Pro Football Weekly presents the seventh of an eight-part divisional breakdown of the players most likely to be attending 2011 coming-out parties in the NFC South.
OLB Sean Weatherspoon — Weatherspoon's debut campaign was knocked off course by injuries. The Falcons' first-round pick in 2010 (19th overall) earned a starting job from Day One and showed flashes, but he was relegated to playing in the nickel package when he returned from injury in Week 11, and Stephen Nicholas played ahead of him in the base defense for the rest of the season. Returning fully recovered, Weatherspoon should be the starter on the strong side this season, and he has the ability to become a more consistent performer and perhaps even an explosive playmaker in Year Two. Atlanta's coaching staff believed it had a more active defense when Weatherspoon was on the field and in good health. He brings much-needed speed to Atlanta's LB corps, and his fiery, high-motor style should energize the defense.
WR David Gettis — A sixth-round pick in 2010, Gettis could become the Panthers' No. 1 wide receiver. He started 13 games in his rookie campaign and made 37 catches for 508 yards (13.7 average), and he did that with an awful situation at quarterback. Gettis was one of the few bright spots for Carolina during its 2-14 season. While it's not certain Steve Smith will be traded, it appears likely that he will be playing elsewhere whenever the 2011 season begins, clearing a spot at the top of the WR depth chart. If Cam Newton or whoever lines up under center outdoes Jimmy Clausen's 2010 performance, Gettis should have no trouble exceeding his production. He's a vertical threat and the 6-3, 216-pound Gettis has a great combination of size and speed. He still has to become more consistent and work on his hands to improve as a pass catcher, but he could be in the conversation in discussions regarding the best young receivers in the league by the end of the season.
New Orleans Saints
WLB Jonathan Casillas — Things were looking up for Casillas as the 2010 season opener approached, but a preseason Lisfranc fracture and surgery to repair the injury landed him on injured reserve. It might have only delayed his breakout year, however. An undrafted free agent in ’09, Casillas contributed on special teams his first season, but he secured the starting job at weak-side linebacker with a strong training-camp showing last year before he suffered the injury. It was a setback, and nothing is guaranteed for Casillas this season, but it appears he will at least get an opportunity to win the starting WLB job again, and he's expected to be fully recovered in time for training camp. The Saints could look to add competition for him in free agency. If he stays healthy, though, Casillas is a solid tackler and very athletic with good range. With the additions the Saints made to their front four this offseason — signing Shaun Rogers and drafting Cameron Jordan — the whole defense could improve.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DT Gerald McCoy — It took a while for McCoy to figure things out as a rookie and understand exactly how his coaches wanted him to play, but he was coming on strong before a biceps tear ended his season in Week 14. He is said to be fully recovered from surgery to repair the tear and seems determined to build off what he started late in '10. McCoy told PFW in February that he wasn't satisfied with how his rookie year went from a personal or team standpoint. He has dropped some weight this offseason and has impressed teammates with his intensity in workouts. It's clear McCoy wants to get better, and some evaluators believed he was the best prospect in the 2010 draft. The Bucs will surround him with better pieces on the defensive line this season — they spent their top two draft picks on DEs Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers — and McCoy figures to become a more disruptive player at the three-technique spot.