Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Tuesday. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?

This week we review the draft picks for the Falcons, Panthers and Saints and offer up our grades with some way-too-early analysis on each team’s draft class.

Atlanta Falcons 2021 Draft Picks

Round 1, pick 4 – Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Round 2, pick 40 (from DEN) – Richie Grant, S, UCF

Round 3, pick 68 – Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan

Round 4, pick 108 – Darren Hall, CB, San Diego State

Round 4, pick 114  – Drew Dalman, C, Stanford

Round 5, pick 148 – Ta’Quon Graham, DT, Texas 

Round 5, pick 182 – Adetokunbo Ogundeji, DE, Notre Dame 

Round 5, pick 183 – Avery Williams, CB, Boise State

Round 6, pick 187 – Frank Darby, WR, Arizona State

Analysis: Atlanta ended last weekend’s draft with nine new players including the best tight end prospect in years with the selection of former Florida standout Kyle Pitts. The Falcons went into the draft knowing they needed to bolster their secondary and believe they did so with UCF safety Richie Grant, who is likely a Day 1 starter.

The big question still is, where will the pass rush come from? The Falcons struggled to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis over the past few seasons, which has really hurt their defense. This year’s draft wasn’t particularly loaded with standout pass rushers, but Atlanta hopes Adetokunbo Ogundeji can develop into a quality starter down the road, though he likely won’t be much help in 2020. The Falcons believe the selection of Avery Williams, a special team standout at Boise State, can help upgrade their mediocre unit from 2020. Atlanta may have found their replacement for Alex Mack with Drew Dalman out of Stanford, an ideal fit in Arthur Smith’s zone-blocking scheme.

Grade: B-

Carolina Panthers 2021 Draft Picks

Round 1, pick 8 – Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

Round 2, pick 59 (from CLE) – Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

Round 3, pick 70 (from PHI) – Brady Christensen, OT, BYU

Round 4, pick 126 (from TEN) – Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State 

Round 5, pick 158 (from From NE through HOU) – Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa

Round 5, pick 166 (from TEN) – Keith Taylor, CB, Washington

Round 6, pick 193 – Deonte Brown, OG, Alabama

Round 6, pick 204 (from CHI) – Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina

Round 6, pick 222 – Thomas Fletcher, LS, Alabama

Round 7, pick 232 – Phil Hoskins, DT, Kentucky

Analysis: Like the Falcons, the Panthers had a number of holes to fill on their team coming off a 5-11 season. Many were surprised that Carolina passed on a quarterback in the first round, instead showing they have faith in what Sam Darnold can bring to the table in 2021 and beyond. Last year Carolina went exclusively defense with their draft, but this year mixed it up on both sides of the ball, starting with arguably the best cornerback in the draft in Jaycee Horn.

Offensive line was also a priority in this year’s draft, as the Panthers added Brady Christensen from BYU, who will compete with Greg Little to start at tackle this year. Wide receiver Terrance Marshall Jr. gives Darnold a terrific weapon on the outside and Chuba Hubbard fills the need for a backup running back for Christian McCaffrey, after Mike Davis left for Atlanta in free agency.

Grade: B+

New Orleans Saints 2021 Draft Picks

Round 1, pick 28 – Payton Turner, DE, Houston

Round 2, pick 60 – Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State

Round 3, pick 76 – Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

Round 4, pick 133 – Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame

Round 6, pick 206 – Landon Young, OT, Kentucky

Round 7, pick 255 – Kawaan Baker, WR, South Alabama

Analysis: The Saints filled some needs on their roster, but some some feel they reached with first rounder Payton Turner. Not that Turner isn’t a talented football player, but most didn’t feel he warranted a first-round value. New Orleans wanted to upgrade their linebacking unit and took Pete Werner in the second round. The Ohio State linebacker likely starts the season next to Demario Davis. Paulson Adebo looks like a really good value in the third round, projecting as the starter opposite Marshon Lattimore at cornerback. The biggest head scratcher for the Saints was the selection of Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round. The Saints needed more receiving help, but instead took a QB that will have to battle Trevor Siemian just to make the roster as a third-stringer.

Grade: C

Final NFC South Draft Thoughts: If I had to pick the best draft among the Bucs’ NFC South rivals, I would give a slight edge to Carolina followed by the Falcons and then the Saints.

Carolina got better in the secondary with Horn and also added a potential starter on a below average offensive line. The big wildcard for me for the Panthers is Marshall Jr., who could end up being a steal in the second round. Hubbard will see the field and contribute as a rookie, giving McCaffrey a break at times. My biggest concern is Rhule passing on Justin Fields and pinning his hope on Sam Darnold. These are the decisions that either make you a Hall of Fame coach one day, or get you fired in two years. For Rhule’s sake, hopefully Darnold is a future playoff quarterback.

Draft Kyle Pitts NFC South

TE Kyle Pitts – Photo by: USA Today

Falcons’ first round pick Kyle Pitts is a matchup nightmare and will present problems to defenses for years to come. They still aren’t very good defensively, so expect some shootouts this season when the Falcons take the field. Grant will start, but there were higher-rated safeties on the consensus board early in the second round when Atlanta was on the clock. Grant was ranked as the 54th best player and the Falcons took him with the 40th pick with Trevon Moehrig (ranked 25th) still sitting there.  Dalman also went higher than many thought as he was ranked 175 on the consensus board but taken with pick 114. I love the value of Johnson in the sixth round and he was a player PewterReport.com was high on due to his nine career scores as a returner and ability to perhaps develop into a solid nickel cornerback.

The Saints draft was solid on the surface and Turner could be a key cog in their defensive line rotation down the road. Werner was a 35-game starter for the Buckeyes and fills a need the Saints had after losing Alex Anzalone and Kwon Alexander this offseason. The addition of Adebo at cornerback shores up the back end for the Saints too. The pick of Ian Book still is perplexing and while is a tough kid and a leader, he wasn’t even in the Top 200 (237) on the consensus boards yet, he was taken with 133.

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About the Author: Mark Cook

Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, the beach and family time.Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at mark@pewterreport.com
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Alldaway 2.0
1 month ago

I agree that the Falcons could have done more with their draft. I am presuming that they will generate pressure with blitzes. But Pees’ defensive scheme needs some added talent to pull it off. Also, it feels like the Falcons don’t have the RB’s that are needed to run Arthur Smith’s scheme. Smith’s scheme relies on play action passing to open up matchups with TEs and WRs. But if teams don’t respect the Falcons running game then play action isn’t going to be that effective and that leaves M. Ryan vulnerable. Davis is a nice complimentary back but by no… Read more »

jrwilson85
Reply to  Alldaway 2.0
1 month ago

I agree too, until we have to face the Falcons’ receiving corps of Calvin Ridley, Julio Jones, Russell Gage are formidable enough and then you give Matty Ice TE Kyle Pitts to boot.

Spitfire
1 month ago

I hope for Rhules sake the Panthers do just enough to stay average so that he stays and hear after year we just pound his team into the ground and they are never really ever a contender. They have an average small college coach right now and I don’t wanna see them get rid of him and find someone good so I hope he does just enough to stick while still stinkin up the cellar of the NFC South. Also, I hope the Falcons and Saints are right there with them battling it out every year to see who’s worse… Read more »

Dave
1 month ago

So Mark, what do you give us for a grade? And if you have already posted it on here before, my apologies. Ok so here goes. As a whole, I love the Falcons and Panthers drafts. Both took some very good talents. But both of them missed a golden opportunity to draft their biggest need(Panthers passing on Fields when QB was their biggest need. And Falcons not addressing RB, in one of the deepest RB drafts in a few years). So both the Falcons and Panthers had a big opportunity to close the gap on the Saints, and put themselves… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Dave