As part of our look back on the first half of the season, we’re breaking down every division and looking at the top performances from each position.
Here’s the NFC South, and links to the others:
Quarterback: Matt Ryan (ATL)
There was a time when this position was owned by Drew Brees. Instead Ryan, our Mid-Season All-Pro, gets the nod thanks to his fantastic start to the season.
Running Back: Doug Martin (TB)
As much as Pierre Thomas is the highest graded back from the division, with just 58 carries it was impossible to give him the call here. Instead, the rapidly-improving Martin gets it, and that bodes well for the future of the Bucs.
Tight End: Greg Olsen (CAR) and Tony Gonzalez (ATL)
There is no fullback for this team because of the play of these two tight ends. Gonzalez has slowed down in recent weeks but still has the third-most yards of any tight end. Olsen is one of the few success stories in Carolina, though his performances recently have been a far cry from his Week 4 masterpiece.
Wide Receivers: Roddy White (ATL) and Vincent Jackson (TB)
Julio Jones may get more attention, but it’s Roddy White who is toe-tapping his way to another fantastic season. Meanwhile, Jackson has delivered instantly on his big deal with some fine performances, even as he plays through injury.
Tackles: Jordan Gross (CAR) and Zach Strief (NO)
While Donald Penn has played well, he can’t outdo the consistency of Gross, who is our 10th-ranked left tackle on the year. The right tackle spot was Tyson Clabo’s to lose, but that beatdown Charles Johnson put him still lingers. So Strief gets the nod.
Guards: Carl Nicks (TB) and Jahri Evans (NO)
We reunite Nicks and Evans, though this will be the last team the Bucs’ left guard makes this year after he was put on injured reserve. He was earning his contract up until that point, in the same way Evans was delivering on his.
Center: Todd McClure (ATL)
The veteran center is still getting the job done after all these years, even if he can be something of a liability (for a center) in pass protection.
Defensive Ends: John Abraham (ATL) and Charles Johnson (CAR)
Tough on Michael Bennett to miss out, but he’s tailed off after a hot start whereas Johnson and Abraham have feasted on tackles (for the most part). They’ve managed a combined 60 quarterback disruptions.
Defensive Tackle: Gerald McCoy (TB) and Vance Walker (ATL)
McCoy, who was a starter for our Mid-Season All-Pros, was a lock with his performance earning the second-highest grade of all 4-3 defensive tackles. Walker has been impressive as part of the Falcons’ rotation, showing a knack for making plays as others struggle with scheme changes.
Linebackers: Lavonte David (TB), Luke Kuechly (CAR) and Thomas Davis (CAR)
The two rookies started off slow but appear to be getting better and better with every game. The fact that Davis is able to play is a miracle in and of itself, but that he’s not looked out of place in doing so is a testament to the man. There’s been a lot to like about Sean Weatherspoon, but he can at times get caught out of position in the run game, and that’s why he misses out.
Cornerbacks: Asante Samuel (ATL) and Aqib Talib (TB)
Talib may be something of a head case, but his talent is undeniable. He’s been tested and has given up a lot of yards, but he’s also made a lot of plays against some very good receivers. Samuel still doesn’t know how to tackle, but his knack for making plays hasn’t gone away.
Safeties: Ronde Barber (TB) and William Moore (ATL)
After a disastrous last year at cornerback, things are certainly looking better for Barber at safety. He misses too many tackles still, as does his partner in this team, William Moore. The Falcon safety, though, has the ability to make game-changing plays and that’s valuable.
Kicker: Connor Barth
Punter: Thomas Morstead
Returner: Jacquizz Rodgers
Special Teamer: Courtney Roby
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