QB: Drew Brees – Needs no introduction. So let’s take a quick peak at his competition: Matt Ryan – quite average, easily overrated. Jimmy Clausen – promising, yet outside of Steve Smith, who else is there? Josh Freeman – reminds me of a more talented, athletic version of Byron Leftwich, but who is at his disposal beyond Kellen Winslow?
RB: Jonathan Stewart – This is the year. Move over DeAngelo Williams. Impressive performances against Minnesota (25-109, 2 total TD’s) and New York (28-206, TD) in December. While doing this, his partner missed three contests and failed to reach the century mark the final six weeks. The writing is on the wall. Stewart is the back of the future —and the future is now for him in Carolina.
FB: Heath Evans – Decent all-purpose man. Solid receiver. Excels around the goal line when given the opportunity.
WR: Roddy White – Ryan to White. Roddy will continue to be the main beneficiary of the Atlanta aerial plan. Excellent deep-threat who has a knack for big-plays and picking up real estate after the reception. Has yet to miss a game in his five-year NFL career. One of the reasons why he’s ahead of Steve Smith.
WR: Robert Meachem – 16 yards a grab. Finally is healthy. Produced a five-game touchdown streak. Steadily becoming Brees’ favorite go-to guy. Flourishes in the open field, cherishes red zone opportunities. Big target with speed to burn. Essentially this is his third year, which begs to say and dare —Sidney Rice-like third year numbers?
TE: Kellen Winslow – Once Josh Freeman was given the keys to run the Tampa offense, Kellen was on the receiving end of at least four passes every Sunday. Not a bad start for this dynamic duo. And despite Winslow’s baggage and injury history, it wouldn’t be outrageous to make a case for the former Hurricane being the most talented tight end in the NFL. Keep in mind coming out of the “U” he was the 6th player chosen in the 2004 Draft! There is no question or debate who is Josh’s #1 target, so imagine what the tantalizing tandem will accomplish with half a campaign under their belt and a full season ahead…
OL: Jordan Gross, Jahri Evans, Ryan Kalil, Davin Joseph, Jeff Otah.
DE: Will Smith – Motor of New Orleans defensive unit. Played up to his contract and ability last year. Will pick up where he left off. Capable of outdoing his ’09 performance. Really turned it on second half of season. Addition of Alex Brown and healthy Sedrick Ellis will help.
DE: Greg Hardy – Ole Miss 6th round draft pick. Fell way too far. Will overtake Everette Brown or Charles Johnson at one of the starting end positions. Overachiever who will help make up for loss of Julius Peppers.
DT: Jonathan Babineaux – Extremely active undersized tackle who can really get after the QB. Spark plug for Atlanta’s defense. Good barometer to their success.
DT: Sedrick Ellis – Say the former Southern Cal Trojan re-entered the Draft this past April, would he have been selected ahead of Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy? I clearly believe so. I say this former USC standout will truly play the part show the defending Super Bowl champs why they drafted him so high in 2008. Redemption. The “bust” label and health concerns will quickly vanish. He will redeem his old disappearing self and impact more games than the two Tampa rookies McCoy and Brian Price.
LB: Jon Beason – 2nd best LB next to Patrick Willis. Heart and soul of the Carolina Panthers. He’s everywhere on the field. Coach’s dream.
LB: Curtis Lofton – Another middle linebacker who’s always in aggressive pursuit. QB’s have to pay attention to this rapidly improving force to be reckoned with. Also keep an eye on his fellow outside ‘backers, Stephen Nicholas and rookie from Mizzou, Sean Weatherspoon.
LB: Jonathan Vilma – Tough call. Wanted to go Thomas Davis (unfortunately out, with yet another torn ACL). Vilma means so much to the Saints turnaround and improvement on D. The deciding factor: Vilma gets the nod over Weatherspoon (will he start ahead of Nicholas or Peterson?) simply because he’s a proven veteran and he’s in a position where he needs to make plays in order for “his” defense to succeed. Consistent, he is, and better he will be in 2010. Expect Vilma to continue to provide a strong, steady impact in the Big Easy because the defense cannot play well without him. Where would this defense be without the former Hurricane?
CB: Aqib Talib – Despite the ageless Ronde Barber doin’ work at a high level, there’s a new sheriff in town. Nowadays, QB’s think twice before testing Talib’s side of the turf. He is a rising star on Raheem Morris’ ridiculously young defense in Tampa. Learning from one of the best playmaking corners to every play the game. Will make it to elite status by season’s end.
CB: Chris Gamble – Flip a coin. 50/50. Heads or Tails. Dunta Robinson is right there, neck and neck at the finish line. Will we even know who’s the better choice before 2010 concludes? It’s that close. I’ll side with the more daring, adventurous risk taker of the two. I’ll take either DB you give me on my squad any day of the week.
S: Tanard Jackson – Why doesn’t he get talked about enough? Would likely be considered and probably included in more discussions among the best safeties in the game if he was on a better team. Ball hawk, intimidating hitter, and tough player. Really impressed by the fourth year pro out of Syracuse.
S: Charles Godfrey – Chris Harris is gone. Godfrey is ready to step up and fill his shoes, becoming the new enforcer over the middle for John Fox’s D. You will hear his name a lot in 2010. NFC South has two other young, up and coming safeties to watch: Sherrod Martin, Carolina and William Moore, Atlanta. Darren Sharper’s time has come.