New Orleans Saints: DE, LB, TE, WR
It seems that the Saints are going to continue to milk this head coach/quarterback combo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees for at least another year but it won’t matter, because this duo is a far cry from what it once was. While the offense does need help, it’s the 27th ranked defense that will get most of the attention. The secondary was flamed last year, but mostly because the pass rush was pitiful. With the number 12 draft pick in the first round this year, the Saints will probably have to choose between the likes of Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson and Clemson’s Kevin Dodd. Robinson is the bigger of the two and has some range being able to play defensive tackle and defensive end. Having that kind of versatility might be key for them, and if not, they can get Dodd, who is a “straight up” edge rusher. Due to his character issues, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, may be available to them in the second round. Sure, he’s a head case, but he’s also an amazing athlete, and if he can keep his head on straight, Nkemdiche can be an All-Pro in the NFL. Keeping this focus in the first two rounds is a step in the right direction for the Saints defense. New Orleans lost tight end Ben Watson in free agency to the Ravens, but they signed a younger tighter end in Coby Fleener. Fleener, surprisingly didn’t max out his potential playing with his college quarterback Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and maybe a fresh start in a tight end friendly system is what he needs. The Saints have two good, young receivers in Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks, but neither of them are “big” receivers. The Saints can look to get some bigger, veteran wide-outs at a cheap price like Nate Washinton or a Hakeem Nicks. The Saints needs a viable red-zone target at that position – even a late round gamble on Tennessee’s Marquez North (6’2″, 223) might be worth the risk.
Atlanta Falcons: LB, DE, S, TE
The Atlanta Falcons were pretty much in the middle of the pack on defense and slightly below average offensively. Put that together and you get a collective “shrug” from NFL fans who barely noticed the Falcons all year. Head coach Dan Quinn is a defensive minded coach who knows he has mainstays at the quarterback, wide receiver and running back spots, which may be enough for him to go big on defense in free agency and in the draft. Many were surprised to see former Seahawk Bruce Irvin not sign with Quinn and the Falcons but since he didn’t, this means Alabama linebacker, Reggie Ragland – could be the seventeenth pick of the draft. Emmanuel Ogbah, defensive end of Oklahoma State, could slide into Atlanta’s favor as well, but Ogbah might need time to develop where Ragland is more good to go, now. If the Falcons get lucky they can use their second round pick on Ohio State safety Vonn Bell, who plays well against the run and good-enough in the secondary. Free agent safties James Ihedigbo and Bacarri Rambo just sound like less than stellar signings were used to the Falcons making, but let’s just hope this is a new regime/new method under Dan Quinn. . . The Falcons have had a void in that tight end position since the retirement of Tony Gonzalez and with what’s left in free agency and late round picks – it looks like it might be another year to struggle at that spot. Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee might be a sneaky fifth round selection for Altanta – Higbee had 563 yards and 8 touchdowns for the Hilltoppers last season and offers some nice size at 6’6″, 250 pounds.
Carolina Panthers: WR, RB,
If Cam Newton is truly Super-Man, than the Super Bowl proved that Super-Man needs a Justice League. Sure the Panthers defense was tremendous this season, but the offense went as far as Cam Newton could carry them. Enough is enough already – give the league’s MVP some help out there! The Panthers had the built in excuse at the start of last season that their number one wide out – sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin – was out due to injury. Be cautious of Benjamin though. It seemed that by the second half of his rookie season, defenses in the league started making life difficult for him. The problem is, the Panthers have the next to last pick in the first round and might miss out on the stud receivers in this draft. If the football gods favor the Panthers, TCU’s Josh Doctson will be there, but with the Vikings, Steelers and Packers all drafting before the Panthers, it’s highly doubtful. In truth, they may find some value in signing veteran wide outs like Marques Colston or Anquan Boldin – even if just on one year deals. A nice sleeper pick for the Panthers could be the wide receiver out of UMass, Tajae Sharpe. Sharpe provides nice size at 6’2″, 194 – but more importantly has impressed scouts with his route running and his good hands (aren’t we all tired of Tedd Ginn getting wide open and dropping perfectly placed passes from Cam Newton?). Jonathan Stewart had a nice season, but to expect that kind of production from him again is almost insane. There are more than enough free agent veteran backs that can fit into the mix – Tim Hightower, Ronnie Hillman and LeGarrette Blount to name a few.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB, DE, WR, OT
Dirk Koetter (who?) has taken the place of former head coach Lovie Smith to lead a team that, for the most part doesn’t look terrible on paper but on the field – different story. With the ninth pick in the first round of the draft, the Bucs have a good shot at fulfilling any of their team needs immediately. Florida’s cornerback Vernon Hargreaves is the popular “can’t miss” prospect and it would help shore up a secondary that desperately needs it. Yes, it’s understood that Alterraun Verner and Brent Grimes are there. . . it’s understood so much in fact that drafting Hargreaves at this spot is a must if he is available. They might want to address this position again later in the draft by taking Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez or Mississippi State’s Will Redmond. Aside from the corner spot, the defensive end needs an upgrade as well. Acquiring Robert Ayers in free agency was a nice move and it also might have included a little bit of brain washing on the part of the Bucs. . . Corey Wooten has been on Chicago and Detroit and has been pretty average at best, but he might serve well as a rotational piece if just for his size and athletic combination. Quarterback Jameis Winston is going to need more around him and they should just toss a veteran receiver and a few late round picks for him to work with. Former Green Bay Packer James Jones might be worth a look. After being cut by the Giants last season, he was instantly signed by the Packers and had a surprisingly productive season. Stamford wide receiver Devon Cajuste, can be a nice fifth or sixth round pick for Tampa. He adds more size to this receiving core at 6’3″, 233 and is a smart route running wide out. Even a late round pick in Baylor’s Jay Lee might be a nice investment. Remember this is a receiving core that will have wide out Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to grow with, it could work out nice for the Bucs.
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