and Bill Enright
Last Updated: Apr 28, 2011 2:41 PM
Three teams from the NFC South had 10 or more wins, the Falcons, the Saints, and the Bucs, which means the Panthers were the odd man out. Not only was Carolina the worst team in their conference, but they were also the worst team in the NFL, which is why they have this year's #1 selection.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 1, R3 Pick 1, R3 Pick 33, R4 Pick 1, R5 Pick 1, R6 Pick 1, R6 Pick 38, R7 Pick 41
Defensive Tackle: Derek Landri and Nick Hayden are both uncertain to return as free agents, and are merely average as starters regardless, so Carolina has a significant need at the position. Corvey Irvin and Andre Neblett are not quality backups, meaning depth is also a major issue. The Panthers will set a priority in patching up the interior of their defense, and may use more than one pick in doing so –- potentially as early as the No. 1 overall selection, with Marcell Dareus(Alabama) notably the highest-rated prospect at the position.
Cornerback: Chris Gamble is still a rock-solid starter for Carolina, despite falling out of favor with then head coach John Fox. His play did slip, but he battled ankle and hamstring injuries, and should be fine if he eludes the injury bug this time around in 2011. The Panthers need a worthy starter to work on the opposite side at right cornerback though, especially with Ron Rivera intending to run a pressure defense. That is why elite prospect Patrick Peterson(LSU) will be in consideration for the No. 1 overall pick.
Linebacker: James Anderson (SLB) is believed to be unlikely to return as a free agent, as he will probably be overpriced after breaking out with 130 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2010. Thomas Davis (WLB) is also a free agent and remains an injury risk following another serious ACL injury. Jon Beason is a monster in the middle, but Carolina needs support at both of the outside spots. They will likely address the need in the middle rounds, with Dontay Moch(Nevada) and Doug Hogue(Syracuse) among the more intriguing prospects.
Quarterback: The Panthers selected Jimmy Clausen last year in the 2nd Round in hopes of turning him into their next Franchise QB. But after a poor showing his Rookie year, it seems Carolina is jumping ship. About 95% of Draft Experts expect the Panthers to take Cam Newton (Auburn), with this year's 1st overall selection. Newton was brilliant on the field in 2010. Led his team to a National Championship and won the Heisman Trophy. In terms of College Football accomplishments, it doesn't get any better than that. He's got the size, the arm strength, the accuracy, and mobility to succeed on the Pro level. But some question his ability to pick up an NFL Offensive scheme. Plus Newton has some major question marks surrounding his behavior. His father was under investigation for a “pay for play” scandal and once upon a time, Newton stole a classmates' laptop. Does any of that matter now that Cam is out of College? Or should those instances be cause for concern for the Panthers? Newton already considers himself an “icon.” We'll see if he turns into a notorious iconic symbol like JaMarcus Russell or a beloved NFL QB like Peyton Manning.
Wide Receiver: Long time veteran receiver, Steve Smith, wants out of Carolina and the Panthers seem to be willing to grant his request. Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards, and David Gettis were all Rookies last season and showed some promise. But none did quite enough to convince the Panthers new coaching staff to put full faith in them. Could the Panthers blind-side Football Nation by selecting AJ Green(Georgia) with the 1st pick instead of Cam Newton? I suppose nothing is outside the realm of possibility when it comes to the NFL Draft, and though Green could make an instant impact, he'd still be catching passes from Clausen. Instead, Carolina may choose to spend one of their two 3rd Round picks on a player like Jerrel Jernigan (Troy) or Titus Young (Boise State). Both incoming prospects can help stretch the field and go the distance on vertical routes.
Tight End: The Panthers barely utilized their Tight End when John Fox was the Head Coach. But with Ron Rivera now in charge, that could change. Rivera was the Defensive Coordinator for the San Diego Chargers before taking the Head Coaching job with the Panthers this off-season. The Chargers of course boast one of the best Tight Ends in all of football in the form of Antonio Gates. Rivera witnessed first hand how much a Tight End can open up the passing attack, so he may want to scoop up one in the later rounds. Kyle Rudolph (Notre Dame) is hands down the best TE in this year's class, but since the Panthers don't have a 2nd round pick, they will likely miss out on the chance to grab him. After Rudolph there is a major drop-off, but there are some interesting prospects with raw talent. D.J. Williams(Arkansas) is small for a Tight End but sneaky fast, which gives him the edge on most linebackers. Tennessee's Luke Stocker has the prototypical size for an NFL Tight End, he's 6'4 and 255 pounds. He's a solid run blocker and could make an impact during his rookie season. Plus he isn't expected to get drafted until after the 3rd Round, so he should be available in Round 4 or 5 if the Panthers want to pounce on him.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 20, R2 Pick 19, R3 pick 20, R4 Pick 19, R5 Pick 20, R6 Pick 22, R7 Pick 19, R7 Pick 35
Defensive End: The Buccaneers ranked near the cellar with just 26 sacks in 2010, and improving their pass-rush at defensive end should be their top priority. They made major moves to upgrade the interior by selecting defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their top two picks in last year's Draft, and now it is time to build around them on the outside. Luckily for Tampa Bay, this year's class is deep at defensive end, and they should have a few exciting prospects who can bring the heat to choose from at pick No. 20, like Aldon Smith(Missouri) or Ryan Kerrigan(Purdue).
Outside Linebacker: Geno Hayes (WLB) and Quincy Black (SLB) both have promise, but neither performed up to expectations as playmakers in 2010. The Buccaneers shouldn't assume that either of those guys will turn heads and bully opponents consistently next season, and upgrades at outside linebacker look to be in order. They would target a prospect with good pass-rushing ability, making Ross Homan(Ohio State), Dontay Moch(Nevada) and Jonas Mouton(Michigan) attractive targets for the second round.
Safety: Tanard Jackson is a very talented kid, but unfortunately he is too volatile to trust as Tampa Bay's starting free safety due to his off-the-field problems. The club has an even bigger question mark at the position with Cody Grimm coming off a broken ankle. Sean Jones is merely a stopgap at strong safety too, and they need a force against the run that could also be fired at the quarterback on blitzes. The Draft is not strong at the position though, so the Buccaneers may be hard-pressed to find a prospect who could step in and help right away.
Running Back: LeGarrette Blount was a pleasant surprise for the Bucs during his rookie season. He led all Rookie backs with 1,007 yards and 6 TDs. However, Coach Raheem Morris would like an RB that is speedy and elusive with pass catching skills to compliment Blount's bruising rushing style. Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State), Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State), and Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech) are all capable receiving options out of the backfield with the ability to get around the edge and fly past linebackers. None of those three backs are over 5'10 or 200 pounds, so they aren't built to take on a full workload. But if paired up with Blount, any of them could make the Bucs rushing attack very productive.
Offensive Line: Tampa Bay's Offensive Line was a tight knit unit in 2010. They allowed just 30 sacks which was the 10th least in the NFL. But Pro Bowler, Davin Joseph, is a Free Agent, as is Tackle Jeremy Trueblood. In order to protect young QB Josh Freeman and open holes for LeGarrette Blount, the Bucs front office must keep this group intact or draft a young prospect to fill an opening. DeMarcus Love(Arkansas) or Marcus Cannon (TCU) seem like good fits and won't require a 1st Round Pick.
New Orleans Saints
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 24, R2 Pick 24, R3 Pick 8, R3 Pick 24, R7 Pick 23, R7 Pick 40
Defensive End: Will Smith dipped to 5.5 sacks in 2010 and will turn 30 in July. Opposite starter Alex Smith mustered just two sacks and is set to blow out 32 candles in June, so New Orleans needs to think about getting younger at the position –- especially with no promising prospects with starter-potential currently on their roster. The Draft is deep at defensive end and New Orleans should have several strong prospects to choose from at pick No. 24, such as Adrian Clayborn(Iowa) or Cameron Heyward(Ohio State). An intimidating pass-rusher would allow defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to maintain his aggressive blitz-happy style as well.
Outside Linebacker: The Saints could also use an infusion of youth at outside linebacker with Scott Shanle going on 32 and Danny Clark nearing 34. Jonathan Casillas has promise and could step into the starting role on the weak-side, but needs to bounce back healthy while coming off a season-ending foot injury. It wouldn't hurt to get tougher on the strong-side either, as Jo-Lonn Dunbar is lacking in that department. Adding a prospect with pass-rushing ability would make an ideal fit for Gregg Williams' aggressive defense, and Sam Acho is among the guys who could be on their radar early in the Draft, as he is physical with good instincts and collected eight sacks in each of his last two seasons at Texas. K.J. Wright will be worth a look in the middle rounds as well.
Defensive Tackle: Sedrick Ellis continues to improve as a cornerstone at one interior spot, but the Saints need to find a worthy complement to work alongside him in the trenches. Remi Ayodele is not tough enough, and he was exploited against strong rushing attacks in 2010. Veteran Anthony Hargrove is not expected to return, so New Orleans would be wise to invest in upgrading the position early in the Draft. Stephen Paea(Oregon State) and Corey Liuget(Illinois) would both be appealing targets if either is available at slot No. 24 in the first round.
Running Back: The Saints backfield was decimated by injuries in 2010. Pierre Thomas missed nine games, Reggie Bush missed eight games, and Rookie Chris Ivory missed four games. Pierre Thomas signed a four year deal this off-season, but Reggie Bush will likely need to restructure his deal if he plans on staying in New Orleans. If Bush and the Saints can't get on the same page, New Orleans will need to replace him with a flashy back who can occasionally line up in a receiver position and catch passes out of the backfield. Even if Bush does negotiate a new deal, he hasn't played a full season since his Rookie season in 2006. Mikel Leshoure (Illinois) would be an excellent fit in Sean Payton's Offense and proved he's durable in College. But if the Saints want an “all-in-one” back who can catch passes but can also be used as a goal-line rusher, then Daniel Thomas(Kansas State) should be their guy.
Offensive Line: Two of the Saints starting O-Lineman are Free Agents (Jermon Bushrod and Jonathan Goodwin). Bushrod protects Drew Brees' blind side and would need to be replaced with a talented prospect if the Saints decide against resigning him. Colorado's Nate Solder and Boston College's Anthony Castonzo seem to be ready to start their Rookie season, but come with a First Round price-tag. Some late round prospects at Tackle include Orlando Franklin(Miami) and James Carpenter (Alabama).
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 27, R2 pick 27, R3 Pick 27, R4 Pick 27, R5 Pick 27, R6 Pick 27, R7 Pick 7, R7 Pick 26, R7 Pick 27
Defensive End: John Abraham will turn 33 in May and is entering the final year of his contract. Lawrence Sidbury is yet to make an impact in his first two seasons in the NFL and is not going to be a worthy replacement for Abraham when the time comes. Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis also don't bring enough to the table as pass-rushers, and Atlanta registered just 31 sacks as a team in 2010. Getting nastier on the edge should be among the Falcons' top priorities heading into the Draft, and an exciting prospect like Ryan Kerrigan(Purdue) could be hard to pass up if available at pick No. 27.
Cornerback: Brian Williams can't stay healthy and is coming off a knee injury suffered late last season. Chris Owens is not a reliable backup either and was notably lit up by the Packers in the playoffs. The Falcons could use a nickel-back and better depth behind starters Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson and will likely address this need in the middle rounds of the Draft with bigger holes to fill at other spots, like wide receiver and aforementioned defensive end. Brandon Burton(Utah) is one prospect that will be worth a look, as he has innate coverage skills and deep speed, which would most notably come in handy for Atlanta's two divisional match-ups against the pass-happy Saints.
Outside Linebacker: With Mike Peterson (WLB) and Stephen Nicholas (SLB) uncertain to return as free agents, Atlanta needs to add quality depth at outside linebacker. The club is in excellent shape in the middle with Curtis Lofton and they will also be fine on the weak-side if 2010 first-rounder Sean Weatherspoon can avoid the injury bug that spoiled his rookie campaign. But again, finding better depth will be on the Falcons' mind if Peterson and/or Nicholas depart. K.J. Wright(Mississippi State) would make a solid selection for the middle rounds and namely could work at multiple spots, hence adding value to the pick.
Wide Receiver: QB Matt Ryan needs a new weapon to target since Defenses put double coverage on Roddy White, because Michael Jenkins just isn't a big enough threat to opposing teams. If Atlanta could make a move on Draft Day to get a top Wide Receiver like Julio Jones (Alabama), this Offense would take a HUGE step toward domination. Jones is a playmaker who could make an instant impact and would be able to prevent Defenses from focusing solely on White. But getting a guy like Jones would require the Atlanta's Front Office to do some major leg work in the War Room. If they want Jones, they would need to make a trade into the Top 6. If they decide to hang tight at pick #27, Maryland's Torrey Smith should be available. Smith was a tremendous deep threat in College and would help improve Atlanta's unimpressive nine plays that went for over 30 yards in 2010. Some other fast, vertical guys include Boise State's Titus Young and Troy's Jerrel Jernigan. Each of these three receivers could develop into Matt Ryan's favorite deep threat and take some of the burden off Roddy White's shoulders.
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez is a Free Agent in 2012 and turned 35 years old this past February. He probably has one more year left in the tank, but showed some signs of regression in 2010. The Future Hall of Famer is Matt Ryan's 2nd favorite target behind Roddy White, so if Gonzo retires next year, the Falcons will be pressed to find his replacement. But what better way for a young Tight End to learn the ins and outs of the NFL than playing behind Tony Gonzalez? A very strategic move for the Falcons would be to draft Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph at the end of the 1st round and let him learn from one of the all-times greats his Rookie season. It seems Rudolph has it all; the size, the speed, and the hands, to develop into one of the next greats in the NFL.