Cam Newton, Julio Jones and the Next Generation of NFC South Studs
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The NFC South is a division that in the last couple seasons has gotten some exceptional young talent.
From the Falcons with Julio Jones, to the Panthers with Cam Newton, there is an abundance of studs under the age of 24 down South.They are the next generation of big-time players and are key pieces in what every franchise in the NFC South is trying to accomplish—winning a Super Bowl.
The NFL is a league that is dominated by established veterans, as most rookies take time to develop. However, there are always those prospects who dominate from the get-go.
I'm taking a look at players with less than two years of experience who are going to be "Next" for the NFC South.
Julio Jones, WR Atlanta Falcons
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Julio Jones landed in Atlanta with the sixth pick of the 2011 NFL draft.
As a highly touted receiver out of Alabama he was expected to make an immediate impact opposite of vet Roddy White. It's not very common for rookie receivers to produce, but Jones was an exception to that rule.
In his first season as a pro Jones put up impressive numbers. He tallied over 950 yards and nine TDs on just 54 receptions. That's a 17.8 YPC, good enough for seventh in the NFL. Not many rookie receivers can say they had that kind of production, except of course for his draft mate A.J. Green.
Going into his second season as a pro, Jones appears ready to have a monster season. Word out of Falcons camp is that he is making spectacular play after spectacular play.
With the immense physical tools Julio Jones has, it's just a matter of him staying on the field and getting enough looks to become an elite wide receiver in the NFL.
Peter Konz, C Atlanta Falcons
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Peter Konz played his college ball at Wisconsin and was the anchor to a line that led running back Montee Ball to over 1900 YDs and 33TDs. Pretty impressive numbers he helped build.
He was a steal for the Falcons as he fell to the middle of the second round in this year's draft.
Konz figures to be the starting right guard for the Falcons this year, and at some point he will take over as the team's starting center.
At 6'5" and 314 pounds, Konz has the frame to be a sturdy offensive lineman. He still has room to fill out, too, and will likely gain upper-body strength, which will allow him to become a much better run blocker. He is solid as a pass protector and he has great feet.
Within the next couple years, Konz could be the centerpiece of the Falcons offensive line and a perennial Pro Bowler.
Cam Newton QB, Carolina Panthers
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Cam Newton was one of the most talked-about athletes in college football history during his Heisman-winning season at Auburn.
From the ridiculous numbers and the national championship, to his past plunders while at the University of Florida, Cam Newton was a polarizing figure to say the least.
There were also not many people who thought Cam Newton would amount to anything at the quarterback position in the NFL—that is until he had one of the most incredible seasons by a rookie in league history. He passed for 21 TDs and over 4,000 yards and added another 700 yards and 14 TDs on the ground.
Going into his second season, Newton already has a Pro Bowl berth and a Rookie of the Year Award under his belt.
Superman Cam should have an even better second season.
It would not be surprising if he ups his passing yardage and touchdown total while limiting his turnovers. I can't imagine him rushing for 14 TDs, but running will still be an essential part of his game.
Luke Kuechly, LB Carolina Panthers
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Luke Kuechly was a monster at Boston College, consistently racking up insane tackle numbers.
The Panthers obviously thought very highly of Kuechly because they selected him with the ninth overall pick in this year's draft.
At BC, Kuechly was an All-American and a tackling machine. His sophomore season he registered 183 tackles, and his junior year he had a mind-boggling 191 tackles. The massive numbers helped put Kuechly in the national spotlight.
He is already penciled in as a starter for the Carolina Panthers, and the combination of Kuechly and Beason should be a formidable one for a long time to come.
Kuechly posses a rare combination of size and speed for the linebacker position, allowing him to play both inside and outside. He is a relentless force and a consistent tackler. He is also fantastic in pursuit while in coverage.
There's not a better skill set for a linebacker to have.
Luke Kuechly should be a staple at linebacker in the NFL for years, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him make a big impact as a rookie.
Cameron Jordan, DE Saints
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A first-round pick out of Cal by the Saints in the 2011 NFL draft, defensive end Cameron Jordan went into a favorable situation. As a rookie Jordan started 15 games and had 31 tackles to go along with one sack.
These numbers may not stand out, but keep in mind that most pass rushers take time to really become a force. Take Jason Pierre-Paul for example, this past year he had 16.5 sacks after managing only 4.5 as a rookie.
This year Cameron Jordan could enjoy a similar breakout season
At 6'4", 287 lbs, Jordan is hard to miss out on the field. It has been reported that Jordan feels much more comfortable entering his second year as a pro. It should also be noted that this is Cam's first full training camp, something that can only help him improve.
Jordan could be in for a big season as the second year is often when players really start to take off and perform at a high level.
His is a name to watch for in 2012.
Mark Barron, DB Buccaneers
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Mark Barron was one of the most highly touted players in this year's draft, and the Buccaneers grabbed him seventh overall.
Coming out of Alabama, Barron was seen as a strong safety, which is where he will start for the Bucs.
He has exceptional size at 6'2", 215 pounds and is a very versatile player with the ability to come into the box to make tackle or drop back deep as a sort of center fielder. He has great vision on the field and should be a fantastic player for Tampa Bay.
Barron also fell into a fantastic situation with the Bucs, as he will play in the secondary with Ronde Barber. With 16 years of NFL experience, Barber should be an ideal mentor, and it appears that he and Barron are already forming a solid relationship.
As a starter from day one, Barron will make many NFL fans immediately aware of his ability. He is a player who will make a big difference for a retooled Bucs team that looks ready to compete in 2012.
Doug Martin, RB Buccaneers
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Doug Martin went to the Buccaneers in this year's draft after a solid career at Boise State.
He figures to battle with LeGarrette Blount for the starting running back spot. Martin was listed second on the Bucs first depth chart of the season, but he has been taking the bulk of the reps with the starters.
At Boise State, Martin displayed solid quickness and vision as well as good hands out of the backfield. He is also an exceptional pass blocker at the RB position, which should give the Buccaneers flexibility in the formations they run in passing situations.
It is widely expected that Martin will start Week 1 for the Bucs, and he could have a big season if he gets enough touches. The 1,000-yard mark and multiple touchdowns could be in Martin's future.
New Bucs head coach, Greg Schiano, even went as far as to compare Doug Martin to his former star at Rutgers, Ray Rice, saying that Martin is "very crafty and he really understands the running game."
He should be an impact player from the get-go and be a great addition to a Bucs offense that was also bolstered during the offseason by the acquisitions of Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks.