2020 POTENTIAL BREAKOUT STARS: NFC SOUTH PART 1
BY ADAM GREENE
It’s the NFC South’s turn to disappoint everyone as multiples teams in this division have found their way onto plenty of Super Bowl predictions and wagers, only to ultimately fall flat in the playoffs (or not even make the playoffs) once again.
But their future postseason futility aside, this is a division currently loaded with superstars. Four of the uncontested best wide receivers in the NFL play here (Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin), as do arguably the best tight end to ever suit up in the league (Rob Gronkowski), as well as two first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Tom Brady and Drew Brees) and the first overall pick (Christian McCaffrey) in every single fantasy football draft on Planet Earth this season. And, honestly, probably the third or fourth overall pick too (Alvin Kamara).
It is a veritable embarrassment of riches, so it seems kind of unfair that there might be new, heretofore unheralded star players to emerge from such a talent-heavy division. Yet, it’s going to happen. Here’s who I think it might be.
Wide receiver Calvin Ridley
(2019: 63 catches, 866 yards, seven touchdowns)
Ridley has put up nearly identical stats each of his two years in the league as the Falcons have flopped and floundered right outside the playoff field. Still, he plays in an elite offense led by Matt Ryan, and while I didn’t mention that particular quarterback in the list above, he’s no slouch.
What’s going to be different for Ridley this year? Well, first, I think the Falcons will be better and compete for a playoff spot. As such they will have to score more points and pile up more yardage and considering that Ridley has scored 17 touchdowns in his two seasons, I feel like it’s a safe bet he’ll be part of that. Atlanta is also breaking in a new starting slot receiver, Russell Gage (who could turn some heads as well) and replacing one of Ryan’s favorite targets, departed tight end Austin Hooper with an equally talented (but new to the offense) Hayden Hurst. Ryan, especially early on, will rely on the guys he knows and trusts. Ridley is one of those guys.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
(2019: 67.9 completion percentage, 1,384 yards, nine touchdowns, two interceptions)
Teddy Bridgewater was already on his way to NFL stardom as a first round pick of the Minnesota Vikings back in 2014, only to see that come to an end by nearly tearing his leg off in practice before the 2016 season. It was a devastating injury, one that actually made a teammate throw up when it happened. Somehow, Bridgwater not only fought his way back into the league, but is now the penciled in starter for the Panthers.
And he’ll stay there. In five starts for the New Orleans Saints last season, Bridgewater went 5-0. His last full season as the starter in Minnesota, he was 11-5 and was a shanked field goal away from his first playoff victory.
I don’t expect a lot out of the Panthers this season, but Bridgewater’s performance won’t be the reason they post a losing record.