2014 NFC South Top Ten Offensive Performers
1. QB Drew Brees
Teams have rarely solved the puzzle that is Drew Brees and the Carolina Panthers are no exception. Short of an injury, Brees will continue to be a top three NFL quarterback next season, which easily keeps him in the number one position for 2014.
2. QB Matt Ryan
I want to believe Matt Ryan is overrated, but then I look at his regular season stats. The six year starter still managed to finish the 2013 season with the fourth most passing yards in the NFL and a 67% completion percentage despite being without Julio Jones for 11 games.
3. QB Cam Newton
Some of you may chastise me for ranking Ryan ahead of Newton. If you fall under this category, then don't beat me over the head too much because I'm still questioning the move myself. It's really a toss up. If Newton can quickly develop a rapport with Kelvin Benjamin and all of the veteran free agent signings, then his 2014 performance could very well surpass Ryan's.
4. TE Jimmy Graham
I cringe every time I think of Graham streaking open down the middle of the field against the Panthers. He is the highest rated non-quarterback on my list because of his immense value to the Saints offense and his affect on opposing defenses.
5. WR Julio Jones
The Panthers didn't have to face the Falcon's young stud wide-out last year because of a season ending foot injury in week five. Even though Jones hasn't fully recovered at this point, the odds are pretty good that he'll be ready for the first meeting of the season with the Panthers in week 11. Provided he can stay healthy, I'm looking for him to continue his ascension as one of the best receivers in the league.
6. Vincent Jackson
Jackson posted 1,106, 1,382 and 1,224 total receiving yards in each of his last three seasons with three different quarterbacks. With the addition of trusted veteran Josh McCown, something tells me he's destined to continue his four digit receiving yard run for a fourth consecutive season with his fourth different quarterback. Oddly enough, Jackson has yet to post a single hundred yard effort against the Panthers in a Bucs uniform, but he could suddenly see a great deal more single coverage with the addition of rookie's Mike Evans, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Robert Herron.
7. WR Roddy White
An injury plagued 2013 season may have ended White's six year run hitting the thousand yard receiving mark, but the 32 year old is still young enough to find his groove again. After a one year hiatus, it seems inevitable that he and Jones will get back to terrorizing defenses next season.
8. OT Zach Strief
There is little room to argue that Strief is the best tackle in the NFC South now that Jordan Gross has retired. The former 2006 seventh rounder has been a stalwart starter on the right side since 2011 and should continue to thrive there for a least a few more seasons.
9. C Ryan Kalil
In some circles, Kalil is viewed as being a bit overrated. This sentiment generally gets thrown around more frequently during games against the Bucs when number 67 has to line up across from an extremely talented tackle by the name of Gerald McCoy. Nevertheless, Kalil remains one of the best technicians in the game and he deserves to make this list while he is still in his prime.
10. Demar Dotson
Dotson has come a long way since he was scooped up by the Bucs as an undrafted free agent in 2009. The 6-foot-9, 315-pound behemoth of a man has developed into a top shelf right tackle, especially as a pass blocker. This certainly isn't a sexy way to end my top ten, but Dave Gettleman sure would be proud. That should count for something, right?
I was tempted to throw in a rookie with the likes of Mike Evans, Brandin Cooks and our very own Kelvin Benjamin joining the NFC South, but the veterans managed to win me over at the end of the day. I'm sure all three of these first year receivers will make an impact this coming season, but predicting them to surpass the players on this list would have been fumbling in the dark at best. Cooks is the most likely candidate in my mind simply because of how much the Saints like to throw the ball. I can only imagine he'll get plenty of chances to shine in that system.
Unfortunately, I could only find room for two Panthers. A steady Greg Olsen and an aging, perhaps inspired Deangelo Williams were considered, but that was as far as I could take it. In case you're wondering, there will be a top ten defensive version of this list and, as you might expect, the Panthers will be more heavily represented on that side of the ball.
Other notable names left off my list: G Jahri Evans and G Carl Nicks
Now that I've completed my list of who I believe will be the top offensive performers of 2014, it's your turn. Feel free to share your top ten and let the discussion begin.