While most Bucs fans are all excited about how their team did in last weekend’s NFL Draft, their NFC South division rivals fans were just as excited about the newest players they will get to cheer for. PewterReport.com takes a look at the Bucs three divisional opponents and breaks down their draft selections, including which drafted player could be a a thorn in the Bucs side moving forward.
ATLANTA FALCONS 1. Florida S Keanu Neal
Neal was a bit of surprise pick at No. 17 since many expected Atlanta to go linebacker, but he certainly fits a need for at the Falcons, who will use the former Gators safety at the strong safety position and count on him to come up in run support like Kam Chancellor did when head coach Dan Quinn was in Seattle. Neal is a thumper, and Bucs receivers would be smart to keep an eye on him when going over the middle. The good news is with the rule changes recently protecting defenseless receivers, Neal will be limited from delivering the big-time hits he is capable of making. The Falcons run a lot of Cover 3, and Neal should step in as a starter from the first day of camp.
2. LSU LB Deion Jones
Jones is expected to start at weakside linebacker for Atlanta and like Neal, fills a need. Jones is a super-athletic linebacker, but sometimes lacks natural instinct according to some. The Falcons loved Neal at the Senior Bowl and also brought him in for a private visit and love the fact he ran a sub 4.4 40 time at his pro day. He has Lavonte David-type speed and athleticism.
3. Stanford TE Austin Hooper
The Falcons have been looking for a red zone receiving tight end threat since Tony Gonzalez retired, and think they may have found one in the former Stanford standout. Hooper appears to a well-rounded blocker and receiver who can play inline of split out in the slot.
4. Minnesota LB DeVondre Campbell
A raw but athletic linebacker, Campbell struggles at times playing with natural instincts. But you can’t coach his size (6-4, 232) or athleticism. Expected to be a special teams contributor as he gets up to NFL speed.
5. San Jose State G Wes Schweitzer
One of the smartest players in the draft, Schweitzer’s major at San Jose State was chemistry. The Falcons need guard help as one starter Chris Chester was re-signed to a one-year deal, but is coming off of offseason surgery. Schweitzer will compete to start but most likely is a first-year backup.
6. UCLA WR Devin Fuller
Fuller came to UCLA as a four-star QB recruit before transitioning to wide receiver and kick returner. Will need to contribute on special teams to make the team but has the size and speed (4.39) to intrigue the Falcons.
BUCS’ BIGGEST PROBLEM: NEAL Tampa Bay receivers could take advantage of the middle of the field with the aging William Moore in the secondary, but Neal is a game-changer. He’s just as hard of a hitter for Atlanta, but Neal is faster and better in coverage than Moore ever was.
FALCONS’ DRAFT GRADE: C
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 1. Louisville DT Sheldon Rankins
PewterReport.com readers know what we’ve thought of Rankins for a quite a while and the former Louisville standout instantly should make the Saints defense better. With an incredibly quick first move, Rankins has reminded many of Rams star Aaron Donald. The Saints already have Nick Fairley and John Jenkins to play inside, but Rankins could end up being the best of the bunch and, do it quickly.
2. Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
The Saints gave QB Drew Brees another weapon in Thomas who caught 56 passes for 781 yards and nine TDs last season for Ohio State. Thomas isn’t a blazer, but he’s a big receiver and gives the Saints a different style receiver who excels at catching the ball in traffic, and getting up over defenders.
2. Ohio State S Vonn Bell
Bell isn’t a headhunter type safety, but in the new NFL, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bell excels in coverage and lead the Buckeyes with six interceptions as a sophomore, including one that helped seal the national championship game against the Crimson Tide in 2014.
4. Manitoba DT Daniel Onyemata
Onyemata isn’t a household name after playing his college football in Canada, but was rising up draft boards late in the process after his pro day earlier this year. With Sheldon expected to make an immediate impact, the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Onyemata can learn and develop his game moving forward.
7. California RB Daniel Lasco
After a terrific 2014 season where he ran for 1,115 yards and scored 14 touchdowns, Lasco saw his production dip dramatically after a string injuries took their toll. Still, Lasco is an athlete, as evidenced by his 11-foot-3 broad jump and 41.5 vertical at the NFL scouting Combine in Indianapolis last February.
BUCS’ BIGGEST PROBLEM: RANKINS The Bucs used to be able to run at will against the Saints, but having Rankins in the middle will make that tougher. New Orleans’ interior pass rush was also non-existent, but that changes with the arrival of Rankins.
SAINTS’ DRAFT GRADE: B
CAROLINA PANTHERS 1. Louisiana Tech DT Vernon Butler
The selection of Butler was interesting as the Panthers already have Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei up front. But Butler will most certainly rotate with both and gives the Panthers some flexibility and options as both Short and Lotulelei have contracts coming due in the not too distant future. Butler is a manning presence in the middle and will help keep opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable on Sunday afternoons.
2. Samford CB James Bradberry
After losing Josh Norman to the Redskins via free agency, Carolina spent their next three picks trying to replace the talented, but hot-headed former Panthers Pro Bowler. Bradberry, like Norman, comes from a small school, but will compete to start in the Panthers secondary. Some felt drafting the 6-foot-1 Bradberry in the second round was a little bit of a reach.
3. West Virginia CB Daryl Worley
Worley was the second DB drafted by the Panthers last week and the former West Virginia standout comes with some character concerns after an arrest in college. However the Panthers feel they did their homework, so much in fact, they moved up to grab another big, 6-foot-1 cornerback in the third round.
5. Oklahoma CB Zack Sanchez
Sanchez had 13 interceptions and 88 tackles over his last two seasons at Oklahoma, and was a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award last season. He was described as a gambler, but regardless he is a ball hawk, something the Panthers love about him. Between Sanchez, Bradberry and Worley the Panthers have to hit on one of these cornerbacks to replace Norman.
7. Montana State TE Beau Sandland
The Panthers rounded out their draft with the pick of Sandland in the seventh out of Montana State. Sandland caught 37 passes for 632 yards and nine touchdowns last season and can learn from one of the best in Greg Olsen.
BUCS’ BIGGEST PROBLEM: Sanchez Sanchez is a feast-or-famine cornerback that will remind some of former Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib in that he’s a gambler. He’ll give up some TDs, but he will also get his share of interceptions and turn a few into pick-sixes, too.
PANTHERS DRAFT GRADE: C-
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 firstname.lastname@example.org