Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The assignment sounded simple enough.
"Draft 10 players from the NFC South, with the goal being to win Super Bowls for the next three seasons," my bosses in Bristol said.
After agonizing for way longer than I expected (particularly on the last few spots), I came up with my list. Let's be clear that this is not necessarily a list of the 10 best players in the division; otherwise I might have included veterans Tony Gonzalez, Ronde Barber and John Abraham.
I'm working with a three-year window, and I don't know if those guys will hold up for the long haul. Heck, I'm not even sure Julius Peppers, who probably is the best pure athlete in the division, will be around for the short term. That's why I left him off my team, which probably isn't one of the four he wants to be traded to anyway.
I'm going only with guys I can count on, and I'm focusing on the most important positions. I'm guessing we can fill in spots like tight end and safety with free agents.
For now, here are my top 10 picks and, remember, I'm basing this on a three-year window:
1. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. You start a franchise with a quarterback, and this guy threw for more than 5,000 yards last year.
2. Jordan Gross, T, Carolina. When you start with a quarterback, you've got to protect his blind side. Gross is the best pass-blocker in the division.
3. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina. If I were ranking by best overall players in the division, I'd start with Smith. As it is, I'll take him third and let him be Brees' top target. He originally was drafted in the third round anyway and this will keep the chip on his shoulder.
4. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. I'm taking two quarterbacks because I can. If the window had been five years, I probably would have started this list with Ryan.
5. Michael Turner, RB, Atlanta. Just imagine what Brees can do with a 1,500-yard rusher behind him.
6. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina. It's a close call between Turner and Williams, but I'll be happy to let them share carries. For those who disagree with the order, picture Williams behind Atlanta's offensive line. Now, picture Turner behind Carolina's. I rest my case.
7. Jon Beason, LB, Carolina. I've ignored defense so far, so I guess Sean Payton is the logical coach for this team. But Beason's the most solid defensive player in the division.
8. Jonathan Vilma, LB, New Orleans. Can't ignore defense any longer, and I'm going to load up on guys who've played the middle and just let them fly around.
9. Barrett Ruud, LB, Tampa Bay. Same logic as Vilma.
10. Chris Gamble, CB, Carolina. I came real close to going with Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White for the final spot. But it's tough to find shutdown corners, and Gamble's the only guy in the division who fits that profile.