NFC South: Mel Kiper Jr.

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Buccaneers

March, 13, 2014
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Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest mock draft is out and he has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

I like the pick and I think the chances of it happening are better than they were a few days ago. The Bucs added defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Alterraun Verner in free agency, so they have narrowed their needs. I still think the Bucs might consider an offensive lineman (Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews) with the No. 7 overall pick.

But Watkins, who might be the most dynamic offensive player in the draft, is starting to make more and more sense to me. The Bucs could use another playmaker on offense. They have Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams as their starting receivers. Williams might be in some hot water with the coaching staff and front office because of some off-field trouble.

Even if Williams is going to stick around, I still think Watkins makes sense. The Bucs have very little depth after Jackson and Williams. In the modern game, a third receiver can play as much as a starter.

The Bucs have to get deeper and better at receiver, and Watkins would bring more speed to a passing game that needs some spicing up.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have their latest mock drafts out, and they’re in agreement on who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take at No. 7.

Kiper and McShay have the Bucs choosing Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack. But unless the Bucs are planning to convert Mack into a defensive end, I don’t think this would be a good move. The Bucs already have one star at outside linebacker in Lavonte David, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to invest a lot more in this area.

Personally, I think the Bucs should go with Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy. He’d be a natural fit opposite Adrian Clayborn. The addition of a pass-rushing defensive end might be all that separates the Bucs from having an elite defense.

If Ealy isn’t there or the Bucs want to go in another direction, I easily can see them taking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The offensive line wasn’t very good last season and needs some new talent.

Of course, there’s another scenario that’s at least a possibility. The new regime has been saying nice things so far about quarterback Mike Glennon. But it remains to be seen if the Bucs are content to go with Glennon. If they have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Derek Carr, they might not be able to pass on a quarterback.
The 2013 draft is over, but Mel Kiper Jr. already is looking ahead.

Kiper’s first Insider 2014 Big Board is out and it’s worth pondering and thinking about what NFC South teams could be in the market for next year.

The biggest issue hanging out there is whether Josh Freeman is the long-term answer in Tampa Bay. I think Freeman will be fine and end up eventually getting another contract with the Buccaneers. But what if that doesn’t happen?

Well, the 2014 group of quarterbacks is looking better than the 2013 crop. Kiper has three quarterbacks rated in the top 25: Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd.

And what if the New Orleans Saints don’t find an effective pass-rusher for their 3-4 defense? UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is No. 5 on Kiper’s board.

Carolina is rolling the dice this season and going with a bunch of mid-level cornerbacks. Maybe some of those guys rise up. If they don’t, Kiper has Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Florida’s Loucheiz Purifoy in his top 10.

I can look ahead and see Atlanta having a potential need at defensive tackle. Jonathan Babineaux isn’t getting any younger and Corey Peters and Peria Jerry aren’t getting any younger. Unless the Falcons fall apart, they’re not likely to have a top-10 pick. But they could target someone like LSU’s Anthony Johnson, who is No. 22 on Kiper’s board.
Mel Kiper Jr. has his Insider draft grades Insider and he isn’t giving the NFC South teams what I would call glowing reviews.

Kiper Jr. gave the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a B overall (B+ for needs and a C+ for value). He is not a big fan of the pick of quarterback Mike Glennon in the third round. I tend to agree with Kiper Jr. that Glennon is a project and isn’t anywhere near being ready to compete with Josh Freeman. But, I think if you factor in the trade for Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay should have gotten a little better than a B grade.

The Atlanta Falcons also got a B overall (B+ for needs and a B for value) from Kiper Jr.. He liked the double dip for Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford at cornerback. I liked it, too. I think the Falcons have more than filled their one big hole.

The New Orleans Saints also got a B from Kiper (B- for needs and a B for value). Kiper Jr. is saying the same thing I’ve been saying. He doesn’t think safety Kenny Vaccaro was a bad pick, but he wonders if a pass-rusher like Jarvis Jones would have been better.

Kiper Jr. gave the Carolina Panthers a C+ overall (C- for need and a B for value). The Panthers did a nice job of drafting for need at defensive tackle by getting Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. But they didn’t address their defensive secondary at all.

Could Falcons, Bucs trade up?

April, 25, 2013
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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.

NFC South programming notes

April, 22, 2013
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We have perhaps the busiest week of the offseason coming up and it’s kicking into high gear already. Let’s take a look at what’s coming up.
  • I’ll be heading out to One Buccaneer Place shortly for the introductory news conference for cornerback Darrelle Revis. I’ll be back with more on what Revis and the Bucs have to say this afternoon.
  • A bit later this morning, I’ll begin rolling out a series in which I rank the pre-draft needs at each position for the four NFC South teams.
  • I spent a good chunk of the past six weeks helping Jon Gruden produce written scouting reports on the prospects coming through Gruden’s QB Camp. Here’s a page where you can check out what he had to say about all the quarterbacks that were featured in his camp.
  • On Tuesday, we’ll have the Blog Network mock draft and I’ll play general manager for all four NFC South teams. After the Revis trade, the Buccaneers are without a first-round pick. I’m going to see if I can pull off some sort of trade to get them back into the late stages of the first round.
  • On Wednesday, Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. will have their updated mock drafts.
  • On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we’ll have continuous coverage of the draft.
At this time of year, most mock drafts seem to look pretty similar. But, as I read through Mel Kiper Jr.’s latest Insider offering Insider in which he plays general manager for three rounds, I found one big surprise in the NFC South.

Kiper has the Saints taking Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o at No. 15. I haven’t seen that one suggested anywhere else, as most draft experts have the Saints focusing on an edge rusher or a cornerback. Kiper acknowledges both needs, but said the right players weren’t available at No. 15 in this mock, so he went with Te’o.

This scenario isn’t completely off the wall. Te’o is an inside linebacker and everyone assumes the Saints are fine at that position with Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma. But Vilma has a history of knee problems, and he didn’t excel in the 3-4 scheme when he played it for the Jets. There could be a landing spot for Te’o in New Orleans.

Kiper’s other first-round picks for the NFC South teams are much more conventional. He has Tampa Bay taking Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei at No. 13. Of course, that’s going on the assumption that the Bucs don’t trade that pick as part of a deal for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

At No. 14, Kiper has Carolina taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. I’m kind of amazed how there seems to be universal agreement on what’s going to happen with the 14th overall pick in a year when the top five picks aren’t very clear.

At No. 30, Kiper has the Atlanta Falcons taking Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. I understand the school of thought that the Falcons need to start grooming a replacement for Tony Gonzalez. But the Falcons have a more pressing need at cornerback, and I think they should address it in the first round.

NFC South Insider draft guides

April, 16, 2013
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On our Insider pages, we’re running extensive draft previews on each NFC South team.

You can see Atlanta’s draft preview here. You’ll see a lot of similarities to things we already have discussed on the Falcons, but one thing that jumped out at me was Todd McShay including Connecticut cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson in the “best fits’’ category for the Falcons. A lot of cornerbacks have had their names tied to the Falcons, but Wreh-Wilson generally hasn’t been mentioned. McShay’s plugged in, so this is one worth watching.

On the Carolina Panthers, one thing that stood out was Mel Kiper Jr. writing that the wish list should go defensive tackle, cornerback and safety (in that order). I don’t disagree with that. But I also think there’s a good chance the Panthers could go with a cornerback first and add a defensive tackle a little later.

When it comes to the New Orleans Saints, Matt Williamson touches on a good point when he lists wide receiver as a “quiet need’’. He’s right. The Saints have Marques Colston and Lance Moore and a bunch of unproven guys. Plus, Colston isn’t getting any younger. It might be time to add another receiver to the mix in the middle rounds.

On the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the item that made me think was the effusive praise that Chris Sprow heaped on the 2012 draft class. It’s well deserved. Doug Martin and Lavonte David had excellent rookie seasons and Mark Barron showed plenty of promise. If the Bucs can get another class anywhere close to last year’s, it could help this team turn the corner quickly.

Around the NFC South

April, 5, 2013
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Time for a quick run through some headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

The offseason program doesn’t start for a few more weeks. But running back Steven Jackson already is working out on his own and this is the first time we’ve seen him wearing the Falcons’ logo.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Mel Kiper Jr. thinks the Panthers should take a defensive tackle in the first round and a safety in the second. We already have talked plenty about Carolina’s needs at defensive tackle, but the need at safety is almost as great. The Panthers should take a safety fairly early.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Mike Triplett put the Saints at No. 5 in his rankings of the NFC teams. That may seem a little high for a team that went 7-9. But the Saints are in a unique situation with coach Sean Payton returning from suspension. That alone should provide a boost. If the Saints can just play a little defense, they should be a playoff team.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan and Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker are among the players scheduled to make pre-draft visits to the Bucs. The team also had former LSU cornerback Tyrann Matheiu in for a visit Thursday. Matheiu comes with some baggage, but the Bucs have a big need at cornerback and could consider him in the middle rounds.
Mel Kiper Jr. has his latest Insider mock draft Insider out, so let’s take a look at what he has the NFC South teams doing.

At No. 13, Kiper has the Bucs taking Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Cornerback is Tampa Bay’s biggest need at the moment, but there probably isn’t going to be a corner available that’s worth the value if the Bucs stay at No. 13. Put Lotulelei and Gerald McCoy together (and hope McCoy stays healthy) and the Bucs could have one of the league’s top tandems at defensive tackle.

Kiper also has the Panthers taking a defensive tackle at No. 14. He has Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson going to Carolina. That’s a popular pick and one I’ll consider strongly in our upcoming Blog Network mock draft. But I have to wonder if the Panthers could pull a surprise and take a wide receiver or take a leap on a cornerback.

At No. 15, Kiper has the Saints taking Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. He’d be a great fit in the 3-4 scheme. But I wonder if the Saints would take a defensive tackle if Lotulelei or Richardson is still available.

I’m really intrigued by what Kiper has the Atlanta Falcons doing at No. 30, mainly because it’s a scenario I haven’t seen before. It also is extremely timely with Thursday’s release of starting right tackle Tyson Clabo. Kiper has the Falcons taking Oregon offensive lineman Kyle Long, who can play guard or tackle and can be an immediate starter.
Mel Kiper Jr. has the third edition of his Insider mock draftInsider and it has some surprising picks for the NFC South.

At No. 13, he has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking Utah's Star Lotulelei. A lot of people have been talking about him as the potential No. 1 overall pick and I could see the Bucs pouncing on him if he’s available. Of course, that’s assuming that Lotulelei checks out medically. This would give the Bucs a defensive line that would start first-round picks Adrian Clayborn, Gerald McCoy, Lotulelei and second-round pick Da’Quan Bowers.

At No. 14, Kiper makes a pick for the Carolina Panthers that goes against the widespread speculation they’ll take a defensive tackle or cornerback in the first round. He has them taking West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Steve Smith isn’t going to play forever and this might be the best opportunity for Carolina to get a No. 1 receiver.

At No. 15, Kiper has New Orleans taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. This one’s not really a surprise because the Saints have a clear need at this position. But I think the Saints would be pleasantly surprised if Richardson were available.

At No. 30, Kiper has the Atlanta Falcons taking Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. This might be a bit early to take Werner, but there’s a clear need for a pass-rusher in Atlanta. If the Falcons have to reach a little, it might not be a bad thing.

Around the NFC South

February, 14, 2013
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Time for a run through the top headlines from around the division.

ATLANTA FALCONS

The latest in the quest for a new stadium had team president Rich McKay telling the Atlanta City Council that the Falcons will look to the suburbs if they can’t reach a deal for a new stadium downtown. McKay said team owner Arthur Blank wants to make things work downtown. But, if the city isn’t going to help with the funding, the Falcons may have to look to the suburbs. I think that will only come as a last resort because Blank seems intent on a downtown stadium.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Mel Kiper Jr. has the Panther taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the first round of the draft. But Kiper said this draft class is deep at the position and the Panthers still could get a quality defensive tackle in the second or third round.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Kiper also made it sound as if there’s a good possibility the Saints go with a defensive tackle in the first round and pointed to Florida’s Sharrif Floyd as a candidate. But there is some debate about whether Floyd is better-suited for the 3-4 scheme the Saints are switching to or a 4-3 system.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings writes that the Bucs are well-positioned to make a big splash in free agency for the second straight year. I think the Bucs will be active in free agency, but the splurge might not be as big as last year when the team signed Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. The Bucs have about $30 million in cap space, but that number will be chopped down a bit if the team re-signs defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Roy Miller.

Kiper's NFC South mock draft

January, 16, 2013
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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.

Around the NFC South

January, 12, 2013
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Let's take a look at some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said in this radio interview that he doesn’t believe the team’s recent playoff struggles bring added pressure. Instead, Weatherspoon said the Falcons will use what happened in past playoff games as motivation.

ESPN Stats & Information has four statistical reasons why Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is ready to get his first playoff victory.

Jeff Schultz writes that the Falcons need to ride their offense if they’re going to win a playoff game. I couldn’t agree more. The Falcons have a lot invested in their offense, and it’s the strength of their team -- well, at least the passing game is the strength of this team. The Falcons have to come out throwing the ball against the Seahawks.

Winning brings attention, and Atlanta’s 13-3 regular season did that. The Falcons’ television ratings were up 13 percent over the previous season in the Atlanta market.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The team plans to interview Cincinnati assistant Hue Jackson for the vacancy at offensive coordinator. I think there also will be some other outside candidates interviewing, and I think quarterbacks coach Mike Shula is going to get serious consideration.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

In this Insider post, Mel Kiper Jr. has a re-do of the 2007 NFL draft. The Saints used the No. 27 overall pick on receiver Robert Meachem and he never lived up to his potential. With the benefit of hindsight, Kiper gives the Saints running back Ahmad Bradshaw. I’m not sold on that, because it’s pretty similar to drafting Mark Ingram in 2011. When you’re a pass-happy team like the Saints, I don’t think you need to use first-round picks on running backs. If the Saints had used a first-round pick on a defensive player in 2007, they might not have had as many problems as they did on that side of the ball this past season.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Defensive backs coach Ron Cooper left the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a similar position at the University of South Florida. This wasn’t termed a firing, but I think it was something close to that. The Bucs almost set an NFL record for passing yards allowed in 2012. Someone had to take the fall for that, and it turned out to be Cooper.

Kiper high on Bucs' draft class

January, 3, 2013
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If you listen to Mel Kiper Jr., who knows a thing or two about the NFL draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have had the league’s best rookie class.

In this Insider post Insider, Kiper lists his All-Rookie team and the Bucs have three representatives. That shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David all were starters from the beginning of the season.

Martin got better as the season went on and showed he’s an all-purpose back. David started a little faster than Martin, but also improved. Kiper compares David to Derrick Brooks and he’s not the first person to say that. David’s off to a great start, but he isn’t Brooks just yet.

Barron was Tampa Bay’s top draft pick. He didn’t have as many splash plays as Martin and David, but that probably is due to the nature of his position and the fact the Tampa Bay secondary struggled so much. But you can see that Barron has all sorts of potential and he could make a larger impact once the Bucs get their cornerback situation resolved.

Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was the only other NFC South rookie to make Kiper’s team. You know how I feel about Kuechly. I think he was the best defensive rookie in the NFC South and maybe in the NFL.

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