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Pick Away

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The NFL regular season is winding down. We know who the contenders are and the teams that need to try again next year.

I’m going to take a look at the projected NFC South draft order and team needs.

Pick #5 Atlanta: The biggest team needs are edge rusher, defensive back and offensive line.

The Falcons have struggled to protect their $150 million quarterback Matt Ryan. In the Thanksgiving game against New Orleans he was sacked nine times (tying a career high). Atlanta failed to sack Drew Brees, which brings the team’s needs in the trenches into focus.

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is by far the best pass rusher in the draft. I do not expect him to be around when the Falcons pick, so I think Iowa edge rusher AJ Epenesa will be their pick. He had double-digit tackles for loss the last two seasons. He had 10.5 sacks in 2018 and 9 in 2019.

Pick #12 Carolina: Their biggest team needs are DB, OL and defensive line.

Quarterback might also be a need since Cam Newton has not played since Week 2. Kyle Allen has stepped in but he has not played well. His QBR is 38.3, which is 30th, and he’s thrown double digit interceptions.

The Panthers defense cannot stop the run, ranking 29th in run defense. Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs would be a good pick. He has great size standing at 6’2 and 208 pounds. He has 3 interceptions and 8 pass breakups this season.

Pick #14 Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers biggest team needs are QB, RB, OL and DL.

Jameis Winston is in the final year of his rookie contract and he’s still struggling. He’s been a turnover machine his entire career and this season is no different.

Winston leads the league with 20 interceptions. That would be too much for a rookie but he’s in his fifth season and he has also had off the field issues.

The Bucs have several other areas of concern but I believe they will prioritize drafting a franchise quarterback.

Oregon QB Justin Herbert could be the answer. He has prototypical size at 6’6 and 237 pounds. He’s a senior so he has a lot of experience which is invaluable.

Herbert helped bring the Ducks program back to a national title contender. This season he has 31 touchdowns with only 5 interceptions, so we know he can protect the football.

Pick #29 New Orleans Saints: The Saints are truly Super Bowl contenders so this might turn into the 31st or 32nd pick.

The biggest needs are WR, interior OL and DB. Michael Thomas is great but he could use another receiver to help stretch the field. Thomas is a true possession receiver and he is the focal point of the defense.

A player with speed would be explosive and they could make teams pay for covering him one on one.

Three of the seven Saints defenders who have played the most snaps in 2019;  Vonn BellEli Apple and P.J. Williams happen to be members of the New Orleans secondary. All three are scheduled to become free agents in 2020.

Clemson receiver Tee Higgins would be a great addition, assuming he’s still on the board.

Changes In The South

By: JJ Lanier news services

When you look at the stability, or really instability in most cases, when it comes to head coaches and quarterbacks throughout the NFL, the NFC South in many ways is the exception.

Two of the divisions head coaches, Sean Payton and Ron Rivera, have been with their respective organizations for at least nine years.

Dan Quinn is currently in his fifth year with Falcons, whose predecessor, Mike Smith, was with the organization for seven years. In fact, the Buccaneers seem to be the only divisional team that has head coaches come and go as if they’re a seasonal employee at Target.

The quarterback position has been even more stable, with Jameis Winston being the shortest tenured of the bunch, at five years in the league.

Longevity is always great when you’re in the midst of it, but like all things, it eventually comes to an end; the NFC South may begin to see that stability start to falter at the end of this season.

The biggest changes will more than likely be seen within the Carolina Panthers organization. As it looks right now, the only person less likely to be the Panthers starting quarterback at the beginning of next season than Cam Newton is Colin Kaepernick.

As much of a lightning rod as Newton has been- some legitimate, some petty- it’s all but a certainty that the best quarterback in franchise history won’t be back for a tenth season.

Meanwhile, Rivera, who began his head coaching career the same year Newton entered the league, is trending towards sharing the same fate as his QB.

The 2-time Coach of the Year has dodged the pink slip in the past due to his team finishing the season strong, but I’m not sure that could even save his job this time around.

The end of an era in Carolina is starting to look less like a possibility and more like an inevitability.

There isn’t going to be a change at quarterback for the Falcons, at least not this year, but the same can’t be said for their head coach.

There is the slight possibility that Quinn could pull a “Rivera” and keep his job if Atlanta were to finish the season strong, but I doubt it.

As for Ryan, his job obviously isn’t in jeopardy, but he is starting to get up there in age and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new head coach looking to begin grooming his replacement.

As for Tampa, I think Winston’s time there is over, but who knows. Would you really be all that surprised if they brought him back? And Bruce Arians isn’t going anywhere as of now, but he’s not the long-term solution, so the smart money is on that dynamic looking dramatically different within the next year or two.

Then there’s the Saints, the organization that has been the most stable in both areas. I imagine at some point Brees will contemplate retirement, if he hasn’t already, but he’s still got a few good years left, so don’t expect that coach/qb combo to change anytime soon.

The NFL specializes in turnover, so it really is a testament to the teams in the NFC South that they’ve gotten as much consistency out of the two most important positions on a football over the past decade.

Just don’t be surprised when those familiar faces start to change; sooner rather than later.

Clipped Wings

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

We all saw this coming from Week 1. The Atlanta Falcons lost again, falling to 1-7. How did we get to this point? Should we be surprised?

It’s been all downhill since the epic Super Bowl LI collapse. That is understandable since there is nowhere to go but down.

Kyle Shanahan was the offensive coordinator during that time. He left to take the head coach position in San Francisco.

The Atlanta offense has struggled since his departure. He currently has the 49ers at 7-0, the only undefeated team in the NFC.

Dirk Koetter has returned as offensive coordinator this season, after his first stint in Atlanta (2012-14). On paper, the offense is decent. Their ranked 7th in total offense, averaging 386 yards per game. They lead the league in passing offense. They are ranked 29th in rushing offense with 69 ypg.

We have grown accustomed to bad Falcons defense and this year is no different. They rank 27th in total defense, giving up 31 points and 380 ypg.

They were 28th last season. We know Dan Quinn got this job because he led a great defense in Seattle. That has not translated in Atlanta.

The Seahawks won 27-20 so the final score was close. Matt Ryan missed his first game in 10 years with an ankle injury. His streak of 154 consecutive regular-season starts ended.

They trailed 24-0 at halftime but they played considerably better in the second half.

“We have to come out for the second half of the season the way we came out for the second half of the game today,” Quinn said.

Seattle rushed for 151 yards. Atlanta has been outscored 144-50 in the first half this season. The Falcons have faced six double-digit halftime deficits.

Team owner Arthur Blank said after the game he will “take the next couple of weeks … and evaluate where we are” before reaching a decision on Quinn’s future. He said the record is “just not acceptable at any level.”

The offensive line has been a problem and the team tried to fix it in the draft. The team made a $150 million investment in Ryan, but they have to keep him upright and healthy.

The bad offensive line also makes it difficult to establish the run game. Losing running back Tevin Coleman in free agency was also a tough blow. I always thought he was better than Devonta Freeman and he’s having a better season.

In his last game against Carolina, Coleman rushed for 105 yards and 3 touchdowns. Freeman has not rushed for 90 yards in any game this year.

Kicking has also been an issue for the Falcons. Matt Bryant missed two field goals in the second quarter. In Week 6, he missed an extra point to tie the game in the final seconds against Arizona. He’s made 64% of his field goals in 2019. His career average is 86%.

The team is going into their bye week, so they will go about two weeks without losing another game.

They return Week 10 at New Orleans. The following week is at Carolina. They will be under dogs in both of those games.

At this point general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Quinn should be fired as soon as possible. They need to clean house and select the right player with the third pick in the upcoming draft.

Failure To Fly

By: JJ Lanier news services

Making it to the proverbial mountain top is the goal of almost any athlete and coach.

The only problem with getting to the top is things can only go down from there. The Falcons may not have technically made it to the top of the mountain, but they, and Dan Quinn in particular, are finding out how quickly that fall can come.

So, here’s the good- Quinn ended an 18 draught for Falcons when he led them to the Super Bowl a few years ago.

He also guided them back to the playoffs the following year, something most teams that lost in the previous years’ championship game had struggled to repeat, so I give him credit for that. Plus, the Falcons have had some injuries, particularly on defense, which should be taken into account.

Now for the bad news- in today’s NFL none of what I mentioned above really matters, especially when you didn’t actually win the Super Bowl.

Since their Super Bowl appearance three years ago, Atlanta’s win total for each season has been 10-7-and “on pace for fewer than 7 wins this year”.

I realize after you win 14 games you’re going to step back, and 10 wins certainly isn’t anything to shrug, but it’s still a continual decline.

Defensively, the Falcons have had difficulty stopping the run and forcing turnovers; not a great combination, to say the least.

Fortunately, outside of the Houston game, where their defense had more leaks than the staff at the White House, they’ve been able to minimize the damage when it comes to points.

Surprisingly enough, the offensive side is really where they’ve been hurting. Matt Ryan is currently having a career worst TD/INT ratio and the running game is basically nonexistent.

Point being, you can deal with a few less wins each year as long as there isn’t a huge drop off in performance on the field, which isn’t the case.

Throw in the injuries to Drew Brees and Cam Newton, combined with Tampa’s inconsistency, and the season was opening up to be Atlanta’s for the taking.

The Falcons have yet to face either of those teams. All three are playing better than expected, so while their success isn’t a direct correlation to Atlanta’s struggles, it does make the season up to this point that much harder to handle.

You also can’t ignore Atlanta has some pretty high priced players that are right in the middle of their primes (Julio Jones) or close to nearing the end (Ryan), adding additional urgency to each season.

Personally, I don’t think Quinn should be in danger of losing his job, but the Falcons care about my opinion as much as McDonald’s does about my individual boycott of the McRib- seriously, that whole sandwich is just unnatural.

But, it’s all about what have you done for me lately, and if this current trajectory continues, Quinn answer will be very short.

I remember the simultaneous look of joy and exasperation on the face of my high school chemistry teacher when she found out we (her students) had the highest end of course test scores in the state; she was at the top of the mountain.

Unfortunately for Quinn he’s currently experiencing the exasperation and difficulty in Atlanta without having ever experienced the joy beforehand.

If things don’t change, he may not have to worry about it anymore, at least not in Atlanta.

Time to Rise Up

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The Atlanta Falcons are off to a 1-3 start. The beginning of the Dan Quinn era started great but it’s been all downhill since the Super Bowl LI debacle.

On Sunday, the Falcons lost to Tennessee (2-2) 24-10. The Titans are not a good football team and this was a home game, so this is a bad loss. The question is who is to blame for this terrible start? Can Atlanta turn this season around?

“It is a tough loss, and we’re as disappointed as our fans are,” Quinn said. “You better believe we’re going to look at everything. When you’re sitting at 1-3, you want to make sure you’re finding the answers.”

The first person to start with is head coach Dan Quinn. He took over as the HC in 2015. He’s a former defensive coordinator and so far he has not produced a good defense in Atlanta. They ranked 28th in total defense last season. This season they make every team look like super stars.

Marcus Mariota has been a bust thus far in his NFL career. He’s consistently injured and his play is inconsistent. He played poorly in the previous two losses before they broke that streak against the Falcons. He had 227 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions and completed 66% of his passes.

Rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown had 3 receptions, 94 yards and 2 TD’s. Derrick Henry rushed for 100 yards. You can see the defense didn’t stop the run or pass.

The talent on the roster has been built by Quinn over the last 5 years. Sadly, they are in the same position they were in back in 2015.

“When you see Atlanta, what bothers you is if they don’t get to the quarterback, it’s all about speed (in the secondary),” Phil Simms said on “The NFL Today” studio show. “They play one defense. Guys wide open.”

The defense under Quinn consistently has gaping holes in the zone coverage, poor angles to pass-catchers and lack of speed in the secondary. The first two things can be attributed to Quinn’s defensive design and poor technique by his players.

The strength is supposed to be on the offense and they are playing poorly. Dirk Koetter is back in his second stint as offensive coordinator in 2019.

He previously held the OC position in Atlanta from 2012-14. Some of the growing pains might be from him trying to get familiar with the new talent on the roster.

Atlanta also has a poor offensive line they tried to fix in the offseason. They drafted two offensive linemen in the first round and guard Chris Lindstrom broke his foot in the season opener.

Guard Jamon Brown left the Titans game with a concussion in the first half and could not return.

Center Alex Mack has never missed a game in his Falcons career but he had to leave Sunday’s game with an elbow injury. He was able to return later in the third quarter.

Because of the poor line play, Atlanta cannot run the ball or protect Matt Ryan. The Falcons are ranked 27th in rushing offense with 70 yards per game. Ryan has 8 TD’s and 6 interceptions this season.

He’s second in the league in passing yards behind Patrick Mahomes by less than 200 yards. The difference is Mahomes has 10 TD’s and no INT’s.

There are two division rivals playing with backup quarterbacks and Atlanta still will not win the division. Hopefully they end up with a top 5 pick at the end of the year.

Turn Off The Cam-Era

By: JJ Lanier news services

We like our athletes a certain way- strait-laced, singularly focused on winning, and someone who plays the game the “right way”.

Of course, the definition of “right way” seems to change depending on what team the player is on.

So, when you have someone as gregarious as Cam Newton, playing the most visible position there is in sports, he’s going to be a lightning rod for all sorts of criticism.

This has led to numerous hot topic articles such as Newton’s post game press conference attire and how he only cares for himself. (Who cares about what he wears; Dwayne Wade wore pants to a presser that were size Osh Kosh B’Gosh for crying out loud. And as for Newton’s selfishness, that’s easily debunked by simply Googling “Cam Newton Charity Work”.)

While those topics may be fun to write about, the main storyline concerning Newton should revolve around whether or not it’s time for he and the Panthers to part ways.

It’s not a new sentiment by any means, but up until recently it was one whose fuel was fired by those who didn’t like Cam for reasons beyond his play on the field.

After the Panthers Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay, WFAN’s Joe Ovies tweeted: “Cam Newton game theory: Proving your shoulder strength is fine by overthrowing it every other pass attempt.” Besides wishing I had come up with that quip, the only thing I would’ve added was “…. while running for his life behind a porous offensive line.”

Cam shoulders a lot of the blame for his play when it comes to his lack of accuracy and his decision making, neither of which has improved much since he was drafted, but it’s not completely his fault he and the Panthers organization may have to decide on his future quicker than originally anticipated.

I think everyone could foreshadow his injuries due to way Cam plays the game, but Carolina’s inability to provide their franchise quarterback with any type of stability on the offensive line sure did expedite the whole thing.

I don’t remember exactly where I read it, but Cam has apparently had either a different Left Tackle or Guard to begin every season since 2013. It’s kind of hard to feel comfortable in a pocket when the people protecting your blindside change as often as Jon Gruden’s feelings towards his quarterbacks. (Knock on wood if you’re with me.)

Plus, it’s not like Cam has had an abundance of talent at the wideout position to help him as he’s scrambling for his life.

Kelvin Benjamin’s talent was surpassed only by his love for Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and Devin Funchess was so ineffective I actually forgot his name for a second.

The Panthers do have some young talent at the position now, but with the beating Cam has taken I’m not sure if it even matters at this point.

Behind Steve Smith and Julius Peppers, Cam is probably my third favorite Panther, so I very reluctantly answer the question I posed above about parting ways with a “yes”.

I still believe Cam can play and is an above average quarterback, I’m just not sure Carolina is where it’s going to happen. Both sides have legitimately done their best to make it work, it just didn’t turn out like they had hoped.

Whether his departure takes place this year or down the road, Cam’s positive impact on the Panthers and the city Charlotte will speak much louder than his fashion sense.

As The Jaguars Turn

By: Robert Craft news services

Just barely into a long NFL season, and the Jacksonville Jaguars look like a franchise in chaos. Injuries, poor coaching, and a star player demanding a trade hovers over DUVAL.

The Jaguars made a huge splash in the off season by signing Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles. The deal was a four-year contract worth $88 million. The deal reportedly has 50 million dollars guaranteed.

Nick Foles’ Jaguars debut did not follow script. Foles was injured in the first quarter against Kansas City, suffering a broken left clavicle (collar bone). Rookie Gardner Minshew replaced Foles after the injury.

The Jaguars’ aspirations for a revival this season relied on Foles arrival. Many fans believe the Jaguars are one capable quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender.

Just one quarter into the season, the Jaguars already were left dealing with an injury to Foles and now they will be without him for 8 to 10 weeks.

Game two was filled with drama. First on the field, trailing 13-6 with three minutes remaining, the Jaguars took possession at their 32-yard line. Gardner Minshew lead a two minute and thirty second drive capped with a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.

Coach Doug Marrone decided to go for a two-point conversion.  Leonard Fournette was stopped inches short of the goal line and the Jaguars fell 13-12.

Doug Marrone must have thought he was a Riverboat gambler, who decided to risk the game on a controversial decision to go for two-point conversion at the end of the game.

From the decision to the actual play call, Fournette run between the tackles. The question remains why go for two?

The Jaguars defense was playing extremely well. Minshew had the hot hand, leading a 68-yard scoring drive.

Coach Marrone just outsmarted himself and his team paid the price. My opinion, the Jaguars should have taken their chances with momentum into overtime.

The headline story Jags camp was the sideline spat between All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and head coach Doug Marrone.

On a third down play, Ramsey was covering Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.  Hopkins made a diving catch and Ramsey immediately jumps up and waves his arms to signal incomplete.

Ramsey wanted Coach Marrone to have the play reviewed. Marrone did not throw the red challenge flag. The drive continued and the Texans kicked a field goal to take the lead 3-0.

Gene Steratore, the CBS official analysis, stated the it looked pretty clear that it was not a catch. Ramsey walking off the field clearly upset and when Coach Marrone said something to him, he turned around and the two went at it.

Marrone put his hands on Ramsey, who jerked away. Moments later, he walked over to Ramsey and said something that set him off again. Ronnie Harrison had to get between Ramsey and Coach Marrone.

That’s when it ended. Not so fast.

On the following Monday, the Jaguars All-Pro cornerback demanded a trade. Ramsey must be taking a line out of Antonio Brown’s off-field play book.

Ramsey quoted “the whole city trash. Coaches trash, fans trash too. They only care about crab trays and hard drugs. I’m Out!”


Lifting Off?

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

We are only 2 weeks into the NFL season so there are still many questions that have not been answered.

The team I’m specifically referring to is the Atlanta Falcons. They lost the season opener at Minnesota. Then they rebounded and won a Sunday night game against Philadelphia.

They looked like two different teams. In the first game, the Vikings ran all over Atlanta and won 28-12. They only threw the ball 10 times, which is unheard of in 2019.

What I find troubling about this is head coach Dan Quinn. He is a former defensive coordinator from the Seattle Seahawks. He was there during their last Super Bowl run. Logically, we expected him to turn the Falcons into an elite defense and that has not happened yet.

There were several key injuries last season to players like Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones. All of those players returned to start the season and the defense gave up 111 yards and 2 touchdowns to Dalvin Cook.

Minnesota missed the playoffs last season and they are not a contender this year. A loss like that makes me scratch my head.

The next game against the Eagles is completely different. They just won the Super Bowl in 2017 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2018. They are considered the best team in their division.

Atlanta won the game 24-20. They forced Carson Wentz to throw 2 interceptions. They also held Philly to only 49 yards rushing. That’s impressive but the Eagles are not a good running team so we have to take that into account.

Matt Ryan threw for 320 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 picks. They rushed for 57 yards. Julio Jones scored 2 touchdowns and had 106 receiving yards.

He became the franchise’s career leader in receiving yards with his winning score, passing Roddy White.

“He’s had a lot of great ones, that’s for sure,” said quarterback Matt Ryan. “It’s special for him to break a record that way, in such a critical situation, in such a clutch moment. That’s pretty cool.”

Calvin Ridley had his second 100-yard receiving game of his career, hauling in 8 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Falcons rookie tackle Kaleb McGary was injured in the second quarter with a left knee injury. He did return in the fourth quarter.

That’s good news because he should be able to continue playing for the rest of the season. He’s one of the two linemen drafted by Atlanta in the first round. The other, guard Chris Lindstrom broke his foot in the first game and was placed on IR.

Last season the team struggled to protect Ryan and that might be an issue this season. The team also cannot run the ball. That means Ryan will have to throw more so the chance for interceptions goes up.

Previously Atlanta has played to the level of their competition and that has not changed. The next four games are against Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston and Arizona. They should be favored to win all of those games.

The schedule gets tougher Week 7 with home games against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle. Week 9 is the bye week.

Drew Brees has ligament damage in his right thumb and he will undergo surgery. He could miss 6 weeks. That means the team that was the favorite in the NFC South is now just as bad as Carolina and Tampa Bay.

By default, the Falcons are the best team in the division. Let’s see if they take advantage and build a big division lead.

The Strong Silent Type

By: JJ Lanier news services

For the better part of a decade at the wide receiver position, there has been almost a direct correlation between a player’s ability to perform on the field and his antics off it. The crazier the antics the more talented the player must be, otherwise why put up with it.

That said, it’s somewhat poetic that on the same day Antonio Brown is turning in a diva performance the entire cast of “Real Housewives of New York City” would’ve been proud of, Julio Jones is signed a contract making him the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.

I say this because when a player like Jones- someone who doesn’t throw sideline rants, blames losses on his lack of targets, or post videos on social media demeaning the organization he plays for- becomes the highest paid, it almost catches you by surprise. (During the stretch when Jones wasn’t getting many red zone targets, could you have pictured him posting a video of all his touchdown catches in Atlanta followed by the words “Remember Me???” as the video fades to black? Now how about Brown?)

I’m sure Jones is more vocal behind closed doors, but if so that at least seems to be where those conversations stay. And while some may look at him holding out as diva-like behavior I have no issue with it, especially when you consider the way it’s been handled by both Jones and the Falcons.

There are several different avenues to venture down when you discuss making a 30-year-old the highest paid wideout in the league, but the real story that will have implications across the league are the terms of the extension- $66 million over the next three years, all guaranteed.

Regardless of what side of the argument you fall on- whether contracts should be guaranteed or not- you must admit Jones’ contract could be the turning point for how those contracts are handled in the NFL.

How many times have you heard of a deal stalling out not because of the length or total money involved, but because of the guaranteed dollars?

As annoying as it is, there’s a reason “The number of years or total dollar amount doesn’t matter, it’s all about what’s guaranteed” comment is ingrained in our minds. I understand why NFL money isn’t guaranteed, but it’s a huge hurdle that sometimes can’t be overcome.

In a profession where contracts are built upon existing contracts with other players, why in the world would another player of Jones’ caliber settle for anything less than a fully guaranteed contract, or at least something close to that. If I were him, I wouldn’t.

I’m not saying this is something that will happen overnight, or take place for every player in the league, but the precedent has been set and I imagine there will be a line of football players waiting to follow in Jones’ footsteps.

Whether or not you believe Jones is worth the money at this stage of his career, or if you think he’ll have lived up to his contract five years from now may not even matter.

There’s a good chance we’ll look back at his signing as a change of the times and something that may alter the way the NFL handles contracts from here on out.

And it all happened without the use of Instagram.

Running Division

By: JJ Lanier news services

When it comes to the NFL, quarterbacks are going to get most of the publicity, good or bad. And if two of the last four NFL MVP’s have been quarterbacks within your division (Cam Newton, Matt Ryan) and a third is a future first ballot Hall of Famer who also happens to be the all-time leader in passing yards (Drew Brees) you can understand why the position gets the attention it does.

However, if you look past the big names at the top of marquee, you’ll see the teams in the NFC South have a pretty impressive supporting cast, especially at the running back position.

Atlanta Falcons: DeVonta Freeman.

The Falcons running back reminds me of the younger brother you never let play in your buddies’ pickup games until mom forces you to let him play, only to find out he was better than most of your friends.

Since his arrival in 2014, Freeman has quietly put together a very underrated start to his career. In the three years leading up to this last season, when Freeman was inured for all but two games, he was averaging just under 1,500 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns a year.

That may not put him on the level of the next two players I’m about to mention, but that is the type of production almost any coach would take from the running back position.

Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey.

There were times last season where it felt like McCaffrey had his hands on the ball more than Cam Newton.

McCaffrey saw his rushing attempts almost double in his second full season, but much like Freeman, his main potency comes from catching balls out of the backfield; he had 107 receptions this past season.

He had almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year and as much as Newton is the main driver within the offense, McCaffrey has become the focal point.

New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara.

The Saints running back is the Fantasy Football gift that just keeps giving. His numbers actually fall in between the aforementioned Freeman and McCaffrey, but his ability to break loose for the big play/score puts him a category just above his divisional peers.

In today’s NFL, where catching the ball out of the backfield is almost as important to a running back as their ability to run between the tackles, don’t be surprised if Kamara becomes a Top 5 within the next year or two.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Peyton Barber.

My wife always says to ignore anything that comes before “…..but,” so I’m going to dispense with the niceties; Barber just isn’t on the level with the three that I’ve mentioned.

The former Auburn Tiger running back is much more one dimensional than his counterparts and yet he may still be the worst of the four in that one particular area.

In a story where I’m trying to make the case that the strength of the running back position in the NFC South is on par with any other division in the NFL, Barber is the counterpoint to that argument.

Over the past few years the NFC South has been able to place much of their notoriety on the shoulders of Brees, Ryan, and Newton.

For a variety of reasons, they may be forced in the near future to turn to a different set of players. Those players may already be in place; they just happen to be at a different position.

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