Who is the NFC South's biggest rising star? Our division reporters give their picks.
Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: As much as offense gets talked about in this division, there are several young defensive studs who deserve recognition, with Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. leading the way. Beasley recorded 15.5 sacks in just his second year in the league last season. In a division that features back-to-back MVP quarterbacks with a former Super Bowl MVP quarterback, as well, you can't put a price tag on what it means to have a guy like that wreaking havoc up front. Others to watch include Bucs middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, who led the NFL with 108 solo tackles last year; Falcons safety Keanu Neal, who led the NFL with 30 postseason tackles and Deion Jones, who topped linebackers in pass breakups with eight.
Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: I'm going to call it a tie between two former college teammates: Florida State products Devonta Freeman of the Falcons and Jameis Winston of the Buccaneers. Freeman has made his mark with consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 27 touchdowns during the past two seasons. The two-time Pro Bowler is set to earn a lucrative contract extension. Meanwhile, Winston brought a winning mentality from the moment he showed up in Tampa, and he's only going to get better with more weapons surrounding him. Winston finished last season winning six out of his last eight games.
David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: Beasley. One of the many reasons the Falcons emerged as a Super Bowl contender in 2016 was the emergence of the former Clemson star after switching from defensive end to outside linebacker. The eighth overall pick of the 2015 draft had a league-best 15.5 sacks after recording only four as a rookie. The more talent the Falcons put around him up front, the better he'll be. He has the physical presence to be among the league sack leaders for years to come.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Michael Thomas, Saints WR. I also considered Winston and Beasley here, since quarterbacks and edge rushers rule the NFL universe. But I'll show some love to the team I cover and to a receiver who just had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. Thomas' 92 catches last season were second only to Anquan Boldin's 101 in 2003 among rookies all time. The second-round draft pick from Ohio State also finished with 1,137 yards and nine touchdowns in just 15 games played -- with five of those TDs coming during his final eight games as his role increased. Believe it or not, the Saints have never had a Pro Bowl receiver in the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era because they spread the ball around so much. But I think Thomas could break that mold and join the class of fellow NFC South superstar receivers like Julio Jones and Mike Evans because he has the potential to be a red zone monster. Thomas is 6-foot-3 and said he is up to 220 pounds after adding 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason. He also doesn't shy away from lofty expectations, saying, "I want to be one of the best to ever play the game."