Here is a look at players on each NFC South team that need to have a bigger impact on the field this season.
The NFC South was easily the worst division as a whole last season, producing not only the worst team in the league, but also no team over .500. However, that means the division is really up for grabs, and one team has to make the playoffs.
Take a look at some of the key players for each NFC South team for the upcoming season:
Michael Oher, Left Tackle, Carolina Panthers (1st place, 7-8-1)
The Panthers' offensive line struggled last year, and they tried to make some upgrades during the offseason. However, bringing in Oher seems like a strange move, as he was ranked as one of the worst tackles last season. There’s a reason why the Titans only kept him for one year out of his four-year contract. The Panthers need this improvement along the line, and they need Oher to return to the form that was really only present early in his career. Perhaps it will work, but if he plays like last year, then they’re in trouble.
Another player to watch: running back Jonathan Stewart
Jairus Byrd, Free Safety, New Orleans Saints (2nd place, 7-9)
The Saints' defense was really bad last year, against both the run and pass, but this side of the ball should see improvement with some key signings and returns from injury. Byrd is a three-time Pro Bowler, but was lost to a season-ending injury after the fourth game. New Orleans gave him a huge contract as a free agent last year, and the team is going to expect big returns from it. The Saints have one of the league’s best offensives, but they need a halfway decent defense if they want to win some more games.
Another player to watch: defensive end Akiem Hicks
Robert Alford, Cornerback, Atlanta Falcons (3rd place, 6-10)
The Falcons, like the Saints, struggled mightily on defense, ranking last against the pass. They already have one elite, lockdown cornerback in Desmond Trufant, but the other side is where needs help. Alford will start there for the second straight year, but his season was cut short last year by an injury. Atlanta needs him to really pan out and avoid penalties, as this defense has questions at safety. The Falcons need to show improvement on pass defense, but then again there's only way to go after finishing dead last in 2014.
Other players to watch: free safeties Charles Godfrey/Kemal Ishmael/Ricardo Allen
Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4th place, 2-14)
As the worst team in the league last year, the Bucs need a lot of improvement almost everywhere. However, they are all in on Winston as being the future of this team, after taking the controversial signal-caller with the first pick in the draft. He’ll be starting from day one, and this team badly needs him to succeed right away. He has a bit more urgency than does Marcus Mariota with the Titans, especially with Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans as his receivers. He’ll still need his offensive line and running game to step up, but the weapons are there for him.
Another player to watch: running back Doug Martin