NFC South Draft Preview

by David Syvertsen

NFC SOUTH: How They Finished

Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
Carolina Panthers (7-9)
New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9)

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

#13 (1st)
#43 (2nd)
#73 (3rd)
#112 (4th)
#126 (4th) f/NE
#147 (5th)
#181 (6th)
#196 (6th) f/DEN via PHI

2013 Offseason: Where They Stand

Year one of the Greg Schiano era could not have been considered a disappointment, but the Bucs failed to take the leap forward that many were projecting.  They have a good offense, led by a quarterback entering his prime playing behind an underrated offensive line and a nice set of skill players.  They had a dominant run defense all season along with established, starting caliber back seven players.  This appears to be a young team ready for the next level.  However, the Bucs have lost two of their best run stuffers along the front line so far, and have done little to replace them.  While they have able bodies up front, there is work to be done at the point of attack to replace them and find a more capable pass rusher outside.  The signing of free safety Dashon Goldson gives the Bucs a top tier safety duo that can hide some of the instability and lack of production they have been getting from their cornerbacks.    The offense pretty much returns intact from last year plus a couple veteran wide receivers that can boost production from the slot.

1 – Defensive End

With only 27 sacks from the entire team, the Bucs need to find a pass rusher somewhere in this class, preferably outside.  There is little promise on this roster as it currently stands at the position.

2 – Tight End

The one year deal for Dallas Clark in 2012 was not a failure but the Bucs did not get what they were hoping for out of him.  An athletic pass catcher with at least some presence as a blocker could be a big help for this offense.

3 – Cornerback

There are worse CB situations around the league, but the Bucs are in a division loaded with top tier passing offenses.  There is space for an early round corner if the value matches up.

The Plan:

This is a big year for Tampa Bay.  Greg Schiano has come in and changed the culture of this franchise, running a defensive minded approach that is built on controlling the line of scrimmage and using the speed and talent of their back seven to make plays.  The one element missing however, and it is a gaping hole, is the lack of a pass rush presence.  They don’t have anybody outside that demands the double teams.  Matching a quality defensive end with defensive tackle Gerald McCoy could give the Bucs that final push that elevates their defense to playoff-caliber.

Offensively, the Bucs are close to being on par with the rest of their division.  Josh Freeman is a quality quarterback and he is now handing it off to one of the top young running backs in the league.  There is more than enough talent at wide receiver to put plenty of points on the board week in, week out.  Up front, they have a solid unit but there isn’t enough depth should the injuries pile up.  They should wait until they find the right value and bring in a lineman that can play multiple spots.

3 Round Mock:

#13 – Bjoern Werner – DE – Florida State
#43 – David Amerson – CB – NC State
#73 – Dallas Thomas – G – Tennessee   

CAROLINA PANTHERS

#14 (1st)
#44 (2nd)
#108 (4th)
#148 (5th)
#182 (6th)

2013 Offseason: Where They Stand

The Panthers lost 6 of their first 7 games in 2012, creating a hole that was too deep to dig out of despite winning their final 4 contests.  A closer look that abysmal start and you’ll notice that 5 of those early season losses were by a total of 18 points.  They were not, and are not, far from playoff contention.  New General Manager Dave Gettleman was hired from the New York Giants to tweak this roster and add the final few additions it needed in order to realize their potential.  The free agency approach was very calculated, adding role players with a proven track record of NFL production to both sides of the ball.  They avoided the big names, which was a smart move.  The biggest loss personnel wise has been cornerback Chris Gamble.  While he is far from an elite player, the pass defense really struggled in 2012 and he was one of their top players back there. Carolina is on the upward trend as long as they can continue to add young talent to an experienced roster.

1 – Defensive Back

The pass happy NFC South will pick apart sub-par secondaries all year.  There is a lack of talent in the back four, and Gettleman should look to add 1-2 of the best-valued defensive backs when the time is right.

2 – Offensive Line

There is not a pressing need for any particular spot along the line.  They could use some competition inside and at right tackle.  In addition, they have a couple of veterans on the back nine of their career.  With a QB like Newton, you need to be prepared for injuries up front.

3 – Defensive Tackle

The Panthers have one of the more talented trios at linebacker across the league.  They will look pedestrian though if the big boys up front don’t keep them clean.  They need a stronger presence inside.

The Plan

With only 5 picks in this entire draft, the Panthers need to ensure they hit on more than half of their selections.  That is not a common occurrence when looking back at past draft classes around the league.  The biggest mistake the Panthers can make would be to draft based on the need of their current roster.  There is room for depth and competition across the board on both sides of the ball.

There will be a run at defensive tackles.  There will be a run at wide receivers.  There will be a run at cornerbacks.  When that happens, value at other positions will fall.  The smart decision makers on draft weekend will see that and select the best graded player on the board.  If the Panthers can be patient and trust their board, they will get the most out of their 5 picks down the road.

3 Round Mock:

#14 – Desmond Trufant – CB – Washington
#44 – Larry Warford – G – Kentucky

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

#15 (1st)
#75 (3rd)
#109 (4th)
#144 (5th)
#183 (6th)

2013 Offseason: Where They Stand

2012 was a year to forget for this Saints organization.  The Bounty-Gate scandal was an enormous distraction on and off the field, as the punishments handed down from the league were a huge blow to their performance.  The defense was historically awful, and the offense lost a lot of its efficiency without Payton making the in-game adjustments.  Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has been brought in and the team will transition to a 3-4 scheme.  The personnel is not completely lined up yet, so there may be a few hybrid packages thrown in there as well.  The biggest loss of the offseason has been left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who signed with Chicago.  They have a decent group of experienced players that will compete for that spot, so the hole there is not a gaping one.  Defensively, this veteran-loaded unit added a couple of 3-4 pieces but still lacks the linebackers, both inside and out, that truly fit this scheme.  The Saints will be fighting an uphill battle in 2013, but they can still score against anybody.  They only need a defense that is average, so they aren’t far away personnel-wise.

1 – Pass Rushing Outside Linebacker

Ryan’s scheme demands a lot of outside pass rush coming from the linebackers.  There are a couple pieces with limited potential already in place, but nothing that screams 10+ sacks per season.

2 – Nose Tackle

The Saints were beat up against the running games between the tackles all year.  This scheme needs a big body that occupies blockers and control the two inside gaps.

3 – Defensive Back

There are depth issues at both cornerback and safety.  If they want to compete in this pass happy division, they need multiple options in the defensive backfield.

The Plan:

Nobody would be surprised to see the Saints back in the thick of things, fighting for an NFC Championship in 2013.  Their offense returns one of the game’s top passing attacks, as the presence of Payton on the sidelines will be a huge help.  Whether or not they compete will depend on the new defense.  Their personnel packages will rely heavily on this rookie class because this is an aging unit that doesn’t exactly fit in with the 3-4 scheme.  The players they bring in must show immediate production.  The needs on that side of the ball are so great, they really could bring in their top rated defenders and plug them in to the system.

Offensively they will thrive with what is on the roster.  If by some chance there is a big time offensive line value available in any round, it should be a consideration to bring him in to help prolong Brees’ career.  In an offense that relies on timing and efficiency, the blocking needs to be above average along the entire front.

3 Round Mock:

#15 – Barkevious Mingo – OLB – LSU
#75 – Brandon Williams – DT – Missouri Southern State

ATLANTA FALCONS

#30 (1st)
#60 (2nd)
#92 (3rd)
#127 (4th)
#133 (4th) Comp
#163 (5th)
#198 (6th)
#236 (7th)
#243 (7th) Comp
#244 (7th) Comp
#249 (7th) Comp

2013 Offseason: Where They Stand

After a 13 win season that ended with a loss in the NFC Championship game, Atlanta was poised to maintain their high scoring offense while adding a little more balance.  They replaced Michael Turner with Steven Jackson, an upward move despite Jackson turning 30 prior to the 2013 season.  Tony Gonzalez returns from retirement, the offensive line loses just one starter, and we now have an offense that is capable of scoring the most points in football.  There are no glaring issues on that side of the ball that need to be addressed.  Defensively, the offseason hasn’t been as friendly.  They’ve lost two of their top three cornerbacks without any replacements yet.  The youth at that position leaves a lot to be desired and unless they strike gold in this draft, it could end up being a roadblock between their team and reaching the next level.  John Abraham has been replaced with Osi Umenyiora, a lateral move that won’t change much when looking at the big picture.  This defense, as it stands right now, will still struggle to reach the quarterback consistently.

1 – Cornerback

Their top corner is 32 years old and has shown signs of slowing down.  Behind him are average-at-best cover men that would not start on most teams around the league.  Not a good combination for the NFC South considering the passing attacks they will be up against.

2 – Defensive End

Umenyiora is at his best when used in a rotation.  In order for the team to get the most out of him, there needs to be more viable options that can rush the edge and apply pressure.

3 – Offensive Line Depth

When the success of a team relies so heavily on a high scoring offense, multiple backup options need to be available should injuries occur.  Atlanta is very thin at tackle.

The Plan:

The NFC South will not be an easy division to stay on top of in 2013.  Atlanta has the tools on offense, both at the skill positions and in the trenches, to be a dominant unit again.  Their defense however could be an easy group to score on because there is a lack of talent in the defensive backfield and a questionable group of pass rushers.  That is a dangerous combination.  The second they can find the right value to strengthen those units, they must strike.

There will be opportunities to beef up their offensive line, which is always a strong consideration when a team relies so much on their quarterback.  The skill positions are host to several current and former Pro-Bowlers, but the youth behind them could use an upgrade in talent as well once the value is there.  Atlanta can approach this draft defensive-minded and not reach for anyone.  But at the same time, they have enough space on offense for new talent.

3 Round Mock:

#30 – Margus Hunt – DE – SMU
#60 – Darius Slay – CB – Mississippi State
#92 – Marcus Lattimore – RB – South Carolina

Follow Dave on Twitter for more draft insight.

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