Our division-by-division examination of the NFL Draft is starting to wind down, but not before we take a look at the NFC South, which was one of the worst divisions in this year’s draft. Outside of Atlanta, this was a mediocre division last year, with the other three teams all finishing with a losing record. The teams in this division needed to get a lot of help in this draft in order to catch up with the Falcons, but it doesn’t appear as if that’s happened, as we check out how these four teams rank coming out of the draft:
1. Atlanta – The Falcons didn’t blow anybody away with their draft class, but it was good enough to be the best in the division. Atlanta needed cornerbacks, so they doubled down and took a cornerback with their first two picks, adding Desmond Trufant in the first round and Robert Alford in the second round. Desmond should come in and start right away and have success, while Alford will have a role somewhere on the team, even if he doesn’t start. Atlanta also added a pair of defensive ends in Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga, with Goodman having a chance to make an impact early in his career as a versatile playmaker.
The Falcons also did something that few teams did, and that’s significantly improve their draft class in the seventh round, where they got safety Zeke Motta and quarterback Sean Renfree. Motta is a smart and physical safety that could have been a third or fourth round pick, so there’s a lot of valuing in getting him in the seventh round. Meanwhile, Renfree is a smart quarterback with a decent arm who could develop into a capable NFL backup. It’s not a great draft class, but Atlanta really helped its secondary and its defensive line, and they ended up having the best draft class in a bad division.
2. New Orleans – The Saints finish a close second to Atlanta because despite being light on picks (5), they accomplished quite a lot. Safety wasn’t one of their biggest needs heading into the draft, but it became one of their strengths coming out of the draft, as they took Kenny Vaccaro in the first round. Not having a second-round pick hurt, but in the third round they drafted Terron Armstead, one of the most athletic offensive linemen available. Armstead may not be able to help right away, but he has great upside. Later in the third round, New Orleans took defensive tackle John Jenkins, who is the perfect anchor for their 3-4 defense. The Saints also picked up wide receiver Kenny Stills, who’s awfully talented for a fifth round pick and will be a good addition to their passing arsenal. With only five picks, the Saints weren’t able to address all of their needs, and leaving the draft without a linebacker was disappointing, but they accomplished a lot for a team with so few picks, and that’s enough to put them ahead of two other teams in their division.
3. Tampa Bay – Just like Atlanta, the Bucs made the odd choice of using their first two picks on cornerbacks, trading their first round pick to acquire Darrelle Revis and then using their second round pick to take Johnthan Banks. Banks is a great player, and could have been picked higher, but trading for Revis eliminated Tampa’s need for a cornerback, meaning they could have used their second round pick to address another need and taken another cornerback later in the draft.
Taking quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round was also an odd choice, since they have Josh Freeman as their starter, but also because there were several comparable quarterbacks still on the board that could have been drafted in subsequent rounds. Taking Akeem Spence and William Gholston in the fourth round adds a lot of talent to their defensive line, as those two players could end up being the highlights of this draft class for the Bucs. Drafting Banks, Spence, and Gholston gives Tampa Bay three talented players, but with all the questionable decisions made during the draft, the Bucs are lucky they aren’t ranked last in the division coming out of the draft.
4. Carolina – Like the Saints, the Panthers were limited to five picks, but they were not nearly as resourceful with them. Defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short were their first two selections, which addressed their most dire needs on the defensive line, but after that Carolina won’t get a lot of help from this draft class. Fourth round pick Edmund Kugbila will help the offensive line, but linebacker A.J. Klein and running back Kenjon Barner don’t really address Carolina’s needs, nor do they give the Panthers impact players. Needs at wide receiver and throughout the secondary went completely ignored, which was unacceptable, even for a team with so few picks, and that gives the Panthers the worst draft class in a bad division.