NFC South: Tavon Austin

W2W4: New Orleans Saints

August, 8, 2014
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The New Orleans Saints (0-0) and St. Louis Rams (0-0) open the preseason tonight at the Edward Jones Dome.

1. Griffin audition: This game will be lacking star power at quarterback, with New Orleans' Drew Brees and St. Louis' Sam Bradford both expected to watch from the sideline. (Brees hasn’t been officially ruled out but will almost certainly sit as he rests an oblique strain). But that’s OK, because at this stage of the preseason, the Saints' quarterback most worth watching is second-year pro Ryan Griffin. So far, Griffin has looked great in training camp, showing poise and polish. But if the 6-foot-5, 206-pounder wants to beat out veteran Luke McCown for the Saints’ backup job, these preseason games will be the auditions that matter most. ... The Saints have obviously been high on Griffin’s potential since they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane last year. In fact, they blocked Griffin from being signed by this very Rams team off their practice squad last season when Bradford was first injured.

2. Bringing the heat: This game won't be lacking star power when it comes to pass-rushers. Guys like the Saints' Junior Galette, Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks and St. Louis' Robert Quinn, Chris Long and highly touted rookie tackle Aaron Donald should all be on display (for parts of the first quarter, at least). And you just know they are all champing at the bit to finally hit a quarterback at full speed. So even if there wasn’t any history between the Saints and Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the pass-rushers would be the most fascinating players to watch tonight. But when you add in the Williams intrigue (he has been known to blitz relentlessly in preseason openers before), it’s must-see TV. It is probably a wise time for the Saints to sit Brees, especially since Saints guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs might also be held out with injuries.

3. Cooks' growing legend: Somehow, Saints rookie receiver Brandin Cooks has managed to keep topping himself throughout training camp, making dynamic plays on an almost-daily basis. So it will be fascinating to see if his legend continues to grow in his preseason debut. We already knew about Cooks’ blazing speed -- which he has demonstrated often during training camp, especially when he burns defensive backs with sharp cuts in the open field. But the 5-foot-10, 189-pounder has also shown an ability to go up and win jump balls and reel in back-shoulder catches, among other highlights. ... St. Louis has a similar dynamic playmaker in second-year receiver Tavon Austin. So it will be interesting to see if the Saints' defense can corral him.

Double Coverage: Saints at Rams

December, 13, 2013
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Drew Brees and Zac StacyGetty Images, USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees and the Saints are piling up numbers, but Zac Stacy and the Rams may give them trouble.

While the New Orleans Saints come to the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday with plenty to play for, the St. Louis Rams have been eliminated from playoff contention.

The scenario of the Rams playing out the string and the Saints pushing for prime seeding in the NFC is one we've seen before. But, for whatever reason, the Rams have beaten or played the Saints tough in recent meetings. In addition, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has a history of success against New Orleans.

In this week’s edition of Double Coverage, ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Saints reporter Mike Triplett discuss the Rams’ relative success against the Saints, and much more.

Wagoner: The Rams are out of the mix for the postseason and again playing a much better New Orleans team at home. In 2011, the Rams stunned everyone by knocking off the Saints in a somewhat similar situation. It seems New Orleans has struggled to find traction on the road this year. Anything in particular you can point to for those problems?

Triplett: Well, first of all, the Saints hate that question. But it keeps coming up this year because they have struggled quite a bit on the road -- they're 3-3, and two of their wins were surprisingly low-scoring. The Saints actually have the best road record in the NFL since 2009 (24-14). But part of the reason they catch so much heat for looking so human on the road is because they play so super-human at home (as former linebacker Scott Shanle said recently).

There’s no one real consistent theme for their road struggles. Sometimes it has been weather conditions or footing -- neither of which will be an issue on Sunday. And sometimes, of course, they just come out flat. But I don’t expect that from the Saints this week since they know how much is on the line with the playoffs looming.

Nick, with no playoff hopes to inspire the Rams, do you see them treating this game with the same intensity? I know they’re coming off two losses on the road. Have you seen any signs that they can bounce back and cause trouble for the Saints?

Wagoner: Speaking of questions teams hate, Fisher doesn't appreciate anything that looks at the big picture or beyond the next game. For all the problems this team has, effort and buy-in aren't on the list. The Rams have nothing tangible to play for this season, but this is the youngest team in the league and there are plenty at Rams Park who have long insisted that the target year for a breakout is 2014. To get there, they need to continue to make strides over the final three weeks, so I would expect them to put up more of a fight to close out the season.

As it pertains to the Saints specifically, the Rams have a habit this season of playing good teams pretty tough, save for San Francisco. They've beaten Arizona, Indianapolis and Chicago, and they gave Seattle all it could handle at home. There's no guarantee they can carry that over to Sunday, but after two bad performances the past two weeks, I expect a more representative performance against New Orleans.

One storyline that intrigues me here is the presence of Rob Ryan. The Saints went from a former Rams head coach at defensive coordinator (Steve Spagnuolo) in 2012 to one who looked like he was about to become the Rams' coordinator this year. How has Ryan been able to turn around that defense in one year, and what are the biggest differences?

Triplett: Yeah, the Saints definitely owe the Rams an apology for that one -- or a thank-you note. Ryan has made a huge impact. His two most important qualities are probably his attitude and his creativity. Players immediately responded to his enthusiasm and his energy level. They say Ryan makes the game fun, something players have said about him throughout his career. Just as important, he has shown enough flexibility to mold his defense around the players he’s working with (which became a necessity when they suffered a handful of key summer injuries).

I've been especially impressed by the way Ryan has featured young pass-rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, among others. And he’ll throw a ton of different looks at teams from week to week and series to series. I’m shocked that this is the first time Ryan’s had a winning season as a defensive coordinator. He obviously found the right fit for himself in New Orleans.

Tell me about the Rams' defense. Any chance they can hang with the Saints’ potent offense? Who might match up against tight end Jimmy Graham and the running backs who catch passes out of the backfield?

Wagoner: The Rams' defense has been especially hard to figure. They expected to be a top-10 group but haven't been able to do it for a few reasons. The pass rush has games where it absolutely dominates and takes over. Robert Quinn has emerged as one of the game's best and Chris Long is still dangerous. When the pass rush is humming, it makes life miserable for opponents. That's the Rams' best hope for slowing down the Saints.

But the Rams don't match up all that well with New Orleans on the back end. The secondary has struggled mightily, especially at safety. Graham is a matchup nightmare for all teams, and he could really expose the Rams’ issues at safety. The Rams drafted linebacker Alec Ogletree to help neutralize guys like Graham, and he could get the call on Sunday. He's a former safety playing linebacker and has at times flashed elite cover skills for a linebacker. But I think he's flattened out a bit in that area in recent weeks while his run-stopping skills have improved. The secondary is going to require major upgrades in the offseason, and given the Saints' weapons, anything short of a dominant pass rush will make for a long day for the Rams.

While we're talking about the Saints' offense, it seems like it's as good as ever, with Drew Brees putting together another monster season. You see that group every day and every week in games. Are there weaknesses that can be exploited, and how have teams found success in slowing them down?

Triplett: Every once in a while, the Saints’ passing offense does get slowed down. The best way to succeed against them is to get physical and disruptive in coverage -- bumping and chipping guys at the line, pushing the envelope within the five yards of contact and trying to stay tight on them down the field. It worked for New England (in heavy man coverage) and Seattle (more zone coverage). But it’s easier said than done. The Panthers tried to play physical this past week, but they didn't have the manpower to stop Graham and receiver Marques Colston. The Saints usually burn defenses with their “pick your poison” offense since they are so deep and versatile.

Interesting that you brought up Ogletree. I liked him as a possible pick for the Saints in April. Instead, they drafted another disruptive athlete -- Vaccaro -- who has made a nice impact in a versatile role. One of the main reasons the Saints drafted Vaccaro was because they liked his ability to cover slot receivers like Tavon Austin. I saw Austin’s breakout performance a couple weeks ago. Any chance he can be that X factor on Sunday?

Wagoner: Well, Austin suffered an ankle injury against Arizona last week and Fisher has called him day to day. If Austin plays, it’s possible his ankle could slow him down a bit. Considering his game relies so much on speed and elusiveness, an ankle injury could affect him more than it might other players. If he’s OK, he certainly could be an X factor. Without Sam Bradford at quarterback, the Rams really struggle to put together long drives. They need big plays to keep up in most games, and Austin is the one guy capable of consistently providing them. If they don’t have him, it’s going to make an already difficult task even tougher.

Ranking the needs: Wide receivers

April, 22, 2013
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We’ll continue our pre-draft rankings of position-group needs with wide receivers.

Remember, the earlier the ranking, the greater the need.

New Orleans Saints: You can make a case that any receiver with Drew Brees as his quarterback instantly becomes good. But New Orleans’ receiving corps suddenly looks much thinner than it has in recent years. Beyond Marques Colston and Lance Moore, there are no proven threats. Nick Toon missed his rookie year with an injury and could become a factor, but there are no guarantees.

Carolina Panthers: Brandon LaFell has emerged as a decent No. 2 receiver and the Panthers have brought in some depth in the offseason. But there is no heir apparent to veteran Steve Smith. It might be time to find one.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are a solid starting combination. There’s good depth behind them with Kevin Ogletree, Steve Smith and Tiquan Underwood. I know some people have linked Tavon Austin to the Bucs, but I don’t see that happening.

Atlanta Falcons: With Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons might have the best 1-2 combination in the league. There’s an outside chance the Falcons could use a mid- or late-round pick to try to find someone to compete with Harry Douglas at slot receiver.

NFC South afternoon update

April, 19, 2013
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Let’s run through some news and notes from around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Roy Cummings throws out a unique scenario for the Buccaneers. He writes that there have been rumblings that the Minnesota Vikings are looking to trade up to get receiver Tavon Austin, and Minnesota has picks at Nos. 23 and 25. In theory, the Bucs could trade down with the Vikings and a pick in the mid-20s might still be something the New York Jets would take as part of a trade package for cornerback Darrelle Revis.

Scott Reynolds points out that Luke Stocker might be Tampa Bay’s best bet at tight end because the Bucs are unlikely to draft one early. Stocker’s production hasn’t been great so far, but he has some potential. I still think the Bucs need to address this position, but there really isn’t much left in free agency.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Restricted free agent Chris Ivory signed his offer sheet with the Saints. But the New York Jets reportedly still are interested in trading for Ivory. I think there’s a good chance the Saints would accept a fourth- or fifth-round pick because they have such a logjam at running back and needs elsewhere.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

General manager Dave Gettleman sang the praises of his cornerbacks, singling out Drayton Florence, Captain Munnerlyn and D.J. Moore. I think the Panthers have improved their depth at the position, but I still think they need to use an early draft pick to get a starting-caliber cornerback.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Amid discussing a potential contract extension for quarterback Matt Ryan and his philosophy on making draft trades, general manager Thomas Dimitroff was asked about the situation at right tackle, where veteran starter Tyson Clabo was released. Dimitroff pointed to young guys like Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes and said they’ll have a chance to compete. But Dimitroff also said the Falcons could address the position in the draft.

Tavon Austin's biggest fan

April, 16, 2013
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There has been a growing buzz about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin with the 13th overall pick in next week’s draft.

Austin
Personally, I think it’s a long shot. I think the Bucs will use the pick on a cornerback (or some other defensive player) if they stay put and haven’t made a trade for Darrelle Revis.

But if Jon Gruden, who was fired by the Bucs after the 2008 season, still was coaching the team I think there would be a very good chance of Austin landing in Tampa Bay.

“He's my favorite player in the draft," Gruden, now an ESPN analyst, said in a conference call with the national media. “I'm sensitive to him because he's 5-foot-8 like myself. When you watch the kid play, he's magnificent. He's a great return man -- punts, kicks. He lines up at tailback, and he plays like a tailback. He looks like Darren Sproles at tailback and he looks like Wes Welker in the slot."

I’ve spent a lot of time around Gruden the past few months, helping with his Insider scouting reports on the players coming through Gruden’s QB Camp. Gruden has liked just about every player to come through the camp. But, for Gruden to say Austin (who was not part of the camp), is his favorite player in this draft is pretty significant praise.

“I've seen him be magnificent after the catch, all-purpose yardage, look, he's tough," Gruden said. “Tremendous stop and start quickness and flatout finishing speed. I've seen quick guys, fast players, but I've never seen very many that have the combination of speed and quickness like Austin has. He ran for 8,000 yards as a high school tailback in Maryland, and he averaged 7 or 8 yards a carry this year when they handed it to him. He's just a fun, deluxe joker to have on your football team. He's going to make an impact, I believe, big time."

We’ll see if current coach Greg Schiano likes Austin as much as Gruden does.
For those of you that read this blog regularly, you know I see LSU defensive end/linebacker Barkevious Mingo and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones as the two most logical draft possibilities for the New Orleans Saints at No. 15.

My thinking hasn’t changed at all. The Saints need a strong pass-rusher as they switch to the 3-4 scheme and Mingo and Jones each fit that profile.

But, as I get ready to make New Orleans’ first-round pick in next week’s blog network mock draft, I’m trying to prepare for all scenarios. And one scenario could be that Jones and Mingo both are off the board.

Georgia’s Alec Ogletree also has been tied to the Saints in some mock drafts. He’s an inside linebacker and a good one. The Saints have Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma at inside linebacker. However, Vilma might be nearing the end of his career and it might be time to look to the future.

If Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson is available at No. 15, I’d have to consider him. The Saints already have Brodrick Bunkley, but they need all the help they can get for a run defense that was hideous last year.

There’s another spot on the defense that I’d also consider. That’s cornerback. Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant would have to be considerations. I’m not sure the Saints can afford to count on Patrick Robinson as the third cornerback after Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer.

As much as the Saints need help on defense, I’m not completely ruling out a surprise. Sean Payton is an offensive coach. The Saints are a little thin at wide receiver beyond Marques Colston and Lance Moore. I’m not completely ruling out West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin.

Those are my thoughts on the Saints’ scenarios. Let’s hear what you have to say in the comments section below. And I’m more than open to alternative scenarios that I didn’t mention.
As I prepare to make the ESPN Blog Network mock draft pick for the Carolina Panthers at No. 14 next week, I’m trying hard to think beyond Sheldon Richardson.

It seems just about every mock draft I’ve seen has the Panthers taking Richardson. It makes plenty of sense because the Panthers need a quality defensive tackle to put next to Dwan Edwards to firm up their run defense.

I have no problem taking Richardson and probably will if he’s on the board. But I want to be prepared for a scenario where someone ahead of the Panthers grabs Richardson. If that’s the case, I think part of the equation might be that Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is falling. If he’s available, I’d gladly take Lotulelei because I think the Panthers would do the same thing.

But I also want some scenarios beyond defensive tackles because I’m not so sure the Panthers are as locked in on that position as everyone thinks.

The needs could be even greater in the secondary. One scenario that has been growing on me in recent weeks would be to take Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. The Panthers really don’t have much at safety and Vaccaro would be an instant starter.

Then, there’s the cornerback situation, which is just as thin as the safety situation. Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes and Washington’s Desmond Trufant are the two corners who could be available at No. 14. A lot of people have Rhodes and Trufant pegged to go later in the first round. But the law of supply and demand could kick in and it’s possible the Panthers could take one of them at No. 14.

There also has been a little buzz about West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin and the Panthers. I don’t know that there will ever be another Steve Smith. But Austin looks the part and the Panthers do need an eventual successor for Smith.

Finally, this may be a long shot, but I don’t know the Panthers are truly sold on right tackle Byron Bell at right tackle. Alabama’s D.J. Fluker should be available at No. 14. With the Panthers saying they want to get back to the power running game, I think Fluker’s a guy they at least could consider.

What I do with the Panthers’ pick will depend largely on what happens with the 13 picks in front of them. These are the scenarios I’m at least pondering. Feel free to share your thoughts on my scenarios or any alternatives in the comments section below.
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.

Film of the NFC South chat

April, 13, 2013
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Although it was dominated by talk of a potential trade by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to get cornerback Darrelle Revis, Friday's NFC South chat drew all sorts of good questions from all around the division (that even included a question about Revis and another team). Let's take a look at some of the team-by-team highlights:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Cory in idaho [via mobile]: I don't understand why Atlanta isn't going after revis. I get that he costs a lot of money and demands a huge contract. But our two biggest problems last year were qb pressure and coverage. He would help both out instantly. We won't be getting any pro bowlers with the late first round pick or second round pick, let's trade them away for revis. Ask Matt Ryan to take a smaller contract for the better of the team. Agree or disagree?

Pat Yasinskas: There's no way they can pay Revis and Ryan both long term. Idea of a guy taking one for the team is nice and Matt's as nice a guy as there is, but he's not going to play for peanuts. Also, try selling his agent on that idea.

CP (Brooklyn, NY): Would you be shocked if the Falcons traded up to get Millner, if somehow he slipped to the 6-10 range? They are in a win now mode!

PY: Wouldn't be totally shocked. They did something similar a couple years ago with Julio.

coop4braves (Charlotte) [via mobile]: Any chance the Honey Badger falls far enough for the Falcons to grab him in the 2nd or 3rd round? And would TD and Smith take a chance on him and his past?

PY: Think they might have opportunity to grab him, but suspect Smith and Dimitroff would probably pass.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Matt (Baltimore): Do you see the Panthers struggling for a few seasons as we get out from under some of the cap problems we've accumulated recently?

PY: I think they have enough talent to turn things around, if a few things break differently than last year. Cupboard is not bare.

Kevin J (PA): Pat basically every mock draft I’ve seen lately has Carolina taking Sheldon Richardson at 14. Do you think he is the most likely player to be picked by the Panthers at that spot?

PY: Yeah, I do think Richardson is the logical choice. But I'll throw out one alternative option that's kind of growing on me -- Kenny Vaccaro.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Michael (nv): with some of the big linebackers that were available in FA why not cut vilma and smith and go after one. Smith is not great and vilma is in decline

PY: If they were going to cut them, they would have done that back in March instead of restructuring both their contracts. However, I will say I think they would have been better off cutting them then. Could have made a fresh start on rebuilding the defense.

Who Dat (NOLA): Do you see the Saints still willing to trade Pierre Thomas or Chris Ivory or will they be returning next year?

PY: Think it's possible they could look for a trade. They could use the draft picks.

charles (houston): Hey Pat any chance the Saints move up and grab Jordan

PY: Not sure Saints are in a position to be trading up.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

stone (tampa): why not hold off on revis and trade up for milliner this year, then attempt a trade for revis later in the season for next years pics after we have seen revis in action still knowing the jets dont want to resign him, that is if we would even need revis at that point?

PY: That's something I think Bucs should at least consider. No guarantee Milliner is going to be anywhere near as good as a healthy Revis. But Revis may not be the same guy he was before. Cost of getting Milliner also would be less -- both in draft picks and salary.

Stephen (Valrico, Florida): Hi Pat... Even though the Bucs resigned Dan O, do you believe they will sign a free agent QB or draft one? Thanks!

PY: Think there will be another QB added in some way. My guess is a mid-round draft pick.

Jason (Charlotte): I've seen several mock drafts that have the Bucs taking Tavon Austin. With such need in both the secondary and Dline, is this really a strong possibility?

PY: I doubt it. They're already pretty well set at WR. Plus, they have big money tied up in Vincent Jackson and probably will be giving Mike Williams a new deal before too long.

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

McShay: Bucs might pull surprise

April, 12, 2013
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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.
Todd McShay’s latest Insider mock draft Insider is out and this one comes complete with three first-round scenarios for each team. Let’s take a look at what he’s picturing in the NFC South.

Although McShay acknowledges Tampa Bay could go with a cornerback at No. 13, he has the Bucs taking West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. I’ve seen some other mock drafts with this same pick. But I’m not buying it. The Bucs already have big money tied up in Vincent Jackson, they’re likely to give Mike Williams a healthy contract extension and they signed Kevin Ogletree to challenge for the third receiver spot. The Bucs will have a lot invested in wide receivers and I don’t see them investing any more. Tampa Bay has greater needs on defense. Of course, it must be noted the Bucs might not even have this pick if they make a trade with the New York Jets for Darrelle Revis.

At No. 14, McShay has Carolina taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. That’s a pretty common pick in mock drafts everywhere, and I think there’s an excellent chance the Panthers end up with Richardson. But I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the Panthers take Austin or Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

McShay has the New Orleans Saints taking LSU defensive end/outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo at No. 15. But McShay also throws out the possibility of the Saints moving up in the draft to get another pass-rusher. I would not rule out that scenario.

At No. 30, McShay picks a mild surprise for the Atlanta Falcons. He has them taking Boise State cornerback Jamar Taylor. In most of the mocks I’ve seen, Taylor is projected as a second-round pick. But Atlanta has a glaring need at cornerback and the law of supply and demand could kick in. Plus, it’s entirely possible the Atlanta personnel department has Taylor rated higher than where the draft gurus are projecting him.
Let’s continue our series of first-round draft options for each NFC South teams with the Carolina Panthers.

They currently are scheduled to pick 14th overall. Here are three guys I can see the Panthers taking with that pick:

Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle, Missouri: The interior of the defensive line has been a problem spot for the Panthers for a long time. Richardson instantly could fix that problem.

Tavon Austin, wide receiver, West Virginia: This might seem a little early to take a guy who projects as a slot receiver and return man, but the Panthers could use a big-play guy in their passing game. Slot receivers are becoming more important across the league. It’s also possible the Panthers see Austin as more than a slot receiver in the long term. Once upon a time, this team drafted Steve Smith to be a return man and a fourth receiver. He turned out to be a Pro Bowler. Austin could end up being the eventual successor to Smith.

Kenny Vaccaro, safety, Texas: Is it really necessary to draft a safety in the middle of the first round? It might be when you look at what the Panthers currently have at safety. They also have a huge need at cornerback, but I’m not sure the value will be there at No. 14. At least in this scenario, the Panthers would be strengthening one portion of a weak secondary.

Mocking with Todd McShay

April, 5, 2013
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Todd McShay’s latest Insider mock draft is out and he’s going against the conventional wisdom that says the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take a defensive player in the first round.

McShay has the Bucs taking West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin at No. 13. The Bucs recently have added receivers Kevin Ogletree and Steve Smith to compete with Tiquan Underwood for the backup jobs behind Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

Would the Bucs really use their first-round pick on a guy that’s projected as a slot receiver? I wouldn’t rule it out. Tampa Bay appears to be committed to giving quarterback Josh Freeman all the tools he needs to succeed and Austin is a dynamic playmaker.

At No. 14, McShay has Carolina taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. That’s a very common pick for the Panthers in mock drafts. If Richardson is there, I think he’d be a solid fit for the Panthers.

McShay has the New Orleans Saints taking Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree. That’s entirely possible. But I think Ogletree’s college teammate, linebacker Jarvis Jones, also could be a possibility for the Saints.

At No. 30, McShay has the Atlanta Falcons taking Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine. I’d like to see the Falcons add a cornerback, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to get good value in the first round. Adding a pass-rusher like Carradine wouldn’t be a bad alternative because he could make the cornerbacks look better.
Let’s take a look at Todd McShay’s latest Insider mock draftInsider from an NFC South perspective.

At No. 13, he has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. I wouldn’t totally rule this one out because the Bucs want to give quarterback Josh Freeman all the help they can. Austin could be explosive as a slot receiver. But the Bucs already have signed Kevin Ogletree to compete with Tiquan Underwood for the spot as the third receiver. I think Tampa Bay’s needs on defense are much greater and the Bucs should use that pick on the defensive side of the ball.

At No. 14, McShay has Carolina taking Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. That’s a decent possibility. But I could see the Panthers going with a cornerback, like Desmond Trufant or Xavier Rhodes.

McShay has the New Orleans Saints taking Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree at No. 15. I like that pick a lot. The Saints are in the process of switching to a 3-4 defense and they need more athleticism at linebacker.

At No. 30, McShay has Atlanta taking Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine. Atlanta’s big need is at cornerback, but Trufant and Rhodes could be off the board before the Falcons get to pick and there’s no other corner that would bring good value at that point. Adding a pass-rusher to go with Osi Umenyiora might be the next best option.
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.

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