Sports fans, particularly those of football, are really hoping that football can be played this fall. With the Covid-19 pandemic still presenting a very real obstacle, football happening this fall is not a sure thing. But, regardless, analysis of the best players in the league can still happen. The latest series from the Last Word on Sports NFL department will be compiling a list of the 10 best players in each division heading into the 2020 season. The focus of this article is the NFC South.
Top Players of the NFC South Heading Into 2020
10. Chris Godwin
Chris Godwin, who came in at number 38 on the NFL top 100 list, has been in the NFL three seasons thus far. In those three seasons the talented wideout has 2,700 yards on 179 receptions and 17 touchdowns. Godwin really shined in 14 games in 2019, when he had 86 receptions for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl.
Starting this season, Godwin will now have Tom Brady throwing to him, which could help his numbers. And that bodes well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout because he was drafted in the third round (84th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft, so he is entering a contract season.
9. Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara was ranked number 42 on the NFL Top 100 list (voted on by the players) this year. In 2019, Kamara’s third year in the league, he played in 14 games (started nine). In those games the New Orleans Saints running back had 797 yards on 171 carries, averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and had five rushing touchdowns. He also added 81 receptions for 533 yards and another touchdown through the air. And that was with him playing on an injured leg for much of the 2019 season.
Kamara has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. Since Kamara was drafted by the Saints in the third round (67th overall), this will be a contract year for him. If Kamara remains healthy in 2020, it is possible he is ranked much higher in the NFL Top 100 next year.
8. Shaquil Barrett
Shaquil Barrett was ranked number 32 on the NFL Top 100 list and spent his first five seasons with the Denver Broncos. In 2019, Barrett’s first with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he started all 16 games and had an interception, two passes defensed, six forced fumbles, 19.5 sacks, and 58 tackles (19 tackles for a loss).
Barrett’s 19.5 sacks led the NFL last season and his performance in 2019 earned him his first Pro Bowl selection. This off-season the Bucs placed the franchise tag on Barrett and he is set to make $15.88 million in 2020. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach a long-term deal this off-season. Unless Tampa Bay places the tag on him again, Barrett will be a free agent next off-season.
7. Mike Evans
Mike Evans came in at 30 on the NFL Top 100 list. Evans is one of the better receivers in the league. He has spent his first six seasons in the NFL with the Bucs. In that time, he has played in 90 games and amassed 462 catches for 7,260 yards and 48 touchdowns. In 2019, Evans had 67 receptions for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns.
He has been named to the Pro Bowl three times (2016, 2018, and 2019) and finished as a top-10 receiver in four of his six seasons in the NFL. Like Godwin, Evans will now have Brady throwing to him and that could allow Evans to elevate his game even more. But it is also possible that Evans sees his number of targets reduced with Brady under center and Rob Gronkowski (didn’t make this list due to not playing in 2019) now with the Bucs.
6. Julio Jones
Julio Jones has been in the league nine seasons (all with the Atlanta Falcons) and during that time he has been one of the best wide receivers in the game. He came in at number 11 (also his jersey number) on the NFL Top 100 list. Jones has played in a total of 126 games and has 797 catches for 12,125 yards and 57 touchdowns. In 2019, he caught 99 balls for 1,394 yards and six touchdowns.
Jones has made the Pro Bowl seven of his nine seasons in the league and was named a First-Team All-Pro twice (2015 and 2016). If the Falcons would utilize Jones more in the red zone, he could be even more of a force on the field.
5. Cameron Jordan
Like Julio Jones, Cameron Jordan has been in the league since 2011 and has spent his entire career, thus far, with one team. Jordan has been a tremendous playmaker for the New Orleans Saints and came in at number 23 on the NFL Top 100 list. Jordan has played in 144 games for the Saints and he has two interceptions, one touchdown, 47 passes defended, 10 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, 87.0 sacks, and 463 tackles (113 tackles for a loss).
Jordan has been named to the Pro Bowl five times, including each of the last three seasons, and was named a First-Team All-Pro in 2017. Earlier this week Jordan appeared on “Good Morning Football” on the NFL Network and said the following regarding Brady and Saints quarterback Drew Brees:
“They’ve got the second-greatest quarterback of all-time, right behind Drew Brees, and now we’ve got a head-to-head two times a year.” “We’ve got our work cut out for us and then they have an addition, you bring in Rob Gronkowski and LeSean McCoy, you already had two 1,000-yard receivers in (Chris) Godwin and Mike Evans.
“This is a team that’s fighting for second place.”
It will be interesting to see if Jordan and the Saints defense can back up those words in their two matchups with the Bucs, the first of which is in Week 1.
4. Drew Brees
Drew Brees, who has played 19 years in the NFL, was ranked at 12 in the NFL Top 100. In those 19 seasons, Brees has played in 275 games and thrown for 77,416 yards with 547 touchdowns and 237 interceptions. Last season the Saints quarterback amassed 2,979 yards and 27 touchdowns with four interceptions, in 11 games.
He has been named to the Pro Bowl 13 times and has received First-Team All-Pro honors once (2006). In March this year Brees and the Saints agreed to a two-year, $50 million deal. But, if Brees were to retire with immediate effect he would leave the game as the league’s all-time leader in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, consecutive games with a touchdown pass, and career completion percentage.
3. Tom Brady
Tom Brady spent his first 20 years in the NFL with the New England Patriots before joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this off-season. The future Hall of Famer came in at 14 in the NFL Top 100. For his career, Brady has thrown for 74,571 yards with 541 touchdowns and 179 interceptions. In 2019, Brady threw for 4,057 yards and 24 touchdowns with eight picks.
He has made the Pro Bowl 14 times and was named First-Team All-Pro three times (2007, 2010, and 2017). Brady has been named the league MVP three times (2007, 2010 (unanimous), and 2017) and Super Bowl MVP a record four times (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XLIX, and LI). The former Michigan quarterback has been to the Super Bowl nine times and won six Lombardi Trophies. Even though this will be his first season with the Bucs and the off-season conditions aren’t ideal, Brady now has better weapons around him than he has had in a long time.
2. Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey has only been in the league for three seasons, but he’s already made a name for himself and was ranked sixth in the NFL Top 100 this year. In his first three NFL seasons, McCaffrey has rushed for 2,920 yards on 623 carries and has 24 rushing touchdowns. He also has 303 receptions for 2,523 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. In 2019, he had 287 rushes for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns and 116 catches for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns.
Last season he proved he is one of the best players in the NFL, not just the NFC South, and was named to the Pro Bowl and received First-Team All-Pro honors. When he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in 2019, he became just the third player in league history to do so. His 116 receptions last season is a league record for a running back. He is the only member of the Carolina Panthers to make the NFL Top 100 list this year.
1. Michael Thomas
Michael Thomas, who was ranked fifth on the NFL Top 100, has played four seasons in the NFL, all with the Saints. For his career, he has 470 receptions for 5,512 yards and 32 touchdowns. In 2019, Thomas put up ridiculous numbers with 149 catches for 1,725 yards and nine touchdowns.
He has made the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons and received First-Team All-Pro honors in 2018 and 2019. He was also the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year last season after once again leading the league in receptions. While Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook could potentially cause Thomas’ overall production to decrease in 2020, the talented receiver should still put up big numbers in 2020. There are a lot of talented wide receivers in the NFL, but Michael Thomas is one of the best to ever do it. And currently, either Thomas or DeAndre Hopkins can lay claim to being the best receiver in the league.
It will be interesting to see how all of these players perform in 2020 and how the NFC South shakes out.