NFL draft comparison NFC South

The NFL off-season is in full swing, the draft is done, rookie minicamps & OTAs are in the books & we are about a month away from training camps opening up. Before we move forward let’s look back to new faces in place & how they help teams get better. We at Mental Dimes have taken on the assignment of breaking down these draft classes one division at a time. Today is the final draft breakdown I’m tackling the NFC South.

Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers entered the off-season with their coach firmly planted into the hot seat, but they had a top 10 pick to work with. Matt Rhule has started off a lot of seasons looking innovative offensively, however, with defensive coordinators getting a chance to adjust he hasn’t adjusted well as the season went forward. This may be his last chance to save his job, the Panthers traded for Sam Darnold as well as bringing in former hero in Carolina Cam Newton, neither move was fruitful & it appears the Panthers are back at square one this off-season. The aforementioned trade for Sam Darnold left them somewhat short on draft capital, but at least they had a first-round pick. They used the 6th overall pick on Ikem Ekwonu. Ikem is an athletic future Left Tackle hailing from the Panthers backyard at NC State. Heading into the draft the top 2 potential LTs were Evan Neal from Alabama & Ekwonu. The Panthers chose the latter over the former & he should plug right in and start immediately. The Panthers have been searching for a tackle to work there since Jordan Gross retired in 2013. I think they finally found their guy. The Panthers didn’t have a 2nd or 3rd round pick due to trade, however, they traded up into the 3rd round with the patriots using their 4th round pick & a third round pick from next year to grab Matt Corral, the signal caller comes into the NFL after a gritty performance under the tutelage of Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss. Matt Corral had a good college career & was valued as high as a first-round pick heading into the draft. He is a QB that can make all the throws but does come with some injury concern which may have dropped his draft stock some, but i think he has a chance to become the starter at some point this season & the Panthers will be ecstatic if their 3rd round pick comes to fruition like that. In the 4th round the panthers drafted Brandon Smith an instinctive LB out of Penn State (LBU). Smith was a 5-star top 20 recruit coming out of high school & a Butkus award finalist last year racking up 165 tackles including 30 for a loss & 11 sacks. The Panthers might have found a diamond in the rough in Smith who comes with tons of experience & plays at a high level. In the 6th round the panthers had 2 picks that they used to fortify the trenches. Their first of which was Amare’ Barno. The 6’6 DE out of Virginia Tech could be a bit of a project pick but could be a situational pass rusher from the start & can learn a lot from former first round pick Brian Burns. The other 6th round pick was used on Cade Mays from Tennessee. Mays started his collegiate career at Georgia before transferring to Tennessee to play with his brother in Knoxville. He started 10 games at right tackle for the Vols allowing only 1 sack & 5 pressures earning him All-SEC honors. Cade projects to bounce inside to guard at the next level, but he could be a steal at this point in the draft for the Panthers. The Panthers finished up their draft by getting Kalon Barnes, the speedy CB out of Baylor set a record with his 40-yard dash time at 4.23, the fastest by a defensive player. Barnes is projected as an outside CB who is better in zone coverage than man to man, he will be tasked to shutdown vertical routes while in Carolina.

Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts at the start of this off-season netting them draft picks & gained some salary cap room as well. They brought in Marcus Mariota to give him another chance as the starter. Calvin Ridley dealing with some off the field gambling issues hurt the team’s overall talent level at the receiver position as well, so they entered the draft with some holes to fill on offense & after fielding one of the worst defenses in the league last season they simply had to raise the talent level on both sides of the ball. With their first pick 8th overall, they selected Drake London out of USC. the 6’4 219-pound WR is a jump ball guy the Falcons needed to take advantage of smaller DBs when the QB is in trouble. London will be an immediate contributor for the Falcons & gives them the big X receiver they’ve been searching for since Julio left town. The Falcons had a pair of 2nd round picks they used both to help out on defense. the first going toward the pass rush that was the worst in the league last season, they brought in Arnold Ebikete a talented pass rusher from Penn State that was projected in the first round my many experts & one of Mel Kiper Jr’s crushes in the draft. With their other 2nd round pick the Falcons drafted Troy Andersen a coverage LB out of Montana State who burst onto the scene during the pre-draft process. Andersen is a freak & his ceiling is a Brian Urlacher type LB who can cover TEs in the seem as well as coming up to be a run stuffer. In the 3rd round the Falcons again had 2 picks. The first pick went toward Desmond Ridder, the talented QB from Cincinnati who led them to a college football playoff berth & has an excellent blend of speed & throwing ability he could push for starting time early if the Mariota experiment doesn’t work out. With their other 3rd round pick the Falcons addressed the pass rush again by drafting DeAngelo Malone out of Western Kentucky. As I mentioned earlier the Falcons were the worst pass rushing team in the league last season, so they grabbed more bodies to plug in to help keep fresh legs late in games. In the 5th round the Falcons drafted Tyler Allgeier a big RB out of BYU. with Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson & Damien Williams on their depth chart this pick is helpful to infuse some youth into that position. Allgeier is a 5’10 224-pound power back that can help in goal line & short yardage situations. He could be a nice depth piece if Mike Davis’ body can’t hold up. In the 6th round the Falcons got some help on their offensive line by drafting Justin Shaffer a guard out of Georgia. the 6’4 330-pound guard was a 2year starter for the national champion Georgia Bulldogs & will be in a tough competition on the interior of the Falcons offensive line. The Falcons finished up the draft in the 6th round drafting John Fitzpatrick a blocking TE out of Georgia. With Pitts already on the roster they didn’t have a need for a receiving TE, but they get a nice blocker with this pick to help them open holes for RBs & help the Falcons run a nice 2 TE set.

New Orleans Saints

The New Orleans Saints off-season started with Sean Payton retiring from coaching the team. But it wasn’t a huge change for the Saints as they promoted Dennis Allen from within the organization. The defensive coordinator comes with some head coaching experience albeit not a great experience with the Oakland Raiders. Their names were also rumored to be involved in the Deshaun Watson trade, however they ended up bringing Jameis Winston back in, Winston already knows the system & with a defensive minded HC it should help him cut down on the turnovers. They did trade around in the first-round pre-draft with the Philadelphia Eagles who had 3 1st round picks. Keeping up with Saints traditions they traded up in the first round (24 times in the last 16 NFL drafts) they traded up to the 11th overall pick & selected Chris Olave. Olave was my personal favorite at WR in this draft. the small, but shifty WR comes in with an understanding of route running that most WRs take a year or 2 to refine. Olave across from Mike Thomas coming back will give Jameis some excellent weapons on the outside. The Saints other 1st round draft pick went toward Trevor Penning the 6’7 325-pound offensive tackle will step in right away and have his feet held to the fire protecting Jameis’ blindside at LT. In the 2nd round the Saints drafted Alontae Taylor the former Tennessee Volunteer should fight for playing time right away across from Marshon Lattimore, although i am a big fan of Paulson Adebo who is currently in that position, this will be a big training camp battle to keep an eye on in the big easy. The saints traded away their 3rd & 4th round picks as part of the Olave trade, so they didn’t draft again until the 5th round. They used that 5th round pick on D’Marco Jackson. With Demario Davis & Pete Werner locking down the starting LB spots this is more of a depth piece, but the former Sunbelt defensive player of the year is an excellent depth piece for the Saints & could help them with salary cap issues if he plays well. In the 6th round the Saints drafted Jordan Jackson a DT from the air force academy. Being on a defensive line next to Cam Jordan he has experienced veterans to learn from before he’s ready to step in and play.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What a whirlwind of an off-season in Tampa Bay, from Tom Brady retiring, then unretiring 40 days later to Bruce Arians stepping down as the head coach & handing over the reins to Todd Bowles who had a chance as the Jets head coach years ago & failed, then again, who hasn’t failed in that organization? I think this is a great shot for Todd Bowles to prove he can be an excellent head coach. The Buccaneers started the draft by trading out of the first round with the Jacksonville Jaguars netting them 3 picks in the process. Their first pick came at the start of the 2nd round. drafting Logan Hall 33rd overall. Hall is an excellent 3 technique DT, with Ndamukong Suh leaving in free agency Hall should be able to step into a good situation on the defensive line rotation. In the 2nd round the bucs drafted Luke Goedeke an offensive tackle from Central Michigan. In the pre-draft process Central Michigan’s other offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann had a ton of buzz building meanwhile Goedeke continued to build draft stock of his own. Goedeke can play either Tackle or guard position & the coaching staff in Tampa will find the best way possible to utilize his skill set. In the 3rd round the Buccaneers drafted Rachaad White, the Arizona State RB led the Sun Devils in rushing & receiving yards & was 2nd in receptions. White gives Tampa a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield after bringing back Leonard Fournette. We all know how Tom Brady likes getting RBs involved in the passing game, so White has a chance to burst onto the scene immediately. If you’re in a dynasty fantasy football league White could be a good pickup going forward. In the 4th round they drafted Cade Otton a TE out of Washington. With Rob Gronkowski retiring Cade Otton could be a huge pick for the Bucs, but he will still have to fight for snaps with Cameron Brate a consistent TE in Tampa Bay. In the 4th round the Buccaneers drafted Jake Camarda a Punter out of Georgia. Camarda was the SEC special teams player of the year in 2020. Camarda averaged 46.7 yards per punt en route to a national championship & gives the Buccaneers the ability to help out their salary cap by parting ways with Bradley Pinion their veteran punter who was set to count nearly 3 million against the cap. In the 5th round the Buccaneers drafted Zyon McCollum a gifted athlete from Sam Houston State the CB ran a 4.33 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine & running the fastest 3 cone drill for a CB in combine history. He has good ball skills & the coaches in Tampa can help him clean up some of his tackling technique. Tampa got great value with this 5th round pick. The Bucs traded up in the 6th round for Ko Kieft a TE out of Minnesota that serves more of a blocking role & is needed in Tampa as Brate & Otton stand to be more of the receiving TEs. the 6’4 230-pound TE was quoted as saying “Any kind of run blocking, pass pro- I’m your man. I’ll get down & dirty with the worst of ’em. So that’s my role. Thats what I love to do. But when I’m given the opportunity to run routes, catch the football I’m proficient & can help the team in that way.” With Brady a year older & still just as immobile that’s the type of blocker you need on your side. They wrapped up their draft taking a chance on a pass rusher out of LSU in Andre Anthony. Anthony tore his ACL 3 games into the 2021 season but was able to run his 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day a mere 7-months post injury coming in with a 4.63 in that event. With Jason Pierre-Paul & Joe Tryon in the starting roles, this is more of a depth piece, but Anthony has a plethora of pass rush moves, bull rush, push-pull moves & spin moves are all in his arsenal. This will be a late round pick I’m keeping my eye on going forward.

Bottom Line

With 3 of these 4 teams rumored in Deshaun Watson trade rumors and the other having a 45-year-old QB uncertain about his future this division will be interesting to watch. Can Jameis bounce back from injury & continue to improve? Will Desmond Ridder & Matt Corral become starters at some point this season? Will father time finally catch up to Tom Brady? All of these questions will be answered at some point this season. While the Falcons & Panthers had huge holes to fill with the draft the Saints & Buccaneers attempted to keep the distance between themselves & making it largely a 2-team division. The Panthers got a blindside blocker & was patient in waiting for a QB. The Falcons drafted a big bodied WR & got some much-needed help on their defense. The Buccaneers continued to build on their aging defense that helped Tom Brady bring a Lombardi trophy to Tampa, but my favorite draft in this division resides in New Orleans. They made a bold move to trade up and draft Chris Olave out of Ohio State & they were able to draft one of the best offensive tackles in the draft in Trevor Penning. They also continued to bolster their defense with later round picks that could boom with the right coaching in place. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out when the season comes along.

Authors

  • Aaron Current

    Born & raised in Kentucky, military veteran. Husband & father

  • mentaldimes
  • Zac Barringer

    With 12 years of coaching experience and 8 years of teaching experience, I feel I have gained enough knowledge to change the world. Sarcasm is a defense mechanism. Laughter is 75% forced. I have coached basketball for 12 years, tennis and cross country for 2 years. I have learned a lot about what NOT to do. I can make small talk if I have to, but I had prefer to stick with the casual head nod. I have a lot of opinions, and they are all very good. Just ask. My goal is to convince you to believe my thoughts, as crazy as some may be. If I can succeed in doing that, I believe I have accomplished something.

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