The NFC South gave birth to the Super bowl Champion in 2009. However, despite the good play, many, many needs have arisen from each of the four teams in the division. The fastest, easiest way for teams to make up for their teams losses each year is the NFL Draft. Lets see how the NFC South did.
The Falcons needed quite a few different things in order to make this year’s draft a success; a receiver to counteract Roddy White, help at linebacker, depth at defensive tackle, an offensive guard to solidify the line, and somebody who knows how to stop the pass (I know they have to defend Drew Brees, but when you play Carolina twice a year, ranking 28th in pass defense doesn’t cut it).
With their first round pick (19th) Atlanta decided to take Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Now this is a great pick considering that he was the best player available; He’ll surely cure all their problems at linebacker; he can play all three linebacker positions. His combine results were top-of-the-line and his film backs it up. A very instinctive, playmaking linebacker, Weatherspoon will probably serve a huge role as a weak side backer in Atlanta’s Tampa Two defense. I say this pick was a huge success.
The Falcons had to wait until the end of the third round before their next selection came around. This time, big-boy Kentucky defensive tackle Corey Peters was the selection. Now Peters isn’t the ideal starting defensive tackle, in the sense that his technique isn’t where it needs to be in order to compete every down in the NFL. However, Peters will add another hard-working body to the defensive tackle rotation in Atlanta; that looks like a solid pick to me.
Now in order to get their offensive line under control, which wasn’t too bad in the first place (only allowing 27 sacks in 2009), they drafted Alabama offensive guard Mike Johnson and UNLV offensive guard Joe Hawley. Neither may be the immediate fix at offensive guard, however, they will provide much needed depth to Atlanta’s questionable offensive line. Johnson can be a solid backup as a rookie, while Hawley has the versatility to play any of the three interior positions. Hawley may not be quite as talented as Johnson, but will provide more help than many may expect. Okay so these two picks didn’t quite exemplify the offensive line, but it’ll work for the time being.
Well, so far so good for the Falcons. At this point, they’ve used every one of their picks in a good manner. However, with all the needs that Atlanta came into the draft needing, it’s nearly impossible to satisfy all of them; Roddy White’s still lonely out wide and the secondary didn’t get any better when you drafted two straight offensive guards. Yet, I think this is where the Falcons did the best job. Still needing some help in the secondary, Atlanta chose Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks. Franks is a surprisingly good fit for Atlanta’s Tampa Two defense and should excel with his great instincts and zone coverage. He may not be a starting corner at first, but could help out in packages that require more than four defensive backs such as nickel or dime.
At this point, the only need left for the Atlanta Falcons to fill is at receiver. Wide receiver Roddy White accounted for 85 receptions, 1153 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns in 2009, so it’s safe to say that they have a #1 receiver. But other than that, the Falcons don’t’ have a guy that can pick up the slack (#2 receiver Michael Jenkins only had 635 receiving yards and one touchdown reception in 2009). So, with all this in mind, Atlanta picked up hybrid Kansas receiver Kerry Meier to fill their hole. Meier used to start at quarterback for the Jayhawks, but was converted to a receiver during his junior year. Ever since, Meier has been more than productive considering his circumstances. However, I don’t think that Meier is gonna be enough to satisfy that #2 spot. Hey, he might go out there and prove me wrong, but I haven’t seen enough proof to lead me to believe that this guy can be a productive receiver in the NFL. Picking up someone in the fifth round doesn’t exactly fill their need as well as it should. I’m not very impressed with how Atlanta handled that.
Overall Draft Grade: B
The Carolina Panthers came into the draft needing three main things; a quarterback to build their team around, someone for that quarterback to throw to, and some players that could stop the run for God’s sake (particularly at defensive end). Some fans argue that quarterback is not as big of a need as the media portrays it to be, however, when your team leader throws more picks per game than any other quarterback in the league, we got a problem. So, to fit this need, the Panthers looked to the draft for answers.
It was probably a very painful few hours in Carolina’s draft room, as they were forced to wait until the mid second round before their first pick arrived. When it did, and they saw that Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen was still on the board, they couldn‘t believe their eyes. What is it with Notre Dame quarterbacks these days? I don’t know, maybe Brady Quinn scared teams off. But no matter, Carolina jumped all over Clausen while he was still there and there probably isn’t a second that goes by that the Panthers regret their decision. Clausen has an NFL-ready arm and is very used to playing in a pro-style offense at Notre Dame. He can fire passes into small spaces and can put some touch on the ball in order to make it just over the defender and into the receivers hands. Clausen should have plenty of opportunities to blossom as a quarterback in Carolina. Running backs Jonothan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams should make him look good anyways (much like Mark Sanchez and the Jets).
Now for that player for him to throw to; the Panthers had another whack at the NFL Draft piñata, this time in the mid third round, and went with LSU receiver Brandon LaFell. LaFell was a player that was projected to go in the early-to-mid second round, but it wasn’t a huge shocker when he was still around at the 78th pick. Carolina‘s #2 receiver Muhsin Muhammad is entering his 15th season in 2010, so this is a very smart pick, as LaFell shouldn’t have to wait long before his spot opens up in the offense. During his junior and senior season at LSU, LaFell never really had an established quarterback to throw him the ball and still managed to put up 1721 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns during that two-year speriod; he’s probably thrilled to be starting along side a matured quarterback in Jimmy Clausen.
That’s two needs down with their first two picks, so I guess you can say that the Panthers had plenty of breathing room with eight picks left. However, drafting quarterback Tony Pike and wildcat quarterback Armanti Edwards in the later rounds, I guess you can say Carolina would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to quarterback. Don’t wanna take any more chances there. These two picks may not look like much of a significance at first, but this is really where Carolina’s draft is going to make a huge impact. Not only do they have one franchise quarterback (Clausen), but they have two (Pike)! Not to mention someone to take the snaps in the wildcat and give Deangelo Williams a break.
This is where the “great” part of the Panther’s draft ends and the “good” part begins. With Probowl defensive end Julius Peppers on his way out, Carolina needed a strong, balanced guy to take his spot. Drafting Ole Miss defensive end Greg Hardy may not be in the best interest for the Panthers. Hardy used to be a big-time, explosive player at Ole Miss, but wasn’t even a starter in 2010 because of how badly injuries have affected him; I don’t think Hardy is a very reliable replacement at defensive end. Well too bad that’s the only defensive lineman they drafted, cause they sure needed some help in the middle if you ask me. Ranking 22nd in the league in rush defense, the line is in obvious need of repair. And don’t go blaming their linebacking core; middle linebacker Jon Beason racked up 141 tackles last year; he’s not the problem.
However, the Panthers did draft South Carolina outside linebacker Eric Norwood in the late fourth round. Norwood isn’t the best athlete, but he has instincts and playmaking skills that shows very great potential. Norwood actually reminds me of middle linebacker Jon Beason that I spoke of earlier. If Norwood turns out like Beason, then the Panthers may not need a defensive line for then next eight years.
Overall Draft Grade: B+
New Orleans Saints
Coming into 2010 as the defending Super Bowl champs, it’s hard to believe that the Saints have any needs whatsoever. However, with last year’s first-round selection Malcolm Jenkins being in a limbo between corner and safety, while free safety Darren Sharper’s career is coming to a close, New Orleans has a lot happening on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle and linebacker are areas of concern and some how the secondary still isn’t up to par.
With their first round pick, 32nd overall, the Saints took another chance with a corner, this time Florida State’s Patrick Robinson. All this means is that last year’s 16th overall pick Malcolm Jenkins will have a chance to move to safety, hopefully solidifying the secondary; so, when are the Saints going to give the whole defensive back thing a rest? That’s three years in a row that they’ve selected a defensive back with their first round pick, meaning that those picks obviously didn’t make a big enough impact to direct their draft picks in another direction. Now Robinson is a speedy, athletic corner that closes in fast on the receiver. He has great see-to-do instincts and can make a play pretty much anywhere on the field; he didn’t fall into the first round on accident. Robinson can provide another solid developing corner to the Saints secondary and can hope to be starting along side Malcolm Jenkins in the near future.
The next two picks were a bit of a mystery to me; first of all, do the Saints really need another tight end? They had five on their roster last season. And it’s not like they’re all bad or anything, Jeremy Shockey is probably the best pass-catching tight end in the game and back up David Thomas has enough talent to be a starter for just about any other team. Anyways, the guy they drafted, Miami tight end Jimmy Graham, is an ex basket ball player that only played two years of college football. He was very productive during his time on the gridiron and reminds many of Chargers tight end Antonio Gates. It would be great if this guy turned out like Gates, heck, it’d be great if all six of their draft picks turned out as pro-bowlers; then Drew Brees would have to get used to throwing out of two tight end packages.
The Saints took USC offensive tackle Charles Brown in the late second round, fulfilling a potential need at tackle if Jammal Brown gets traded. Brown is a solid NFL tackle that has a certain potential to become a starter sometime during his career. 6’5” 305 pounds, his size is certainly good enough and has pretty good athleticism for a big guy. This is a solid pick by New Orleans, they took the best player available rather than someone to fill their immediate needs, but I think this pick will certainly pay off.
Trading up seven spots to draft LSU defensive tackle Al Woods was probably the best decision by the Saints this draft. He may not be that player that’ll just blow up the scene in New Orleans, but he’s a hometown hero in Baton Rouge and will attract plenty of fans. The college-NFL transition will be very easy and he’ll have tons have people pushing him for success. He was one of the best run stoppers in the nation last year and that’s exactly what the Saints are looking for in a defensive tackle. With a surprising draft up to this point, Al Woods just made it look better.
Moving to their last pick of the draft, the Saints drafted Oregon State quarterback Sean Canfield. Even though the Saints don’t have a very good history in drafting quarterbacks, this was a mediocre pick because they needed somebody be behind Drew Brees. If Brees were to get injured, the Saints wouldn’t be receiving their Super bowl rings this August. The need for a back up was exposed after Mark Brunell went unsigned this off season; in Brunells only start last season, he threw for 102 yards and one interception, so they’re not losing too much. Canfield is the type of quarterback that will be a good fit in New Orleans. He’s smart and accurate, much like Brees, and has great leadership skills; should be a great back up for the Saints.
Draft Grade: C
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers finished with the worst record in the NFC South, third worst in the NFL, and therefore had the third overall pick in the Draft. They needed quite a few things this draft, particularly on defense; two defensive tackles to satisfy the defensive line, help at defensive end, a play-making safety, someone at wide out, and maybe a guy or two to help out at linebacker.
Having the third pick of the NFL Draft, Tampa Bay had the opportunity to draft practically in player in the whole draft (outside the first two picks). Luckily, the Bucs chose the right year to be in need of a defensive tackle; Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy fell right into their laps. One of the four Oklahoma players to be drafted in the top four picks, McCoy was slightly overshadowed by the presence of Nebraska counterpart Ndamukong Suh. Suh was drafted second overall by the Lions, leaing Tampa Bay with a defensive tackle of equal value. McCoy is an extremely quick and speedy defensive tackle that also has enough power and strength to fight off the double team. An all-around athlete that has virtually no weaknesses. Predictable, yet great pick by Tampa Bay.
Does everybody remember when Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland ruled the LOS back in the early 2000’s? They actually won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay if you recall. Well maybe that’s what they’re trying to recreate here by drafting UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price to follow up McCoy. Price brings more of a raw talent to the defensive line. He is very quick, like McCoy, but also is very violent in his play. Has great moves and is one of those guys that can really shoot a gap and stuff it. I like what the Buccaneers are trying to do here with their defensive line and I think both McCoy and Price have great potential starting next to each other.
Tampa Bay drafted two big-play receivers to quench their thirst for a receiver; Illinois receiver Arrelious Benn in the second round and Syracuse receiver Mike Williams in the fourth. Benn is a player that knows how to make guys miss and is a terrific worker, while Williams is very talented, yet had some off the field issues that put him at risk of not finding the field as much as wants to. The Buccaneers weren’t a very explosive offense in 2009, so adding these two receivers was a great way to add more talent around quarterback Josh Freeman.
In the later rounds, Tampa Bay addressed their nagging concern for a linebacker by not drafting one, but two solid players. Virginia Tech’s Cody Grimm and Florida State’s Dekoda Watson were both drafted in the seventh round by the Bucs. Both Grimm and Watson have enough drive and heart to be very effective special teams players as a rookie. Watson has more immediate potential to actually make a difference on defense, while Grimm may stick as a special teams player for most of his career.
As cornerback Ronde Barber is getting towards the point of retiring from the NFL, Tampa Bay looked for, and found, a replacement in this year’s Draft. Taking Vanderbilt corner Myron Lewis in the third round, Tampa Bay hopes that the retirement of Barber will not leave the secondary in ruins, but let a young star take over. Lewis has sound technique at every secondary position and is one of those guys that will impress wherever you put him. A good pick by the Bucs.
Overall Draft Grade: A