Introducing The 2009 All-NFC South Team
After looking at this division from top to bottom, I have new reason to believe the phrase "things are hotter in the south."
The talent level in the NFC South is what heats up the NFL's "NASCAR" division. There are so many players with All-Pro talent, even young players who could become the face of their teams and the league.
This list made me dig so deep that there had to be a tie for the top NFC South running back, plus there's a bevy of honorable mentions.
Here now are my picks for the All-NFC South team:
QUARTERBACK: Drew Brees, New Orleans-Three monster seasons for the Saints, plus he threw for over 5,000 yards without a 1,000 rusher or 1,000 yard receiver last year.
RUNNING BACK (TIE): Michael Turner, Atlanta-Not only did he outgain the man he used to backup (LaDanian Tomlinson), he outgained all AFC leading rushers in 2008.
RUNNING BACK: DeAngelo Williams, Carolina-With the 20 touchdowns he scored last year, he couldn't be left out.
FULLBACK: Ovie Mughelli, Atlanta-He may not knock linebackers over, but his blocking can ensure no one lays a finger on Michael Turner.
WIDE RECEIVER: Steve Smith, Carolina-His 1,421 receiving yards allowed him to average a career-high 18.2 yards per catch for the NFC South champs.
WIDE RECEIVER: Roddy White, Atlanta-Emerging star with two consecutive seasons of over 1,200 receiving yards.
TIGHT END: Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta-Even in his 13th year and at 32 years of age, expect him to create more matchup problems for defenses.
LEFT TACKLE: Jammal Brown, New Orleans-Made the pro bowl as an alternate. A key reason why the Saints allowed just 13 sacks last season.
LEFT GUARD: Justin Blalock, Atlanta-Made major progress in his second season. A potential pro bowler.
CENTER: Todd McClure, Atlanta-A scrappy veteran center who deserves to play in the pro bowl.
RIGHT GUARD: Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay-Showed lots of potential in the 12 games he played for the Bucs'.
RIGHT TACKLE: Jordan Gross, Carolina-Yes, he's a left tackle, and a very good one in that area. But he has versatility and can play both spots.
DEFENSIVE END: John Abraham, Atlanta-It doesn't matter if he lines up on the left or right end, he makes offensive coordinators wince with his pass rushing.
DEFENSIVE END: Julius Peppers, Carolina-Freakish athlete rebounded from a disaster 2007 with 14.5 sacks last year.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Johnathan Babineaux, Atlanta-He received a new contract extension because he's cat quick off the ball.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Chris Hovan, Tampa Bay-A feisty veteran who gives you everything he has.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Thomas Davis, Carolina-Had his best season last year. He's the Panthers' go-to-guy when they need a blitz.
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: Mike Peterson, Atlanta-He got on Jack Del Rio's bad side in Jacksonville, but he's a favorite of Mike Smith. Moves back outside.
INSIDE LINEBACKER: Jon Beason, Carolina-Not only did he play in his first pro bowl in his second year in 2008, he's emerged as the leader of the Panthers' D.
FREE SAFETY: Darren Sharper, New Orleans-Veteran is expected to shape up a shaky Saints secondary from a year ago.
STRONG SAFETY: Chris Harris, Carolina-A big hitter who's specialty is forcing fumbles.
CORNERBACK: Ronde Barber, Tampa Bay-He's lost a step, but he's still better than most NFL corners. Will be needed for veteran leadership on a young Bucs team.
CORNERBACK: Chris Gamble, Carolina-The Panthers best cover man is also one of the better athletes on the team.
PUNTER: Josh Bidwell, Tampa Bay-Placed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line last year. Still reliable after 10 seasons.
KICKER: John Kasay, Carolina-After all these years, he still gets it done from 50 yards.
RETURN MAN: Clifton Smith, Tampa Bay-From going undrafted to going to Honolulu. He brings excitement to the Gulf Coast.
SPECIALIST: Kevin Houser, New Orleans-Nearly perfect at long snapping. He's also the longest tenured Saint with nine seasons in New Orleans.
Matt Ryan, Quarterback, Atlanta-Showed he's mature beyond his years after amazing rookie season. Has room to grow.
Jake Delhomme, Quarterback, Carolina-Despite his most recent playoff debacle, he's been the best quarterback option for the Panthers since their Super Bowl run.
Jonathan Stewart, Running Back, Carolina-The Panthers drafted him to become the next Stephen Davis. He's off to a great start after scoring 10 touchdowns.
Earnest Graham, Running Back, Tampa Bay-Touchdown machine has rushed for 14 touchdowns in past two seasons.
Derrick Ward, Running Back, Tampa Bay-Bucs' backfield is crowded, but he should get plenty of carries after a 1,025 yard season with the Giants.
Antonio Bryant, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay-Hes' been a malcontent, but he finally showed his potential in 2008 with 83 catches, 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns.
Marques Colston, Wide Receiver, New Orleans-When healthy, he's one of the five best receivers in the NFL.
Jon Stinchcomb, Right Tackle, New Orleans-He's played well for the last three seasons, which explains why he received a nice new deal.
Jeff Otah, Right Tackle, Carolina-Forms a powerful tackle tandem with Jordan Gross. If he avoids "sophomore jinx", he could join Gross in the pro bowl.
Kellen Winslow, Tight End, Tampa Bay-Despite injuries, he should be a favorite target for whomever emerges as quarterback for the Bucs. A pro bowl talent when healthy.
Maake Kemoeatu, Defensive Tackle, Carolina-All he does is stop the run and free up space for everyone else, and he does it well for Carolina.
Jonathan Vilma, Inside Linebacker, New Orleans-Led the way with 151 tackles, but he could have a monster season under new coordinator Gregg Williams.
Will Smith, Defensive End, New Orleans-Struggled with a sports hernia last year, but a valuable rusher when healthy.
Sedrick Ellis, Defensive Tackle, New Orleans-After solid rookie campaign, he'll be needed to make the Saints' D scary up front.
Josh Freeman, Quarterback, Tampa Bay-Future franchise QB could become the starter right away. Must be consistent with his throws.
Peria Jerry, Defensive Tackle, Atlanta-Falcons surrendered 127.5 rushing yards last season, but that will likely change with this Mississippi mauler in the lineup.
Head Coach: John Fox, Carolina-Gets the edge because of his longevity in this division and success. Has led the Panthers to the playoffs three times in his eight-year career.
Offensive Assistant: Mike Mularkey, Atlanta-One of the reasons why Matt Ryan became a rookie sensation and Michael Turner became a top rusher. He could get another shot at being a head coach again.
Defensive Assistant: Gregg Williams, New Orleans-He could actually be the best defensive acquisition in New Orleans. He should get the Saints defense in an attack mode.
Special Teams Coach: Richard Bisaccia, Tampa Bay-He gets recognition because he's coaching Josh Bidwell and he has an electrifying return man in Clifton Smith.
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