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Tuesday, May 11, 2010
The Class of 2009.5

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the 2010 draft picks in recent weeks.

But those guys aren’t going to be the only “rookies’’ in the NFC South this season. As I watched Atlanta’s minicamp over the weekend and saw Peria Jerry and William Moore doing some work on the side, it reminded me of a trend that spread through the NFC South last year. A lot of 2009 draft picks missed all or most of last season because of injuries.

Peria Jerry
The Falcons are counting on 2009 first-rounder Peria Jerry to bolster their pass rush.
Look through the division and you can almost make a case that Atlanta and New Orleans and, to a lesser degree, Tampa Bay, each will have something of an extra draft class this year. Let’s start with the Falcons because Jerry and Moore were their first two picks last year and both were injured before really getting a chance to do much.

Jerry instantly claimed a spot as a starter at defensive tackle before suffering an early-season knee injury. Judging by how folks in Atlanta were talking, Jerry still faces a long recovery. But he’ll be back in the starting lineup as soon as he’s ready. Moore’s almost ready and the Falcons are hoping he can win a starting safety job.

New Orleans had only four draft picks in 2009 and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and punter Thomas Morstead were the only ones to make an impact as rookies. Linebacker Stanley Arnoux and safety Chip Vaughn were hurt before the season even started. Both are expected to be healthy this year. I don’t see either one stepping into a starting role, but the Saints are looking for Arnoux and Vaughn to be key players on special teams.

Tampa Bay saw some promise out of cornerback E.J. Biggers before the seventh-round draft pick got hurt. He’s not going to solve the search as an heir apparent to veteran Ronde Barber, but Biggers has a chance at a roster spot and some duty on special teams. You can almost throw defensive end Kyle Moore, a fourth-round pick last year, into this category. Moore appeared in eight games, but didn’t do much. He was set back by some knee problems. The Bucs believe Moore has matured mentally and physically and could be a factor this year.