How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

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Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas



Michael Clayton, wide receiver, Buccaneers. Depending on how you want to count them, he dropped either three or four passes against Philadelphia on Sunday. Prior to that, Clayton hadn’t really done anything positive season having a nice season opener.

After spending the last few years in Jon Gruden’s doghouse, the new regime surprised everyone by re-signing Clayton and giving him a fresh start. Now, he might have played his way out of a starting job. After the opener, coach Raheem Morris challenged anyone in the media to question why the Bucs re-signed Clayton. I’ll take that challenge, but I think I’m already standing in a long line. Bryant

Antonio Bryant, wide receiver, Buccaneers. The only thing keeping Bryant from getting totally bashed is that he’s got a nice lightning rod in Clayton. Bryant dropped two, maybe three passes Sunday.

That’s two or three more than a wide receiver who is making $10 million under the franchise tag should drop. Bryant was more than a little bit upset when the Bucs franchised him instead of giving him a massive and lengthy extension after he had a big season last year. Part of the reason the Bucs didn’t lock Bryant up was because they weren’t sure he could do it again. So far, he hasn’t. Williams

DeAngelo Williams, running back, Panthers. Remember back in the preseason when Gruden, in his new role as a television analyst, said Williams might be the best running back in the league and got everyone stirred up? Carolina fans made the mistake of buying into that and expecting Williams to post even loftier numbers than he did last season.

So far, Williams is posting Nick Goings numbers. We’ll put some of the blame on the offensive line. But a guy with Williams’ talent should be doing far more than this.

Rising White

Roddy White, wide receiver, Falcons. He set a franchise record with 210 receiving yards Sunday against what was supposed to be a good San Francisco defense. White had started slowly after getting a big contract in the preseason. He said he put too much pressure on himself in the first three games and broke his slump only when he relaxed and went back to the same mentality he followed last year.

White has suddenly put himself back in contention for a Pro Bowl berth and is challenging New Orleans’ Marques Colston for the title as the NFC South’s best wide receiver. Smith

Steve Smith, wide receiver, Panthers. Yes, we know his numbers are drastically off. But we’re going to project here. Smith goes up against Tampa Bay’s secondary Sunday and he could shred a group that hasn’t been good this season.

Heck, by the time Smith’s done with the Bucs, he might vault back ahead of Colston and White and reclaim his spot as the division’s best receiver. Peppers

Julius Peppers, defensive end, Panthers. For one week anyway, the heat is off Peppers. He produced two sacks as Carolina beat Washington to get its first win.

People expect Peppers to get two or three sacks every week and that’s not even close to realistic. But Peppers can win over a lot of fans if he can just play with Sunday’s type of effort every week.