Over draft weekend the makeup of Tampa Bay's division rivals changed greatly. With Atlanta, New Orleans, and Carolina all selecting in the top half of the draft, some talented players were bound to come into the division.
New talent will provide new matchups and possible mismatches that the Buccaneers must account for. We've already had a breakdown of Tampa Bay's draft. Instead of a Cover 2, this week we will dig into the drafts of the other teams in the NFC South.
After a disastrous 2007 season the Falcons cleaned house. They relieved Rich McKay of his football-related duties and hired Thomas Dimitroff as their new general manager. Mike Smith became their new head coach, and the pair started out remaking the roster. After trading two-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall for a second-round and fifth-round pick the Falcons entered the draft with four picks in the first 48 selections. That included a second-round pick in the trade where the Falcons sent Matt Schaub to Houston.
With the third overall pick the Falcons took the top-rated quarterback in the draft, Matt Ryan. It is suspect as to whether the Ryan selection was a purely football decision. The polished, articulate Ryan gives the Falcons a professional image for them to build around after the Michael Vick fiasco.
There are many people in NFL circles that doubted Ryan as a player to be drafted highly. In his career Ryan completed 807 passes for 9,313 yards and 56 touchdowns. One of the biggest knocks on Ryan was the number of interceptions he threw. In his senior season Ryan threw 19 interceptions and 37 interceptions in his career. Despite being overrated, it is hard to argue with selecting the top quarterback in the draft. It is always a good idea to try and acquire the best talent at the game's most important position.
After the Ryan selection, the Falcons made a controversial move when they traded two of their second-round picks and a fourth-round pick to Washington for the 21st overall pick, a third-round pick, and a fifth-round pick. With their second first-round selection the Falcons took left tackle Sam Baker from USC. Baker was the seventh tackle taken in the first round of the draft. Baker is a quality player, but he was a definite reach at pick 21. The Falcons used the third-round pick from that trade on Louisville wide receiver Harry Douglas.
Essentially the Falcons traded Schaub and Hall for Baker, Douglas, and guard Justin Blalock. Unless the young Falcons become Pro Bowlers, it is hard to argue that the Falcons made out well in those deals. Hall is already a Pro Bowler and Schaub has the potential to become one.
The Falcons used their own second-round pick on Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton. He may be the safest pick they made in the draft. Lofton had 197 tackles in 39 games (19 starts). In a year or two he and Michael Boley should form a good linebacker duo.
In the third round the Falcons selected LSU cornerback Chevis Jackson, Douglas, and California safety Thomas DeCoud. Jackson lacks top speed and is a tough instinctive player. Douglas put up big numbers catching passes from Brohm but does not look like he has the NFL tools to duplicate that success. DeCoud looks to be a good, but raw prospect. He started only 16 games and only made one interception, but he made a ton of tackles (198).
The Falcons sat out the fourth round due to the Baker trade. They had five picks over the last three rounds. Their fifth-round picks were Arizona State linebacker Robert James and Montana linebacker Kroy Biemann. In the sixth round they selected Thomas Brown a running back from Georgia. They had two seventh-round picks that they used on Arizona cornerback Wilrey Fontenot and LSU tight end Keith Zinger. Whether any of those players makes a contribution or even makes the team remains to be seen.
New franchise quarterback Ryan does not seem to present a terrible mismatch for the Buccaneers. Early in his career, Tampa Bay should be able to exploit his inexperience. Ryan's propensity to throw interceptions, and the Buccaneers talented secondary should lead to Tampa Bay having the early advantage for the first couple of seasons in his career. It's interesting to note that the Bucs will face Ryan and the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium in Week 2 of the regular season. Whether Ryan can turn the corner and become a competent professional quarterback will be the determining factor in Atlanta becoming a competitive franchise.
Lofton with Boley could make things difficult on Tampa Bay in running the ball and passing the ball out of the backfield. Other than Lofton, the other Falcon draft picks should not present mismatch problems for the Buccaneers. Baker against defensive end Gaines Adams will become a rivalry that should favor Tampa Bay. Adams has the ability to be an elite pass rusher, whereas Baker looks to be a quality pro but not at an All-Pro level. This matchup could be similar to former New Orleans Saints tackle Kyle Turley against Buccaneer great Simeon Rice. Turley was a good player but Rice seemed to get the best of their contests.
The Falcons were in great position to address the numerous needs on their team yet they failed to address them completely. In reaching for Baker it cost them the opportunity to address their needs on the defensive line, and with a better tight end prospect. By trading back into the first-round the Falcons had top talent available at need positions. They could've drafted South Florida's Mike Jenkins, who would've been a much better value than Baker and filled a big hole.
If they would have kept their picks their first day could've been Ryan, Lofton, Notre Dame defensive tackle Trevor Laws, and USC's Fred Davis. That looks better than Ryan, Baker, and Lofton.
Overall grade: C
Most years the Carolina Panthers seem to draft pretty well. General manager Marty Hurney and head coach John Fox seem to get good value at each of their picks. Like all teams, not all of their players pan out but they don't seem to reach for players. This year is the first year that they had a questionable draft.
Their first pick was Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart, who they selected at 13th overall. Over his career he started 25 games with 516 carries for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns. Stewart is an excellent prospect; the problem with his selection was that in the 2006 NFL Draft the Panthers selected running back DeAngelo Williams with their first-round pick. Spending two out of three first-round picks on running backs is questionable drafting. Especially considering all their other needs, and Williams remaining healthy and somewhat productive.
The Panthers gave up a king's ransom to move back into the first round. They traded their second-round pick, their fourth-round pick, and next year's first-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 19th overall pick. They used that pick for Pittsburgh offensive tackle Jeff Otah.
The massive Otah projects to start inside for Panthers while they still have starting tackles Travelle Wharton and Jordan Gross. Otah is strong, tough, and figures to help the Panthers re-establish their power running game. However the amount they traded for him was surprising.
New Orleans, Jacksonville, Dallas, Baltimore, Kansas City, Atlanta, and the New York Jets all traded up during the first round and did not trade away their first-round pick in next year's draft. It's always dangerous to do that because you never know whom you just missed an opportunity to draft. Teams like Indianapolis, who did not have first-round pick this year, that are close to the Super Bowl have more room to error on acquiring one player who will put them over the top. Carolina has many more issues, and the pick they sent to Philadelphia could very possibly be in the top half of the 2009 NFL Draft with elite talent available.
The Panthers got good value in the third round when they drafted Iowa cornerback Charles Godfrey and Penn State linebacker Dan Connor. Both players could easily have been drafted in the second round. Godfrey has good size and notched five interceptions in 2007. Connor is a player that is comparable to Dan Morgan, the former Panther linebacker. With over 400 tackles in college Connor was very productive, but in the NFL he will need to improve his pass coverage.
With their fourth-round pick traded to Philadelphia, the Panthers' next pick was in the fifth round when they selected Louisville tight end Gary Barnidge. He put up good numbers in college, 108 receptions with 17 touchdowns. Like their third-round picks, Barnidge could've been drafted a round or two earlier.
Their sixth-round pick was spent on a Wisconsin defensive tackle Nick Hayden, a four-year starter. Hayden is primarily a run-stuffer that will not bring much of a pass rush to Carolina's defensive line.
The Panthers had three seventh-round picks. They selected North Carolina defensive end/linebacker Hilee Taylor, Oregon guard/tackle Geoff Schwartz, and Bentley guard Mackenzy Berernadeau. They all will be competitive in making the team because Carolina had big holes on both the offensive line and defensive front seven going into the offseason.
Aside from trading next year's first-round pick, the Panthers were questionable by not addressing one of their biggest needs on the defensive line, where the Panthers lost two of their 2007 starters. Defensive end Mike Rucker retired and the team traded away tackle Kris Jenkins. That is an area for real concern as the Panthers ranked last in the NFC in sacks last season. The Buccaneers young impressive offensive line should be able to have their way with the Panthers defensive line next season. Outside of defensive end Julius Peppers, the Panthers do not have anybody else that has proven to be an effective NFL player.
The Panthers also did not address finding a quarterback of the future. The 33-year-old Jake Delhomme is coming off an injury and is approaching the end of his career. Matt Moore is their backup who showed some skills in limited time, but is not a sure thing for their quarterback of the future.
The Panthers addition of Stewart could cause problems for Tampa Bay. He and Williams could form a nice duo with improved blocking from bringing in Otah. Tampa Bay's front seven will have to eliminate Carolina's ground game and make them a one-dimensional throwing team. If they can do that then Delhomme or Moore will have to beat the Buccaneers through the air, which will be much harder to do against the number one rated pass defense in the NFL last season.
After spending another premium draft pick on a running back and trading next year's first-round pick it is hard to be impressed with Carolina's draft. Despite the fact that they had two first-rounder's and found excellent value in the third and fifth round. The Panthers did not address finding a quarterback of the future. Intelligent draft observers say that you can't fill all your needs in a single draft. Organizations have to prioritize their targets in each draft, but not addressing the defensive line and quarterback is borderline negligent.
Overall Grade: C+
New Orleans Saints
The Saints went into the offseason with needs across their defense. They addressed their holes at linebacker by trading for the Jets Jonathan Vilma and signing Dan Morgan. They also were in the market for a cornerback and a defensive tackle. Signing New England's Randall Gay helped improve their talent at cornerback, but they were unable to address their hole at tackle.
The days leading up to the draft there were rumors that the Saints were trying to trade up to the second pick with the St. Louis Rams. Their supposed target was LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. A deal wasn't agreed on, so the Saints traded with the Patriots for the seventh pick to acquire the second-rated defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis of USC.
Ellis was one of the best defensive prospects in the draft and there were quite a few analysts who thought he was a better prospect then Dorsey. For USC, Ellis was a disruptive force finishing with 17.5 sacks. He was virtually unblockable at the Senior Bowl, which cemented his status in the draft's top 10. The combination of Ellis with the Saints defensive ends of Will Smith and Charles Grant will form a very formidable defensive line.
In the second round the Saints were able to find good value with Indiana cornerback Tracey Porter. The athletic Porter brings great speed and agility. Porter has all the tools of a first-round corner but needs to be more physical against the run and improve his tackling. Porter will battle with Jason David and last season's third-rounder Usama Young for the nickel corner position.
The Saints were without third- and fourth-round picks due to their trades for Vilma and moving up for Ellis. They had two fifth-round picks and selected North Carolina State's defensive tackle DeMario Pressley and Nebraska's offensive tackle Carl Nicks. Pressley looks like he has the potential to be a big-time player, but he did not produce. Nicks is raw with weight and character concerns. On the positive side he is very athletic, is a good run blocker, and a good pass protector. The Saints' fifth-round picks seem to be real boom-or-bust picks.
In the sixth round the Saints took Wisconsin kicker Taylor Mehlhaff. He is an accurate kicker from inside of 45 yards, but doesn't have a very strong leg. He has a decent shot to make the team, as his competition is former Buccaneer Martin Gramatica.
In the seventh round the Saints took Michigan receiver Adrian Arrington. In his career he was less noticed due to the presence of Mario Manningham, but he could be a better pro player than college. He still will have to battle to make the team.
The only needs that the Saints did not address in the draft were getting a young linebacker and a future tight end. Their roster is already adequate at those positions for next season, but they will need to be addressed in the next round of free agency or draft.
If Ellis turns into the professional that most scouts think he will be, then Buccaneer fans are going to be thankful that Davin Joseph, Arron Sears, and Jeff Faine are on their team. The talented interior of Tampa Bay's offensive line should be able to handle a good interior lineman like Ellis. Most other teams do not have guards and a center of the Buccaneers caliber, and Ellis should be productive against those teams for years to come.
The Saints play a lot of man-to-man coverage, so Porter will have to be able to run with receivers or Tampa Bay could exploit that matchup. Wide receiver Joey Galloway has had a lot of big games against New Orleans because of their corner's inability to handle his speed. Porter has great speed but whether it's good enough to stay with Galloway remains to be seen. Add in Galloway's veteran knowledge and the Buccaneers should be able to win this matchup for at least next season.
The aggressive move to draft Ellis was an astute one by the Saints. Landing Porter in the second round was good value and everybody else are pretty much boom-or-bust. Even more so than your typical draft class, in a few years this draft will look amazing or horrible. Overall the aggressiveness looks impressive now.
Overall Grade: A-
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