Pat Yasinskas's linebacker rankings for the NFC South.
1. Jon Beason, Carolina. The best defensive player in the division.
2. Jonathan Vilma, New Orleans. Had a solid season last year, but should be much better with an improved defense around him.
3. Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay. The only proven building block as the Bucs overhaul their once-great defense.
4. Thomas Davis, Carolina. Has emerged as a playmaker after a rocky start to his career.
5. Curtis Lofton, Atlanta. Stood out in the middle as a rookie and will be counted on as an every-down player this year.
6. Stephen Nicholas, Atlanta. I see this guy as one of the division's breakout players this season. 7. Scott Fujita, New Orleans. Nothing fancy about him, but he does what the Saints ask.
8. Mike Peterson, Atlanta. Getting up there in age, but has something to prove after last year's clash with Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville.
9. Angelo Crowell, Tampa Bay. Bucs went after this guy hard in free agency, so he must be in the plans.
10. Na'il Diggs, Carolina. Doesn't stand out in any area, except he rarely makes mistakes and that's why the Panthers keep bringing him back.
Up next, defensive backs.