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Ted Sundquist's NFC South Draft Needs

[Editor’s note:  Former Broncos G.M. Ted Sundquist continues his look at the primary needs of each NFL team, by division.  The NFC South appears below.]
The NFC South experienced a massive turnaround in ’08, with the emergence of Atlanta’s rookie quarterback, Matt Ryan.   All four teams finished at .500 or better, which eclipsed even the NFC East.  But Arizona took care of both playoff entries (Carolina and Atlanta) and the South never rose to a postseason run.   Tampa Bay chose to clean house and shift their emphasis toward rookie head coach Raheem Morris and the defense, while New Orleans is trying to regain the form that won the division just two seasons ago.  The division is picking from just about the middle backwards and Carolina doesn’t even have a first-round pick (traded to Philly), so careful study and perhaps a trade or two will be needed to maximize opportunity.
Atlanta Falcons
Primary Need: Outside Linebacker
To keep up with RB Michael Turner and second-year QB Matt Ryan the defense will have to improve.   Overall analysis by Football Outsiders shows the Falcons sitting in the bottom third of total defense (23rd).   Pass defense was just under the midway mark (18th) and run defense on all downs was a crippling 25th.  G.M. Thomas Dimitroff went right to work at the close of the season and began to revamp the “D”.
Gone is local favorite LB Keith Brooking, as well four other starters.  Atlanta must find a way to shut down the second-level routes (TE & RB).  F.O.’s studies ranked the Falcon defense as 28th and 29th in the League at doing so and this weakness eventually contributed to the end of their season.  Heavy emphasis will be placed on upgrading the linebacker corps and at #24 the Falcons could be looking at some solid help.   To contribute in both the run/pass defense, look for focus to be on acquiring a SAM to set the edge vs. the run, as well as hang with the TE downfield.   Aaron Curry is the best at the position, but these three have the size and athletic ability to excel over the TE as well.
Possible targets: linebacker Brian Cushing (USC); linebacker/defensive end Cody Brown (UConn), linebacker Clay Matthews (USC).
New Orleans Saints
Primary Need: Safety
Balance is key, both in life and in football.  The pendulum swings heavy to the offensive side in New Orleans.   It was hard to find a more explosive unit in 2008.  The Saints were ranked #1 in the F.O. statistical analysis on offense, while the defense was 24th.  Little wonder then that for all their efforts in points and yardage the team finished at 8-8.  Third downs were brutal on the Saint defense (18th vs. the pass, 30th vs. the run).
New Orleans needs a centerfield playmaker and those can be the hardest to find.   Coaches want the deep range vs. the pass and the ability to fill the box vs. the run.   That takes a special player, both in body type and ability.   If there’s a safety that shows this dual capability then go get him (regardless of your pick position).   This year’s crop appears to have one legitimate prospect and then some projections at the position.
Possible targets: Safety Louis Delmas (Western Michigan), defensive back Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State).
Carolina Panthers
Primary Need: Defensive Line
For the purpose of this look the Panthers are starting behind the “eight ball” with their initial selection not coming until the 59th pick of the 2nd round.   The majority of positions on two-deep rosters are made up of 1st and 2nd round selections, the remaining percentage coming predominantly from undrafted free agents.  So Carolina has an opportunity to add an impact playmaker on their defensive front, the odds just shrink quite a bit that he’ll be ultra productive (11.1%).
Look for G.M. Marty Hurney to emphasize run-stopping ability.   The Cats were rated 31st in adjustws line yards when run at between the guards.  They were 25th overall when run at on 3rd/4th down.   Too much is giving in the middle and Carolina needs an inside anchor.  Raji, Hood, and Jerry most likely will be off the board by then, so look for the Panthers to turn to the second tier and take a shot at “upside”.
Possible targets:  defensive tackle Ron Brace (Boston College), defensive tackle/defensive end Jarron Gilbert (San Jose St.), defensive tackle Fili Moala (USC).
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Primary Need: Linebacker
Look for defensive emphasis from rookie head coach Raheem Morris and new defensive coordinator Jim Bates.   The Bucs gutted their LB corps and must find replacements fast in order to implement Bates’ scheme.  Many have Tampa looking towards a QB in the first round, especially if USC’s Mark Sanchez slips down to #19.
F.O.’s numbers point to trouble at the second level of the defense with a high number of 10+ yard carries (ranking 28th in the NFL) but pretty solid play upfront with an 11th rank in adjust line yards (a good indicator of D-Line play).   Roster-wise there doesn’t appear to be a presence at the position with the departure of Derrick Brooks and Cato June.  The veteran Barrett Ruud has held down the inside and I would imagine Bates loves his physical presence in the middle.  Look for speed to be added to the perimeters.  With Denver now at #18, Tampa would probably have to trade up to ensure a QB.
Possible targets: Linebacker Clint Sintim (Virginia), linebacker Clay Matthews (USC), linebacker/defensive end Aaron Maybin (Penn State).

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13 Responses to “Ted Sundquist's NFC South Draft Needs”
  1. bballer2294 says: Apr 22, 2009 10:12 PM

    Just wondering why Pettigrew isn’t an option for the Falcons, when all signs point to the Falcons probably picking him if he is still there?

  2. KingMiedus says: Apr 22, 2009 10:22 PM

    Linebacker for the Bucs? They signed Crowell, plus they think Black is the future. They also moved/are moving Phillips to linebacker. Gruden even said he doesn’t expect them to go for a linebacker. What they really need is a giant DT for Bates’ defense. If they really do need a linebacker to fill in some for now they should just resign Brooks, I’m sure he could be a 2 down player at least.

  3. lee says: Apr 22, 2009 10:46 PM

    that probably took Ted a whole 15 minutes
    including proofreading :)

  4. 4theloveofthegame says: Apr 22, 2009 11:02 PM

    I agree KingMiedus… really bad prognosis with the bucs…. linebacker is deep with talent right now.. it’s just all kind of unproven so why bring in more unproven talent when really, the BIGGEST need in tampa is a gap stuffing Defensive Tackle….
    If they dont try and trade up to get raji i expect them to take Perry at 19. Or they may take Michael Johnson at 19 if they think they can trade back into the second round to grab Ron Brace.
    Either way, D-line is number one on the list of needs, Morris even said it. And I would even say their biggest need at linebacker is a talented middle guy to back up Rudd.

  5. MIBucs1982 says: Apr 22, 2009 11:05 PM

    Ted obviously has never watched the Buccaneers or he’d know that the problem with the defense in the Tampa 2 and in Bates’ new system are that they need strong defensive linemen to take some of the pressure off the LBs. That didn’t happen last year and the defense gave up 400+ yards in the last 3 games. If you can’t get pressure upfront, what good does a linebacker do you?

  6. chace1986 says: Apr 22, 2009 11:55 PM

    I am going to continue to agree with those who hate the analysis of the bucs biggest need. It is d-line…..both DT and DE. The biggest problem with the bucs every since 2002 has been the lack of a pass rush. Tampa for the past few years has been at the bottom of the league in sacks. A guy like Everette Brown would be a perfect pick at 19. If Gaines Adams will finally step it up, those two could be a pretty good pass rushing tandom for sometime. The bucs most stable position defense is LB…..Barrett Ruud is at least a top ten MLB maybe top five. Jermaine Phillips will take over the WLB, and there will be a good competition between the speedster Quincy Black and Angelo Crowell. I also see Tampa taking a CB like Vontae Davis to replace Ronde. I watched every bucs game last year and Ronde was pathetic in most….sure he had a great game against Detroit and had an int on monday night football, but he was constantly getting burnt by guys like Brandon Lloyd and Devery Henderson. Davis and Talib could be eventually be like Woodson and Harris. If the bucs dont address d line or the secondary early in the draft…then they dont deserve to have the picks.

  7. GeauxSaints12 says: Apr 23, 2009 12:01 AM

    Anything on defense would be very welcomed

  8. JaxBuccaneer says: Apr 23, 2009 1:21 AM

    I hate how the national media doesnt even give an educated guess on what they think the Bucs need. All they know is we cut some veterans so therefore we need to fill those holes. If you look at the stats its pretty simple at where the problem is coming from. IT ALL STARTS WITH YOUR LINE.

  9. JaxBuccaneer says: Apr 23, 2009 1:26 AM

    I love how the national media doesn’t even give an educated guess on where the needs are of the Bucs. They just assume since we cut some veterans that we have to plug in those holes. We need another WR more than a LB, but most of all we need help on the DL. IT ALL STARTS UP FRONT!!

  10. chace1986 says: Apr 23, 2009 3:04 AM

    To be honest. LB is the strongest position on the Bucs defense. Barrett Ruud is at ast a top ten MLB…if not top five. With Jermane Phillips sliding down from safety that fills the whole on the weak side which derrick brooks occupied, and angelo crowell will be battling quincy black for the strong side…CB is a much bigger need than LB. Aqib Talib is a very bright spot in the secondary and will be for years to come, but Ronde is slipping. I watched all 16 bucs games last year and he is just a shadow of his former self. Sure he had a good game against the lions and got an int on monday night football against the panthers, but was constantly getting burnt by guys like Devery Henderson and Brandon Lloyd. Vontae Davis would most likely be availiable and would go along side Talib when Barber decides to hang em up. The biggest need on the defense, as a matter of fact, the biggest need on the whole team is defensive line. Since the super bowl season in 2002 the bucs biggest problem has been pass rush, especially last season. They have been near the bottom of the league in sack totals for the last few years. A guy like Everett Brown could help this pass rush exponentially. If Gaines Adams will get more consistent then it would be a pretty decent pass rush with brown. DT is just as big of a need but with chances of getting Raji very low, that need could be addressed in another round. One thing is for sure, if the bucs dont fill the needs on defense early in the draft….they dont desrve to have the picks.

  11. brasho says: Apr 23, 2009 8:11 AM

    Bucs need… pass rush pass rush pass rush.
    THose that think the Bucs will go LB are crazy, the key in the NFL is pressuring the QB, something the Bucs haven’t done since 2003.
    Those that think Peria Jerry will be the pick are a year off, he would have been fine in the T-2, but Jerry plays at 290, is pretty much physically maxed out and is nearly 25 years old (he ain’t growing). If the Bucs were to grab a DT in round 1 (at #19) it would be the bigger, faster, higher motor, younger player in Evander Hood. My thinking, however, is that they go straight for the jugular and take DE Michael Johnson out of GTech. Best pass rusher in the draft… perhaps the most potential in the draft too. That’s the pick if he is there.

  12. Flimflam says: Apr 23, 2009 10:09 AM

    I think it’s obvious why Mr. Sundquist is writing here instead of earning a living as a GM… maybe he’s the mysterious Mr. X? Di he also co-write QBF?
    Bucs will go D-line- it’s more of a need than LB.

  13. Hosstyle in Tampa says: Apr 23, 2009 11:39 AM

    Chance1986,
    Decent post, although I’d argue that the secondary (Talib, Barber, Jackson, Piscitelli, Phillips/Allen for depth) is our strongest unit. I do agree that the bucs are willing to live with their LB situation for this year (although everything I’ve read has Quincy Black, Geno Hayes, and Phlip competing for weakside). The Bucs need to take the most dynamic player available on the front 7.
    Brasho,
    You really think Michael Johnson is the best pass rusher in the draft?? He’s another Gaines Adams. You can’t just beat NFL LT’s off the ball like you can in the ACC. Everett Brown will make a better pro.
    For the record,
    I want the Bucs to trade out with either NYG, MIA, or AZI (most likely after consulting the trade value chart for the draft and their need of a TE, see ya Alex Smith)…This would allow the Bucs to get back into the second round, pick up possibly Cushing/Matthews/Percy Harvin with the 31st pick overall and then Ziggy Hood from Mizzou with the 62nd overall…3rd round I’d take a look at that Corner from Nicholls State cornerback Lardarius Webb, or Miami’s CB Bruce or if we didn’t get Harvin, Mike Thomas from Arizona….4th round: Richmond Spider; Lawrence Sidby

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