With NFL training camp starting, fans will be looking at how the stars and the high draft picks for their favourite team will do this season. What fans often do not look at are potential sleepers that could make a big impact unexpectedly.
Today, we look at the NFC South. This is one of the rare divisions where every team has a star QB and there’s some uncertainty as to who will win the division year by year.
Taken in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, tight end Austin Hooper out of Stanford was taken to compete for the starting tight end spot. Last season, Hooper amassed 271 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns while starting 3 games.
This season with another year under his belt, Hooper has a better understanding of the Falcons’ playbook and has a chip on his shoulder after the devastating Super Bowl loss.
Taken in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell out of Minnesota was a steal for the Falcons. Last season, Campbell started in 10 games and piled up 35 tackles, 13 assisted tackles, 1 forced fumble and 7 passes defended. Although not great, it’s a good building block for a promising young linebacker. Look for Campbell to have a big year in his second season.
Taken in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft, cornerback Damontae Kazee out of San Diego State was taken by the Falcons to compete for starting time at the cornerback position.
Considered to be a good value draft pick, Kazee could make an impact in the nickel role behind Desmond Trufant and Jalen Collins. Kazee will see a lot of playing time on special teams to begin with, so if he ends up being productive, he’ll see playing time on defense.
Taken in the sixth round of this year’s NFL Draft, running back Alex Armah out of West Georgia was taken by Carolina to compete for the fullback position.
This offseason, the Panthers cut ties with long time fullback Mike Tolbert, which created a need at that position. Armah’s 6’2″ and 255 lbs. frame makes him a tough, rugged runner for this team.
Rookie Christian McCaffrey will need solid blocking for this upcoming season, and Armah and him will make a formidable duo for years to come.
Taken in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, tackle Taylor Moton out of Western Michigan was taken by the Panthers in order to compete for a starting role on the offensive line.
With Michael Oher recently released, Moton will be able to compete for either the left or right tackle position against newly acquired Matt Kalil. Assuming Kalil starts at left tackle, Moton will have a large impact on the right side and will determine the success of Cam Newton and the rest of this offense’s success this season.
Going undrafted this year, linebacker Ben Boulware out of Clemson was acquired by the Panthers to compete for playing time and could become a starter once veterans like Thomas Davis retire.
Boulware was the heart and soul of Clemson’s defense. Deshaun Watson lead the offense while Boulware manned the defense. His pre-game speeches and his knowledge of the game made him a leader and made it surprising he went undrafted. Look for Boulware to see some defensive snaps this season and a large role on special teams.
New Orleans Saints
Going undrafted this year, wide receiver Travin Dural out of LSU was acquired by the Saints in order to compete for a starting role behind Michael Thomas and Willie Snead.
As a Louisiana native, Dural will be able to play for his hometown team and become a reliable number three target for Drew Brees. Look for Dural to have a productive rookie season and solidify a young wide receiving corps.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, defensive end Trey Hendrickson out of Florida Atlantic was taken by the Saints to play opposite Cameron Jordan.
This defensive line has seen turmoil this offseason, as defensive tackle Nick Fairley won’t be able to play this season because of a pre-existing heart condition.
The good news, however, is that rookie Hendrickson has the talent to become a reliable edge rusher for New Orleans and could become a building block for this struggling defense.
Taken in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft, linebacker Alex Anzalone out of Florida was taken by New Orleans to compete for a starting job.
With this struggling defense not having a big name in the linebacking corps, Anzalone has the opportunity to become a staple for this defense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Taken in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft, running back Jeremy McNichols out of Boise State was taken by Tampa Bay to compete for the starting running back position in case Doug Martin cannot solve his drug problem.
McNichols will likely start at the second running back position, but this will depend largely on Martin’s ability to stay on the field. McNichols has the talent to start over Martin if he’s able to learn the playbook quickly and find chemistry within this offense.
There’s even one report from a Boise State coach that says McNichols is the best running back coming out of Boise State in a number of years. If this is true, McNichols is considered to be better than Doug Martin and Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi. Look for McNichols to have a productive rookie campaign.
Taken in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, tackle Donovan Smith out of Penn State was taken to protect Jameis Winston’s blind side. Coming into his third year, Smith will be put into the limelight as the Buccaneers will be put on Hard Knocks. With this team being put on the national spotlight, Smith will be looked at heavily. Watch for him to make significant strides going into his third year.
Taken in the second round of this year’s NFL Draft, safety Justin Evans out of Texas A&M was taken by the Buccaneers to compete to be a big piece of this secondary. With Bradley McDougald headed to Seattle, Evans will have a chance to see a lot of playing time this season.
Evans’ ability to play sideline to sideline and be a vocal leader will make this secondary and defense overall a better unit.