Welcome to our series “Counting Down the Top 25 Players in the NFC South." Over the next 25 days, we’ll peruse the players of the NFC South and take a look at who I feel are the best 25 players regardless of position or team.
What’s my criteria, you may be asking yourself.
I put this list together with a little look into the past, the present and the future. It’s not just what has a player done, it’s also what is he doing and what can he do in 2012. Call this a mixture of skills and upside. Other than that—and the two rules I’ll reveal shortly—that’s all I’ll say about how I put this list together.
As mentioned, there are two rules, and only two:
1. You have to be on an NFC South roster right now (I don’t care about roster or contractual status; yes, I’m winking at Drew Brees here).
2. You cannot be a rookie. I understand that one of the rookies drafted back in April may end up being among the top 25 in the division at season’s end, but with no track record in professional football, I can’t rank any rookie ahead of a veteran.
Josh Freeman is entering his fourth season in Tampa Bay and might like to quick put his 2011 campaign behind him. He threw for 3,592 yards and 16 touchdowns, but tossed 22 interceptions and finished with a 74.6 passer rating.
Typically, a 22-interception season would not garner placement on any top-25 list, certainly not mine. But I decided to give Freeman a tip of the hat because of what he did in 2010.
Freeman’s 25 touchdown throws with only six interception two years ago is more than enough of a baseline to allow for a little leeway here. Besides, news from One Buc is promising thus far.
Freeman also owned up to his mistakes. He's done forcing passes into traffic and has spent an enormous amount of time getting back to basics: footwork, balance and making smart decisions with the football.
Don't forget that the Bucs added a legit No. 1 target in Vincent Jackson in the offseason, drafted a first-round running back in Doug Martin to help bolster the running game and also signed All-Pro guard Carl Nicks. All three of those moves should work wonders for Freeman.
With a little self reflection and a lot of work, not to mention some positive transactions and a complete overhaul to the coaching staff, Freeman's 2012 season could look much more like 2010 than last year.
If that happens, No. 25 might be too low.