GRADING THE DRAFT: NFC SOUTH

 

Now that the dust is settling and the "priority" is being take out of priority free agents, I want to reflect back on each teams' draft class and share initial thoughts. The number in the parentheses next to the player names is where they were selected vs. where they were on my final big board; a positive number means value, negative number means reach. I added the total numbers up for a total grade for each team, and it means absolutely nothing besides letting me know how I off I was in my evaluation for each players, so take it for what it's worth.

 

While this article focuses on the AFC South, you can click on a different division below.

 

AFC West | AFC South | AFC North | AFC East || NFC West | NFC South | NFC North | NFC East

 

ATLANTA FALCONS - B- (-315)

WR Calvin Ridley (+4)

CB Isaiah Oliver (+15)

DT Deadrin Senat (-61)

RB Ito Smith (-129)

WR Russell Gage (-55)

LB Foye Oluokun (-89)

 

Notable UDFAs: QB Kurt Benkert, RB Demario Richard, WR Devin Gray, OT Matthew Gono, LB Jewey Darvis, FS Secdrick Cooper

 

The Falcons had the strongest draft in the division, and a lot of that centered around their first two picks. Calvin Ridley joins fellow Crimson Tide receiver Julio Jones to complete a formidable WR trio, and Ridley's versatility and route running prowess allows him to threaten from the Z or the Slot. Isaiah Oliver had a borderline first round grade from me and the Falcons were all over him the pre-draft process. He could compete with Robert Alford this year for a starting spot, but it wouldn't be a disappointment if he spends 2018 as the primary boundary CB back up. Deadrin Senat is a strong people mover and an ideal nose tackle for the Falcons' scheme, so I don't mind the value reach in round three. Ito Smith was one of my favorite running backs in the class and I wanted to rank him higher on my big board based on my evaluation, but I got nervous that he didn't get much buzz or visits, so I dropped him. That's on me, but Ito will be an outstanding third down back to spell the two starters in Atlanta. Russell Gage is a player I was lower on than most pundits, but I do like his fit in the WR rotation simply based on his ability to be a special teams dynamo. Foye Oluokun is the ideal speedster to play weak side in this scheme in a LB corps with poor depth, so again, I don't mind the slight reach from my rankings, especially in the 6th round. The Falcons also found some value in free agency, corralling Kurt Benkert as a developmental QB and Matthew Gono is a better swing tackle today than what they have on the roster. I also wouldn't be surprised if Secdrick Cooper makes either the final roster or practice squad. Overall, not a bad haul, but they are still missing some depth at interior defensive line spot beyond Senat and Grady Jarrett.

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS - C+ (-285)

WR DJ Moore (-2)

CB Donte Jackson (-22)

FS Rashaan Gaulden (-89)

TE Ian Thomas (+34)

DE Marquis Haynes (-47)

LB Jermaine Carter (-167)

LB Andre Smith (-30)

DT Kendrick Norton (+38)

 

Notable UDFAs: QB Kyle Allen, RB Reggie Bonnafon, OG Taylor Hearn, OG Brendan Mahon, OG Kyle Bosch, DT Tracy Sprinkle

 

DJ Moore was one of the picks I got right in my mock and it was blatantly obvious how much the Panthers coveted Moore with the interest they showed in the pre-draft process. Moore gives them a fiery competitor who can turn it up with the ball in his hands; something they haven't had since Steve Smith. Donte Jackson has the speed to lock down opposing team's Z receivers in a division with a lot of speedsters at the Z in Ridley, Ginn, and DJax. Jackson should be a day one starter opposite James Bradberry and upgrade the role vacated by Daryl Worley. Rashaan Gaulden is a mega-reach and was my least favorite pick for the Panthers, lacking the foot speed and range to become a dominant free safety in the NFL. They made up for it with their next pick in Ian Thomas, who landed in a perfect spot studying behind Greg Olsen for another year or two before he takes over. Marquis Haynes was a player I preferred as a 3-4 edge rusher, and I imagine the Panthers plan on using him as a third down pass rush specialist similar to Mario Addison. The Panthers then freshened up their LB depth, re-connecting Jermaine Carter with his Terp teammate DJ Moore and adding a potential weakside linebacker from down the road in Andre Smith to perhaps eventually succeed Thomas Davis. Kendrick Norton was an awesome pick late in the 7th round and should be an upgrade over Kyle Love as DT depth out the gate. The Panthers added Kyle Allen and a few guard prospects in undrafted free agency, and I would expect one of those guys to make the roster to become the next Andrew Norwell. Ultimately, DJ Moore and Donte Jackson help upgrade lukewarm position groups for the Panthers, and the rest of the draft is a smattering of good and bad with a pedestrian free agent class.

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - D (-813)

DE Marcus Davenport (-2)

WR Tre'Quan Smith (-50)

OT Rick Leonard (-493)

FS Natrell Jamerson (-14)

CB Kamrin Moore (-73)

RB Boston Scott (-191)

C Will Clapp (+10)

 

Notable UDFAs: RB D'Ernest Johnson, WR Keith Kirkwood, TE Deon Yelder, OG Cory Helms, DT Taylor Stallworth, CB Linden Stephens, FS Ermon Lane

 

I thought I was the biggest Marcus Davenport fan out there but boy, was I wrong! The Saints liked him so much that they used TWO first round picks on him. The Saints are in the twilight of Drew Brees' career, and not having a 2019 first rounder as ammunition for a replacement is a dagger for future sustainabillity. I firmly believe Marcus Davenport is going to be an awesome NFL player, but this was a very short-sighted, chips to the middle of the table move. Tre'Quan Smith is a WR who I liked as a prospect, but the third round was a little rich for me. Then, it got worse. Rick Leonard was a player who I thought struggled terribly in the ACC this year and hopefully Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead never get hurt so Saints fans don't have to watch Leonard play. I understand that their front office got messages that if they didn't take him there, Leonard would have gone relatively soon afterward, but my goodness let him. The Saints followed this up by taking a player at perhaps their strongest position group on the roster in FS Natrell Jamerson, and despite his talent, when is he going to contribute with Marcus Williams, Vonn Bell, and Kurt Coleman ahead of him? Similar theme for Kamrin Moore. Boston Scott was one of my deep sleepers in this draft and landed in the perfect offense to augment his strengths, so I do like that pick a lot. Will Clapp was the only pick with a positive value attribution of the entire class. What saves this from being an F grade is a very good free agency group, specifically Deon Yelder and Taylor Stallworth, both of whom should earn a final roster spot. From having one of the all-time draft classes last year to this, life comes at you fast.

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - C+ (-143)

DT Vita Vea (0)

RB Ronald Jones II (+1)

CB MJ Stewart (-57)

CB Carlton Davis (+10)

OG Alex Cappa (-13)

FS Jordan Whitehead (-23)

WR Justin Watson (-58)

LB Jack Cichy (-3)

 

Notable UDFAs: QB Austin Allen, RB Shaun Wilson, WR Ervin Phillips, TE Donnie Ernsberger, DE Antonio Simmons, LB Shaheed Salmon, FS Godwin Igwebuike

 

The Bucs and I seemed to have a very similar draft board for most of the draft, with very few reaches overall. So why only a C+? It starts with their first pick. Vita Vea could be the answer as the DT compliment they have been searching for next to Gerald McCoy since McCoy arrived, but this pick should have been Derwin James. James was a top five talent on my board in the team's biggest position of need and most importantly, was the alpha that this secondary desperately yearned for. Vea is now in an uncomfortable spot amongst Bucs fans, as they will compare the two players' NFL production for the rest of their career and the way Vea plays as a hole clogger, they won't see the sacks to warrant the selection. Ronald Jones was better suited as a complimentary NFL back, but will now have to be the feature runner for the Bucs. To clarify, I think he'll be a successful player, but I'm not sure if his body will hold up with 15+ carries across a 16 game regular season as the workhorse. MJ Stewart was a reach for a team who already has a nickel CB in Vernon Hargreaves (sorry fam, he's better slotted inside in the NFL) and Calrton Davis gives them some size on the boundary to match up against some of the bigger WRs in the division. Alex Cappa is the second-coming of Ali Marpet and hopefully he can earn the starting right guard spot out of preseason. Jordan Whitehead was a redundant pick since they already have an ascending Justin Evans slotted at the FS spot, and Whitehead is too sleight to play on the strong side. Justin Watson is a nice player, but probably a little overdrafted in round five. Jack Cichy is an enormous talent but I would be shocked if he's not out of the league by the time his rookie contract expires due to durability concerns. Following the draft, rather than bringing in a strong safety, they added yet another free safety in Godwin Igwebuike, and outside of Shaun Wilson, it's unlikely any of the guys challenge for a roster spot. Overall, the Bucs draft class is the same as the performance of Zsa Zsa the parrot - underwhelming.

 

 

 

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