Sure the NFC East has some of the most heated rivalries in all of sports and the NFC North has some of the most legendary football rivalries and is a star studded division, but where’s the love for the South? The Saints have a Super Bowl title to their name, as do the Bucs, the Panthers have been to a Super Bowl, and just last season the Atlanta Falcons reached their second NFC Championship game — all of this since 2000.
That ain’t too shabby.
Not to mention the NFC South is building back up with some serious talent. The 2013 NFL Draft is over and the NFC South looks to have taken that next step towards becoming an even tougher division. Here’s how things shake out with grades on all four teams. Maybe you’ll be surprised by who walks away with the top grade of the class.
1.) Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
2.) Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana
4.) Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson
4.) Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford
5.) Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
7.) Kemal Ishmael, CB, Central Florida
7.) Zeke Motta, S, Notre Dame
7.) Sean Renfree, QB, Duke
The Atlanta Falcons, always a player in the trade market come draft day, were at it again by trading up in the first round to take Trufant. The Falcons lost a lot of defensive backs to free agency and made it a goal to not only replace the departed players but also upgrade the position. They are on the right track with Trufant, Alford, Ishmael, and Motta. Renfree was an intriguing prospect heading into the draft process and will be a solid developmental prospect with the Dirty Birds. Atlanta also invested in young pass rushers Maponga and Goodman to work into the rotation. The sleeper however is Toilolo. With Gonzalez coming back for another round, it gives Toilolo not only time to further develop but also learn from a Hall-of-Fame teacher. Toilolo originally won the starting spot (beating out current Indianapolis Colt Colby Fleener) at Stanford in 2010 but tore his ACL and has been working back ever since. An undeniable talent, Toilolo averaged 16.4 yards per catch last year and could develop into a surefire weapon of the future.
1.) Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
2.) Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
4.) Edmund Kugbila, OG, Valdosta St.
5.) AJ Klein, LB, Iowa St.
6.) Kenjon Barner, RB, Orgeon
I touched on the notion during draft day when the Panthers went back-to-back d-tackles. It locked up a critical need with two very solid prospects. Especially Lotulelei, whose presence gives the Panthers a bit of scheme diversity if they so wish to incorporate it into their defense. The rest of the draft is suspect. Kugbila is a mammoth Division II prospect, who has been known to top out at about 362 pounds. Carolina drafted a similar small school guard last season in Amini Silatolu. With that in mind and a horrendous patchwork defensive secondary, this seems a bit of a wasted pick. Barner will provide more lightning to the Cam Newton led offense. The sleeper however will be Klein. The definition of a football player who posted over 300 tackles in three seasons. He will provide solid depth to a unit that seems to regularly bit by the injury bug and could start down the road.
New Orleans Saints
1.) Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
3.) Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas Pine-Bluff
3.) John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
5.) Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
6.) Rufus Johnson, DE, Tarleton State
The name of the draft game is value and the Saints worked extremely well at matching value and need for their picks. Vaccaro instantly upgrades a secondary that finished 31st against the pass and will also provide help in the run game. The former-Longhorn is a known thumper. Jenkins in the third round provides great assistance in the transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 defensive alignment. Jenkins could very well be a Day One starter. The sleeper here comes in the form of Armstead. A small school prospect, Armstead was a three year starter and is known for his pass blocking abilities. With former tackle Jermon Bushrod now in Chicago, Armstead could very well have the duties of protecting franchise quarterback Drew Brees as a raw rookie. The only issue with the Saints draft class, which is a solid group considering they were stripped of a second-round pick due to Bountygate, they failed to address getting an edge rusher. In a 3-4 defense that is a critical need and no linebacker or end seems to truly have that ability locked down.
Tampa Bay Buccanneers
2.) Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi St.
3.) Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina St.
4.) Akeem Spence, DT, Illionis
4.) William Gholston, DE, Michigan St.
5.) Steve Means, DE, Buffalo
6.) Mike James, RB, Miami
The only thing saving Tampa from falling in the C-range is the fact that they got a proven All-Pro cornerback in Darrelle Revis with their first-round pick (13th overall). Revis and Banks will be Day One starters. In a draft where quarterbacks were not a hot commodity, taking Glennon is a bit of a head-scratcher but speaks volumes about how head coach Greg Schiano feels about veteran starter Josh Freeman, who is entering his contract year. After losing Roy Miller and Michael Bennett to free agency, the defensive line semed like it would have been more of a priority then a backup quarterback however Spence and Gholston are decent talents for where they were drafted. After trading bruiser LeGarrett Blount to New England, the Bucs took James — who could be their sleeper. Similar to Washington Redskins’ Alfred Morris, James is a bit faster and more versatile version with solid pass catching and kick return experience.
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