Who is the NFC South's biggest rising star? Our roundtable reporters give their picks.
Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: There is a reason Falcons linebacker Deion Jones made the Pro Bowl last year in just his second season. His blazing speed was evident from Day 1, and that has made him one of the top coverage linebackers around. He's found his voice running the defense and is in total command. Plus Jones' athleticism is off the charts, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees found out when Jones picked him off with a leaping interception to win last year's showdown in Atlanta. Jones, who is pushed hard by linebackers coach and former 10-year NFL vet Jeff Ulbrich, will only get better with more seasoning. He has 244 combined tackles, six interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns in 31 games.
David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: It might be too late to call him rising, since New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara emerged as a star during his rookie season a year ago. He'll have an even bigger chance to shine to start this season with Mark Ingram suspended for the first four games. But it seems like Kamara would have had a bigger role this season regardless of Ingram's situation. He was the steal of the draft a year ago when New Orleans got him in the third round. He arguably performed better overall than any of the backs in a strong draft class, topping 700 yards rushing and 800 yards receiving. With Brees pulling the trigger, this kid can't help but have an even bigger season.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Kamara. The team is much easier to identify than the specific player in this category. You could make a strong case for Kamara (the NFL's reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (the NFL's reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year) or third-year receiver Michael Thomas, who just set the NFL record for most catches in the first two years of a career with 196. But I'll go with Kamara, since he generated the most buzz of this group with his dazzling 2017 performance as a triple threat. He ran for 728 yards with a league-leading 6.1 yards per carry. He caught 81 passes for 826 yards. And he scored 14 touchdowns -- including a 106-yard kickoff return. Kamara was voted as the 20th best player in the NFL on the NFL Network's annual ranking list this summer, and he was nominated for an ESPY for Best Breakthrough Athlete. Not bad for a third-round pick.
Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: Thomas, Saints. Kamara has already been anointed as the next big star not only for the Saints, but arguably for the entire NFL. I don't think his teammate, wide receiver Thomas, gets enough credit though for what he does. Some of that has to do with the fact that Brees spreads the ball around so much. And there's no question that having Kamara and Ingram makes Thomas' job easier, but Thomas is really tough to defend. In the regular season and postseasons combined last year, Thomas had receptions on 20.1 percent of his routes run, more than any other receiver in the league. That's a whole lot of getting open. What's also really impressive is how much damage Thomas did from the slot, averaging 3.63 yards per route run, the second-most in the Pro Football Focus era -- that's really uncommon, period, let alone for a 6-foot-3, 212-pounder. Plus, in two playoff games last season, Thomas had a combined 216 receiving yards and two touchdowns.