After examining one of the most polarizing divisions as terms as the draft is concerned, it’s time to look at a much quieter division: the NFC South. This will be a very tight division next season; these draft classes will be critical to deciding the outcome, especially since the two-time reigning division champ Saints did not have a first or third-round pick. So, who in this quiet, yet impressive division made the most progress through the draft? Let’s take a closer look.
Full Draft (With Grade)
Round 1, Pick 14: G Chris Lindstrom, Boston College (B)
Round 1, Pick 31: OT Kaleb McGary, Washington (D+)
Round 4, Pick 111: CB Kendall Sheffield, Ohio State (B+)
Round 4, Pick 135: DE John Cominsky, Charleston (B)
Round 5, Pick 152: RB Qadree Ollison, Pittsburgh (B)
Round 5, Pick 172: CB Jordan Miller, Washington (B)
Round 6, Pick 203: WR Marcus Green, Memphis (B)
After Matt Ryan was sacked 2.6 times per game, 12th in the NFL, upgrading the offensive line was a clear priority for the Falcons heading into the draft. They double-dipped on the offensive trenches with their first two picks, starting with the selection of guard Chris Lindstrom with the 14th overall selection. Lindstrom is not a flashy prospect, but he’s a sturdy, tough interior offensive lineman that should help protect Ryan while also opening up running lanes. Guard was a huge need, even after the signings of Jamon Brown and James Carpenter, so I have no problem with them taking Lindstrom here, even though he was probably a reach this early in the draft. I do have a problem, however, with them trading back into the first round to draft Washington tackle Kaleb McGary. McGary is an unpolished prospect, and probably shouldn’t be counted on to contribute right away. He would have been a nice selection in round two, but to sacrifice substantial draft capital to move up for him, when offensive linemen Jawaan Taylor and Cody Ford were still on the draft board, makes zero sense. They should have definitely waited to see how the beginning of round two played out at least, before assessing the need to trade up for McGary; bypassing better offensive line prospects to select a player they may still have landed in the second round, or by making a smaller trade-up, is quite peculiar.
The Falcons surrendered their second and third round selections to get an extra first-round pick to select McGary, so their next selection did not come until the fourth round, where they had two picks. With their first fourth-round pick, they selected one of the best overall athletes in this draft in Ohio State cornerback Kendall Sheffield. Sheffield’s athleticism gives him a relatively high upside, but he’s unpolished and suffered a pectoral injury; he’s a project. John Cominsky comes with a high motor, and although he won’t be an impact starter, he provides depth on the defensive front. Running back Qadree Ollison was a bit of a reach, considering he was projected as a seventh-round pick at best, but his power running style complements DeVonta Freeman and Ito Smith so perfectly, that it was worth reaching for. Meanwhile, the addition of cornerback Jordan Miller in the fifth round adds more insurance to the secondary, while sixth-round pick Marcus Green should be a special teams returner at worst with the upside to a versatile offensive piece.
The Falcons didn’t have a stellar draft, but they definitely added depth and strengthened the offensive line. However, I can’t forgive them for sacrificing substantial draft capital for McGary, especially when there were better options were available; a “C+” recognizes the holes filled but penalizes them for what was one of the worst selections in the first round.
Full Draft (With Grade)
Round 1, Pick 16: EDGE Brian Burns, Florida State (A)
Round 2, Pick 37: OT Greg Little, Ole Miss (C+)
Round 3, Pick 100: QB Will Grier, West Virginia (B+)
Round 4, Pick 115: OLB Christian Miller, Alabama (A)
Round 5, Pick 154: RB Jordan Scarlett, Flordia (C)
Round 6, Pick 212: OT Dennis Daley, South Carolina (B+)
Round 7, Pick 237: WR Terry Godwin, Georgia (A-)
Coming into the draft, the Panthers had two major needs: offensive tackle and a pass rusher. In the first round, the team chose to address the latter by selected Florida State edge rusher Brian Burns. Burns likely will be more of a rotational pass rusher at first, but he has the potential to accumulate double digit sacks on an annual basis, and would’ve easily been a top ten pick in many other drafts. He should develop into a franchise building block for the Panthers defense, and landing him with the 16th overall selection was excellent value for Carolina.
In the second round, the Panthers traded up to address their other major need; they selected Ole Miss tackle Greg Little. Little lacked consistency in college and probably shouldn’t be relied upon to be an instant contributor, but he could definitely develop into a franchise tackle for the team if developed properly. Still, they could have benefited from the versatility of a player like Cody Ford, and there’s a decent chance Little could end up not panning out; this is a decent pick, but not a great pick. Then, in the third round, Carolina made an interesting selection: quarterback Will Grier. Grier was projected to be drafted much earlier then it was, so this could be a case where the value was too hard to pass up. At the same time, Grier does actually have a role on this team; he provides insurance for Cam Newton if the former MVP’s rehab from his shoulder injury doesn’t progress. A safety such as Chauncey Gardner-Johnson seemed like a perfect fit for this team, but I can’t fault them from acquiring a very capable backup quarterback at this point in the draft.
To possibly complement Burns for the future, Carolina drafted Alabama outside linebacker Christian Miller. Miller is a versatile piece who can be used in a variety of ways; he and Burns can be potential cornerstones of this defense. I didn’t understand selecting running back Jordan Scarlett in the fifth round; he has character issues and lacks the receiving ability to thrive in this offense. However, the team’s last two selections, offensive tackle Dennis Daley (sixth round) and wide receiver Terry Godwin (seventh round) at least provide depth and could develop into starters down the line, which is tremendous value on day three.
I didn’t love the decision to trade up for Little, but the Panthers nailed this draft outside of that selection. Burns and Miller should become key pieces of the defense, while Grier, Daley, and Godwin are all solid depth pieces that could become starters if needed to be. This draft should provide Carolina with an excellent foundation to win immediately and in the future that they should be able to build upon.
New Orleans Saints
Full Draft (With Grade)
Round 2, Pick 48: C Erik McCoy, Texas A&M (B-)
Round 4, Pick 105: S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida (A+)
Round 6, Pick 177: S Saquan Hampton, Rutgers (B)
Round 7, Pick 231: TE Alize Mack, Notre Dame (B+)
Round 7, Pick 244: OLB Kaden Elliss, Idaho (B)
After trading away their first-round pick this year in the trade-up for Marcus Davenport last season, the Saints needed to be creative to add some pieces to their team, though most of their work needed to be down to address future needs than immediate needs. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising to see them trade up to select a player they coveted in the second round, though it was surprising to see the price they paid (2020 second round pick) and who they selected (center Erik McCoy). However, just because it was surprising doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make sense; with Max Unger retiring, Andres Peat struggling and being a pending free agent, and Nick Easton being injury prone, the interior of the offensive line was a major future need for the team. This is a team that has constantly won by building through the trenches, and McCoy should definitely be a franchise building block on the offensive front, even if his immediate role is unknown.
In the fourth round, the Saints traded up once again to possibly select the steal of the entire draft, Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Gardner-Johnson was seen as early day two prospect, so getting him on day three alone is great value. With tremendous versatility, ball skills, range, and an all-around skill set, he also will most likely become a key piece of New Orleans’ defense long-term. The team selected another safety in the sixth round in Saquan Hampton, who at worst is a special teams contributor, but has the college resume to prove to be worth more than a sixth-round pick. Tight end Alize Mack in the seventh-round is an incredibly under the radar selection that should not go unnoticed; his upside is tremendous given his athletic profile, and with proper guidance with quarterback Drew Brees and offensive guru Sean Payton, he could at least become a solid #2 tight end for the team in the future. To wrap the draft up, seventh-round pick Kaden Ellis may not make the team, but even he is a solid pick given his versatility as a linebacker.
The Saints didn’t have many picks, but they definitely continued to build upon an impressive core of young players. Though these players may not contribute right away, at least their top two selections should be franchise building blocks, while their other three selections at least could become decent depth pieces.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Full Draft (With Grade)
Round 1, Pick 5: LB Devin White, LSU (B+)
Round 2, Pick 39: CB Sean Bunting, Central Michigan (C+)
Round 3, Pick 94: CB Jamel Dean, Auburn (B-)
Round 3, Pick 99: DB Mike Edwards, Kentucky (C-)
Round 4, Pick 107: DL Anthony Nelson, Iowa (A)
Round 5, Pick 145: K Matt Gay, Utah (D)
Round 6, Pick 208: WR Scott Miller, Bowling Green (B+)
Round 7, Pick 215: DT Terry Beckner Jr., Missouri (A)
The Buccaneers had one of the league’s worst defenses in 2018, and after losing linebacker Kwon Alexander in free agency, the unit’s outlook for next season looked even worse. Though they had needs in the secondary and the pass rush, they definitely needed to find an adequate replacement for Alexander. By selecting rangy linebacker Devin White with the 5th overall selection, they not only replaced Alexander, but they got a massive upgrade and identified the new leader and face of the defense. Though taking an impact pass rusher such as Josh Allen or Ed Oliver may have represented more positional value, there’s no doubting that White will make an immediate impact; he’s a good fit for a unit that has practically been extinct the past couple seasons.
Continuing to address the defense, Tampa Bay added three new pieces to their secondary on day two. Western Michigan cornerback Sean Bunting wasn’t seen by many as a early second-round prospect, and passing on Greedy Williams to select him was definitely head-scratching, but at least they didn’t neglect to improve a pass defense that was atrocious last season. The same goes for the selection of cornerback Jamel Dean in the third round after they traded down with the Rams; he’s very athletic and could make an impact in the secondary, but edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson and defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones were both better defensive prospects available with their original selections. While Mike Edwards is a nice versatile piece to the defense, he doesn’t do anything particularly well, and his ceiling is similar to the floor of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who as mentioned fell to the division rival Saints in the fourth round. These three selections had a common theme with one another: right idea, wrong players.
With their fourth round selection, the Bucs finally added to their front four by drafting Iowa defensive lineman Anthony Nelson. His massive 6’7” frame gives him tremendous length, and although he doesn’t quite have ideal passing rushing skills at the moment, he should be able to fill in as a rotational piece on the defensive line while being groomed to eventually start as a 3-4 defensive end. Drafting a kicker in the fifth round may have been one of the worst decisions that any team made; with critical needs remaining on both sides of the ball, Tampa Bay was not in position to make this luxury pick, even if Matt Gay ends up being their franchise kicker; Cairo Santos was a fine option already under contract. The rest of the draft, however, was better. Receiver Scott Miller could emerge as Adam Humphries’ replacement in the slot, and he could even push for a starting gig right away. The selection of Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., once a top recruit with desirable athletic traits, in the seventh round is tremendous; he could become a starter for this defense if he can put his traits together, and if not, all that was wasted was a seventh-round pick.
The Buccaneers had the proper plan heading into the draft, which was to add as many defensive players as possible to help complement head coach Bruce Arians’ offense. However, they may have stayed too true to their draft board, and didn’t take advantage to select even better prospects at positions of need. Therefore, while this draft was fine, it failed to drastically impress.