The new faces in the NFC South actually feature familiar faces changing teams within the division, as well as an influx of defensive talent. Tampa Bay was a very young team and effectively quit on their former coach Raheem Morris as last season collapsed. With a new head coach, they hope to rebound from that disaster by adding some veterans who don’t make this list, like Dallas Clark in place of Kellen Winslow III. Oh, and there was this little thing in New Orleans this offseason. Here are the 10 most notable new faces in the NFC South for 2012.
10. Asante Samuel, Atlanta. Samuel is not the most willing run defender, but can still cover. The Falcons only major splash of the free agency/draft, Samuel should start opposite Brent Grimes and move Dunta Robinson to the third cornerback.
9. Ben Grubbs, New Orleans. New Orleans lost one of their all-pro guards, but were able to at least sign a replacement in Grubbs from Baltimore.
8. Coach Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay. College coaches never work, right? Well, except for Jim Harbaugh and those that preceded him, compared to defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator hires.
7. Mark Barron, Tampa Bay. Tampa has needs everywhere defensively, and is hoping the young defensive line comes together with better health and experience. Thus, they went with the best safety in the draft to try to bolster the back end. Tampa tied with division opponent Carolina by giving up the most net yards per pass. Barron should improve that in 2012.
6. Curtis Lofton, New Orleans. Lost amid the Bounty-Gate drama and Jonathan Vilma’s role in it, the Lofton signing is a key one in that it upgrades the position, and also takes away a key player from division rival Atlanta. Of course, one taketh, and one giveth . . .
5. Carl Nicks, Tampa Bay. The Saints had to pay Drew Brees, Marques Colston and Carl Nicks this offseason, and could not keep all of them, particularly once they had to use the franchise tag on Brees. Nicks then signed with the Buccaneers, where he joins a young offensive line that could emerge in 2012.
4. The Coaches Not Named Sean Payton, New Orleans. Yeah, they are not all new faces in the Saints organization–Joe Vitt even got suspended for the first six games as well–but they will be new faces on your television while Sean Payton is off playing the bongos and dancing like you would expect Sean Payton to dance.
3. RB Doug Martin, Tampa Bay. I’m not sure if Martin can be called a sleeper by the time your fantasy football draft rolls around in a few weeks. If he looks good in limited action, I expect him to approach the top 15 running backs. With Nicks now blocking for him, Martin will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact.
2. LBs Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason, Carolina. Carolina’s defense was horrid last year, preventing what turned out to be a pretty good offense from ending with a winning record. Beason tore his Achilles in the first game, and Kuechly was drafted ninth overall. I expect Beason to play in the middle and the athletic Kuechly outside to start, and the addition of both makes the Panthers a much better bet for the playoffs in year 2 for Cam Newton.
1. WR Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay. Vincent Jackson always wanted to get paid in San Diego, but could not settle differences with GM A.J. Smith. When he finally hit open free agency, he found a team willing to add a playmaker and give him the money he wants. Josh Freeman is coming off a poor season (though not as poor as most think once you account for the lack of professionalism at receiver and help on offense). I expect the Jackson-Freeman combo to produce solid numbers right away.
[photo via US Presswire]