NFC South draft analysis

April, 26, 2009
4/26/09
4:27
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

At the 10-year anniversary of the ESPN The Magazine cover of Mike Ditka and Ricky Williams posing as bride and groom, the NFC South -- which didn't even exist back in 1999 -- has another wedding.

NFC South Draft Picks
Atlanta Falcons
Carolina Panthers
New Orleans Saints
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This time, it's Raheem Morris and Josh Freeman.

"I am married to him,'' Morris said when he was asked if drafting the quarterback meant the two were going to be married. "There's no 'going to be.'''

That's only a slight stretch. At very least, Morris and Freeman are going to be linked to each other for eternity and they hope this union ends up better than the Ditka-Williams nuptials.

The Saints, who have spent much of the past decade trying to recover from that, didn't have nearly as big a ceremony. They took the methodical approach and, just like the Falcons and Panthers, focused heavily on defensive needs.

The Saints took defensive back Malcolm Jenkins in the first round and the Falcons selected defensive tackle Peria Jerry. The Panthers didn't have a first-round pick in this draft, but they traded next year's choice away to get Florida State defensive end Everette Brown in the second round.

In a way, all four teams now are wed to their top picks.

Best move

 
  Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images
  Drafting Ole Miss tackle Peria Jerry was a safe bet for the Falcons.
It wasn't flashy in any way, but Atlanta's selection of Jerry with the 24th pick was the most fool-proof move by any NFC South team. While there's a bit of uncertainty about whether Jenkins' future is at safety or cornerback, or whether Freeman is polished enough to make an immediate impact or doubts that Brown has the size to be an every-down player, there really isn't much to worry about with Jerry.

He may not have the kind of upside that Freeman, Brown and Jenkins do, but there is little or no downside. Jerry already is what he is. He's a run stopper and a player whom every other team in the NFC South would have been happy with if they had drafted him.

The Falcons got him by patiently waiting for Jerry to come to them. His job will be simple. He'll be expected to come in and take up space in the middle of the defensive line. That's something the Falcons needed after letting veteran Grady Jackson leave.

Coach Mike Smith, who built much of his resumé with Marcus Stroud and John Henderson in the middle of Jacksonville's defensive line, wasn't able to completely build the type of front four he wanted in his first season. This is a big step in getting there because Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux, who was signed to a contract extension midway through last season, have the skills to make Atlanta solid in the middle for a long time to come.

Riskiest move

Nothing else is even remotely close to the Freeman selection when it comes to risk. When you draft a franchise quarterback, something the Bucs hadn't done since Trent Dilfer in 1994, you're obligated to try to build your team around him.

The result almost always is either great or terrible. I'm not doing the math here, but it seems like for every Matt Ryan, there are two or three Joey Harringtons or David Carrs. Tampa Bay's own history with first-round quarterbacks isn't spectacular. Doug Williams worked out for a short stay, but Vinny Testaverde and Dilfer never really prospered in Tampa.

At a time when patience isn't a strong point for most NFL owners, Morris is staking his future on a quarterback who came out of college a year early and is viewed as a raw prospect by a lot of personnel people.

Most surprising move

Carolina trading its 2010 first-round pick to get Brown in the second round this year. That's a gutsy move, but it also is risky. It worked out well last year when the Panthers traded this year's first-round pick to get offensive tackle Jeff Otah. But you can't go without first-round picks for too long without sacrificing talent. But there still is a lot of time between now and next year's draft and I'm guessing the Panthers probably will try to parlay defensive end Julius Peppers into a first-round pick (and more) after this season.

File this away

How many guys does it take to replace Nick Goings? Apparently, two. Goings wasn't a name, but he had a very nice run with the Panthers as a role player, getting time at running back, fullback and on special teams. The Panthers released him in a salary-cap move after last season, but they recognized that created several voids.

That's why they went out and used fourth-round picks on Texas A&M's Mike Goodson and Syracuse fullback Tony Fiammetta. Goodson has some return skills and, like Goings, can catch the ball out of the backfield and provide some depth behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Fiammetta is a blocker and might be able to provide some relief for Brad Hoover.

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