Atlanta Falcons: DE, DT, OG, C, TE, CB
For a playoff team several years running, the Atlanta Falcons have a lot more holes to fill than you might think. Don’t forget, they gave up picks to get WR Julio Jones two seasons ago since they didn’t want to pony up for the better overall athlete and more polished A.J. Green. That trade with Cleveland turned out just fine for Atlanta as Julio has developed into quite a nice weapon, but at what cost?
The team needs at least one pass rusher to take heat off of aging John Abraham. They need a DT to help a soft underbelly against the run last season and a center since they’re using Peter Konz as a guard. Center Todd McClure turned 36 two days ago, so some depth behind him would be ideal at some point in the draft. Asante Samuel at CB is rapidly declining and needs to have some backup.
Lastly, the greatest tight end in NFL history is retiring and nobody in the draft can truly replace him but the time to develop someone is now.
Carolina Panthers: DT, CB, WR, FS, OG, RT
The interior of the Carolina Panthers’ defensive line is horrific. Their best defensive tackle, Ron Edwards, can’t stay healthy. The team has been beset with more than their share of injuries over the past few seasons and they need not one but two solid DTs hopefully in the draft and/or finding a UFA gem someplace. Sione Fua had an entire 5 tackles in 13 game appearances and should be cut, leaving D’Wan Edwards as the only tackle that has any skill and experience from last season’s group, and he’s better suited as a situational player and backup. Recent signee Colin Cole is a block-absorber not a playmaker, but could make things a bit easier on last year’s rookie sensation, MLB Luke Kuechly, if he can command double-teams. I haven’t seen that ability in the tackle though.
Chris Gamble has probably played his last game as a Panther and Captain Munnerlyn is a weak #2 corner. Josh Norman, a rising 2nd year player, has potential but a second decent corner would be welcome in Charlotte.
However, these days the front seven and a pass rush is much more effective than having good cover corners as the Dallas Cowboys proved last year. Due to the liberal passing rules, there just are no shutdown-type corners in the league anymore, so unless you can get a top talent it isn’t wise to reach too far in the attempt. I’d rather see some youth at the DT spot with the first or second-round pick and let Fua go packing. Time to close the book on him.
WR Steve Smith has lost a step and his days as an explosive WR seem to be waning if his drop in production last year is any indication. The Panthers have some talent at WR but mostly as depth with no real heir apparent to Smith’s top status. They might look to bolster that position with their top pick, depending on how the board looks on draft day.
As for the offensive line, Matt Kalil is great if he can stay healthy and the same to a lesser degree for Jordan Gross at LT, but the other three spots could still use help. If 2nd round pick in 2012 Amini Silatolu can make strides at LG, perhaps GM Gettleman can focus more on the strong side of the line.
For that matter, if Gettleman makes some good decisions on draft day, most of the areas the Panthers have big needs are the areas where the draft is deep – the offensive and defensive lines. More evidence the Panthers would do well to trade down.
The need for an upgrade at FS has been no secret and it remains a glaring weakness.
New Orleans Saints: CB, S, DT, DE, OLB, OL depth
The Saints have two average DTs, but no real force in the middle and could use a difference maker. DE Cameron Jordan is on the upswing of a young career while his bookend is slowly beginning the downside of his…Will Smith. Due to the nature of their offense, they need bodies to rush the passer on the outside to rotate and keep fresh.
They’ve got an above-average offensive line for the style of ball they play but could use an offensive tackle to push the others and see spot duty and for depth.
In the secondary, a playmaking FS would be a good upgrade as well. They could really use a coverage corner, and a guy like Mississippi State’s Jonathan Banks could be their top target at 16 overall.
Interestingly enough, three NFC South foes draft back to back to back…13, 14, and 15. Will that factor in? Remains to be seen.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB, FS, DE, DT, WR, OG
The interior DL is a mess. Gerald McCoy, a former first-round pick, has 9 career sacks in 3 seasons and was a top-5 pick because he was supposed to be a disruptive slasher in the backfield. The next pick in that draft was Brian Price, now a Dallas Cowboy. 2011′s top pick, DE Adrian Claiborne, had a promising rookie season but last year was derailed by injury so they could use depth there – especially after the arrest of Da’Quan Bowers for gun possession at LaGuardia airport in New York.
MLB Mason Foster is nothing particularly special, but the Bucs rush defense was stout overall so they’ll keep him there. When Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks went down, the lack of depth there was pronounced. They haven’t even drafted a guard since 2007. FS Ronde Barber will be 38 in April and a replacement should be found to take over starting duties this season.
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