NFC South: Eric Shelton

When choosing the best draft class in the history of the NFC South (history starts in 2002, when the NFC South started), it was easy to pick the 2006 group brought in by the New Orleans Saints. Guys like Reggie Bush, Jahri Evans, Marques Colston and Roman Harper were big reasons why the Saints won the Super Bowl last season.

But 2007 also was a memorable draft for the Buccaneers and Falcons -- for all the wrong reasons. In fact, I had to have a lengthy debate with myself on if Atlanta or Tampa Bay had the worst class in division history that year.

1. 2007 by Tampa Bay. As I debated the demerits of what Atlanta and Tampa Bay did in this draft, it really came down to the fact that the Bucs hit the trifecta with their first three picks. They took Gaines Adams, Arron Sears and Sabby Piscitelli. You can’t really argue with that. Adams was a non-factor before the Bucs traded him to Chicago, Sears couldn’t play last year because of personal issues and Piscitelli showed last year that he can’t play. Safety Tanard Jackson, a fourth-round pick, has been a bright spot, but not enough to pull the Bucs out of the top spot.

2. 2007 by Atlanta. When the Bucs took Adams, they passed over Jamaal Anderson and the Falcons pounced on him with the No. 8 overall pick. If you don’t hit on a top-10 pick, you’ve got a problem. The Falcons have gotten nothing out of Anderson. They did get a solid starter in guard Justin Blalock in the second round and fourth-round pick Stephen Nicholas became a starter at linebacker last year. But Bobby Petrino and Rich McKay also gave the Falcons cornerback Chris Houston in the second round and receiver Laurent Robinson in the third. Houston started a lot of games for the Falcons, but the current Atlanta regime was thrilled to trade him to Detroit this year. Robinson never came close to being a factor.

3. 2003 by Tampa Bay. Speaking of Petrino, he played a major role in building what almost was the third-worst draft class in NFC South history. I gave very strong consideration to Carolina’s class of 2005. Louisville products Eric Shelton and Stefan LeFors were tremendous busts. Atiyyah Ellison and Jovan Haye showed they can play in the league, but only after they left the Panthers. But I couldn’t quite put Carolina in this slot because first-round pick Thomas Davis has worked out. If you want to see a class that truly flopped from top to bottom look back at the 2003 Bucs. They were without a first-round pick because it was used to help get coach Jon Gruden out of Oakland. But the Bucs jumped in after that and gave you this collection of draft picks -- Dewayne White, Chris Simms, Lance Nimmo, Austin King, Sean Mahan and Torrie Cox. Sad part is Cox, the last pick of the bunch, probably did the most of this group.

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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