2010 Draft Needs: NFC South

Contributed by: Bill Enright
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2010 1:29 AM

2010 Draft Needs: NFC South

by Bill Enright

New Orleans Saints

Picks: #32 (Rd 1), #64 (Rd 2), # 95 (Rd 3), #130 (Rd 4), #201 (Rd 6), #239 (Rd 7)

Quick Glance: The New Orleans Saints are coming off their first Superbowl Victory in franchise history. In fact, from 1967-2008 the Saints had only two playoff wins, in 2009, the Saints won three postseason games. With QB Drew Brees at the helm and his excess of Offensive weapons, there seems to be no stopping the Saints from scoring.  New Orleans has the last pick in the 1st Round and luckily don't have many pressing personnel needs, but will still look to upgrade in a few areas.

Top Three Needs: 1) OLB      2)Safety          3)Running Back

Outside Line Backer: Saints veteran leader, Scott Fujita, was signed by the Browns in the off-season and New Orleans needs to replace him with  a player who is ready to start now. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of teams who draft ahead of the Saints with the same need. While the Saints won't have the chance to draft the best OLB in the draft, there are some players talented enough to jump into a starting role. Texas' Sergio Kindle and Penn State's Navorro Bowman would be excellent selections. Sean Weatherspoon from Missouri and Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson are also possibilities. Again, it really depends on what other team's with needs at OLB, decide to draft.

Safety: Ball hawking Safety, Darren Sharper, is a Free Agent and has yet to sign with the team. Even if Sharper does sign with the Saints, he is entering his 13th season. Sharper's nine INTs (three returned for a TD) will be difficult to replace. However, this year's draft class has very talented Safeties with a lot of speed and athleticism. Eric Berry and Earl Thomas won't be available. But at least one of the following players should be available at the very last pick in the 1st Round: Morgan Burnett from Georgia Tech, LSU's Chad Jones, and USC's Taylor Mays. A lot of NFL scouts are comparing Burnett to Sharper because of his interception ability. Burnett had 14 career INTs.

Running Back: The Saints employed a three back approach en route to their Championship season. But lost RB Mike Bell in Free Agency. Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas are more than capable of splitting the load together, but both are injury prone. It would be in the Saints best interest to draft an RB purely for depth purposes. Like Bell, Auburn's Ben Tate is a powerful runner and excels in goal-line situations. Stanford's Toby Gerhart or Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon are also solid 2nd Round options.

What Else? The Saints run Defense was 21st in the league. A Defensive Tackle or Defensive End who can stop the run but also attack the Quarterback would be a great addition for the Saints. They could surprise the experts and draft a DT in the 1st round. If Penn State's Jared Odrick is available at the end of the 1st, the Saints might pounce on the former Nittany Lion.

Atlanta Falcons

Picks: #19 (Rd1), #83 (Rd 3), #98 (Rd 3), #117 (Rd 4), #149 (Rd 5), #165 (Rd 5), #171 (Rd 6), #189 (Rd 6)

Quick Glance: The Falcons finished the '09 season with a 9-7 record, which helped them achieve consecutive winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. But the team missed the playoffs mostly because of inconsistent play throughout the season. Injuries to QB Matt Ryan and RB Michael Turner forced the stars to miss a few games. The falcons made wise moves this off-season, including signing Pro Bowl Corner Dunta Robinson. The team's 2009 draft was heavily focused on selecting Defensive players (seven of their eight picks were Defenders), but will still address Defense as a top priority in this year's draft.

Top Three Needs: 1) Defensive End              2) Line Backer           3) Wide Receiver

Defensive End: With just 28 sacks on the year, the “Dirty Birds” were among the leagues worst in terms of rushing the passer. Defensive End John Abraham turns 32 years-old and 2007's 1st Round Selection, Jamaal Anderson, has just 2.5 sacks in three years.  Finding a dominant pass rusher is priority Number 1. The talent pool for Defensive Ends in this year's class is deep, especially if you consider players like Michigan's Brandon Graham or USF's Jason Pierre-Paul who could transform from OLB to DE. Florida's Carlos Dunlap or TCU's Jerry Hughes are also solid Defensive End options. Dunlap is big, at 6'6-285 pounds he big and fast enough to make an impact his rookie season. Hughes is much smaller (6'1-255) but has one of the fastest “first steps” of all players at this position.

Line Backer:  Falcons current starting Weakside Linebacker, Mike Peterson, is turning 34 this season. Peterson was often beat in pass-coverage so drafting a younger, speedier player like Clemson's Ricky Sapp or Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson becomes a possibility. Sapp is 6'4 and ran a 4.59 forty-yard dash. At 6'2 Gibson is slightly smaller and his 4.65 second Forty time is a little slower. As mentioned above, a player like Brandon Graham would be an excellent fit for the Falcons because he could play either OLB or DE. Missiouri's Sean Weatherspoon is another player that has the Falcons' interest.

 Veteran WR, Roddy White, continues to prove he is one of the NFL's best.  The 6'0 receiver had his third straight season of at least 1,000 yards. But it would behoove the Falcons to draft a taller, more physical player to line up opposite White. Atlanta has had plenty of time to observe Demaryius Thomas during his career at Geogria Tech. And at 6'3-229 pounds, he has the size and speed to help free up Roddy White and also gives QB Matt Ryan a bigger target in the Red Zone. The Falcons don't have a 2nd Round pick, which may prevent them from landing Thomas, so they would need to draft him in the 1st Round. If they decide to spend one of their two 3rd round selections on a WR, Syracuse's Mike Williams and Minnesota's Eric Decker would be fine picks.  Williams has a troubled history, but has the size (6'2-204) and playmaking ability to be an excellent pass-catcher (if he can stay out of trouble).  Despite his 6'3 height, Decker is more of a possession receiver with excellent hands.

What Else? Tony Gonzalez's (Tight End) contract is up after the 2010 season. While Gonzo can still post monster stats, the Falcons may look to draft a TE in the Draft's later rounds as a potential down-the-road replacement. And who better to teach a young TE, than one of the league's greatest?

Carolina Panthers

Picks: #48 (Rd 2), #78 (Rd 3), #112 (Rd 4), #175 (Rd 6), #202 (Rd 6), # 204 (Rd 6), #223 (Rd 7), #249 (Rd 7)

Quick Glance: Starting the 2009 season 0-3 was a big surprise to many fans and experts around the NFL. But the way they finished the season makes the Panthers an exciting team to watch in 2010. They won their final three games of the season, two of which were against the teams who made it to the NFC Championship game (Vikings and Saints). The team believes they found their starting QB in Matt Moore who replaced the injured and inaccurate Jake Delhomme. Moore was 4-1 as a starter, and with Delhomme now playing for the Browns, it's Moore's job to lose. In 2010, the Panthers will do what they do best, and that's run the football. Both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart finished the ‘09 season with over 1,000 yards. However, the team needs an additional threat in the passing game to alleviate some of the pressure and double coverage WR Steve Smith receives from Defenses (Smith has been very vocal about the team's need to draft a promising WR). Plus the team has some needs on Defense, but without a 1st Round pick, it will be hard to get a lot of talent early. With five picks between Rounds six and seven; the team needs to find hidden gems late in the Draft.

Top Three Needs: 1) Wide Receiver         2) Defensive End           3) Quarterback

Wide Receiver: Steve Smith is still capable of being a valuable #1 option for QB Matt Moore. But other than Smith, the Panthers are lacking a quality Wide Receiver. It seems 36-year-old Muhsin Muhammad will not be re-signed and Dwayne Jarrett has just 36 receptions in three seasons. If the Panthers decide to draft a WR in the 2nd round it could be Arrelious Benn out of Illinois. At 6'2 he has the height Smith lacks and with a 4.45 40-yard-dash time, he could be the vertical threat the Panthers need opposite Smith. Another prospect is Damian Williams from USC. The 6'1 Williams has excellent hands and has proven he can take a few hits while running routes across the middle.

Defensive End: The Panthers pass rush was actually very good in '09. But losing DE Julius Peppers in Free Agency also means losing his team best 10.5 sacks. Defensive Ends will fly off the board in Round 1, so the Panthers will have limited options when they get their first chance to pick in Round 2. Northwestern's Corey Wootton is 6'6 and is excellent against both the run and pass. He didn't have a monster Senior season mostly due to a 2008 ACL tear, but proved his agility at this year's combine with a 4.92 40-yard-dash and a 9-foot broad jump.  Another option is Greg Hardy (6'5-281 pounds) from Ole Miss who also has the size and speed the Panthers crave. He ran a 4.79 40-yard-dash at his Pro Day Workout.

Quarterback: The Panthers won't be looking for a QB early because they believe Matt Moore is “their” guy. But because Moore was upgraded from backup to starter, Carolina doesn't have a decent backup in place. Drafting a QB later in the rounds purely for depth purposes would be a wise move. Cincinnati's Tony Pike or Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour would be solid options. But the Panthers are much more likely to wait until later in the Draft to select a QB especially if he will serve as a backup. In that case, Oregon State's Sean Canfield or Western Michigan's Tim Hiller are much more likely options.

What Else? Carolina cut both of their starting Defensive Tackles this off-season. But they added Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard last season. While neither has proven to be an instant star, the Panthers should address this position in the draft. Since 2002 the Panthers have made 11 Draft Day deals, so if they are serious about improving their Defensive Line, something may already be in the works. But assuming they don't get a 1st Round selection, the Panthers may draft a DT in the 3rd (unless they pass up on a WR in the 2nd). Some potential DT's likely to be drafted in the 3rd Round include Lamarr Houston from Texas and Jeff Owens out of Georgia.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Picks: #3 (Rd 1), #35 (Rd 2), #42 (Rd 2), #67 (Rd 3), #101 (Rd 4), #153 (Rd 5), #172 (Rd 6), #210 (Rd 7), #225 (Rd 7), #232 (Rd 7), #253 (Rd 7)

Quick Glance: There isn't a whole lot of positives to discuss regarding the 2009 Bucs. They finished with a 3-13 record, had the NFL's worst rush Defense, and were the league's 28th ranked offense. However, it was Raheem Morris' first year as an NFL Head Coach, Rookie QB Josh Freeman looked great at times (all three of the team's win came when Freeman started), and the Bucs have plenty of Draft picks to make improvements.

Top Three Needs: 1) Defensive Tackle            2) Wide Receiver        3)Offensive Guard

Defensive Tackle: With the 3rd overall pick the Tampa Bay Buccaneers select Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. Drafting McCoy is basically a shoe-in for the Bucs; that is of course assuming the Rams take QB Sam Bradford and the Lions take DT Ndamukong Suh. Standing at 6'4 and weighing in at 300 pounds, McCoy has rare speed for someone his size. He ran a 4.96 in the 40-yard-dash. Plus his physical strength and play-making ability make him a great Defender against the run and pass.

Wide Receiver: Other than Tight End Kellen Winslow, the Bucs leading receiver was Antonio Bryant. His stats were 39 receptions, 600 yards, and 4 TDs. Do those sound like the type of production a team wants from their #1 WR? Hopefully not, which may be the reason the Bucs didn't re-sign Bryant this season. Instead the TB will likely use one of their two 2nd round picks on a talented Receiver. Notre Dame's Golden Tate would be a fine addition, as would LSU's Brandon LaFell. At only 5'11, Tate is on the small side but his speed, vertical leap, and pass-catching ability make up for his size. Plus he can assist in the return game. LaFell on the other hand is 6'2 and is a bigger target in the Red Zone.

Offensive Guard: The Bucs need to add depth to their Offensive Line if they want to protect their Franchise QB. Scheduled starter, Arron Sears missed all of 2009 because of personal reasons, and the Bucs paid the price for not having a proper backup in place. Luckily the Bucs have an early 2nd Round pick to draft a talented Guard. Alabama's Mike Johnson is a very strong possibility. He's considered one of the best run-blocking Guards in this year's Draft, plus he has good pass-blocking fundamentals. Jon Asamoah is another prospect for the Bucs. The former Illinois player is only 6'3 but weighs 293 pounds and is quick enough to pull for outside runs or screens.

What Else? Tampa Bay has some quality players in their secondary. Safety Tanard Jackson is quickly becoming one of the better players at his position. Plus CB Ronde Babrer continues to prove he has plenty left in the tank. But with so many selections this year, the Bucs will attempt to solidify the rest of the secondary. Corner Back Devin McCourty would be a fine selection and is actually being compared to Barber. At Safety, South Florida's Nate Allen is smart and athletic, with the potential to be an NFL star in years to come.

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