The 2010 season will not be remembered for great defense in the NFC South. That’s mainly due to the fact the Saints and Falcons each had massive defensive collapses in their playoff losses.
But put that aside and there were some strong individual performances during the regular season. We’re going to highlight some of those performances as we begin to unveil our All-NFC South team for the 2010 season. We’re going to start it off with the defense.
Defensive end: John Abraham, Atlanta Falcons. A lot of people thought he was washed up after a disappointing 2009 season. But Abraham bounced back in a big way. He finished the season with a division-high 13 sacks.
Defensive end: Charles Johnson, Carolina Panthers. After Julius Peppers left for the Chicago Bears, everyone wondered where the pass rush would come from. It ended up coming from Johnson, who produced 11.5 sacks. That number is even better than it sounds when you consider the fact the Panthers seldom were playing with leads and opposing teams didn’t have many games where they were trying desperately to catch up and throwing a lot.
Defensive tackle: Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta Falcons. Quite simply, he’s easily the best defensive tackle in this division. He also should get more recognition on a league-wide basis. Babineaux plays the run well, which is the main job of any defensive tackle. But he also generates a strong pass rush from the interior, which makes him something of a rarity.
Defensive tackle: Sedrick Ellis, New Orleans Saints. He stayed healthy enough to play in all 16 games for the first time in his three-year career. Ellis produced a career-high six sacks and played the run pretty well.
Linebacker: Curtis Lofton, Atlanta Falcons. Emerged as the unquestioned leader of an Atlanta defense that was good during the regular season. Started to show he can make some big plays, although there is room for more of that in the future.
Linebacker: Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans Saints. Probably the best all-around linebacker in the division. He did a little bit of everything – making tackles, forcing fumbles and making some plays as a pass defender.
Linebacker Jon Beason, Carolina Panthers. It was a strange season for Beason. He left his position in the middle to go outside when Thomas Davis went down with an injury before the season. After Dan Connor suffered a season-ending injury, Beason jumped back to the middle. It was a disastrous season for Carolina in many ways, but Beason was a major reason why the defense was somewhat respectable.
Cornerback Brent Grimes, Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta went out and spent a ton of money to sign Dunta Robinson. His presence helped the secondary, although Robinson didn’t put up huge numbers. Having Robinson on the other side prompted teams to challenge the undersized Grimes. But Grimes responded with five interceptions.
Cornerback: Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He appeared in only 11 games due to a one-game suspension and a late-season injury. The second cornerback spot on this team came down to Talib and New Orleans’ Jabari Greer, who might be the best cover corner in the division. But Greer produced only two interceptions. Talib had six in a short season.
Safety: Malcom Jenkins, New Orleans Saints. In his first season as a full-time starter and his first season as a safety, Jenkins emerged as perhaps the best defensive player on the team. He moved back over to cornerback when Greer and Tracy Porter were dealing with injuries. Jenkins made plays all season. But his real value might have been most obvious in the playoff loss. He had to sit out with an injury and the Saints were lost without him.
Safety: William Moore, Atlanta Falcons. Much like Jenkins, he was in his first season as a full-time starter. He showed an ability to make big plays. He and Thomas DeCoud should give Atlanta a nice safety tandem for the next several years.