Examining the draft classes of each division team.
Tough luck department: Peria Jerry, defensive tackle and William Moore, safety. By the time October rolled around, Atlanta’s top two draft picks were already out for the season with injuries. The Jerry injury really set the defense back because the rookie was off to a good start. Without him, the Falcons haven’t been able to get much pressure on quarterbacks, and the cornerbacks have been hung out in coverage longer than the Falcons would like.
Mr. Upside: Lawrence Sidbury, defensive end. We’ve started to see a bit more of him in recent weeks and that trend will continue in the final two games. The Falcons knew Sidbury was an undersized project when they drafted him in the first round. But he’s started to show some progress in practice and the coaches believe he could be a factor in the future.
Jury’s still out: Christopher Owens, cornerback. The Falcons have had problems at cornerback most of the season and Owens wasn’t ready to be a savior right off the bat. But he’s getting more playing time recently. He has upside, but is another offseason away from truly being a factor.
Biggest surprise: Captain Munnerlyn, defensive back. He’s turned out to be one of the best choices of the seventh round. Munnerlyn has contributed in the secondary and as a return man.
Jury’s still out: Mike Goodson, running back. Remember all that preseason talk about the speedy runner from Texas A&M? Well, it hasn’t carried over into the regular season. The Panthers now are higher on undrafted rookie Tyrell Sutton.
Bust alert: Tony Fiammetta, fullback. If it seems like the Panthers have been drafting fullbacks ever since Brad Hoover arrived as an undrafted free agent early in the decade, it’s only because they have. But none of them have been able to get the steady Hoover off the field. Fiammetta got some playing time when Hoover was hurt, but didn’t show any signs he’s ready to take the job.
Biggest surprise: Punter Thomas Morstead. The Saints took a beating from their fans when they traded up in the fifth round to take a punter. As it turns out, this was a brilliant move. Morstead has been excellent on punts and kickoffs. In fact, he might be the NFC South’s Rookie of the Year.
Jury's still out: Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. The Saints took him with the 14th overall pick and there have been times when Jenkins has flashed first-round potential. Jenkins has been forced to play a lot lately because of injuries and he’s had ups and downs. His long-term future could be at safety.
Tough luck department: Defensive back Chip Vaughn and Stanley Arnoux. The Saints took the former Wake Forest teammates two picks apart in the fourth round and thought they’d be contributors on special teams at the very least. Unfortunately, both suffered season-ending injuries before they even got to the regular season.
Biggest surprise: Wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. The Bucs took a shot on a kid who had some personal problems in college, but came with lots of upside. They hit this one out of the park. Although Stroughter will miss the final two games of the season with injury, he emerged as Tampa Bay’s most reliable receiver and also has return abilities.
Franchise man: Quarterback Josh Freeman. The Bucs declared him their franchise quarterback on draft day. Then, they sat Freeman for the first half of the season, which was wise because the rest of the team has been so bad. Since Freeman has been starting, he’s taken some lumps, but he’s also shown big-play ability, poise and a ray of hope for a franchise that hasn’t had many bright spots.
Keep an eye on: Defensive tackle Roy Miller. The third-round pick out of Texas was rotated in as a backup at first. But he’s been starting recently and the coaching staff is very high on him. The Bucs will rebuild their defensive line in the offseason, but Miller will be a big part of those plans.