There’s not a more lopsided division in the league than the NFC South.The Atlanta Falcons’ 6-0 start gives them a distinct advantage over second place, currently owned by the 2-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints are pulling up the rear at 1-5 in a division that was thought by many to be one of the most competitive in the league coming into the season. The Falcons have risen to the top with no significant contributions from their rookie class, while the Bucs and Panthers have relied heavily on their young players. The development of these rookies will go a long way to determining which team is able to rise from the pack and take control of second place in the division especially if they hope for a wild card berth later.
Let’s take a look at the NFC South’s rookie efforts.
Peter Konz, C
Draft: Second round, 55th overall
Snaps/Usage: 19 total snaps, including 8 at RG, 7 at C, and 4 at TE
Notes: The Falcons were without a first-round pick in the draft and they went with Konz in the second despite having their offensive line seemingly intact. He’s been limited to 19 snaps with a couple missed blocks leading to a -0.9 run block grade. This is his “red-shirt” year and the team hopes to have him replace Todd McClure as the starting center in 2013.
Other Falcons rookies: The Falcons went back to the offensive line with their second selection, third-round offensive tackle Lamar Holmes. He has yet to see the field this season though. Fifth-round fullback Brady Ewing is on injured reserve, while fellow fifth-rounder, defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi and sixth-round strong safety Charles Mitchell have not seen a snap in their respective backup roles. Seventh-round DT Travian Robertson has played six snaps while seeing action in only three games. The Falcons have received only 25 snaps from their entire rookie class. This is mainly due to the healthy talent ahead of them.
Luke Kuechly, OLB
Draft: First round, ninth overall
Snaps/Usage: 220 total snaps, mainly in base packages
Notes: After a rocky start, Kuechly has played much better in recent weeks, though he’s still our lowest-rated 4-3 outside linebacker at -4.7 overall. He was a tackling machine in college and he’s shown well in that department, as he’s missed only two of his 28 tackle attempts. Early in the season he was susceptible to play action, and offensive linemen have had their way with him at the second level in the running game, but we’ll see if he can build on his strong games the past two weeks.
Amini Silatolu, OG
Draft: Second round, 40th overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting left guard, 296 snaps
Notes: Drafted out of Division 2 Midwestern State, Silatolu has made the jump and played every snap at left guard this season. He was holding his own until he ran into the Seattle Seahawks’ front four that gave him problems in their Week 5 matchup. For the season he’s grading at -3.2 and his nine QB disruptions on 163 pass block attempts put him at 44th out of 56 qualifying guards.
Frank Alexander, DE
Draft: Fourth round, 103rd overall
Snaps/Usage: 151 total snaps, 92 rushing the passer
Notes: Alexander has been used mostly as a nickel pass rusher and he’s performed well in his role. He’s picked up 13 QB disruptions on his 92 rushes, good for a +4.7 pass rush grade. His Pass Rush Productivity (PRP) of 11.8 ranks 14th out of all 88 4-3 defensive ends who have rushed the passer this season.
Josh Norman, CB
Draft: Fifth round, 143rd pick
Snaps/Usage: 315 total snaps, 275 at RCB
Notes: A starter since opening day, Norman has been the Panthers’ primary right cornerback this season. He’s given up 21 of 31 balls thrown his way for 255 yards (12.1 yards/completion), though he’s also defended three passes. His -4.7 grade is 88th among 100 cornerbacks.
Brad Nortman, P
Draft: Sixth round, 207th overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting punter
Notes: Nortman has punted 26 times for an average of 43.9 yards/punt and a net of 38.8 yards/punt. His +4.7 grade ranks 21st among punters.
Other Panthers rookies: Fourth-round wide receiver Joe Adams has not seen the field on offense, but he’s returned nine kicks for 208 yards (23.1 Avg) and five punts for 42 yards (8.4 Avg).
New Orleans Saints
Akiem Hicks, DT
Draft: Third round, 89th overall
Snaps/Usage: 117 total snaps, 108 at DRT
Notes: With no picks until late in the third round, the Saints used their first selection on Hicks, who came out of small Regina College in Canada. He flashed some ability during the preseason and has carried it over into his limited time in the Saints’ defensive tackle rotation. Hicks has notched a QB hit and a hurry, as well as a batted pass on his 55 pass rushes while picking up five stops on his 62 snaps against the run (8.8% Run Stop %).
Corey White, CB
Draft: Fifth round, 162nd overall
Snaps/Usage: 329 snaps, 208 covering the slot
Notes: One of the most targeted slot cornerbacks in the league, White has had a difficult transition the NFL to this point. He ranks last in the league among slot CBs in a number of categories, including yards (242), YAC (126), touchdowns (two), QB Rating (146.4), Cover Snaps/Target (4.1), Yards/Cover Snap (2.78), and Cover Snaps/Reception (5.1).
Other Saints rookies: Though technically a free agent before the 2011 season, WR Joe Morgan has seen his first NFL action this year. He flashed his big play ability with an 80-yard touchdown in Week 4, but he’s dropped two of the six passes thrown his way.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mark Barron, SS
Draft: 1st round, seventh overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting strong safety, 352 total snaps (98.9%)
Notes: A starter since day one, Barron has been one of the better safeties in the league in his rookie season. He’s tied for fifth among safeties with a +3.8 run stop grade, and he’s made strides in coverage since a rough debut. His 208 yards surrendered into his coverage is eighth-worst in the league, though he hasn’t given up a pass over 24 yards.
Doug Martin, RB
Draft: First round, 31st overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting running back, 218 total snaps
Notes: Martin has stepped right in as Tampa Bay’s primary ballcarrier and, despite averaging only 3.8 yards/carry, he’s shown the ability to make defenders miss. He’s sixth in the league among qualifiers with an Elusive Rating of 39.7 on the strength of 16 forced missed tackles and 2.33 yards after contact. The only question now is when Martin is going to be trusted to handle a full workload, as his opportunities have lessened every week since carrying the ball 24 times on opening day.
Lavonte David, OLB
Draft: Second round, 58th overall
Snaps/Usage: Starting outside linebacker, 338 total snaps (95%)
Notes: Like Barron, Davis was brought in to start at a position of need for Tampa Bay. He’s tied for sixth among 4-3 outside linebackers with 37 tackles and tied for ninth with 20 stops. He’s played well in coverage, and his ’s 0.91 Yards/Cover Snap ranks ninth at the position.
Other Buccaneers rookies: Sixth-round CB Keith Tandy has yet to play on defense, but he’s contributed on special teams (-0.5). Seventh-round RB Michael Smith has also done all of his work on special teams, and he’s returned three kicks for 55 yards (18.3 yards/return). Undrafted free agent CB Leonard Johnson has played 26 snaps. He missed his only tackle attempt, but also defended the only pass thrown his way. Undrafted tight end Danny Noble has been used as an extra run blocker on six of his seven snaps.
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