Players Ready to Breakout in the NFC South


As we continue our series of players most likely to breakout in 2016, it’s time for us to focus on the NFC South.

While everyone in the division is chasing the reigning NFC champion Carolina Panthers, there are key players that must breakout for New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.

Having said that, the Panthers have someone primed to breakout as well.

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers – When top receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down before the season, most counted the Panthers out, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

However, MVP Cam Newton was able to salvage things with his arm and legs.

Rookie receiver Devin Funchess started the season off slow, but he began to make more of an impact as the year went on. His breakout game came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he hauled in seven passes for 120 yards to go along with a touchdown.

With Benjamin back in the fold, expect for things to open up for Funchess.

“I’ve just got to get more comfortable out on the field,” Funchess explained. “With a year under my belt, I’ll come back more confident and be ready to roll.”

Funchess ended the season totaling 31 catches for 473 yards with five touchdowns, and should be a great complement to Benjamin in 2016.

Kwon Alexander, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Following a very dreadful 2014 campaign, the Buccaneers showed signs of life this past season, as they finished 2015 with a 6-10 record.

Jameis Winston received most of the headlines, but linebacker Kwon Alexander didn’t have a bad rookie campaign himself.

The LSU product finished second on the team in tackles with 93, which says a lot considering he missed the final four games due to failing a PED test. 

“I take all the heat for that,” Alexander said. “I was supposed to have been there. That’s my fault. It won’t happen again, though. That’s one thing: It won’t happen again. I’ve never been in trouble or nothing. That surprised me when that happened, and it hurt me so bad.”

With new defensive coordinator Mike Smith in charge, the Bucs scheme will look a lot different.

“Very different,” Alexander stressed. “But I love it though. I feel like everybody’s going to be out there flying around. I can’t wait to get back on the field. … It’s going to be aggressive. You guys should see it for yourself. It’s going to be fun. Y’all are going to enjoy it.”

This style of play will tend to Alexander’s strength. He’s not the most physically imposing guy at his position, but he has the athletic ability to go sideline to sideline.

“I’ve been working on everything. I don’t think my game is where it needs to be right now,” Alexander said. “I can be way better in every aspect. I’ve been working on coverage, hands, drops, everything, catching. Everything.”

Having that kind of work ethic could turn Alexander into a Pro Bowl caliber player one day.

Desmond Truant, CB, Atlanta Falcons – It’s safe to say Desmond Trufant is becoming one of the top cornerbacks in the league and he’s only going to get better.

Standing at 6-foot and 190 pounds, Trufant is a guy that can play in any kind of defensive scheme.

Head coach Dan Quinn can’t stop raving about the guy.

“He’s a unique guy. He has speed, he can play zone, he can play man-to-man, he can match up, and his development at the line of scrimmage has been outstanding,” Quinn elaborated. “He has strong hands, he stays on top of guys and he recognizes, ‘This split (for the wide receiver) means this route is coming.’ That’s when cool stuff can happen.”

During Trufant’s first two seasons, he defended 33 passes and five interceptions.

This past season, Trufant only defended 11 passes and hauled in one interception because teams weren’t testing him.

In 979 snaps, Trufant was only targeted 56 times.

Stephone Anthony, LB, New Orleans Saints – The former Clemson product was one of the few bright spots on a horrid Saints defense.

Stephone Anthony finished his rookie campaign with 112 tackles, five passes defended, two forced fumbles and one interception.

Anthony started all 16 games at middle linebacker, which moved David Hawthorne to the weak side.

With Anthony standing at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, not only does he have good size, but he has the ability to chase down running backs and cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks.

As New Orleans continues to revamp their defense, it will only benefit Anthony’s development moving forward.

About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.