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Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Beyond first round, draft shaping up as a hit

By Pat Yasinskas
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The NFC South's rookie class has been getting a lot of attention, but it probably should be getting more.

Way beyond first-round picks Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Jonathan Stewart, Jeff Otah, Sedrick Ellis and Aqib Talib, this class is making significant contributions. Each division team is getting good production from its first-round choices and beyond.

Time to single out some guys who weren't taken in the first round but are producing.

ATLANTA: By the time all is said and done, the Falcons could end up with one of the better drafts in history. We all know about Ryan and, to a lesser extent, Baker. But second-round pick Curtis Lofton has had a huge impact. In essence, the Falcons got their quarterback on the other side of the ball in Lofton. He's stepped right in at middle linebacker and Atlanta's defense has been better than anybody expected. Receiver Harry Douglas, a third-round pick, also is starting to emerge.

CAROLINA: Stewart and Otah have had their flashes, but third-round pick Charles Godfrey has been the most consistent of Carolina's rookies. He earned the starting free safety job in training camp and hasn't made many rookie mistakes. Give veteran strong safety Chris Harris some credit for helping to keep Godfrey on the right page.

NEW ORLEANS: There's no question the Saints gambled when they used their second fifth-round pick on guard Carl Nicks, who had some character concerns. But, so far, that move is paying off. Nicks has started the last five games and may be viewed as a long-term upgrade from Jamar Nesbit.

TAMPA BAY: The Bucs have had good luck drafting offensive linemen in the middle rounds in recent years and it looks like they've hit again. Third-round pick Jeremy Zuttah has received early playing time because of injuries at guard and coach Jon Gruden keeps singing his praises.