NFC South: draft needs

Just took a look at the current results in our Call It polls for draft needs for the Buccaneers, Falcons and Saints.

No huge surprises. Defensive end is the runaway leader for the Bucs. In fact, that’s the position that’s currently in the lead for the Falcons and Saints. But the lead for defensive end isn’t nearly as dramatic with Atlanta and New Orleans.

In fact, the vote on the Saints’ top need is very close between defensive end and outside linebacker and the winner could go either way. With the Falcons, defensive end has a healthy lead, but wide receiver is at least within striking distance with another good day of voting.

Speaking of that, we’ll shut down the polls Monday at 5 p.m. After that, I’ll provide analysis on your voting for each team.

If you haven’t done so already, please vote by Monday afternoon. Here’s the link for the Bucs’ poll. Here’s the link for the Saints and here’s the link for the Falcons.

Carolina fans, don't worry. You're not being overlooked. We already did your Call It poll and it took on a different format than these three. With the Panthers holding the No. 1 overall pick, we didn't have to limit it to just positions. We asked you to vote for the actual player the Panthers will take. Your answer, by a pretty large margin, was Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.

Call It: Draft needs for Falcons

April, 14, 2011
We already gave Carolina fans a chance to Call It on what the Panthers are going to do with their first-round pick.

We don’t want to short change the rest of the NFC South fans, so we’ll open up the polls for you Thursday morning. I’ll do posts on each team and you can vote on the biggest draft needs for the Falcons, Buccaneers and Saints.

Obviously, they’re all picking from No. 20 on, so it’s not the same as the Panthers, where we knew that every player in the draft is available at No. 1. We’ll have to see how things unfold on draft night to know exactly who’s available when the Buccaneers, Saints and Falcons get to pick.

That’s why we won’t list specific players in the poll. Instead, we’ll let you voice your opinion on what each team needs most.

Most draft experts are saying the Falcons will use their top pick on a defensive end or a wide receiver. But this team has some other needs that could come into play.

Look them over and cast your vote for Atlanta’s biggest draft need. We’ll have polls up for the Saints and Buccaneers a little later this morning.

Draft needs: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

February, 23, 2011
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the final stop in our series of team-by-team draft needs.

  1. Defensive end. This is easily the biggest need for the Bucs, who finished last season with Stylez G. White and Tim Crowder as the usual starters. There was almost no pressure from up front. The Bucs invested a lot in the middle of their line last year by taking defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price with their first two picks. Each of those guys showed some promise before having their rookie seasons cut short by injuries. Both should be healthy next season, and the Bucs want to surround them with quality players on the outside.
  2. Safety. Tanard Jackson, who might be the most talented safety in the NFC South, isn’t eligible to apply for reinstatement from his one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy until late September. The Bucs can’t count on him returning, because there is no guarantee he’ll be reinstated. Cody Grimm played well before having his rookie season cut short by injury. Sean Jones is the other starter, and he’s only ordinary. Tampa Bay has really strong cornerbacks, and adding some more talent at safety could make this secondary one of the league’s best.
  3. Running back. LeGarrette Blount wound up taking over as the feature back as a rookie, and Cadillac Williams could return as the third-down back if he doesn’t leave through free agency. But the Bucs need a true backup to Blount because he is such a physical runner and that could expose him to injury. They like Kareem Huggins, who was injured last year, but there’s no guarantee he could step into a feature role if something happens to Blount. Keeping Williams as a third-down back would be a nice coup for the Bucs, but he showed last season that he no longer is a feature back.
  4. Linebacker. This could move up the list a couple of spots if middle linebacker Barrett Ruud departs through free agency. Even if he stays, the Bucs still need to look at this position. Geno Hayes and Quincy Black are decent on the outside, but the Bucs could use some more athleticism at linebacker.
  5. Offensive line. This is very much up in the air with guard Davin Joseph likely to test free agency. The Bucs got some nice play from several young offensive linemen last season, and left tackle Donald Penn has become a force. But, with the Bucs having quarterback Josh Freeman and a wealth of talent at most of the skill positions, they have to make sure the offensive line keeps getting better.

Draft needs: New Orleans Saints

February, 23, 2011
The New Orleans Saints are up as we continue our series of team-by-team draft needs.
  1. Defensive end. The Saints let Charles Grant go last season and Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson were adequate. But neither of them give the Saints anything special. The Saints need another pass rusher to go with Will Smith. The Gregg Williams defense is at its best when it can force other teams into turnovers.
  2. Outside linebacker. The Saints let Scott Fujita go in free agency last year and it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. But several guys who were in contention to take over for Fujita got hurt and the position never really got filled. The Saints could use a speedy playmaker to put next to middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
  3. Running back. A lot of New Orleans fans don’t seem willing to believe it, but Pierre Thomas almost certainly will be allowed to walk as a free agent. He fell into the doghouse when his ankle injury was slow to heal last season. Chris Ivory did a nice job filling in when Thomas and Reggie Bush were out. But the Saints need consistency at this position and that means adding a running back who can handle a good chunk of carries to go with Bush and Ivory.
  4. Defensive tackle. Sedrick Ellis has developed into a solid player, but the Saints don’t have much in the middle beside him. It’s time to upgrade the talent level here.
  5. Offensive tackle. I know the Saints drafted Charles Brown last year. But, if he's not ready to start, I'm not sure this offense can endure another year of Jermon Bushrod at left tackle.

For a look at New Orleans’ needs through another set of eyes, check out our friends at HoopDat.

Draft needs: Carolina Panthers

February, 23, 2011
We continue our series of NFC South team-by-team draft needs with the Carolina Panthers.
  1. Quarterback. There is not a bigger need on this team than at the game’s most important position. It’s been a huge problem spot the last two seasons and new coach Ron Rivera knows he has to find a quarterback in order to have any chance at success. Could the Panthers take Auburn’s Cam Newton or Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert with the first overall pick? It’s possible and either of those prospects could help their chances with a big combine. But the Panthers are a conservative franchise and Newton and Gabbert each have upside and downside. The Panthers may look to free agency or a trade to find their quarterback.
  2. Defensive tackle. This also has been a problem spot the last couple of seasons. There generally is a much lower bust factor for a defensive tackle than a quarterback and that’s why I’m thinking Auburn’s Nick Fairley might be the guy Carolina goes with as the No. 1 pick.
  3. Cornerback. This remains up in the air because we don’t know what will happen with Richard Marshall in free agency or if Chris Gamble can get back into good graces with Rivera after falling out of favor with John Fox last year. But it’s likely at least one of them will be gone.
  4. Tight end. Rivera has made it clear he wants the tight end more involved in the passing game. I’m not sure any of Carolina’s current tight ends really fit the profile. It might be time for Carolina to go out and get the first true pass-catching tight end the franchise has had since Wesley Walls.
  5. Defensive end. On the surface, it’s not that huge a need if the Panthers can re-sign Charles Johnson. But a lot of people think Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers is the best player in the draft. If the Panthers agree, they have to at least consider taking him even if Johnson is back.

Draft needs: Atlanta Falcons

February, 23, 2011
With the scouting combine officially starting Thursday, let’s go ahead and take a look at team-by-team needs around the NFC South. We’ll go in alphabetical order and start with the Atlanta Falcons.
  1. Defensive end. John Abraham is coming off a big season, but he’s nearing the end of his career. Even if Abraham continues to play well, the Falcons could use another pass-rushing threat to take some blocking attention off Abraham.
  2. Wide receiver. The Falcons have one of the best in the game in Roddy White. Fellow starter Michael Jenkins is a complementary player and not really a big-play threat. The Falcons had hoped Harry Douglas would emerge as a playmaker in the slot last season. It might be time to get a deep threat for Matt Ryan.
  3. Running back. The Falcons have been riding Michael Turner hard, and Jason Snelling has established himself as a quality backup. But Jerious Norwood has been injured much of his career and never really has produced. The Falcons need a speed back to work into the rotation with Turner and Snelling.
  4. Offensive line. This remains a question mark because we don’t know exactly what will happen with free agency. But the Falcons could end up losing several starters. They prepared for that by drafting two offensive linemen last year, but this position could be in play. Much of the talk is about the interior of the offensive line, but we don’t know if the Falcons are thinking it’s time to replace Sam Baker at left tackle. If they are, this position could move up a few spots on the list.
  5. Linebacker. Mike Peterson is aging and Stephen Nicholas could leave through free agency. The Falcons have Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton as two long-term starters, but it might be time to get a third guy.