NFL Nation: Draft Watch 31010

Draft Watch: NFC North

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.

Chicago Bears

The Bears have been unable to add fresh blood to their pass rush, striking out on defensive end Dan Bazuin in 2007 and getting nothing so far from defensive end/tackle Jarron Gilbert (2009). That void, along with a lack of first- or second-round picks this year, left the Bears no choice but to pursue free agent Julius Peppers. The Bears have also drafted seven defensive backs over the past three years, and only one of them -- cornerback Zack Bowman -- figures as a lock to contribute in 2010. Those failures have left the Bears still looking to fill perhaps both safety positions this offseason. That's one position where you can find a starter in the later rounds, and it almost assuredly will be a focus for the Bears next month.

Detroit Lions

About the only position the Lions have placed on the backburner is quarterback, thanks to their decision to draft Matthew Stafford last year. Although Stafford hasn't yet proved he is the Lions' long-term answer, the money he received as the No. 1 pick all but guarantees he will be their starter for the next few years at least. Otherwise, well-known recent failures have left the Lions scrambling to fortify nearly every other position. Given the frequency with which they have drafted first-round receivers, they never should have needed to sign free agents Bryant Johnson and Nate Burleson in successive years. The failure of defensive linemen Cliff Avril, Andre Fluellen and Ikaika Alama-Francis to provide impact has necessitated a 2010 overhaul that should continue with a defensive tackle coming with the No. 2 overall pick of the draft.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers' biggest problem is that several years of above-average drafting has left them with a lineup of restricted free agents who have established themselves as starters and are ready for their second contracts. In this draft, the Packers shouldn't need to focus on safety, thanks to incumbents Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. They are in pretty good shape at receiver with former draft choices Jordy Nelson and James Jones backing up Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Tight end Jermichael Finley's emergence makes his position a secondary priority. Injuries to former second-round pick Pat Lee has made cornerback a priority, and the inability to draft a successor at left tackle forced the Packers to re-sign Chad Clifton last week.

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings head into the 2010 draft with quarterback at the top of their need list in part because they haven't been able to develop former second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson into a long-term starter. They also parted ways with second-day draft picks Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty. But beyond that position, however, focused drafting has left the Vikings able to draft the best available player with most of their picks this year. Although he is still developing, former second-round pick Tyrell Johnson is a starter. The same goes for former sixth-round pick John Sullivan at center and former second-round pick Phil Loadholt at right tackle.

Draft Watch: AFC North

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.

Baltimore Ravens

With a consistently great defense in place, the Ravens have put a lot of effort recently into improving their offense. Offensive tackle Michael Oher (2009), quarterback Joe Flacco (2008) and guard Ben Grubbs (2007) -- all starters -- were Baltimore’s past three first-round picks. The Ravens also had major success with former second-round pick Ray Rice and former fourth-round pick Le'Ron McClain. Both running backs made the Pro Bowl this past season. Expect Baltimore to continue to search for more offense high in the draft this year, as the team attempts to take its passing game to the next level.

Cincinnati Bengals

The reigning AFC North champs helped build their defense through the draft the past three years and will now focus on improving the offense. Recent draftees such as cornerback Leon Hall (2007) and linebackers Keith Rivers (2008) and Rey Maualuga (2009) are starters for Cincinnati's defense. If the team has similar success on offense this year, the Bengals will be in good shape. Cincinnati currently needs help at tight end, receiver and guard. The Bengals may patch some of those holes in free agency. For example, receiver Terrell Owens is visiting Cincinnati Wednesday. But it will be important to fill any remaining offensive holes in this year's draft.

Cleveland Browns

This is the third regime drafting for Cleveland in three years. Former general manager Phil Savage was fired after the 2008 season. Former general manager George Kokinis followed but was fired in 2009, paving the way for new president Mike Holmgren and GM Tom Heckert. A major reason the Browns are in the basement in the AFC North is their inability to draft impact players. Only five players selected in the past three drafts are steady starters, and only one (Joe Thomas) has made the Pro Bowl. With the No. 7 overall pick and 11 total picks, Holmgren needs to find impact players who can help erase the talent gap and turn around the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are a veteran-laden team, so most of their picks the past three years have provided a delayed impact. Recent high picks such as Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and Rashard Mendenhall all had to wait at least one year before getting their turn to be productive. Receiver Mike Wallace, last year's third-round pick, was a rare exception. Pittsburgh president Art Rooney II recently said it's vital for the team to develop its younger players more quickly. After missing the playoffs, the Steelers have a relatively high pick at No. 18. That player could turn out to be a rookie starter, particularly if the pick addresses the cornerback position or the offensive line.

Draft Watch: NFC West

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.

Arizona Cardinals

Seven of the nine players Arizona has drafted among the top 50 picks since 2005 project as starters for the upcoming season. That's not bad, although one of the seven -- Antrel Rolle, selected eighth overall in 2005 -- will do so for the Giants.

The Cardinals have generally done a good job in recent years finding and developing players throughout the draft.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (first round), Beanie Wells (first), Deuce Lutui (second), Calais Campbell (second), Early Doucet (third), Greg Toler (fourth), Steve Breaston (fifth), Tim Hightower (fifth), Ben Patrick (seventh) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (seventh) have become building blocks or at least promising prospects. All were drafted in the past four years. All but Lutui were chosen since Ken Whisenhunt arrived in 2007.

Two potential mistakes -- drafting Levi Brown fifth in 2007 and Matt Leinart 10th in 2006 -- could significantly affect the team this season now that Kurt Warner's quick release and accurate throws aren't around. The Cardinals aren't set at either position. Another mistake -- selecting nose tackle Alan Branch 33rd in 2007 -- could lead the team to address that position early in 2010.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have drafted four players among the top 11 picks since 2006, and three of them -- Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Patrick Willis -- are either stars or heading in that direction. It's the fourth guy -- Alex Smith, selected first overall in 2005 -- whose fate could determine whether the 49ers realize the fruits of recent draft classes.

San Francisco headed into the 2009 draft needing an offensive tackle and a pass-rushing outside linebacker. The team drafted neither, pouncing on Crabtree when he was available unexpectedly at No. 10. Tackle in particular remains a need heading into the 2010 draft. It's an upset if the 49ers, with two first-round choices, let another draft pass without addressing that position in a meaningful way.

The 49ers have gotten old in the secondary, particularly at corner; they haven't used a first- or second-round choice on a defensive back in any of the past five drafts. Of course, it's tough to draft players in that range when sitting out the second round. The 49ers have selected only twice in second round since the 2005 hiring of Scot McCloughan, who was promoted to general manager before the 2008 season. San Francisco used both second-rounders for guards.

Seattle Seahawks

Success through the middle of the decade left the Seahawks picking later than their NFC West rivals. The team has selected only one player -- Aaron Curry, the fourth overall choice in 2009 -- among the top 25 overall picks since 2005.

Unlike the Colts, who have consistently drafted well late in the first round, the Seahawks have come away with Chris Spencer, Lawrence Jackson and Kelly Jennings with selections made in that range. Trading away a 2007 first-rounder for Deion Branch stands as another misuse of prime draft capital. No wonder the organization is starting over.

For all of the failures on the offensive and defensive lines, no Seattle draft choice since Shaun Alexander in 2000 has become a dynamic threat to score touchdowns. Coach Pete Carroll has lamented the lack of offensive firepower. The Seahawks must reverse that trend starting in the 2010 draft. They need playmakers.

Whether the Seahawks land Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall as a restricted free agent will largely determine how much flexibility the team has on draft day.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams haven't selected a quarterback in the first five rounds since using a 1996 second-rounder for Tony Banks.

Lucking into Warner more than a decade ago stands as one of the great stories in NFL history. It's not very repeatable.

The Rams know this. They also know the value of drafting a quarterback in the first round, even though risks can be high.

St. Louis has gone the safe route in recent drafts, using four of their last five first-round choices to build their lines. Too many of those early picks -- Alex Barron, Tye Hill, Adam Carriker -- haven't worked out as planned. Chris Long and Jason Smith, linemen selected second overall in the last two drafts, do not appear to be dynamic talents even though both should start for years to come.

The Rams absolutely, positively need to find a difference-maker with the first overall choice.

No position affects a team the way quarterback does, one reason Oklahoma's Sam Bradford could be tempting. It's not like the Rams can count on finding a quarterback later in the draft, particularly this year. The question, really, is whether Bradford is promising enough to warrant such a high pick.

Draft Watch: NFC East

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.

Dallas Cowboys

One of the reasons the Cowboys don't have any glaring needs (other than place-kicker) is that they hit on some picks in '07 and '08. And of course, you can't discount what Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland accomplished in stocking this team with talent from 2003 to 2006. Owner Jerry Jones has spent a lot of his money on defense, and in the first round in '07 he turned to Purdue outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who was brilliant down the stretch in '09. In 2008, the Cowboys found a running back and a cornerback in the first round. Felix Jones and Mike Jenkins could both be stars in the league for years. Because of the Roy Williams trade in '08, the '09 draft was pretty much a wash. The Cowboys tried to land special-teams standouts who could hopefully play their way into larger roles. Other than kickoff specialist David Buehler, the '09 draft is still a mystery. With the 27th pick in next month's draft, the Cowboys don't have to reach for any position. I know they're hoping to see a couple of cornerbacks slip in the first round and it would be nice to add a linebacker. But there are no glaring needs heading into the draft, and that puts Dallas in an enviable position. But if you study trends over the past seven years or so, you'd have to expect the Cowboys to go with a defensive player in the first round.

New York Giants

The Giants can't rest on their laurels of that outstanding class of '07. When you land a quality running back such as Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round, you're on a roll. And general manager Jerry Reese will always be remembered for a class that included Aaron Ross, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. It was an immediate impact draft, and the Giants need another one in April. In '08, the Giants took a safety and cornerback with their first two picks. Safety Kenny Phillips out of Miami has the talent to become a Pro Bowler if he can recover from a serious knee injury, and cornerback Terrell Thomas was one of the few defenders who played well in '08. The Giants selected wide receiver Mario Manningham in the third round, but the '08 draft was about creating depth on defense. It's hard to nail down a trend with Reese and his scouting staff because they're pretty patient about waiting for the right players. They rarely get obsessed with a certain position, although linebacker is certainly a big need in April. I expect the Giants to stay right where they are at No. 15 and select a talented player. But I promise you that Reese hasn't committed to taking a linebacker.

Philadelphia Eagles

In the 2007 draft, the Eagles drafted their future (presumably) quarterback in Kevin Kolb. Then they landed starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley in the third round and superb tight end Brent Celek in the fifth. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri has never really lived up to his second-round status and running back Tony Hunt was an outright bust from the start. The Eagles tried to bolster their defensive line in '08, but Trevor Laws has been a disappointment and Bryan Smith is nowhere to be found. The draft was saved by a wide receiver out of Cal named DeSean Jackson. He's become one of the most feared offensive players in the game. The Eagles continued to covet speed and quickness on offense in '09 by drafting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. They also hit on late-round pick Moise Fokou, who could emerge as an outstanding special-teams player -- if he'll stop getting penalties. The Eagles haven't done enough in the draft to bolster their secondary over the past three years. It's time to start drafting cornerbacks and safeties a little earlier. Macho Harris and Quintin Demps have been decent finds, but you can't just throw them out there as starters. It's time for the Eagles to use premium picks on the defensive side of the ball if they want to close the gap with the Cowboys. To be clear, it's time to find someone who can cover Jason Witten and Miles Austin.

Washington Redskins

With new coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen, this organization is headed in a different direction. We haven't seen any of the splashy moves in free agency that owner Dan Snyder loved. In the past, the Redskins rarely had a lot of picks in the draft. They took safety LaRon Landry in '07, but he's never really met expectations. He obviously has a lot of physical gifts but his habit of biting on double moves gets the Skins in big trouble. In '08, Snyder and Vinny Cerrato turned to the offensive side of the ball and spent their three second-round picks on two receivers and a tight end. The verdict's still out on the '08 draft, but tight end Fred Davis emerged as a consistent threat when Chris Cooley was injured last season. And Devin Thomas has rare speed and quickness as a wideout. Now, he needs to continue showing maturity. With the addition of pass-rusher Brian Orakpo in '09, the Redskins landed a Pro Bowl player. Now it's time to start drafting offensive and defensive linemen. That's the trend that stands out over the past decade. The Redskins didn't build in the trenches, and they've paid the price. With the No. 4 pick, Shanahan will be tempted to take a left tackle. Especially if Sam Bradford's already gone. And it's hard to go wrong with either Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga.

Draft Watch: AFC East

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.

Buffalo Bills: It's a safe bet their objective won't be to draft defensive backs. The Bills have many shortcomings, but their secondary isn't among them. Thanks to former head coach Dick Jauron's obsession with defensive backs, the Bills have a glut there. Of the 18 players they selected the past two drafts, a third of them played cornerback or safety. The Bills are bleak at offensive tackle because they've chosen one, seventh-round project Demetrius Bell, in the past three years. In fact, you'd have to search back to 2002 to find a tackle they selected before the fifth round. The Bills are switching to a 3-4 defense this year, so it might be enlightening to know they haven't selected any defensive tackles -- let alone one who would be an effective NFL nose tackle -- three draft classes in a row.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins still are trying to recover from their disastrous 2007 draft class. Only three players remain on their roster, a disappointing receiver (ninth overall pick Ted Ginn), a pedestrian defensive tackle (fourth-rounder Paul Soliai) and a punter (seventh-rounder Brandon Fields). That was the last draft conducted by former GM Randy Mueller. The Dolphins were in such disrepair, new football ops boss Bill Parcells focused on the staples. Of the 18 picks under Parcells, seven were linemen. Eleven offensive players were chosen, but only two running backs, two receivers and one tight end. That would suggest they'll target defense in this year's draft, but they've been aggressive in addressing their needs through free agency so far. Safety, outside linebacker and nose tackle are positions to watch -- for now.

New England Patriots: The loose pattern the past three springs has been to draft defensive backs early and offensive linemen late. In that span, the Patriots selected a cornerback or a safety in the first or second round of each class and have taken five O-linemen (six if you count long-snapper Jake Ingram) in the fourth round and later. Only 11 of the 28 players they've drafted were offensive players, which is a significant reason why the Patriots have the NFL's oldest group of players on that side of the ball. The trend would indicate it's time to get younger there, especially in the backfield. The Patriots have selected one running back since 2007, calling Central Connecticut State's Justise Hairston that year in the sixth round.

New York Jets: A look at the Jets' three-year track record suggests they're famished for draft choices. Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum has a fondness for bartering picks to move up in the draft order. As a result, they selected just three players last spring and four in 2007. So few incoming prospects hurts organizational development, and with so many positions seemingly set, the Jets need to focus on drafting as many rookies as possible next month. When they traded for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, they were sure to send a 2011 draft choice. They sent Kerry Rhodes to the Arizona Cardinals for a fourth-round pick this year and a seventh-rounder next year.

Draft Watch: AFC 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.

Houston Texans

The best move the Texans made in the past three seasons was trading a second-round pick in 2007 and 2008 to Atlanta for Matt Schaub, a quarterback who’s the key to their offense and team. With so many teams in need of a quality starter, that trade seems like a steal now. They’ve taken four defensive backs with the 10 picks they’ve made in the fifth round or later, and out of Brandon Harrison, Dominique Barber, Brice McCain and Troy Nolan they’ve not found a guy who has been able to contribute consistently. It’s time to spend a big pick on a free safety or corner who has great ball skills.

Indianapolis Colts

Skill positions get attention early, with receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown grabbed with the two first-rounders in the past three years. The hits in the third round and later have become significant players: Clint Session, Pierre Garcon, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie, Pat McAfee. Trouble spot? Look to the five offensive linemen who haven’t really panned out. That’s understandable with Steve Justice (sixth in 2008), Jamey Richard (seventh in 2008) and Jaimie Thomas (seventh in 2009), but Tony Ugoh (second in 2007) and Mike Pollak (second in 2008) have left the team with holes and problems that need to be addressed in April. Out of five picks there has to be at least one starter, probably two.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Two first-round picks out of Florida have not met expectations, but the Jaguars still hope safety Reggie Nelson and defensive end Derrick Harvey can become consistent players. Of 25 picks, only one is established as a playmaker on offense, Mike Sims-Walker (third-rounder in 2007). That’s a big part of the reason the team’s not especially potent on offense beyond Maurice Jones-Drew. The top four from the 2009 draft got significant starting experience as rookies, and the 2010 class will have similar opportunities. While Harvey can be steady, he’s not an explosive pass-rusher, and Quentin Groves has struggled. Even with Aaron Kampman signed, they still need another pass-rusher.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have fared nicely with pass-rushers from lesser-known schools -- William Hayes of Winston-Salem State is on the brink of big things and Jacob Ford of Central Arkansas is a skilled rusher. Contributions from second-rounders have been minimal -- Chris Henry is already gone, Jason Jones hasn’t stayed healthy or consistent and Sen'Derrick Marks had no impact as a rookie. After hitting a home run with seventh-rounder Cortland Finnegan in 2006, late-round corners Ryan Smith, Cary Williams and, so far, Jason McCourty, haven’t panned out. A quality corner is a need early in this draft.

Draft Watch: AFC West

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.

Denver: While examining the last three years of Denver’s drafting, it has to be considered that there are two different philosophies in play. Josh McDaniels took over in 2009 after the 14-year Mike Shanahan era. If there is any difference, it is that McDaniels seems more interested in stockpiling picks than Shanahan, who would trade many picks. Still, McDaniels showed he is not afraid of being aggressive, either. He traded this year’s top pick (No. 14) on draft day to take cornerback Alphonso Smith at No.37 because he thought Smith was a top-tier player who slipped into the second round. Like Shanahan, McDaniels likes offensive players. Six of Denver’s 10 picks last year were offensive players, despite a greater need on defense.

Kansas City: Like Denver, there was a change of leadership last year when Scott Pioli took over for Carl Peterson. Like Peterson’s final years, Pioli’s first draft in Kansas City valued defense over offense. At No. 5 in 2008, Peterson took defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey. In 2009, Pioli took defensive linemen Tyson Jackson at No. 3. Kansas City has the No. 5 overall pick this year. Don’t expect the Chiefs to take a defensive lineman for the third straight year. In fact, Kansas City may look at offensive needs with the pick. I'd bet Pioli rotates from offense to defense throughout the draft this year more than he did last year. Last year, Pioli’s first three picks were on defense. Then, his next four picks were on offense. The Chiefs’ last pick was a kicker. With needs on the offensive line, linebacker, receiver and safety, expect Pioli to address all of those needs early.

Oakland: The Raiders have valued offensive skill-position players in the past three years. Since 2007, Oakland has had the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 7 picks in the first round. It has taken quarterback JaMarcus Russell, running back Darren McFadden and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the picks. While none of those players have shown they were worthy of the top choices, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Oakland uses is top pick this year, No. 8 overall, on a key offensive position: left tackle. Oakland has ignored that pressing need for several years. It may not be able to avoid it this year. Perhaps this will be the year Oakland hits the jackpot when using a high pick on an offensive player.

San Diego: San Diego has been very balanced in the past three drafts. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has valued both offense and defense. San Diego has had a total of 20 picks in the past three drafts. It has taken 10 offensive players and 10 defensive players. The Chargers have had solid success in recent drafts as well. Thirteen of the 20 players appear to be decent picks. Smith also has been aggressive. He has shown he is not against moving up into the second and third rounds to get a player he has targeted, such as Eric Weddle in 2007 and Jacob Hester in 2008. San Diego hasn’t taken a classic tailback high recently. Expect that to change this year when the Chargers address the position in either the first or second round.

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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES