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NFC South: Rookies Will Play Crucial Roles

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NFC South: Rookies Will Play Crucial Roles
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Newton will not decide the division winner

The NFL Draft was back in April and those rookies are about to have game tape from preseason games. These four meaningless games will do nothing more than provide coaches early impressions on their just drafted players. While the NFC South may not have the best collection of talent out of the 2011 draft, the players taken will have the most impact on division results more than any other division in the entire league.

The NFL is a league about adjustments, and every team in the conference had that in mind when they were on the clock back in April. The Panthers, Buccaneers and Saints are all looking up at the Falcons. Carolina has to start a new quarterback against teams led by Josh Freeman, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan. Finishing 2-14 led them to a new passer and a different head coach. Expect Carolina to be in the cellar yet again in 2011.

Tampa Bay realized they needed more pressure on the oppositions' signal caller or they'd fall just short again. This led the Bucs to take two medical risks in Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. While there were definitely safer picks on the board at the time of the selections, the two defensive ends have great potential to be irritants to all quarterbacks in the NFL. The new defensive ends also can stop the run adequately and that is needed against Michael Turner of Atlanta and the stable of running backs for New Orleans.

New Orleans went defense with their six picks. Cameron Jordan, their first selection, provides versatility on the defensive line with the ability to play end on early downs and tackle for passing situations. He also has the ability to play in the 3-4 as he did during college at Cal. New Orleans has made even more noise by signing Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin. Against the Falcons, stopping Michael Turner will force Matt Ryan to throw. Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves dialing up blitzes in passing downs.

Atlanta realized every team is shooting to knock them off. By trading up for Julio Jones, they have a deep threat to not only stretch the defense but to have a receiver defensive coordinators must respect. While Matt Ryan may not yet be elite against pressure in his young career, Jones will be a deep threat that will be noticed when defensive coordinators like Gregg Williams think about blitzing.

Not many divisions get two teams in the playoffs while another wins ten games. If there happens to be one less team in the playoffs this season, it means these rookie selections back in April will decide who gets to compete for a Super Bowl appearance in February.

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