NFC South top 25: No. 22

We continue our series of my projected top 25 players in the NFC South for the 2012 season with No. 22:

Josh Freeman, quarterback, Tampa Bay

What he did in 2011: After a tremendous first full season as a starter in 2010, Freeman appeared to take a major step back last season. He threw for 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. At times, he appeared to be nervous. At other times, he appeared to be forcing things. Freeman was bad, but so was his supporting cast and his coaching.

Why he’s No. 22 in 2012: The front office and the coaching staff firmly believe Freeman can be a franchise quarterback. They think the physical tools, work ethic and intangibles all are there. The front office already has done its part, signing free-agent Vincent Jackson to be the No. 1 wide receiver, drafting Doug Martin and planning to use him as an all-purpose running back and adding All-Pro guard Carl Nicks to an offensive line that looks like it has a chance to be very good. Freeman’s learning a new offense with coordinator Mike Sullivan, but it’s an offense that’s supposed to put him in a position to succeed. Freeman didn’t really have a chance last year because so much was going wrong around him. This year, there are no excuses. It’s time to find out what Freeman truly can do.