NFL Draft Grades: NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Best pick: DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson (2nd round, 19th pick)

I absolutely love this pick!  Bowers, who I thought was the best player in this draft at one point, dropped precipitously because of a supposed knee injury.  While sources have confirmed that there is some type of knee injury, details have been sketchy at best.  What I do know is that each team had their doctor(s) check out that knee in-depth.  One doctor who checked it out and declared it good to go was the very respected Dr. James Andrews.  That’s good enough for me.

Disregarding the knee injury for a second, Bowers is an athletic freak.  He’s a huge pass rushing left defensive end in the mold of Julius Peppers and Mario Williams.  Those type of players are extremely rare.  I think teams were also a little surprised he didn’t work out better (cough 40 time cough), but you have to remember this guy is 280 pounds.  He’s not going to blaze a 4.6 forty and he shouldn’t be moved down draft boards because he didn’t.  The Bucs’ top need was a pass rusher, and they got one of the best ones in this draft…  in the 2nd round.

Questionable move: DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa (1st round, 20th pick)

Like I said above, the Bucs’ top need was a pass rusher.  As such, I expected them to take a defensive end in the 1st round, and they did.  I just didn’t expect that end to be Clayborn.  He’s a poor fit for the 4-3 defense and he’s really more of a run stopper than a pass rusher.  He would probably profile better as a 5-technique in a 3-4.  Still, he’s a solid player who will certainly hold down the fort in the run game and accumulate a handful of sacks each season.

Third-day gem: TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee (4th round, 7th pick)

Great value in the 4th round.  In a weak tight end crop, Stocker was one of the best, and probably the most polished.  He’s not an explosive athlete and he’s not overly fast or a great leaper.  What he is is a very solid receiver with good hands and run after the catch ability.  He’s also a very solid blocker.  He’s not going to be a star, but he could be a very solid starter.

Overall: I really like this draft.  No, I wasn’t 100% sold on the Clayborn pick, but he and Bowers should form an excellent young defensive line with second year tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price.  I also loved the Mason Foster pick in round 3.  He’s going to be a very good 4-3 linebacker and fits their scheme well.  Ahmad Black in the 5th was solid value as well.  His size doesn’t scare me like I think it did most teams.  They hit all of their major needs and got good value along the way.

Grade: A

Carolina Panthers

Best pick(s): DT Terrell McClain, South Florida (3rd round, 1st pick) and DT Sione Fua, Stanford (3rd round, 33rd pick)

I’ve always been a big proponent of building teams from the front back.  Good lines can mask a lot of other problems, make good players behind them look great, etc.  The Panthers didn’t really have any starting caliber tackles on their roster, so these were good choices.  McClain is a good penetrator and Fua is strong as an ox and can tie up blockers.  They should immediately help the talented young ends on the Panthers’ roster.

Questionable move: QB Cam Newton, Auburn (1st round, 1st pick)

I’m not going to beat this into the ground anymore, but needless to say I don’t like this pick.  For me, when we are talking about the quarterback position, accuracy, football IQ and leadership abilities all trump arm strength, athletic ability, speed and size.  Newton is sorely lacking in the first group of qualities, but excels in the latter group.  That’s not the kind of man I want leading my team, but that’s simply my opinion.  If I were making this pick, I would have gone with a safer player like DL Marcell Dareus.

Third-day gem: OL Lee Ziemba, Auburn (7th round, 41st pick)

He’s not a left tackle, and he might not even be a right tackle, but he’s a talented lineman who is going to start somewhere along the line at the next level.  He’s a big, strong man who has a ton of experience against top-level competition.  He might end up at guard, but I think he’s a starting lineman somewhere.  At worst, he’s a very solid backup.

Overall: Outside of Newton, I’m actually a pretty big fan of this draft.  I liked the two tackles in the 2nd and 3rd rounds and I loved OLB Lawrence Wilson in the 6th.  I’m not a huge Brandon Hogan fan, but he was a solid value in the 4th.  Some nice pieces here.  Unfortunately, the high probability of failure with Newton at the #1 overall pick drags their grade down.

Grade: B-

Atlanta Falcons

Best pick: ILB Akeem Dent, Georgia (3rd round, 27th pick)

He’s a little on the small side and might need to move outside, but I’m ok with that.  He’s got very good speed, especially in coverage, and can work sideline to sideline.  Top notch intangibles and is a great leader.  An excellent addition to the defense and should pair well with last year’s top pick, LB Sean Weatherspoon.

Questionable move: Trading up for WR Julio Jones

Don’t get me wrong, I like Julio Jones a lot and the Falcons did need a second receiver to prevent constant double-teams on Roddy White.  But with the amount of picks the Falcons gave up to move up to the 6th spot, it gives the impression that they think they are one player away from a Super Bowl.  In my opinion, they are not.  The trade came off a bit desperate and I think they will regret it in time.

Third-day gem: DE Cliff Matthews, South Carolina (7th round, 27th pick)

This is one spot the Falcons definitely needed help.  John Abraham is nearing the end of his career and there’s really very little in terms of pass rush on the roster past him.  Matthews might not be an elite athlete, but he’s a high motor guy, a hard worker and shows some potential to be a starting defensive end at the NFL level.  He might not be a double-digit sack guy, but he’s got some solid pass rush moves and possesses the ability to get pressure on the quarterback.

Overall: I’m somewhat split on this draft.  On one hand, I like the Dent pick, and the selections of Matthews and G Andrew Jackson in the 7th round.  I’m not crazy about RB Jacquizz Rodgers, but he could be a solid third down back.   On the other hand, I was not a fan of the trade up to get Jones and wasting a 6th round pick on a kicker who probably won’t even make the roster was a poor decision.

Grade: C+

New Orleans Saints

Best pick: LB Martez Wilson, Illinois (3rd round, 8th pick)

I’m not sure exactly where this guy fits, but he’s a very good player with a lot of projection left.  He’s big and fast and hits like a ton of bricks.  He’s extremely versatile and flashes some nice pass rush ability.  Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will find lots of ways to use him.

Questionable move: Trading up for Mark Ingram

This is a pick that’s bothered me and I’ll explain why.  First off, I like Mark Ingram.  I don’t think he’s a superstar, but I think he’ll be a solid back who can take a high number of carries per game.  Do I think he was worthy of a first round pick?  No.  Do I think he was worth what the Saints traded (next year’s 1st rounder, this year’s 2nd rounder) to move up and get him?  No.  So I don’t like the pick in and of itself.

But that’s not it.  People have painted this pick as the “writing on the wall”, if you will, for Reggie Bush.  Now, I’ve been as big a Bush basher as there is in the world.  He clearly was not worth the 1st overall pick and is considerably overpriced.  However, if you think it’s a coincidence that the Saints have had trouble scoring points when he’s injured, you’re in denial.  He’s not a great runner, but his receiving ability out of the backfield and the slot is what makes this offense go.  The Saints should think long and hard before they simply cut him loose.

Third-day gem: DE Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh (7th round, 23rd pick)

An excellent value in the 7th round, Romeus fell because of some injury concerns (herniated disc, torn ACL).  However, he’s a top-notch talent.  He’s got very good pass rushing skills and more than holds his own against the run.  If completely healthy, he’s got the potential to be a starting 4-3 defensive end.  An excellent pick.

Overall: Outside of the trade up for Ingram, I really liked their draft.  I don’t think DE Cameron Jordan is a great fit for their defensive, but he’s a very good player and was an excellent value where they picked him.  Wilson and CB Johnny Patrick in the 3rd round were both very good values and I liked Romeus in the 7th.  They could have used some offensive line help, but they did a good job of staying true to their board and getting good value.

Grade: B+

Next up: AFC South

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