NFC South: Dee Milliner

Darrelle Revis, Dee MillinerGetty ImagesDarrelle Revis is now with the Buccaneers and rookie Dee Milliner is helping to take his place.
The NFL knows how to create a dramatic storyline, and it created a dandy for opening day -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the New York Jets, meaning the return of star cornerback Darrelle Revis.

For the Jets, Revis symbolizes good times from the past. They enjoyed a lot of success together, everything but a Super Bowl, before the ugly divorce last April. Things aren't looking so good for the Jets anymore. For the Bucs, Revis represents hope, perhaps the final piece in an expensive championship puzzle.

Rich Cimini and Pat Yasinskas, the Jets and Bucs team reporters, respectively, discuss Sunday's matchup at MetLife Stadium:

Cimini: There will be a lot of "24" jerseys in the crowd, as Revis was an enormously popular player in New York. The success-starved fan base embraced the "Revis Island" concept, convinced he was theirs forever. Forever ended when owner Woody Johnson refused to pay $16 million a year and traded him. New Yorkers know what Revis can do when healthy, but that's the question: Is his surgically repaired knee all the way back? No one has seen Revis in a game for nearly a year, so there's a natural curiosity. Will he be the Revis of old? Will he play his customary role, covering the No. 1 receiver? Do tell, Pat.

Yasinskas: Rich, the Bucs are fully convinced Revis can be what he used to be. He's had nearly a full year to rehab after surgery and there have been no setbacks. It's true the Bucs have brought him along slowly. He was limited at the start of camp and didn't appear at all in the preseason games. But the Bucs were deliberate in increasing his workload throughout the summer and it was clear all along that the goal was to have him ready for the season opener. The Bucs have high hopes for Revis and believe he'll help fix a pass defense that ranked No. 32 in the league last season. The belief is that Revis can shut down the other team's No. 1 receiver and also allow linebackers and defensive backs to blitz quarterbacks. The Bucs would have drafted a cornerback if they had stayed put at No. 13 in the draft. But they felt Revis was better than any corner they could have selected. They used their second-round pick on cornerback Johnthan Banks, who may be in the starting lineup Sunday. If he is, both the Bucs and the Jets will be starting a rookie cornerback. How has Dee Milliner been doing so far in New York?

Cimini: I'd love to tell you how he's doing, Pat, but I haven't seen a whole lot of him lately. Milliner missed the last two preseason games with a strained calf, although he told us Monday he'll definitely be ready to play. Obviously, he'll be rusty and his conditioning could be an issue as well. In his last game, nearly three weeks ago, he appeared tentative in coverage. Maybe he was concerned about the calf, I don't know, but he gave way too much cushion. Rex Ryan wants his corners to be aggressive in man-to-man coverage, and Milliner was anything but that. In fact, he received an earful from fellow corner Antonio Cromartie during the game. Obviously, the Jets think Milliner has a ton of talent or else they wouldn't have drafted him ninth overall, basically handing him a starting job even though he showed up a few days late because of his contract. But he has a lot to learn. I think he'll have problems with Mike Williams, assuming Cromartie covers Vincent Jackson. But I wonder, can the Bucs get consistent quarterback play out of Josh Freeman to exploit the Revis-less defense?

Yasinskas: Consistency is the big issue when it comes to Freeman. He got off to a great start last year and had the Bucs at 6-4. At that time, it looked like the Bucs certainly wold lock up Freeman with a long-term contract. But Freeman cooled off late last season. He had 10 interceptions over three disastrous games. That convinced the Bucs to hold off on signing him for the long term. They're letting him go into a contract year and it's a "prove it" situation, especially after the Bucs used a third-round pick on Mike Glennon. But Freeman's the starter for now and I think he's ready to become a good quarterback. He has good talent at the skill positions and needs to rely on those players instead of trying to carry the team by himself. In the past, that's when Freeman has gotten himself in trouble. Speaking of quarterbacks, how ready is Geno Smith to lead the Jets?

Cimini: First, a quick story about Freeman. The Jets' scouts actually had him graded higher than Mark Sanchez before the '09 draft, but they adjusted the grades after Sanchez's personal workout and interviews. I wonder how things would've played out if the Jets had picked Freeman. As for Smith, he's not ready, no way, but the Jets have no choice because Sanchez's throwing shoulder is banged up. Smith played less than four quarters in the preseason (69 snaps, to be exact) and he played poorly in his only extended outing -- three interceptions and a safety. He could've benefited from a few weeks on the bench, learning his craft. He has no experience in a pro-style offense. At West Virginia, he played in the "Air Raid" attack, working exclusively out of shotgun. The coaches will simplify the game plan, but he'll still be seeing a lot of stuff for the first time. He has an electric arm, but there will be growing pains.

First-round NFC South grades

April, 26, 2013
Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect, I’m going to give each NFC South team a grade for the first round of the draft.

Atlanta Falcons: They addressed their biggest need by choosing cornerback Desmond Trufant. They traded up a bit to do it, but the cost wasn’t as high as if they had jumped up for Dee Milliner. I’m not sure the difference between Trufant and Milliner is all that great. Trufant is NFL-ready and he brings the same kind of swagger that Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon have. A little more swagger on the Atlanta defense can only help. Grade: B-plus.

Carolina Panthers: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei fills a need that had been exploited far too long. The Panthers got him at No. 14. Lotulelei’s stock might have fallen a bit after a medical scare, but he has been medically cleared. Prior to the medical situation, Lotuelei was talked about as a potential first overall pick. The Panthers might have walked away with the best defensive tackle in the draft. Grade: A.

New Orleans Saints: They took safety Kenny Vaccaro. There’s no doubt the New Orleans secondary needed help. Vaccaro should be an impact player. I have no real problem with the pick, but I have to wonder why the Saints, who put a terrible defense on the field last season, went with a safety. Good defense starts with the front seven and I have to wonder if the Saints would have been better off going with a pass-rusher. Grade: B.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They didn’t have a pick in the first round, but I still think the Bucs are a much better team than they were a week ago. They surrendered their first-round pick to the Jets as part of the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Did you see anyone available at No. 13 that would have helped the Bucs more than Revis will? I didn’t. Grade: B.

Could Falcons, Bucs trade up?

April, 25, 2013
The rumor mill, at least as it pertains to the NFC South, has turned quiet as the NFL draft approaches.

That’s probably because teams are in the bunker and don’t have time to chat with the media. Besides, if there are any trades involving NFC South teams, I don’t think they really will percolate until the draft is well underway.

And I think we can forget about the Panthers and Saints trading up. They’re short on picks and don’t have the resources to move up. If anything, they might try to move down and add an extra pick or two.

The Falcons and the Buccaneers are the only NFC South teams that I can see trading up. Last week, there were some rumblings that the Falcons were looking to trade up. I wouldn’t be surprised if they do, because general manager Thomas Dimitroff has done it before.

But there is no sense in the Falcons trading up until the draft starts unfolding. If they think they can get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner by trading up, they might make a big leap. They also could make a smaller leap to try to get Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Tampa Bay traded its first-round pick (No. 13 overall) to the New York Jets in the Darrelle Revis trade. But general manager Mark Dominik has said it’s at least possible the Bucs could attempt to trade back into the first round.

As we wait, here’s a trade value chart for you to ponder. The charts the teams use vary, but this one at least gives you a pretty good overview.

And, if you want some more reading material, here’s Mel Kiper Jr.'s final Insider mock draft Insider.
With the No. 30 overall pick in the blog network mock draft, I just chose Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor for the Atlanta Falcons.

I know there are rumblings out there that the Falcons might try to trade up in the real NFL draft. But, apparently, I’m not as good as making deals as general manager Thomas Dimitroff. I did put some feelers out to jump up and get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, but I wasn’t able to pull it off.

In the end, I was pretty content to stay at No. 30. As the pick approached, I had one strong offer to trade out of the first round and add a couple extra picks.

But I declined. Once I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get a shot at Milliner, I turned my focus toward Taylor.

I liked him as much or more than some of the cornerbacks that went ahead of him. I see Taylor as an instant starter opposite Asante Samuel with Robert McClain as the nickel back.

A starting cornerback really was Atlanta’s only remaining major need. It now has been filled.

Film of the NFC South chat

April, 19, 2013
Let’s take a look at the team-by-team highlights from Friday’s NFC South chat:


David (Atlanta): Hey Pat. If the falcons mortgage another draft to get someone like Milliner, do you really think it is worth it? Falcons are one of the oldest teams in the league and in a year or two from now, they are going to have a lot of holes, especially on the defensive front. Is it really worth it?

Pat Yasinskas: That's a question Dimitroff and Smith have to weigh carefully. If they think they're one player away from winning it all, then they'll go for it.

Jeff (New Jersey): Does ATL need another pass rusher to win a championship?

PY: It wouldn't hurt, but I think they need another CB even more.

David (Atlanta): Any idea on Matt Ryan's demeanor with respect to an extension? Is he more of a let's-keep-the-team-together guy or is he adamant about being the highest paid player in football?

PY: Matt's very much a team guy. That said, it's his agent's job to get him the best deal possible.


Ray (Orlando) [via mobile]: Could you see Carolina ponying up their 2nd round pick for Brandon Albert?

PY: Doubt it. They can't afford to pay him.

Nicolas (Parkland, FL): How likely is it that the Panthers select Sheldon Richardson with their first round pick?

PY: Think he's the odds-on favorite for Carolina.

JM (Charlotte): With the brutal schedule next season, is Ron Rivera already in trouble??

PY: Safe to say he enters this season on hot seat. He barely made it through last season.


Nicholas Medica (New Jersey): Of the Saints' two breakout candidates at the WR position, who do you think will have the better season; Joseph Morgan or Nick Toon?

PY: Toon. Think they liked what they saw out of him before he got hurt last year.

jay (Mississippi) [via mobile]: Pat What's the latest on the Vicodin issue? Seems like I read something a few days ago about it and haven't seen anything else

PY: Washington Post said federal authorities still were considering whether or not to fine the Saints. Guess the next step is up to federal authorities.

Cary (New Orleans): Any chance the Saints put a productive 3-4 defense on the field this year? Especially with their cap situation and lack of draft picks.

PY: It's going to be a challenge. But the good news for them is it would be hard to be worse than last year's defense.


Nicolas (Parkland, FL): Is there a possibility that the Buccaneers will trade up to draft Dee Milliner?

PY: If they don't trade for Revis, yes, I think that's a good possibility.

Kyle (northampton, pa): if TB loses Revis to another team I wouldn't be bothered. That's alot of $$ and draft picks to tie up in 1 player who may/may not be a sure thing.

PY: I see your point. But I still think they're determined to get Revis.

Mike (Toronto): If the Bucs address corner in the 1st round, WHO do you think they'll target in the 2nd?

PY: Tight end or defensive tackle.

Here’s the complete transcript of Friday’s NFC South chat.
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King tweeted Wednesday morning that he’s hearing the Atlanta Falcons are trying to trade up in the first round of next week’s NFL draft.

That’s going to open the door for all sorts of speculation. Maybe the Falcons are smitten with a player at another position, but I think their only glaring need is at cornerback.

Brent Grimes left as a free agent and Dunta Robinson was released. Asante Samuel and Robert McClain remain, but the Falcons need to add a starting-caliber cornerback. Atlanta currently has the 30th overall pick, but the Falcons almost certainly would have to move up to get any of the three cornerbacks that most experts say are the best in this draft -- Dee Milliner, Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant.

The Falcons, who have some resources to work with because they currently have 11 draft picks, could probably get Rhodes or Trufant if they moved into the late teens or early 20s.

But Rhodes and Trufant might not be who the Falcons want. On the surface, Atlanta is a team on the cusp of a Super Bowl. The Falcons could view Milliner as the missing link.

They’d have to move into the top 10, maybe even the top five, to get him. The cost would be high (here’s a trade value chart to use as a guideline).

But I’m not ruling the Milliner scenario out. There’s precedent. Back in 2011, the Falcons made a similar leap to get receiver Julio Jones and that deal worked out well.

It’s no secret Atlanta is in a win-now mode and Milliner might give the Falcons the best shot at winning a Super Bowl.
The ESPN Blog Network mock draft is coming next week and I’ve got some good ideas of what I plan to do for all four teams.

But this isn’t like the 2011 draft when I knew weeks in advance that I’d be taking Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers at No. 1 overall.

Without an NFC South team picking until nearly the middle of the first round, I’m going to be at the mercy of those picking above me.

I’m going to run through the four teams and share with you what scenarios I’m thinking about and invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Let’s start with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have the No. 13 overall pick.

A lot depends on whether the Bucs pull off a trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis. Although I think that trade is likely, I have to prepare with the assumption it will not happen.

Without Revis, there’s a glaring need at cornerback. My leading scenario at the moment would be to have the Bucs trade up (probably into the top five) to get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. He’s the only sure-thing as a cornerback in the draft, and I think it makes sense to go get him.

If the Bucs stay put at No. 13, I’m not feeling great about the cornerback options. I would consider Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant. But my personnel thought is that No. 13 is too early to take either player. However, there are rumblings the Bucs are really high on Rhodes.

Although I’m not as high on Rhodes, I might take him if the rumblings continue to get stronger.

But I’m also considering a few other options beyond cornerback. Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was considered as a possibility for the No. 1 overall pick before a medical concern was raised. Lotulelei reportedly has been medically cleared, but you see him all over the board in mock drafts.

If he’s available at No. 13, I’ll consider him. Once upon a time, the Bucs took a shot on a defensive tackle whose stock had fallen. That was Warren Sapp in 1995 and he’ll be going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer. I might also consider Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson for the Bucs.

I also may consider West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. Although I don’t think the Bucs really need him, there’s been some buzz that the team is enthralled with him. If I get more indications that’s true, I might go with Austin.

And I’ll end it with one scenario that’s received almost no attention. Under the right circumstances, I might even consider Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. This might be a little early for a tight end, but Eifert has the potential to be a great one. At the moment, the Bucs have nothing but mediocrity on their roster at tight end.

Around the NFC South

April, 15, 2013
Let's take a run through some odds and ends from around the NFC South:


D. Orlando Ledbetter throws out the scenario of the Falcons trading up to get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner in the draft. I’m not ruling this out. General manager Thomas Dimitroff traded way up to get another Alabama product, receiver Julio Jones, a couple years ago and that’s worked out well. Ledbetter also mentions the possibility of the Falcons trading into the 20s to get Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant. I’m not a big fan of that move. I’d prefer to see the Falcons stay at No. 30 and get Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor. Some scouts I’ve talked to like Taylor better than Rhodes and Trufant.


Joseph Person writes about how Rock Hill, S.C., which is just over the border from Charlotte, has become a football factory. New Orleans tight end Benjamin Watson and Atlanta safety Chris Hope are among the Rock Hill products currently in the NFL. They’re about to be joined by Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Although the Panthers seem to have bigger needs on the defensive side of the ball, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of them taking Patterson at No. 14, if he still is available. Owner Jerry Richardson always has like having players from the Carolinas on his roster. Plus, the Panthers could use a guy who eventually could take over for Steve Smith as the No. 1 receiver.


Running back Chris Ivory visited the New York Jets last week. Ivory is a restricted free agent and the Jets would have to give the Saints a second-round pick if they sign him. But Connor Orr points out that the two teams could work a trade for a later draft pick. That would make a lot of sense because the Saints have a crowded backfield and are a little light on draft picks that could help them fill needs at other positions.


Scott Reynolds writes that the Bucs could target Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker at No. 12. There’s logic in that. The recent contract extension given to right tackle Demar Dotson was for something close to backup money. Fluker would be an upgrade from Dotson and coach Greg Schiano is big on having a power running game. Schiano also isn’t opposed to using first-round picks on Alabama players. He took one last year in safety Mark Barron.

It’s well known that general manager Mark Dominik likes to front load contracts. Roy Cummings points out that shouldn’t be a potential obstacle if the Bucs trade for Darrelle Revis and sign him to a long-term extension. Revis shares the same agent as Vincent Jackson, who signed a front-loaded deal with the Bucs last year. Dominik’s philosophy is unique, but I can’t see why Revis would balk at it. He presumably would be getting a huge part of the contract in the first couple of years.

McShay: Bucs might pull surprise

April, 12, 2013
In Friday’s NFC South chat, I saw a lot of questions about what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might do in the draft if they don’t make the trade for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Right after I wrapped up the chat, I got on a conference call with ESPN draft expert Todd McShay. I asked him to assume (for the sake of conversation) that the Bucs do not make the trade for Revis and that they’re still sitting there at No. 13. Then I asked if they should trade up into the top five to try to get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner or if they’d be just as well off staying put and taking a cornerback like Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes or Washington’s Desmond Trufant.

McShay’s answer kind of surprised me. He said he doesn’t envision the Bucs trading up and suggested they might not even take a cornerback.

“I’m told they love Rhodes and they love [West Virginia receiver] Tavon Austin,’’ McShay said. “If both of those guys are on the board and they don’t get Revis, I don’t know which they’d go with.’’

So, which way would McShay go?

“I would take Tavon,’’ McShay said. “I have Rhodes in the second round, so I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’d much rather get Tavon, who is a playmaker. This draft is deep in cornerbacks. They can come back in the second round and get a good starting cornerback.’’

McShay went on to say he thinks guys like Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks and Boise State’s Jamar Taylor could be very solid cornerback picks for the Buccaneers in the second round.

I’m not doubting McShay, but I’m not sure Austin really would be the best option for the Bucs at No. 13. They already have starting receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. That means Austin would be a slot receiver and the Bucs already have decent options there with Kevin Ogletree, Steve Smith and Tiquan Underwood.

Of course, the Bucs could end up giving up their first-round pick in a trade for Revis and that could make all this a moot point.
With the NFL draft rapidly approaching, let’s have a little fun and take a look at what I think are the top three first-round options for each NFC South team.

Let’s start off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and let’s be very clear that it’s entirely possible the Bucs could trade the No. 13 overall pick in the draft to get Darrelle Revis or they could trade up to get Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. But let’s go on the assumption, for now at least, that the Bucs stay put at No. 13.

Here are three guys I can see the Bucs drafting:

Xavier Rhodes, cornerback, Florida State: At the moment, the Bucs are incredibly thin at cornerback. This might be a little early to take Rhodes if you go by where most draft gurus are projecting him. But let’s follow the law of supply and demand. Rhodes could end up being the best corner the Bucs can get.

Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, Missouri: The Bucs brought in Derek Landri as a free agent, but I’m not sure they’re done at defensive tackle. Richardson is a versatile guy that could combine with Gerald McCoy to give the Bucs a lot of talent in the interior. Richardson also is capable of playing defensive end in some run sets and I'm not so sure the Bucs want Da'Quan Bowers constantly on the field on running downs.

D.J. Fluker, offensive tackle, Alabama: The Bucs already have had Fluker in for a visit. I know the Bucs gave last year’s starting right tackle Demar Dotson a contract extension recently. But the deal is paying Dotson more like a backup than a starter. In this scenario Dotson could end up as the swing tackle and Fluker could be a nice upgrade for the power-running scheme that coach Greg Schiano favors.

Plan B for the Buccaneers at CB?

April, 8, 2013
If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are losing patience with the New York Jets about a potential trade for Darrelle Revis, which has been reported, I’d like to throw out a possible alternative. This is just my hypothetical scenario, but I think it makes a lot of sense.

Maybe the Bucs should hang loose until draft day and see how things start to unfold. If Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is still on the board at No. 5 or 6, maybe the Bucs should forget Revis and trade up to draft Milliner.

They’d be getting a top-notch cornerback (although there’s no guarantee he’ll be anywhere near as good as a healthy Revis). Coach Greg Schiano seems to like defensive backs from Alabama (he drafted safety Mark Barron last year). And the cost of a trade up to take Milliner wouldn’t be as costly as the likely price of a Revis deal. More importantly, thanks to the slotted structure of rookie contracts, the Bucs wouldn’t have to pay Milliner nearly as much as they would have to pay Revis.

I’ve got a hunch the Revis situation is still in play. Negotiations always can change with one phone call.

But trading up for Milliner might not be a bad Plan B for the Bucs. If they stay put at No. 13, Milliner will be gone and I don’t know if Desmond Trufant or Xavier Rhodes would provide good value at that point. If the Bucs trade up for Milliner, they’d be getting the best cornerback in the draft and a much needed instant starter.

Film of the NFC South chat

April, 5, 2013
Time to take a look at the team-by-team highlights from Friday's NFC South chat:


David (Atlanta): any chance the falcons go after revis?

Pat Yasinskas: No, absolutely no chance. They wouldn't be able to pay him and Matt Ryan both.

Dave (NY): Hi Pat, the general consensus seems to be that Clabo was cut because of cap-issues - but what about the simple fact that he was cut because The Falcons simply just want to get a younger O-line (Kontz already replacing McClure)?

PY: There's some truth to that. And people that know more about o-line play than I do seem to think Clabo's play dropped off last season.

Matt (NJ) [via mobile]: Do you think John Abraham will be falcon by the start of the season

PY: I really doubt it. I think once you make a decision like that it's final.


Tyler (Panthers fan) (In Class): I entirely agree with your article on Williams and Stewart. It was so frustrating for me watching that first half of the season. Let Cam be a qb and let double trouble do their thing. What are shula's tendencies when it comes to offense? will he do just that?

PY: I'm looking forward to seeing Shula's offense. I think he's a better coach than people in Tampa Bay and Alabama give him credit for. He worked with what he had to work with in those places. He's got the talent to have an explosive offense now. I don't see him being nearly as conservative as he was in the past.

JM (Charlotte): Panthers can't afford to keep the RB trio can they?

PY: They have so far, which surprised me. If they're going to trade anyone, Williams is the one that makes most sense.

Murph (Charlotte) [via mobile]: What do the Panthers have to do To get DeAngelo to see That restructuring is the best thing for him?

PY: Give him money up front and don't ask him to take a cut in pay. In other words, convert most of his base salary into signing bonus money.


Todd (New Orleans): Pat, what have you heard about Nnamdi Asomugha's reasons for choosing the 49ers over the Saints?

PY: Think he just wanted to get back to Bay Area.

Stout or Porter? (In Bruges): How much of a rebound do you see from the Saints this year?

PY: Potential is there for a big rebound. They obviously have the offense. Just need to get up a little better on defense.

Steve A (Ventura CA): Pat, I'm a big Saints fan and I read you blog daily. Do you see Clabo pulling a Lofton and going over to the Saints? Even though he's older and not great, I see him being a good fit because of his price tag and the fact that the Saints have solid guards to pair him up with, like Strief. Thoughts?

PY: I would not totally rule that out. Think he could fit there. Problem is the salary cap. Saints really have very little room to work with and I think some other teams are willing to pay Clabo decent money.


Preston (New York): I'm tired of the Bucs-Jets rumblings involving Revis. At this point, would it be more of less expensive for the Bucs to trade up high enough to get Dee Milliner? Younger, no ACL injury, and much cheaper. Win?

PY: It is tiring. But sometimes that's how this league works. You've got to be patient to get the best deal. Revis is proven. But I don't think that trading up for Milliner is a bad idea.

Eddie(go bucs) (Saint louis): Any truth to the rumor us fans have created about a revis and tebow trade since we don't have a back up qb?

PY: You think Tebow's a QB? I don't.

Scott (Northglenn, CO): Any reason to be concerned about Doug Martin regressing his second year? More focus on him?

PY: Doubt it. He'll have his two Pro Bowl guards back and that should make him even better.

Here's the complete transcript of Friday's NFC South chat.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 3, 2013
Time for a run through some odds and ends from around the NFC South:
  • Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber said he still is undecided if he’ll retire or play another season. Barber said he expects to make a “gut decision,’’ but it hasn’t happened yet. I don’t get the sense that the Buccaneers, who have said they want Barber back, are putting too much pressure on a guy that’s earned the right to make his own choice. But it would be helpful if Barber gives the team an answer before the draft.
  • Speaking of the Buccaneers and defensive backs, Alabama’s Dee Milliner, will begin a pre-draft visit with the team Wednesday night, according to Ian Rapoport. I’d be shocked if Milliner lasts until Tampa Bay picks at No. 13. But, then again, maybe the Bucs aren’t planning on staying put at No. 13.
  • Carolina linebacker Jon Beason said he expects to be fully healthy by training camp after finishing last season on injured reserve. Beason also said he’s fine with moving to outside linebacker. Luke Kuechly took over in the middle and excelled when Beason went out. Although Beason has spent most of his career in the middle, I think he can be an impact player on the outside.
  • The Panthers agreed to terms with former New York Giants receiver Domenik Hixon, according to Jason LaCanfora. Carolina suddenly is looking very deep at receiver, but the Panthers still could look to draft a long-term replacement for Steve Smith.
  • This one’s a little off beat, but country music star Kenny Chesney talks about his very brief stint as a receiver with the New Orleans Saints with Jon Gruden.
  • Speaking of Gruden, I’ve spent much of the past five or six weeks watching the filming of Gruden’s QB Camp, which debuts this week on ESPN. I’ve been working with Gruden to get his written scouting reports on all the prospects and they’ll run on our Insider pages in the coming days. Here's the television schedule for Gruden's QB Camp.

Atlanta's needs are very narrow

April, 1, 2013
While it seems like just about every NFL team will be using what’s left of free agency and the NFL draft to address multiple needs, the Atlanta Falcons are in a very unique position.

At least on paper, they only have one hole on their roster.

That’s at cornerback, where the Falcons suddenly became thin with Saturday’s news that Brent Grimes left for Miami as a free agent. The departure of Grimes comes after the Falcons released Dunta Robinson at the start of free agency.

The good news is the Falcons have no other glaring needs after signing defensive end Osi Umenyiora to upgrade the pass rush, signing running back Steven Jackson to improve the running game and coaxing tight end Tony Gonzalez to put off retirement.

The bad news is there might not be a lot of great options at cornerback. Coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan frequently talk about how they like to have three cornerbacks that are capable of starting.

Atlanta still has Asante Samuel and Robert McClain, but they’re No. 2 and 3 guys and I don’t think the Falcons view Dominique Franks as anything more than a No. 4 cornerback. That means the Falcons have to add a cornerback, preferably someone that can be a No. 1 guy, in free agency or the draft.

It’s more than likely the Falcons will have to find a cornerback in the draft. The remaining cast of free-agent cornerbacks is highlighted by DeAngelo Hall, Quentin Jammer, Nnamdi Asomugha, Antoine Winfield and Sheldon Brown. Hall, who began his career in Atlanta, probably is off any list off possibilities for the Falcons. Atlanta hasn’t seemed to have shown much interest in the other veterans, but that could change now that Grimes is officially gone.

The Falcons also are limited by a tight salary-cap situation. But there’s no guarantee the Falcons will be able to get a top cornerback at No. 30. Alabama’s Dee Milliner widely is considered a top-10 pick and Washington’s Desmond Trufant and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes are the only two corners consistently projected to go in the first round.

If Trufant or Rhodes lasts until No. 30, the Falcons can fill their one remaining need. But both could be gone before No. 30 and that might prompt general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who has shown a willingness to trade up in the draft and is holding 11 draft picks, to try to jump up higher.

I don’t know that Dimitroff will try to pull off a Julio Jones type of deal to get Milliner. But he might be wise to trade up into the late teens or early 20s to get Trufant or Rhodes.

Get one of those guys and everything on Dimitroff’s offseason list will be crossed off.

Kiper's NFC South mock draft

January, 16, 2013
Mel Kiper Jr. has put out his first mock draft , so let’s take a look at what he’s projecting from the NFC South in the first round.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has Tampa Bay taking Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. In some ways, I like this call. Put Ogletree with Lavonte David and Mason Foster and the Bucs could have a very good linebacker corps for a long time. But part of me would like to see the Bucs get a cornerback with this pick. They certainly have a huge need at that position. But Kiper has Alabama’s Dee Milliner going in the top five. Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes is the only other cornerback he has going (late) in the first round. Maybe Milliner’s stock drops between now and the draft, but I doubt it. The more likely scenario is that Rhodes or some other cornerback climbs draft boards with good workouts.

Carolina Panthers. Kiper has them taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. I’m all for that move. The Panthers have been weak at defensive tackle since Kris Jenkins left the team after the 2007 season. It’s time to invest an early draft pick in the position.

New Orleans Saints. Kiper also has the Saints taking a defensive tackle -- Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins. This one also makes plenty of sense. Former first-round pick Sedrick Ellis never has become a star and he’s about to become a free agent.

Atlanta Falcons. We don’t know Atlanta’s exact draft position yet, but it will be late in the first round. Kiper has the Falcons taking SMU defensive end Margus Hunt. That’s logical because the Falcons need to get John Abraham’s eventual replacement. But you can’t lock in on any one player or position when you’re drafting as late as the Falcons will be. Depending on if they keep Brent Grimes and Sam Baker, I could see them drafting a cornerback or a left tackle. I could also see them drafting a tight end to replace Tony Gonzalez.