NFC South: Brian Cushing
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Let's hope Atlanta coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have an easier time deciding what to do with the No. 24 pick than our readers did. As I went through the votes for the Falcons in our readers' mock draft, I actually had to go back and do a recount because the margin between the winner and the second-place finisher was only two votes.
We'll let a few readers announce the pick.
Steve Salvo in North Haven writes: The Falcons should take LB Clay Matthews. This was hard because there's a lot of players we could take, Cushing, Delmas, English etc. Matthews will help finish out our starting LB core for next year which'll leave us with Peterson, Lofton, and Matthews. Clay Matthews fits the Tom Dimitroff type player("tough hombre") as I've heard him say, which, is smart, consistent, and hard-nosed.Joe in Atlanta writes: The Falcons should take Clay Matthews. They definitely need to select a defensive player here. The front office is character driven, and after Michael Vick will shy away from anyone with character issues, which would eliminate Vontae Davis. Matthews versatility would enable him to step in and fill multiple holes in the Falcons defense.
Jason in Lexington, Ky., writes: The Falcons should take USC OLB Clay Matthews. Why? Because they need another strong, young OLB and while I would probably draft Cushing before Matthews (assuming Curry is long gone) I believe CM will be a great addition to the defense.
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, Matthews edged out Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas by two votes. Matthews' USC teammate and fellow linebacker Brian Cushing also was within a dozen votes of the top two, although some of you think Cushing will be off the board before the Falcons pick.
There also was fairly strong support for defensive tackle Ziggy Hood and defensive end Michael Johnson. There also were about 15 votes for tight end Brandon Pettigrew, but those came before Thursday afternoon's trade for Tony Gonzalez.
|How will NFC South defensive backs fare against the bevy of tight ends including Tony Gozalez, Kellen Winslow and Jeremy Shockey?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
With the NFC South suddenly becoming a hub for tight ends, a very big question rises.
Who's going to cover all these guys?
Presumably, the outside linebackers and safeties. Does the NFC South have enough talent at those positions to keep up with Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow and Jeremy Shockey? We'll find out in the fall, but I'm thinking linebackers and safeties could have a lot more value in the NFC South in this weekend's draft.
Think about it a bit.
Let's say you're the Saints and you're sitting there at No. 14. There's been lots of talk about taking running back Chris "Beanie'' Wells, defensive back Malcolm Jenkins or maybe even a defensive tackle. But, after Thursday's trade of Gonzalez to Atlanta, you're suddenly faced with the prospect of facing him and Winslow in four games.
You've got experience at outside linebacker in Dan Morgan, Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle, but do any of those guys have the legs to run with Gonzalez or Winslow? If you're the Saints, you suddenly might want to slide Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, the two USC linebackers who could be available when you pick, up a few spots on your draft board.
Same story for the Bucs, who are sitting at No. 19. They've already overhauled their linebacker corps by signing Angelo Crowell and moving safety Jermaine Phillips to weak-side linebacker. But the thought of facing Shockey and Gonzalez on a regular basis might make it difficult to pass on Matthews or Cushing. For that matter, the Bucs would have to think hard about Jenkins, if he's available.
Part of the reason for moving Phillips to linebacker was a desire to get Sabby Piscitelli into the starting lineup at strong safety. But is Piscitelli ready to line up against Shockey and Gonzalez?
The Falcons, who hold the No. 24 pick, have needs at defensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback. But they might have to put more emphasis on their needs at safety because of changing landscape of tight ends in the NFC South. Matthews, Cushing and Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas might have jumped up Atlanta's board in recent days.
Carolina doesn't pick until the second round (No. 59 overall) and the Panthers are in good shape at outside linebacker. They've got some big needs on the defensive line, but they might not be able to sit still at safety in the second or third round. Strong safety Chris Harris isn't known for his coverage skills and second-year pro Charles Godfrey still is trying to grow into the free safety job.
How NFC South defenses try to counter the upgrades at tight end is one story line to follow throughout the draft. Here are four more NFC South story lines to follow.
What happens with Julius Peppers? This situation has been simmering in Carolina for months and it could be ready to boil over. Peppers has said he wants out of Carolina and the Panthers have said they want him back.
But Peppers has strapped Carolina's cap situation with his $17 million franchise tag. If some other team steps forward with a deal that includes a first-round pick, the Panthers almost have to take it. The alternative is to hang on to Peppers at his current price and the Panthers are ready to do that.
In that situation, the common assumption is that Peppers has no choice but to put in another season with the Panthers. But don't assume anything with Peppers. This thing has never been about money and Peppers is a very unique individual. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he would hold out and pass on the $17 million.
Will Sean Payton be able to keep his hands off the offense? That's not going to be easy for the New Orleans coach. Payton's background and passion is on the offensive side, but his future is on the defensive side. As tempting as it may be to draft Wells to give the Saints a power back, Payton may have to go outside his comfort zone.
The defense is the reason the Saints haven't made the playoffs the last two seasons. They've spent the offseason overhauling the defense. Now, it's time to finish the job. Payton has switched defensive coordinators and that pulls away a layer of insulation on his own job security. If defense keeps this team out of the playoffs again, it might be Payton's turn to take the fall.
Are the Bucs really content with their quarterback situation? Kansas State's Josh Freeman is at least a consideration in the first round. But Tampa Bay has so many other needs that it might not make a lot of sense to take a quarterback who might not be ready to play right away.
The Bucs signed Byron Leftwich and he certainly is a candidate to start. But think back to one of the first moves coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik made when they took over. They re-signed Luke McCown and paid him pretty good money. There was a reason for that. Morris and Dominik want McCown to be their starter.
Can Atlanta rebuild its defense in one draft? That's pretty much what the Falcons have to do after parting ways with Keith Brooking, Lawyer Milloy, Grady Jackson, Domonique Foxworth and Michael Boley. The Gonzalez move means that the Falcons will focus almost their entire draft on defense, except for possibly adding a little depth on the offensive line.
Atlanta's only addition on defense was adding linebacker Mike Peterson. There's some good, young talent in place with defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and cornerback Chris Houston.
But the Falcons need some more young talent on this defense. They need to walk out of this draft with at least two defensive starters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
I asked a few days ago for your mock draft choices for each NFC South team and your responses were tremendous.
We'll start the inaugural NFC South readers' mock draft with the New Orleans Saints. That's mainly because the Saints hold the first pick (No. 14) among the NFC South teams. But it's also a good thing we're starting with the Saints because this was the easiest pick to call.
The basic premises I asked you to play by were to not project any trades and to be realistic about who would be available when each pick was made. I just read through about 500 ballots your hands-down pick for the Saints is ...
Wait, let's put this in the hands of the readers since they were making the call.
Clay in NO writes: The Saints should take Malcolm Jenkins. His versatility and ability to play either safety or cb (regardless of his 40 time the guy makes plays), would greatly help a Saints secondary in need of a playmaker. He could be tested at cb and if that didnt work out be groomed as Darren Sharpers successor at free safety. The safety position has become one of the most crucial spots on the field for a defense. Look at the impact Bob Sanders has on the Colts defense when he is in and out of the lineup. It is crazy to even think for a second that a rb should be taken at 14, especially since they will be splitting carries. A power runner can be taken in a later round. Every year the Saints badly need to improve their secondary and every year it gets ignored. Theyve made some improvements in the offseason, but this is their chance to grab a playmaker that will be there for years to come.
Troy in New Orleans writes: Saints should select M. Jenkins at 14. He is a need player with a super future ahead of him. If they select anyone else, i.e. Beanie Wells, Knowshan Moreno, this will come back to haunt them.
Neil in New Orleans writes: At no. 14 the Saints should take CB/S Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State. As much as I'd love to see RB Chris Wells in the same backfield with Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, the defense should still remain as the Saints' number 1 off-season priority. Under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, along with a revamped secondary (Greer and Sharper signings), Jenkins has the potential to be a great addition in the near future and a mainstay on a much improved defense. The Saints may have an opportunity to select another big back later in the draft, namely Rashad Jennings from Liberty.
Jenkins outpaced the field by about 60 votes. That's easily the biggest margin for any of the NFC South mock picks, as you'll see when we post results for the other teams as the afternoon goes on. Southern California linebacker Brian Cushing was your second choice. Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie'' Wells finished a distant third and Southern California linebacker Clay Matthews was fourth.
I'll be back in a bit with your pick for Tampa Bay at No. 19.
Time for a quick trip into the mailbag.
Matt in Boone,NC writes: Hey Pat, I was wondering if their was any interest in Atlanta in acquiring TE Tony Scheffler from Denver. They've already shown interst in Gonzalez and I believe they offered a second round pick for him. Bill Williamson believes the Broncos would let Scheffler go for a second rounder and hes beginning to emerge as a good pass catching TE comparable to Gonzalez as they both stand in at 6 ft 5, 250 pounds. One of the benefits of Scheffler over Gonzalez is his age at 26, while Gonzalez could leave the nfl within the next three years.
Pat Yasinskas: I have not heard anything specifically about the Falcons having any talks with Denver about Scheffler. But your scenario makes lots of sense. Scheffler is younger than Tony Gonzalez, who has been linked to the Falcons in some trade reports, although I'm getting indications Atlanta's interest in Gonzalez is minimal, if it exists at all. Clearly the Falcons are looking at options at tight end and Brandon Pettigrew is an option in the first round. I don't think the Falcons would make a deal for a tight end until after they've used their first-round pick. If they draft Pettigrew, all the trade talk goes out the window. Also, I have a tough time seeing the Falcons, who keep saying they want to build through the draft, parting with a second-round pick.
Joseph in Fayetteville AR writes: I have been keeping up with the mock drafts consistently and one thing that i have wondered about is why haven't the Saints targeted someone like Brian Cushing. If there is one constant theme for the Saints defense the past few years is that the unit has underachieved. From a locker room perspective and athletic perspective (he could be an upgrade over the weak side or strong side LB the Saints have already), wouldn't be prudent to draft an overachiever like Cushing to help with the D? This same logic could apply against drafting a guy like Vontae Davis who has been pegged as a guy who has tremendous ability but lapses in play.
Pat Yasinskas: Good point about the Saints having their share of underachievers on defense. I wouldn't rule out Cushing at all with this pick. But I've seen some mocks where he's gone before No. 14. If he's available, I think the Saints at least have to consider him. They've got some linebackers who are getting up there in age and it wouldn't hurt to bring in some fresh legs.
Kevin in Charlotte writes: I am torn between DE or CB for Tampa at #19. There is a lot of quality DE's that should be there in mid first round, but the CB pool is very small. What do you think?
Pat Yasinskas: More and more, I'm hearing Florida State defensive end Everette Brown could be available at No. 19. If he is, I think the pick comes down to Brown and cornerback Vontae Davis, who would come with some questions. Brown doesn't have a lot of questions. He's also a pass-rusher and I think that's a more valuable commodity.
Jason C. in parts unknown writes: Pat, love your blog. With the draft coming up this weekend, are Gm's going to pass up a quarterback this year seeingthat next years crop of quarterbacks is going to be much better with Colt McCoy, Time Tebow, and Sam Bradford? Also, are there any indications that the Saints will trade away anything to move into the second or third rounds?
Pat Yasinskas: Aside from Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, this draft isn't very deep for quarterbacks. Some view Josh Freeman highly as well. But if you're looking for a potential franchise quarterback, there's nobody beyond those three. I think that once they're gone, you might not see another quarterback taken until the fourth or fifth round because teams know next year's class of quarterbacks should be a lot stronger. As far as the Saints adding a second- or third-round pick, I think it's very possible, but it won't happen until they're on the clock. If they could trade down a few spots in the first round and get another pick, I think that's something they'll see as very intriguing.
Dakota in Charlotte, NC writes: Hey Pat, Love the blog. Loved it when you used to work for the observer. You guys run these NFL blogs wonderfully. Anyway, I'm a Carolina fan, and I'm curious about the upcoming draft. There's no doubting that Carolina needs help at DE, WR, QB, possibly a young CB or a good recieving TE. But is there any player that if he were to fall enough in the draft Carolina would want to trade up for them? Last year, it was clear that the powers that be were keen on two guys: Stewart and Otah. Once they picked Stewart, they watched and Otah fell below where they thought he would go. They called Philly, and picked him up. Now, instead of a first round pick, they have Peppers to offer for a deal. Is there anyone who is a guaranteed first rounder who Carolina would even think about trading up to get?
Pat Yasinskas: It's very complicated because of Julius Peppers. He hasn't signed his franchise tender, so that means the Panthers can't approach other teams about trades. However, Peppers' agent can solicit trade offers and bring them back to the Panthers. I suspect there will be some interest and I think the Panthers will consider any offer that gives them a first-round pick. I don't think the Panthers can afford to lock in on any one guy because there's no telling where they might end up in the first round if they do get a pick. But I think it's safe to say guys like defensive ends Everette Brown and Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Peria Jerry would be possibilities in this scenario.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Earlier Tuesday morning, I asked for your mock draft suggestions for each of the four NFC South teams. I just took a look at my mailbag for the first time since posting that item and the response is overwhelming. Keep it going.
In just about six hours, there already are several hundred responses. As I said earlier, I'll plow through all your answers and post a consensus pick for each team Friday afternoon or evening.
But I thought the early response was a pretty strong sign that you might want to know how the early voting is going. Again, I just skimmed the notes quickly, but here's a brief glance at the early results from the polls for each NFC South team.
New Orleans: Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins appears to have a comfortable early lead. But his college teammate, running back Beanie Wells, also is getting a lot of votes.
Tampa Bay: This one's all over the board. Just on a quick glance, Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis appears to have a slight lead. But there also are a good amount of votes for defensive tackle Peria Jerry and linebackers Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.
Atlanta: Somewhat surprisingly, I'm not seeing a lot of support for tight end Brandon Pettigrew. A lot of media members have been tying his name to the Falcons. But the early results are showing readers are looking for defense for the Falcons. Davis, the two Southern California linebackers and Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas seem to be the favorites so far. There also are a fair amount of votes for Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson.
Carolina: Speaking of Johnson, he seems to be an early favorite for the Panthers along with Utah defensive end Paul Kruger. Utah defensive back Sean Smith and West Virginia quarterback Pat White seem to be in the running as well.
Again, we're asking for your first pick for your favorite NFC South team or all four teams as the draft order currently stands (we'll deal with trades if they happen). You can send it to my mailbag and please start each vote with "The Saints (or appropriate team) should draft (fill in the blank)'' and feel free to add a reason or two for your choice.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Todd McShay's got a new mock draft up -- this one goes the full seven rounds -- and I like most of his NFC South picks.
Here's the link to McShay's mock, but I'll share his first-round pick for each team with you and provide my take.
McShay's pick -- No. 14: Malcolm Jenkins, defensive back, Ohio State
My take: Todd had running back Beanie Wells going here in his last draft, but has switched over to Jenkins. I'm with him all the way. I've been saying all along Jenkins is the guy the Saints should pick. They need defense and can get their power runner somewhere else.
McShay's pick -- No. 19: Brian Cushing, linebacker, Southern California
My take: I definitely can see this happening, if Cushing's available. A lot of mocks have him gone before No. 19, but you never know. I can also see Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, Mississippi defensive tackle Peria Jerry or Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis going to the Bucs. And, no -- I'll say it again -- I don't see Tampa Bay taking quarterback Josh Freeman.
McShay's pick -- No. 24: Brandon Pettigrew, tight end, Oklahoma State
My take: It could happen and Pettigrew certainly is a great prospect. But I still think Atlanta goes with defense. I think Davis and Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas are possibilities. I also could see the Falcons going with Jerry to help the middle of the run defense or any one of about four linebackers.
McShay's pick -- No. 59: Michael Johnson, defensive end, Georgia Tech
My take: Although some have Johnson going in the first round, a lot of people in the know think he'll fall to the second round. If he's available, I think this would be a solid pick for the Panthers. No matter if Julius Peppers stays or goes this season, the Panthers eventually will need someone to replace him. Johnson has a similar skill set.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time to start catching up on some of your mailbag questions. There are a lot of them and I'll probably do this again Sunday or Monday, but wanted to at least start into the stack of letters now. Here we go:
ChrisC in Charleston, S.C., writes: I'm in the Air Force, so most of my friends are all huge fans of different teams, making every sunday a lot of fun. We pretend during the offseason to be our favorite teams' owners and throw out possible trade scenarios. Mine was thrown out to a Cincy fan: JP for 85 and a draft pick. I know Smitty doesn't want to compete for the number 1 spot, but Chad has somewhat fallen to a number 2 guy, and they did play high school ball together if I remember correctly. Any feasibility here? And if so, ya mind whispering the thought into Hurney's ear?
Pat Yasinskas: Steve Smith and Chad Ocho Cinco (formerly Johnson) did play together in junior college. Even though that would probably help them co-exist, I don't see this move happening. Marty Hurney and John Fox are no-frills guys and Ocho Cinco comes with a lot of frills.
Ricky in parts unknown writes: Hey Pat, What are the chances Bucs go LB with the 19th pick? After losing Brooks and June...it makes sense right?
Pat Yasinskas: I think linebacker is at least a possibility, but I think there are greater needs at defensive tackle, defensive end and maybe cornerback. The Bucs did sign linebacker Angelo Crowell and are moving safety Jermaine Phillips to linebacker. They've also got some promising young linebackers on their roster. Still, I wouldn't totally rule out the possibility of a linebacker if Brian Cushing or Clay Matthews is sitting there at No. 19.
Rob in Houston writes: I understand this is not necessarily realistic with Fox dedicated to the 4-3, but there are a plethora of good LB on the roster. If Carolina made a switch to a 3-4 scheme, do you think Peppers would be happy to stay so he could reach his "full potential"? Or even in that scenario, do you think Peppers wants to leave because he can't reach his "full potential" with the coaching staff in place?
Pat Yasinskas: I don't think it would make much difference to Julius Peppers if the Panthers changed schemes and I don't see that happening because Fox is a 4-3 coach. The change would be dramatic and the roster was built to play the 4-3. Peppers hasn't been real clear about his reasons for wanting out, but it's pretty obvious if you read between the lines that it's about a lot more than the defensive scheme. For whatever reason, it doesn't seem like he's happy with Fox and wants a change of scenery.
ANTHONY writes: hey, man im a die hard panthers fan but i bet my bottom dollar that if you could even get the fact or idea out of A PEPPERS BOULDIN TRADE OR EVEN GET THE PANTHERS TO SHOW INTREST IN BOLDIN TO HELP TAKE PRESSURE OFF SMITH YOU WOULD GET A GREAT BUZZ? PLEASE COMMENT BACK HOW AND COULD THAT EVEN BE POSSIBLE! ( HMMMMM, ALSO DIDNT THEY PLAY EACH OTHER IN THE PLAYOFFS LAST YEAR LIKE I SAID GREAT BUZZ! JUST A FAN WITH A QUESTION AND IDEA!
Pat Yasinskas: You're not the only one throwing out that idea and there's buzz about it among Carolina fans. But I don't see it happening. The Panthers have very good No. 1 receiver in Smith and they've also got a lot of money tied up in him. If the Panthers are going to trade Peppers at all, I think it will be for draft picks because they've got bigger needs at defensive tackle, defensive end and cornerback.
Richard in Baton Rouge writes: Your colleague Mosley predicts the Saints to go 0-4 against the mighty NFC East. If you and he are both at the Dallas/New Orleans saturday night game, then would you pass along to us the expression on his face when the Saints roll the 'boys? Again.
Pat Yasinskas: I'll be happy to share Matt's reaction with you if the Saints beat the Cowboys. Matt and I had the debate about whether the NFC East or South was the best division last year and I think the final results spoke pretty highly for the South. Also, I usually try to avoid gloating over predictions that come true because predictions don't mean much and they're wrong as often as they're right. But, to all those Cowboys fans who filled up my mailbag with some pretty sick letters when I picked Dallas to finish third in the NFC East and out of the playoffs at the start of last season, you've been silent for months now. I miss you.
Brian in Emerald Isle writes: Just wanted to know about the health of Jerry Richardson?
Pat Yasinskas: Glad you asked because I do have a little update that I haven't gotten around to sharing yet. I was in Charlotte earlier this week and had lunch with a couple of Panthers officials. I asked how owner Jerry Richardson is doing and the update is positive. He continues to make steady progress in his recovery from a heart transplant and is in good spirits. He still has some ground to cover and hasn't set an exact target date for when he plans to resume his regular duties, but that's what he's shooting for.
Brett in Tallahassee writes: Hey Pat! With the 2009 Tampa Bay team beginning to sort coalesce, do you think Anquan Boldin would be a good fit for a deep-threat WR? Thanks, love the column. All the best, Brett
Pat Yasinskas: There's no doubt Anquan Boldin will help any team he plays for and I like the idea of him with the Bucs. However, I think it would be very difficult for the Bucs to pull off a deal like that. After trading their second-round pick for Kellen Winslow, they don't have a lot of ammunition for a trade and I'd hate to see them give up their first-round pick because they have some big needs on defense that really haven't been addressed yet.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
While the rest of the world was debating the real "Smash and Dash" last season, the Carolina backfield went in a different direction and dubbed itself "Double Trouble."
That's what the NFC South should do in the draft -- let flash go the same route as "Smash and Dash." What the NFC South -- and we're talking all four teams -- needs to do is forget all the hype fans and other teams are caught up in about offensive skill positions. Heck, just forget offense altogether (at least until later in the draft).
With its first draft pick, each NFC South team should go with a defensive player.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We'll go in alphabetical order (by city) today and start our series of team-by-team mailbags with the Atlanta Falcons.
OG in Ft. Lauderdale, FL writes: I see a lot of people mocking Brandon Pettigrew to be drafed by the Falcons. Don't you think LB and DT (i think there are no first round Safeties) would be a more pressing need, ala Clay Matthews, Evander Hood, Brian Cushing, or Peria Jerry? From my perspective, TEs like Shawn Nelson, Travis Beckum, and Chase Coffman will be available in the later rounds while there is more of a dropoff in LBs and DTs after round 3. In my opinion, wouldn't it be better to draft LB, then S, then DT or DT, then S, then LB and pickup a TE in round 4 or 5?
Pat Yasinskas: I know there are a fair amount of people thinking Brandon Pettigrew will end up with the Falcons. But I'm with you and I don't think it will happen. That's no knock on Pettigrew. He's the best tight end in the draft. But I just can't see the Falcons taking a tight end in the first round. Like you said, they've got bigger needs on defense. Also, I just don't see them changing Mike Mularkey's offense to make the tight end a huge part of the passing game. Yes, they might want to get a little more out of their tight ends as receivers, but they can find a guy who can help in that area in the middle rounds.
Allen in New York writes: Hey Pat, do you think the Falcons should get another cornerback in free agency. There seems to be too many holes to fill in the draft and there seems to be a decent market still out there for corners. I just dont see Chris Houston as a No.1 and I like Chievus Jackson, but I dont know if he is ready for a starting role. Im hoping Atlanta tries to sign a veteran. What are your thoughts?
Pat Yasinskas: Not sure you'll see the Falcons add a cornerback in free agency. If anything, it might happen in the draft. That's just the way the Falcons are operating now -- building through the draft. I agree, there is some uncertainty at cornerback. But Mike Smith and his staff might be higher on Chris Houston and Chevis Jackson than the rest of us are and they see those guys every day in practice. They've also got Von Hutchins returning from injury and Brent Grimes back. Not a desperate situation, but I would like to see the Falcons add one more cornerback to the mix.
Carter in Virginia Beach writes: Does the Atlanta coaching staff feel confident in the linebackers they already have or do you think they will try to add one in the draft or late in free agency?
Pat Yasinskas: I think it's very possible the Falcons use their first pick on a linebacker such as Clay Matthews or Brian Cushing. The coaching staff is sold on middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and probably will make him an every-down player. The Falcons signed Mike Peterson, who has a history with Smith in Jacksonville and he appears to be set as one of the outside linebackers. There are also high hopes that Stephen Nicholas can step into a starting role or be a key backup. But I think you'll see the Falcons add a linebacker somewhere early in the draft.
G Falcons in Miami writes: I'm hearing tony scheffler the tight end from the broncos wants a trade do you see us the falcons being interested in him and why are not signing free agents such as tank johnson or other DTs to help us at the line?
Pat Yasinskas: I don't think either truly fits the profile of what the Falcons are trying to do. They want to build through the draft.
Pro from College Park, GA writes: Pat, keepp the good work! Every year the Falcons say they are going to use Norwood more in the running game but all seem to use him about the same which is not alot. Do you think we will see more of him this year in a 2 back system, especially after the year Turner had. Or more of the same?
Pat Yasinskas: I think it's critical that the Falcons get Jerious Norwood more carries this year. Michael Turner is a workhorse, but the Falcons pushed the envelope by running him so much last year. They know that and they know they've got to lighten his load a bit. I believe they'll work on getting Norwood more playing time this year.
Jeff in Atlanta writes: Hey Pat, why have the Falcons not given Roddy White a contract extension yet? Is there any logic in waiting until the closing weeks of next season? I don't see any, and I think I speak for the majority of Falcons fans when I say: If the front office doesnt get him re-signed there will be riots in Atlanta. - Thanks
Pat Yasinskas: I think the Falcons are quietly working toward getting Roddy White locked up for the long term. In fact, I think that's a priority and part of the reason they've kept a decent chunk of salary-cap room open. I think you could see something happen with White before the season starts.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Just finished speaking to a class of sports business majors at Saint Leo University. That's my alma mater and it was great to be in a classroom with Dr. Chuck Fisk for the first time in 20 years. I didn't realize then how handy his economics classes would be in my career, but today was a reminder that professional sports are businesses -- first and foremost.
We spent a lot of time talking about the economy and how the current slump is impacting the NFL. Ironically, I did a lengthy story on that not very long ago.
I'll be slipping over to the television side momentarily. I'm scheduled to do an interview with ESPNEWS at 3:20 p.m. ET to talk about the New Orleans Saints and the upcoming draft. I'm thinking names like Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Chris "Beanie" Wells and Brian Cushing probably will come up.
After the television appearance I'll be back with an update on what happened at the first day of minicamp for the Buccaneers and new coach Raheem Morris.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Just a quick heads up that I'm scheduled to appear on ESPNews at 2:40 p.m. ET on Sunday to talk about the Atlanta Falcons and what they might do in the upcoming draft.
Also, mailbags on the Panthers and Falcons will be coming later this afternoon. If you still want to get a question in, click here.
Team needs: Defensive line, outside linebacker, safety
|The Falcons could use some pass-rush help in the form of Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson.|
Dream scenario: The Falcons already had the ultimate dream scenario last year when they hit big at quarterback (Matt Ryan), left tackle (Sam Baker) and middle linebacker (Curtis Lofton). Still, their defense wasn't that good last year and Atlanta is looking to get younger in several areas. The best way to improve a defense overall is to start with the pass rush. In that area, the Falcons, who have the 24th pick in the first round, have nothing but John Abraham. They could get him some help and score some major points with the hometown fans if they can land Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson.
Plan B: Drafting so late in the first round means the Falcons can't lock in on any one position. If Johnson or another quality pass-rusher isn't available, it will be easy for Atlanta to move in another direction. The Falcons let outside linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley go through free agency. Although they brought in free agent Mike Peterson, they need another starting outside linebacker. USC's Brian Cushing or Clay Matthews could fit nicely.
Scouts Inc.'s take: "It's a defensive pick, obviously. When you're picking that late, it's the best available defensive player. Thomas Dimitroff is a Scott Pioli guy, so there's always the chance they could trade and go back a few picks if the defensive player they want is there. The one thing that kind of intrigues me is Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas. Would the Falcons take a chance on him? It's a potential-type pick, but he has the athletic ability and size to be a top-flight NFL safety. But how quick is a guy from Western Michigan going to be able to step in?" -- Jeremy Green of Scouts Inc.
Who has final say: Coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are one of the most harmonious duos in the league. They almost always come to a mutual conclusion because they're usually on the same page. But Dimitroff does have the final say if a dispute ever arises.
Now on the clock: New England Patriots, March 24.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
In an attempt to stay ahead of the mailbag traffic, I've decided to do a Thursday afternoon edition. We won't do team-by-team mailbags today -- just a quick trip through the whole NFC South.
Chris in New Orleans writes: Pat, I appreciate the great coverage on the Saints recent transactions. My question is: Charles Grant and Will Smith, are they still facing a four game suspension from the league and do you feel this may effect the Saints draft picks and future free agengy this year? Thanks
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, it still is a possibility that Charles Grant and Will Smith could be suspended. That's up to the NFL and we, like the Saints, have to wait to see what's decided. But I think the Saints already have done some preparation already for this possibility. The recent signing of defensive end Paul Spicer, who also has the ability to play defensive tackle, gives them some solid, veteran depth. They already have Bobby McCray as their third defensive end. Not saying that will totally stop the Saints from getting a defensive end in the draft, but I don't think they're in a situation where they absolutely have to go out and get one. Spicer and McCray are good enough to get you through a few games as starters.
Mike in Eden NC writes: Hey Pat, Is there any possibility of sending Peppers to Denver for Cutler?? This would take care of our QB struggles and take all the Peppers stress out of the situation.
Pat Yasinskas: That's a popular question with Carolina fans. But I'll say, again, I don't see a trade of Julius Peppers for Jay Cutler, although I can see the logic behind the idea. But I don't think Marty Hurney and John Fox -- or the Broncos for that matter -- see the same thing we do. This situation is a lot more complicated than just swapping one disgruntled player for another. There's the matter of compensating Peppers, who probably is looking for a deal that will make him the best-paid defensive player in the league. There's also the possibility Cutler might want a new (in other words, big) contract if he lands with a new team. Not saying it's right or wrong, but Fox and Hurney have a lot of loyalty to Jake Delhomme. I just don't think this move fits their profile.
Ed in Cape Coral, FL writes: Pat - I am real worried about the Bucs defense, I've asked you about LB, CB and safety. Now what about DT? It was never more apparent how important Haye and Hovan were those last 4 games when they were both either out or playing injured. I loved Wilkersons play last year whenever he came in or on special teams, and I thought Sims did a great job when he was called upon. Neither did well on a fulltime basis in place of Haye or Hovan. So what will they do?
Pat Yasinskas: Agreed -- defensive tackle remains a major issue for the Bucs. Jovan Haye left through free agency and Chris Hovan's not getting any younger. Jimmy Wilkerson and Ryan Sims are backups. I'm quite sure the Bucs aren't done at this position. New defensive coordinator Jim Bates likes to have at least one big, run-stuffing tackle. I'm pretty sure you'll see that come in either free agency or the draft, perhaps even early in the draft.
Hesaidwhat in parts unknown writes: Hey Pat. Does the media attention Peppers has got latley help the draft picks panthers get for him?
Pat Yasinskas: Unique and original question. Like it and hadn't thought about it in those terms before. After pondering it a little bit, I think the reports and speculation of the New England Patriots perhaps wanting to trade a second-round pick to Carolina for Peppers could help his value. If other teams see that and have an interest in Peppers, they might think they can get him with a slightly-better deal, like maybe a first-round pick.
Nikolas in London ON writes: Big fan of your blog. Im a buccs fan and I seem to be one of the few that actually loved the house cleaning that Tampa did, i think it was an a good decision what about you?
Pat Yasinskas: I'm liking Tampa Bay's housecleaning more now that I see the rest of the plan unfolding with signings like linebacker Angelo Crowell and running back Derrick Ward and the trade for tight end Kellen Winslow. I still think the Derrick Brooks situation was not handled as well as it could have been. But, as far as letting guys like Joey Galloway and Warrick Dunn go, I think the Bucs were getting rid of some older players and that's understandable. We're still seeing the whole second half of that equation playing out.
H.E. in Chattanooga writes: Pat, I've really enjoyed your coverage of the NFC South. But being a Falcons fan, my only concern is with their defense. In early mock drafts, people have predicted the Falcons going after the Utah Safety Smith. Now they are predicting the Falcons going after the Georgia Tech DE Johnson. What are your predictions and what do you think of the aforementioned options? Thanks!
Pat Yasinskas: With the Falcons sitting at No. 24, it's hard to make an exact prediction right now. But I agree there are needs at safety and in the pass rush. I subscribe to the theory that you don't take a safety in the first round (unless it's somebody really special and you have a top 10 pick). I think the Falcons can wait on this need. I definitely could see them going for a defensive end, like Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson. They don't have much of a pass rush besides John Abraham and Johnson would be a popular pick in Atlanta. Also, don't rule out an outside linebacker, such as Southern California's Brian Cushing or Clay Matthews.