Kenny Vaccaro will be a playmaker in the NFC South this season. (Credit)
The NFC South is an interesting division right now. They have a team that can only blame themselves for not making the Super Bowl (Atlanta Falcons), a team who is expected to be a contender now that they have their head coach back (New Orleans Saints), one team looking forward after winning five of their last six games (Carolina Panthers) and one that has the most offensive firepower in franchise history (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
All four will believe that with the right additions in this draft, they can put themselves into the playoff picture, if not into the Big Show in the Big Apple (or New Jersey…).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers have evidently decided to sacrifice their top ranked run defense to solve the riddle of having the second worst pass defense in the history of the NFL. They let two starting lineman go without taking any in the first two days. As a result, this draft rests largely on the shoulders of a man not even in this draft class in Darrelle Revis. Despite this, they then added Johnthan Banks who, like Revis, fits the cover man corner style that their defense needs. It also meant that Ronde Barber was able to announce his retirement.
Quarterback Mike Glennon, instead of worrying Josh Freeman, should make him feel more comfortable in his contract year. The rookie is the same type of quarterback (just much less mobile) and Tampa drafting him suggests they are willing to run a Freeman-style offense. Meanwhile, their fourth round defensive line picks Akeem Spence and William Gholston may be competing for starting jobs and will be looked upon to replace the holes the Buccaneers have left themselves in free agency. Freeman will be worried, however, about the prospect of Luke Stocker being the starting tight end.
Projected Starters: CB Johnthan Banks, DT Akeem Spence
Surprising Impact Player: DE Steven Means — While Gholston is the man expected to replace Michael Bennett in the rotation, the fact that Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers struggle to stay healthy means the small school guy may very well make an impact as a passing down specialist. Having blocked three kicks in college, he can also impact special teams, where Coach Schiano has aggressive kick-blocking schemes.
Despite their impressive run at the end of the 2012 season, the Carolina Panthers still had a huge hole to fill. Having swung and missed twice at defensive tackle in the 2011 draft, they decided to double down there once again in 2013. First round pick Star Lotulelei will make an immediate impact by slotting in next to Dwan Edwards. Second rounder Kwann Short should replace the 2011 bust Sione Fua as part of the three man rotation at the position, giving tenth year pro Edwards a much needed rest at times.
After this, the draft drops off. Sure, adding depth at the interior offensive line by drafting Edmund Kugbila is important and useful in the fourth round, but they are very much set inside with Ryan Kalil, Geoff Hangartner and 2012 All-Rookie Amini Silatolu all tied up long term. They drafted linebacker AJ Klein in round five with issues surrounding the long-term fitness of Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, both of whom have huge cap numbers.
However, they could have had a much better prospect in round four with the likes of Khaseem Greene and Gerald Hodges still on the board. They also did not even address the issues of starting corner opposite Captain Munnerlyn or a long-term replacement for Steve Smith at receiver.
Projected Starter: DT Star Lotulelei
Surprising Impact Player: RB Kenjon Barner — The Carolina Panthers have a lot of money tied up at running back. As a result, they are expected to cut DeAngelo Williams, and the Oregon back is the perfect speed guy to compliment the power of Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.
New Orleans Saints
No doubt that everyone down in the Bayou will believe that the return of Sean Payton should be worth enough wins alone to return Drew Brees and company to the playoffs. Sorting out a really porous defense that no longer has the takeaway capacity of their Super Bowl team will be just as important in a division with the offensive firepower that the NFC South has. Making the drastic decision of changing to a 3-4 defense under Rob Ryan means making huge alterations in personnel in the front seven to fit the system, a project made even harder by the loss of their second rounder due to the Bounty Gate scandal.
Therefore, while safety was a need, particularly given the importance of tight ends in the modern day offense, it still wasn’t important enough to forgo bringing in any 3-4 linebackers to go get Kenny Vaccaro when they have three serviceable safeties short term. This also calls into question trading away draft picks to move up, despite the fact that John Jenkins was a perfect fit on the defensive front. However, the third round selection of offensive tackle Terron Armstead is really useful as a long-term prospect to protect Drew Brees' blind side.
Projected Starters: SS Kenny Vaccaro, DT John Jenkins
Surprising Impact Player: WR Kenny Stills — While the pick is a poor one due to the Saints needs and the fact that Drew Brees can make star receivers out of guys off the street, it is that same ability of Brees that will make Stills a key name on fantasy waiver wire lists by Week 10.
It is difficult to set the draft alight when you draft so low and have so few holes to fill as the Atlanta Falcons. However, everything that the Falcons needed to do they did well, as you would expect with Thomas Dimitroff and that organization.
The one area the Falcons needed help in was at cornerback where they lost Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens. As a result, they were proactive and traded up to draft Desmond Trufant, who will no doubt make an impact in their secondary. They then sat back and took the best corner left in round two in Robert Alford. Then, they took flyers on defensive ends Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga to replace the aging John Abraham. With Tony Gonzalez coming back, they were also able to take a prospect at tight end in Levine Toilolo that they can groom behind the future Hall of Famer with no risk.
Projected Starter: CB Desmond Trufant
Surprising Impact Player: CB Robert Alford — It may be pushing it slightly to call a second round pick a surprising impact player, but the potential magnitude of Alford’s impact may well surprise. He could not only challenge an aging Asante Samuel to start at corner but also add value in the return game.
By: Steve Moore