Wednesday, April 18, 2012

2012 Draft Preview: NFC South

With Free Agency pretty much wrapped up, the NFL Draft is quickly approaching once again. As we have done in the past, we're going to take a quick look at the other teams in the league and preview their team needs and how they will likely approach the Draft. Today we take a look at the NFC South.

For reference, we compiled the draft picks each team currently has. Compensatory picks are listed in parentheses.

2011 Record: 13-3
NFC South Champion, lost to San Francisco in Divisional Round

Draft Picks: 89, 122, 162, 179, 234

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The Saints don't have a pick until the 3rd round of the draft, but don't expect them to just sit on their hands. Even though they were hit with penalties of 2 2nd round picks in connection with the bounty scandal, the Saints have shown the willingness to trade away future picks to move up in the draft and get the player they want. With Drew Brees' contract situation still up in the air, the Saints will likely look to address some of the positions they lost in free agency in the draft, especially the guard position where Pro Bowler Carl Nicks signed with Tampa.

2011 Record: 10-6
Wild Card, lost to NY Giants in Wild Card Round

Draft Picks: 55, 84, 157, 192, 229, (249)

Atlanta is also somewhat handcuffed heading into the draft as their first round pick belongs to Cleveland as part of the Julio Jones trade. The Falcons struggled down the stretch last year and had an unimpressive playoff performance against the New York Giants. Atlanta's biggest need is for pass rushers and defensive backs to help their 20th-ranked pass defense. They re-signed veteran John Abraham who has 9+ sacks in 4 of his 5 seasons in Atlanta. Nevertheless, the Falcons still ranked 20th in the league in sacks and have to find a way to get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, particularly with Drew Brees, Cam Newton, and Josh Freeman in the division.

2011 Record: 6-10

Draft Picks: 9, 40, 104, 143, 180, (207), 216

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The Panthers took a big step forward last year on the arm and legs of Cam Newton who set numerous rookie records. Now, the Panthers attention has to turn to their defense where they were 24th against the pass and 25th against the run. Their defense is anchored by DE Charles Johnson who they just signed to a monster deal last year. However, they could do better at pretty much every other position. A bookend pass rusher or an interior run-stuffing DT are probably the biggest needs for the Panthers at this point as they added a few depth DBs in free agency. Don't believe the hype that the Panthers will be taking a WR early, as the team should be looking to increase the role of Brandon LaFell who had the lowest drop percentage in the league last year.

2011 Record: 4-12

Draft Picks: 5, 36, 68, 140, 174, 212

After a promising 2010 the Bucs took a major step back in 2011 as the team utterly collapsed down the stretch, losing their last 10 games of the season. This prompted the firing of Raheem Morris and the hiring of former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano. With a new coaching staff, it's up in the air as to what the Bucs will do in the draft. However, sitting at #5 they have the good fortune of being able to take whichever player falls to them out of the Matt Kalil, Trent Richardson, Mo Claiborne group. All three would greatly help the Bucs and it's a pretty safe bet that one of those guys will be donning a Tampa hat on draft day. The biggest question here is - how long until Nike comes out with a Bucs creamsicle jersey?!

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