn’t expect Gurley to suddenly return to his old self with the snap of a finger. The damage has been done, and it’s time fans and the media stop looking at him as an MVP candidate, but rather as the average, injury-prone back that he now is. It’s extremely unfortunate, but at this point, it’s simply a tough reality.

Could also win:  

  • Worst knees

Best Offensive Player: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Saints, Bucs, and Panthers fans are all going to be mad at this one, but this is meant as no disrespect to Michael Thomas, Christian McCaffrey, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, or even Drew Brees. Rather it’s a testament to both how good Jones is, as well as how strong the NFC South is in its offensive star power.

A physically imposing threat who can beat you with nuance, speed, or just pure muscle, Jones’ balanced ability is what truly gave him the edge over Thomas for me here, even with the Saints receiver admittedly having the edge as far as production goes. The talent Jones possesses is borderline generational and he’s been a consistent producer despite dealing with numerous coordinators and a lackluster roster around him throughout his career.

I guess if there’s any area Jones could improve, it’s increasing his touchdown numbers (only been in double digits once), but that’s an extremely minor gripe on an otherwise impeccable career.

Could also win:  

  • Most physically gifted wideout

Best Defensive Player: Cameron Jordan, DL, New Orleans Saints

It’s not often that Cameron Jordan is discussed when bringing up the top pass-rushers in the game, but his sack numbers and All-Pro accolades tell you all you need to know about just how good he’s been over the past decade.

Racking up 15.5 sacks in a career year in 2019, Jordan has recorded 12-plus sacks in three straight seasons, an extremely impressive feat considering his heavy stature and other responsibilities as a run defender. He doesn’t win in a flashy, speedy manner, but Jordan is simply dominant when it comes to hand usage, technique, and pure power.  

Other defenders like Lavonte David, Grady Jarrett, and Shaquill Barrett were also contenders here, but Jordan earned the nod and it honestly wasn’t all that close.

Could also win:  

  • Best defensive lineman in Saints history

https://twitter.com/dlinevids1/status/1174634952639447040?s=20

Underrated Star: Demario Davis, LB, New Orleans Saints

I guarantee you that if I asked a casual fan which defensive players earned First-Team All-Pro honors last season, Davis would be the last name that every single person mentioned.

For some reason, despite his immense leadership qualities, elite athleticism, and tremendous ability in pass coverage, Davis simply doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. This is likely attributed to his massive breakout once he landed with the Saints, as a lot of people still associate him with his Jets and Browns self (who was still very, very good). The true catalyst for New Orleans’ defense (along with Jordan), it’s important for the world to note just how good he’s gotten over time.

Could also win:  

  • Most forgotten about All-Pro

Most likely to Breakout: Brian Burns, EDGE, Carolina Panthers

Before last year’s draft, Burns was viewed as a lanky, bendy defender who displayed tremendous pass-rush ability and sky-high potential. He showcased exactly that as a rookie, but due to brilliant performances from other rookies like Nick Bosa and Josh Allen, Burns was overshadowed when it came to national media attention. Still, Burns racked up 7.5 sacks on just 43% of Carolina’s defensive snaps, which is a true testament to just how good he is at getting to the QB.

He still needs to improve as a run defender and with his overall consistency, but by simply playing more reps, Burns is already scheduled for a sophomore jump. If he can somehow get stronger in the process too, watch out.

Could also win:  

  • Most flexible speed rusher

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1238955565738582018?s=20

Rookie of the Year: Tristan Wirfs, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

An offensive lineman admittedly has no chance of receiving the real Rookie of the Year award. However, there were no great skill options here and when it comes to which rookie is most valuable, Wirfs wins in a landslide.

The key to protecting Brady’s right side, it’s vitally important that Wirfs keeps the immobile QB upright and healthy this year, especially considering the high hopes attached to the 2020 season. It was a massive gift when Wirfs slipped to 13th in the draft, but he’ll need to prove he can play right away for a contender like Tampa to feel good about their investment. However, if his tape and athletic ability are any indications, Wirfs will be more than fine in this regard.

Could also win:  

  • Most athletic 300-pounder

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