NFC South biggest needs in the 2017 NFL Draft
The league’s most wide-open division looks to get even more competitive after the draft
You could argue that the NFC South is the NFL’s most talented and competitive division from top to bottom. The Falcons and Panthers have represented the NFC and each of the last two Super Bowls, and all four teams have franchise quarterbacks on their roster. Be that as it may, each of the four teams in the NFC South has flaws and holes to address on draft day April 27th. Once those holes are filled, the division is only going to become more competitive, and nobody should be surprised if yet another NFC South team makes its way to the Super Bowl this coming season.
Once the Falcons got the ball rolling in 2016, they looked like the best team in the league, at least right up until the second half of the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. If not for the face plant on the biggest stage in American sports, I’d say Atlanta had a successful season. These Falcons appear to be built to last for quite some time, thanks to a young defense, a solid and deep offensive line, the best running back duo in the game, the best receiver on the planet and the reigning NFL MVP. As young and talented as this defense is, the Falcons need more solid contributors at linebacker. They could also use more help at defensive end. When it’s their turn to pick in the first round, I’ll be stunned if they don’t select a player who will start in their defensive front seven immediately.
First-round pick: No. 31 overall
Potential picks: There is no shortage of skilled defensive ends and linebackers in this draft, and there will be plenty to choose from when Atlanta is on the clock. Look for Michigan’s Taco Charlton and Kansas State’s Jordan Willis as possible defensive end picks. If the Falcons go the linebacker route, I like UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, if he’s still available.
The Panthers fell victim to that post-Super Bowl lost slump last season. Seemingly nothing went right for 2015 MVP Cam Newton and his squad. The Panthers finished in the lower half of the league in total offense and defense en route to a six-win season. It’s crazy to say this about a team one year removed from a 15-1 regular season record and Super Bowl appearance, but the Panthers could use help everywhere outside of the quarterback position.
First-round pick: No. 8 overall
Potential picks: Even though they brought in Captain Munnerlyn this offseason, Carolina is still without that elite, shutdown corner it used to have in one Josh Norman. Ohio State corner Marshon Lattimore is a no-brainer if he’s still available. If he’s gone, Alabama corner Marlon Humphrey and Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett are both very real possibilities.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints bumbled their way to a losing record and another playoff-less campaign last season. Injuries and a awful defense kept the Saints from being competitive in a division loaded with offensive talent. To make matters worse, their most dangerous offensive threat from the last couple of seasons now resides in New England. Even though New Orleans has done a lot of work to fill holes on defense so far this offseason, this unit still needs to add more talent. Cornerback appears to be the biggest need, which is why the Malcolm Butler rumors won’t go away. Whether that will be resolved by the draft remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if the Saints target a defensive tackle early.
First-round picks: No. 11, No. 32 (via New England) overall
Potential picks: Due to what I expect to be an early run on corners, Ohio State’s Gareon Conley, Florida’s Teez Tabor and Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie are all safe bets with the 11th pick. That said, if Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster is still available, it will be tough to pass him up based on raw talent. New Orleans could then use its other first-rounder to grab a defensive back or a lineman.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs logged their first winning season since 2010. With a young franchise quarterback protected by a solid line a surrounded by up-and-coming playmakers, Tampa Bay made great strides and is a franchise on the rise. The Bucs fell a game short of the playoffs, but appear to be a sexy pick in 2017 to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LII. The line is good, but Tampa Bay needs a long-term option at left tackle to protect Jameis Winston’s blind side. Tampa Bay also needs a dependable running back to take some of the pressure off Winston and the passing game. Defensively, outside linebacker is a need.
First-round pick: No. 19 overall
Potential picks: If Florida State running back Dalvin Cook somehow falls to them, the Bucs must pull the trigger. The more realistic option is Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson. If they choose the outside linebacker route, expect Houston’s Tyus Bowser to get the call.
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