NFC South midseason awards

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

With the season at its halfway point -- or pretty close to it -- it's time for the midseason NFC South awards.

Most valuable player (offense): New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees. There's really no one else to consider here. Brees has been putting up numbers that could make him a candidate for the league's overall MVP. The bottom line here is that the injury-plagued Saints are 4-4 almost entirely because of Brees. Take him away and they'd be 0-8.

Most valuable player (defense): Atlanta defensive end John Abraham. Some people (mainly Carolina coach John Fox when he's defending Julius Peppers) like to say it's not all about sacks. Point taken. But Abraham has 10 sacks and has had a huge impact even with the Falcons wisely limiting his number of snaps.

Most valuable player (off the field): Carolina cornerback Ken Lucas. He might have made the biggest play of the entire season back in August. After getting punched out by teammate Steve Smith, Lucas instantly forgave the wide receiver -- and truly meant it. In the process, Lucas might have saved Smith's career, the jobs of coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney and set up the Panthers for a big season.

Best rookie: Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. No need for an explanation.

Best rookie not named Matt Ryan and not taken in the first round: Atlanta middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Carolina's Charles Godfrey and Tampa Bay's Jeremy Zuttah deserve mention, but Lofton has taken over as the quarterback of Atlanta's defense.

Most disappointing rookie: Tampa Bay receiver Dexter Jackson. The Bucs got their backs up right after the draft when some in the media suggested Jackson would be nothing more than a return man in his rookie season. Guess what? Jackson now doesn't even have that job, losing it to undrafted rookie Clifton Smith.

Best comeback: Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. His name has become synonymous with Tommy John, and that's a good thing.

Best individual performance that amounted to nothing: New Orleans' Reggie Bush against Minnesota. In a Monday night game at the Superdome, Bush returned two punts for touchdowns and the Saints still squandered the game.

Worst-laid plans: New Orleans' overhaul of its defense looked brilliant back in the offseason. But even though linebacker Jonathan Vilma has helped, injuries have made this defense look too much like last year.

Best reclamation project: Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Bryant. The guy was out of football last year and has become the team's No. 1 receiver. The Bucs have taken some grief for giving players too many chances. This is one case they can point to as a success story.

Best coaching job: Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden. Seriously. Yeah, you can say all you want about Gruden's offense and its inability to go downfield. But Gruden's found a way to win six games with rotating quarterbacks and Joey Galloway out for much of the time.

Best performance by an assistant coach: Atlanta offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. He doesn't have a lot of talent to work with, but Boudreau has been able to keep Ryan upright and allow Michael Turner to run for a bunch of yards.

Best unsung player: Carolina strong safety Chris Harris. He seems to force a fumble every week and he's been a big help to rookie Charles Godfrey at free safety. Harris has put himself in place for Pro Bowl consideration.