NFC South rookies getting starts

Colleague Mike Sando has an interesting chart over on the NFC West blog that chronicles which first-round draft picks have been starting in the preseason.

It’s notable when it comes to the NFC South because the division has three first-round picks among the 21 who have started. But the NFC South also has two first-round picks that have not started a game.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the top overall draft pick, has started two of the Panthers’ three games. Tampa Bay defensive end Adrian Clayborn and Atlanta receiver Julio Jones have started all three of their team’s games.

The exceptions are New Orleans’ two first-round picks – running back Mark Ingram and defensive end Cameron Jordan. Don’t take that as a sign that Ingram and Jordan are struggling.

Ingram has played plenty, but the Saints have been starting veteran Pierre Thomas. Ingram’s likely to be a big part of a backfield rotation with Thomas and Darren Sproles. He could become the starter at some point. But, even if he’s not starting, Ingram’s going to get playing time.

The Saints are bringing Jordan along slowly, mainly because they can. They have Alex Brown and Will Smith as veteran starters and they also have some veteran backups. But Jordan’s chance for playing time could be accelerated if Smith is suspended. Smith tested positive for a banned substance in 2008 and the case was tied up in the legal system, but recently was resolved. There have been reports that Smith could be suspended for between two and four games.