By Sean Robson
NFC South Outlook:
Not a single team in the NFC South finished the 2014 season with a winning record. The Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) finished atop the division and clinched a playoff birth, while the New Orleans Saints (7-9) trailed closely behind. The Atlanta Falcons (6-10) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14) rounded out the bottom of the division. The Buccaneers own rights to the first overall selection in the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft which could turn the franchise around. As for the Panthers, Saints and Falcons, each currently have the assets to clinch a playoff birth in 2015; it’s just a matter of consistency. According to ESPN.com, since 2010 the NFC South has produced both a division title winner and an NFC Wild Card winner 3 times. I firmly believe that each of these 3 teams can rise to prominence once again and take back the NFC Wild Card as soon as next year. Look to the near future for the Buccaneers to join the playoff conversation once again as well. Here’s a breakdown of what each teams needs to get from the upcoming draft, including first round draft predictions.
1st Overall Selection, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Team Needs: (OL, Pass Rusher, QB)Embed from Getty Images
It’s crazy to think a team that had only 2 wins in the 2014 season would pass up a quarterback as prestigious in the draft as Jameis Winston or even Marcus Mariota. Despite having offensive line concerns, it has been proven over the past decade that it takes a talented quarterback to win in the NFL. Just ask the Buffalo Bills who haven’t found their franchise quarterback since Doug Flutie, (yes, it’s been 16 years since a playoff appearance). And yes a team needs more than a quarterback to win, *cough cough*, Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III), but it’s a good starting point.
The Pick: QB James Winston (Florida St.)
8th Overall Selection, Atlanta Falcons
Team Needs: (Pass Rusher, TE, DB)Embed from Getty Images
The Atlanta Falcons have been lacking a defensive pass rush since the departure John Abraham following the 2012 season. The potential Hall-of-Famer acquired over 133.5 sacks over his career and since leaving the Falcons, they have ranked as one of the worst teams in the NFL at generating a pass rush. Two names on the draft board jump out at me in this situation: defensive ends Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida) and Vic Beasley (Clemson). Under the 3-4 defensive formation that the Falcons ran last year, it would be assumed that Fowler Jr. and Beasley would translate to outside linebackers. Each possesses the speed and quickness to rush the passer off the edge, it’s just a matter of who falls to the Atlanta’s hands with the 8th pick.
The Pick: DE Vic Beasley (Clemson)
13th and 31st Overall Selections, New Orleans Saints
Team Needs: (CB, Pass Rusher, QB)Embed from Getty Images
After the recent trade that sent tight end Jimmy Graham and a 4th round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for center Max Unger and Seattle’s 2015 first round pick, the Saints now have 2 first round picks. Plenty of cornerbacks are considered to have first round talent. This allows for the Saints to evaluate when they want to sure up their secondary. I anticipate that they take a cornerback at the 13th pick with either the lengthy Trae Waynes (Michigan St.), or they risk the pick with Marcus Peters (Washington), who has off-field concerns. While a common theory for the 31st pick would be to take the best player available, DON’T be surprised if they take a quarterback to play behind Drew Brees. Brees is now 36 years old and will need a replacement within the next few years.
The Picks: CB Marcus Peters (Washington) & QB Brett Hundley (UCLA)
25th Overall Selection, Carolina Panthers
Team Needs: (Pass rusher, OT, CB)Embed from Getty Images
Greg Hardy’s absence greatly decimated the Panther’s pass rush in 2014. Expect Carolina to hope that a defensive end slips into their grasp late in the first round. With 6-7 defensive ends projected to be picked in the first round, there probably will be talent available. I assume a player like Bud Dupree (Kentucky) or Arik Armstead (Oregon) to be taken with the 25th pick. In the case that there isn’t any outside linebackers or defensive ends available, it would be interesting to see a wide receiver selected to line-up alongside Kelvin Benjamin.
The Pick: DE Arik Armstead
*All “team needs” acquired from NFL.com