NFC South: Draft Watch 2010 NFC

Draft Watch: NFC South

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC dream/Plan B: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.

Atlanta Falcons

Dream scenario: They get Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham with the first-round pick and come back with an outside linebacker and a center in the middle rounds. Graham’s been a very productive college player and the risk of him being a bust is low. He can fit a need immediately. Plan B: If Graham is somehow gone, that could change things dramatically. Jason Pierre-Paul has raw athleticism, but comes with questions. The Falcons may instead look toward linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, defensive tackle Jared Odrick or even an offensive lineman.

Carolina Panthers

Dream scenario: A big defensive tackle, like Terrence Cody, falls until they have their first pick in the second round. Cody would fill a huge void and make the run defense much better. They could follow him up with a wide receiver and a quarterback who can begin his career behind Matt Moore. Plan B: If Cody’s not there, a true run stuffer might not be available. The Panthers may have to go with a receiver first and that’s a dangerous proposition because their draft history with receivers has been terrible.

New Orleans Saints

Dream scenario: They done such a good job filling in depth at defensive end that it’s no longer a huge need. That leaves outside linebacker as the only really big need. The Saints likely would be very happy to land a linebacker like Weatherspoon or Jerry Hughes and get some depth at defensive tackle and tight end over the next few rounds. Plan B: The Saints aren’t desperate in any area. If a linebacker isn’t there with value in the first round, they can save that for a bit later and perhaps draft a defensive tackle or tight end first. The Saints are capable of surprises and a running back in the first few rounds isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dream scenario: There doesn’t seem to be a big preference between defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy. The Bucs gladly would take either one and follow up with a receiver like Golden Tate and a cornerback with their two second-round picks. Plan B: If the Bucs don’t get a defensive tackle first, it’s almost a disaster because the need is so great. If Suh and McCoy are somehow gone, they’d have to consider taking offensive tackle Russell Okung, safety Eric Berry or a defensive end and they’d still have a glaring hole in the middle of their defensive line.

Draft Watch: NFC South

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
1:00
PM ET
NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: decision-makers.

Atlanta Falcons

General manager Thomas Dimitroff has final say and this guy has a strong background as a scout and personnel evaluator that has shown through in his first two drafts. Dimitroff is a true student of the game and watches countless hours of film. Coach Mike Smith also is heavily involved in the process, but Dimitroff has the strongest voice here.

Carolina Panthers

General manager Marty Hurney prides himself on saying there really is no “final say" in Carolina. He and coach John Fox make decisions together and the scouting department is heavily involved. Usually, this approach brings a consensus. Hurney says if there is strong disagreement on a player the team steers clear of that guy and moves to the next one on the list.

New Orleans Saints

General manager Mickey Loomis is the ultimate voice here, but it’s interesting to note how much better his track record has been since coach Sean Payton arrived. Loomis may have more power now than he did when Jim Haslett was coaching. He certainly has a better relationship with Payton than he did with Haslett, who might have been the driving force behind some bad personnel decisions.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

General manager Mark Dominik makes the final call or the Buccaneers. Much like Dimitroff, he came up through the ranks in the personnel department and has a strong scouting background. Coach Raheem Morris also has a strong voice in the room and was instrumental in the team selecting quarterback Josh Freeman last year. Dominik and Morris have collected 11 picks in this draft and know they need to succeed on most of them to really kick their rebuilding program in the right direction.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
1:00
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NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

They’re sitting at No. 3 and recent history indicates they’ll get a big name, but not necessarily a guaranteed star. The jury is still very much out on defensive end Tyson Jackson, who went to Kansas City in this spot last year. Jackson didn’t record a sack in his rookie year. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan went No. 3 overall in 2008 and is off to a very good start, and the same can be said for 2007 No. 3 pick Joe Thomas. The Cleveland offensive tackle already has been picked for three Pro Bowls. But 2006 third pick Vince Young and 2005 No. 3 Braylon Edwards have both had very uneven careers thus far.

Atlanta Falcons

They hold the No. 19 pick and the recent history in that spot has been solid. Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin and Carolina offensive tackle Jeff Otah are off to strong starts. Tennessee safety Michael Griffin, who went in this spot in 2007, has been a very solid player and 2005 pick Alex Barron has been a regular starter at offensive tackle for the Rams. The biggest question mark at this spot in recent history is Antonio Cromartie. He had a few very productive years in San Diego, but slumped last season, prompting his move to the New York Jets.

New Orleans Saints

They hold the No. 32 pick, the final one in the first round because they won the Super Bowl. There are no guarantees of instant success when you’re picking this late. Ziggy Hood went in this spot to Pittsburgh last year and the Steelers are bringing him along very slowly. Safety Kenny Phillips went No. 32 to the Giants in 2008. He was primarily a backup as a rookie and got hurt early last year. It’s a similar story for 2007 pick Anthony Gonzalez of the Colts. He showed promise in his first two seasons as a backup, but an injury derailed him last year. The Giants have had mixed results with defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, whom they took in this spot in 2006. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he has been somewhat productive. The real gem in this spot has been 2005 pick Logan Mankins. The New England guard has been to two Pro Bowls.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers traded this year’s first-round pick to San Francisco last year. As a result, their top pick is in the second round and it’s No. 48 overall. History has shown you still can get a productive player at this spot. Cornerback Darcel McBath got off to a good start with Denver last year before being sidelined with an injury late in the season. Tight end Fred Davis had a quiet rookie season with the Redskins in 2008, but started to emerge last year. Jacksonville linebacker Justin Durant was a part-time-starter as a rookie in 2007, but has been a full-time starter the past two seasons. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has developed into a solid starter in Minnesota after being selected by the Vikings in 2006. Then, there’s the sad story of linebacker Odell Thurman, whom the Bengals took at No. 48 in 2005. He played only two seasons before suspensions and off-field problems derailed his career.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
1:00
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NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Atlanta Falcons

The talk has been all about defensive end and linebacker and those positions probably will be addressed early. Although the Falcons appear to be in good shape on offense, they’re not going to ignore that side of the ball because they need depth at several spots. The offensive line has been good, but the Falcons can’t be complacent in this area. Center Todd McClure isn’t getting any younger and it might be time to find his eventual replacement. The Falcons are content with Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas as their top three receivers, but it might be wise to add another weapon here. Jenkins is more of a role player than a playmaker and another receiver with some explosiveness could be a big help.

Carolina Panthers

Overhauling the defensive line and finding a No. 2 wide receiver are the early priorities. But there are needs elsewhere. Carolina’s veteran purge was designed to get young players like linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson on the field. But someone will have to take their places on special teams and the Panthers will be looking for athletic linebackers. Also, keep a close watch on fullback because second-year player Anthony Fiammetta is all the Panthers have there. Also, don’t be surprised if the Panthers look for another receiver beyond the early rounds. They haven’t used the slot receiver much in recent years and I believe they’d like to change that.

New Orleans Saints

The big needs have been narrowed to defensive line and outside linebacker. But always remember that Sean Payton is an offensive coach and that side of the ball won’t be ignored. Payton always is looking to add new toys. Although running back and receiver appear deep, they could get even deeper. Fullback depth is also a possibility. The Saints slumped a bit after Heath Evans was injured last year and they’d be wise to have a viable alternative in case Evans gets hurt again.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s tough to separate big needs from smaller ones here because the Bucs need just about everything. But let’s say defensive line and wide receiver are the two biggest needs and work from there. The Bucs like to say they feel good about their offensive line and linebackers. But should they? The offensive line wasn’t all that good last year and the linebackers didn’t really make plays. These areas definitely can be improved. Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber was a bit of a bright spot last year, but how long can he go on like that? With 11 picks in this draft, the Bucs have a chance to find Barber’s successor. If they can get a good corner, they could pair him with Aqib Talib and be set at that position for several years.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Atlanta Falcons

After making their one splurge into free agency to get Dunta Robinson and re-signing veteran Brian Williams, the Falcons have done a nice job of addressing a cornerback position that once was a big area of need. With those moves, the Falcons have whittled down their significant needs considerably.

The most glaring need is at defensive end and that almost certainly will be addressed early in the draft. John Abraham had a quiet year as a pass-rusher last season and age could be catching up to him. Nobody else stepped forward as a pass-rusher and the Falcons realize they need to get more pressure on quarterbacks. General manager Thomas Dimitroff believes in basing his drafts on need and getting a pass-rusher is critical.

The only other area that can be considered a high need is outside linebacker, but that’s not as dramatic as defensive end. The Falcons have Mike Peterson and Stephen Nicholas as their starting outside linebackers. Peterson is getting older, but still played at a high level last year. Nicholas was solid in his first year as a starter, but the Falcons could consider an upgrade.

Carolina Panthers

Their needs have grown since the start of free agency. The purge of veteran players has left the Panthers with needs in a lot of places. Without a first-round draft pick, the Panthers probably won’t be able to fill all their needs in the draft.

The defensive line, once the cornerstone of a John Fox team, has been gutted. The Panthers have high hopes for Everette Brown and Charles Johnson, but still could look for another defensive end to replace Julius Peppers.

The more glaring need might be at defensive tackle, where starters Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu were released. The Panthers have nothing but projects and journeymen at defensive tackle. Unless they suddenly get more active in free agency, they almost have to find one starting defensive tackle in the draft.

New Orleans Saints

They are the champions and, as a result, won’t draft until the final pick of the first round. The new free-agency rules prevent the Saints from doing much in free agency. Their roster is in good shape, but they still have some needs.

The defensive line is the most prominent need. Starting end Charles Grant was released after the season, and there is a possibility tackle/end Anthony Hargrove could be lost as a restricted free agent. The Saints would like to get a defensive end who can generate more of a pass rush than Grant, and they’d also like to find a solid starter to pair with defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis.

But the Saints can’t totally lock in on the defensive line with their first pick because they’ve also got a need at outside linebacker. With Scott Fujita leaving as a free agent, the Saints have some in-house candidates, but there’s no clear-cut replacement. Picking at the end of the first round leaves the Saints at the mercy of the teams in front of them, but it seems likely they’ll take the best available defensive lineman or outside linebacker.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

There are needs just about everywhere, and the Bucs are counting heavily on this draft to be a big part of their building process. They have 10 overall picks and five in the first 99. They’ve got the third overall pick in the first round and it seems almost certain they’ll take defensive tackles Gerald McCoy or Ndamukong Suh, if either is available.

After that, they’ve got plenty of other directions they could go. They could take several wide receivers because there isn’t a quality starter currently on the roster. Defensive end also is an area of need because there is no clear starter opposite Stylez G. White.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Recent history.

Atlanta Falcons

In general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s first draft in 2008, the Falcons went almost exclusively with offense, mainly because they wanted to build around quarterback Matt Ryan and left tackle Sam Baker. That draft was a huge success and it helped the Falcons build a solid offensive core. Last year, Dimitroff switched over almost entirely to defense. The jury is still out on that class because defensive tackle Peria Jerry and safety William Moore missed almost all of their rookie seasons with injuries. But both will be back and will fill defensive needs. The products of the last two drafts mean the Falcons are now in a situation in which they can go any way they want. Dimitroff doesn’t mess around and talk about “the best player available." He admits the Falcons draft on need. They’ve narrowed their needs this year. Although defensive end and linebacker currently top that list, the Falcons no longer need to spend the whole draft on one side of the ball.

Carolina Panthers

In recent years, the Panthers have been very daring in the draft. Two years ago, they traded back up into the first round to get tackle Jeff Otah, after already landing running back Jonathan Stewart. That cost them a 2009 first-round pick, but they still traded up in last year’s second round to get defensive end Everette Brown. That cost them this year’s first-round pick and they won’t be picking until the second round -- at least as of now. The last couple of years have shown general manager Marty Hurney is willing to take big chances. After an offseason purge of veterans, the Panthers suddenly have a lot of needs all over the place. Hurney’s demonstrated a recent willingness to trade up and that certainly could come in handy this year. But the problem is the Panthers don’t have a lot of currency to move up.

New Orleans Saints

Mickey Loomis is another general manager who doesn’t try to make you believe he’s only looking for the best player available. Recent history has shown Loomis makes sure he gets what his team needs, even when it’s not always the most popular pick. Take last year’s trade up in the fifth round to get punter Thomas Morstead. Fans griped, right up until Morstead began having one of the best rookie years ever by a punter. The last two first-round picks, Sedrick Ellis and Malcolm Jenkins, were made based solely on need. Loomis had his hands tied last year with only four draft picks, mainly because of the trades he made for Jeremy Shockey and Jonathan Vilma and two draft choices were injured before the season ever started. Loomis has a pretty full complement of picks this year and, although the Saints are the champions, they still have needs. Nothing major, but last year showed the importance of depth and Loomis will make sure the Saints add depth in their areas of need.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

We’re talking about two different regimes here. Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris took over last year and Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden were calling the shots before that. These two regimes demonstrated two very different styles. Allen and Gruden were all about winning now and they did plenty of patchwork with veterans and didn’t have great drafts. Gaines Adams, the top pick in 2007, didn’t work out, but 2008 first-round choice Aqib Talib has shown promise. Allen and Gruden also left their successors with a bunch of young offensive linemen, although that group was a little disappointing. Dominik and Morris value the draft more highly than their predecessors and they’re proud of the fact they’ve accumulated 10 picks for this year. They believe in building through the draft and they started that process last year by getting Josh Freeman who they believe is a franchise quarterback. He’s in place and the challenge now is to build around him.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Schemes/Themes: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Schemes and themes.

Atlanta Falcons: There is little doubt what Atlanta’s biggest need is. It clearly is a pass-rusher, specifically a defensive end. The Falcons thrived in 2008 when John Abraham was having a career year and struggled last season as he suddenly got old. Coach Mike Smith wants speed on the outside to help protect his secondary. Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann have some potential as pass-rushers. But the Falcons don’t have anything truly close to an every-down defensive end in their 4-3 scheme. There’s little doubt they’ll try to find one early in this draft.

Carolina Panthers: The defensive line used to be the foundation of a John Fox football team. The Panthers went to a Super Bowl with Mike Rucker, Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner dominating up front. That was a long time ago and, with Peppers about to walk out the door, there’s not a marquee player on the defensive line. Fox likes defensive ends who are quick, even if they’re a bit undersized. He likes defensive tackles who take up a lot of space. The return of Maake Kemoeatu from injury should help, but he’s not getting any younger. The fact the Panthers don’t have a first-round pick is going to make it difficult to get any sure things along the defensive front.

New Orleans Saints: It’s kind of ironic how the secondary has gone from being an area of need to a huge strength in just one year. Even if the Saints let safety Darren Sharper walk in free agency, they don’t need to do much with the secondary. That leaves the front seven as the biggest area of need. Outside linebacker could be an issue with Scott Fujita headed toward free agency and Scott Shanle carrying a big salary. Fujita and Shanle played well last season, but defensive coordinator Gregg Williams prides himself on playing an aggressive style. It might be time to get some younger legs to surround middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Quarterback Josh Freeman has hinted he wouldn’t mind having a burner at wide receiver. That’s something the Bucs desperately need. Freeman has one of the strongest arms in the league and the Bucs would like to take advantage of that. The problem right now is they don’t have a true downfield threat on the roster. They’ve got some decent possession receivers and Sammie Stroughter might be perfect for the slot. But Freeman is the franchise and you’re about to see the Bucs start building around him. On defense, Raheem Morris decided to get back to the Tampa 2 scheme late last season and the results were positive. But cornerback Ronde Barber is near the end of his career and safety Sabby Piscitelli struggled mightily. It’s time to get some younger legs in the secondary.

Draft Watch: NFC South

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
PM ET
NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Atlanta Falcons

Some people called Thomas Dimitroff a genius after his first draft. Some called him an idiot after his second. I still lean toward the genius tag because we truly haven’t seen enough of Peria Jerry and William Moore, who got hurt early last year. It’s way too early to call any pick Dimitroff has made a bust. To find a true bust, all you have to do is go back to the year before Dimitroff and Mike Smith took over. Bobby Petrino and Rich McKay were so locked in on getting a pass-rusher that they reached for Jamaal Anderson, who has become a mediocre defensive tackle after Smith moved him inside.

Carolina Panthers

The jury’s still out on defensive end Everette Brown, last year’s top pick. But the Panthers have pretty much nailed it on every top pick since John Fox and Marty Hurney have been in power. Problem is they haven’t hit on much beyond the first round. Remember Dwayne Jarrett, Rashad Butler, Keary Colbert and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Eric Shelton? But, hey, if Shelton hadn't been such a tremendous bust, the Panthers never would have drafted DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

New Orleans Saints

Jahri Evans, Marques Colston, Tracy Porter and Thomas Morstead have all been gems found beyond the first round. General manager Mickey Loomis hasn’t had anything approaching a bust since the days when Jim Haslett was coaching. There were a fair amount back then. But they’re gone now and that’s part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Let’s be nice and start by giving the Bucs credit for finding a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman last year. And for getting receiver Sammie Stroughter in the seventh round. Everybody likes to rip general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris. But part of the reason the Bucs are in the shape they’re in is because Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen were busy using early picks on guys like Gaines Adams and Dexter Jackson. They somehow thought Jackson could be the second coming of Carolina’s Steve Smith.

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