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2015 NFL Draft Grades: NFC South

May 3, 2015

Atlanta Falcons

Pre-draft analysis: The Falcons have one of the best skill position groups of any team in the NFL with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White. They lost Tony Gonzalez last year and Harry Douglas this offseason though so their strength isn’t what it once was. They have a mediocre offensive line, a terrible defensive line, an underrated linebacker corp and a young but talented secondary.

Best Impact Pick: Vic Beasley-At #8 he isn’t great value to me, some would disagree, but he’s a perfect fit as the Falcons were 2nd to last in sacks last year and haven’t had a top notch pass rushers since John Abraham left them a few years ago. He should start from Day 1 and give some speed and athleticism to their pass rush.

Best Value Pick: Grady Jarrett-He was a late 2nd/early 3rd round type on my board with very good athleticism and production to counter his mediocre size. I was shocked he was available in the 5th round and fully agree with the Falcons strategy to trade multiple picks to move up for him.

Worst Value Pick: Jake Rodgers-He was a 6th round pick so I’m nitpicking here but I didn’t see any great value in this pick, especially considering La’el Collins was still on the board.

Overall: The Falcons had one of the best drafts of any team this year. They’ve had a very good offense for years yet haven’t been able to get over the hump in the postseason due to a habitually mediocre defense. Adding two potential impact starters on the DL in Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett as well as a big time talent at CB in Jalen Collins should net them 2 immediate starters, Jarrett might need a little time, and a third very quickly. Also I like how they focused on defense but when good value was available at need spots they took them. They needed any position on the OL, a RB and a #3 WR on offense and came away with two of the three with Tevin Coleman and Justin Hardy. Coleman immediately starts for them and was my #4 RB so getting him in the 3rd round was a steal. Hardy I’m not as high on but they got him at an appropriate point in the draft and he should be a solid #3 WR for them. Overall they filled needed, never reached on picks and probably had the best first 5 picks of any team in the draft. A+

 

Carolina Panthers

Pre-draft analysis: The Panthers won their division last year and have one of the better young quarterbacks in the game but they have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Their offensive line is atrocious center Ryan Kalil being the only player that would be an obvious starter on another team’s roster. The receiving corp basically is Kelvin Benjamin and no one else. Their linebacking corp has the best 1-2 punch in all of football but could use a third guy as AJ Klein isn’t the long term answer. Their cornerback group got a temporary boost with Charles Tillman added but this could be his last year. Their safety group is mediocre across the board but has good depth so an impact starter is needed but a late round pick wouldn’t be too helpful. Finally their DL is young and talented with Charles Johnson, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei but Kony Ealy appears to be more of a rotational DE than an obvious starter. They might feel differently though on the recent 2nd round selection.

Best Impact Pick: Shaq Thompson-I had a 2nd round grade on him so I thought his selection at #25 was a bit of a reach but I still sort of like the pick as he can learn the position next to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and was the most natural playmaker in this linebacker class.

Best Value Pick: Daryl Williams-Some would say this is a steal in the 4th round but I’d just say it was good value. He projects to me as a quality OG but some liked him as a RT and word is that Williams will start there initially. The Panthers have to be hoping he starts for them as a rookie as this is probably the worst depth chart in the league at both OT and OG so if he can’t start in Carolina, he can’t start anywhere.

Worst Value Pick: Devin Funchess-Not only was it a reach, and a huge one to me, but they traded away a ton of picks to move up for him. I get that Newton isn’t a good quarterback in terms of reading coverages but is good at throwing the back shoulder throw so you need to surround him with bigger wideouts but I think Funchess will be a bust. I had a 5th round grade on him and they took him in the 2nd round (41st Overall) so we’ll see how it shapes out.

Overall: This was a poor draft overall as the Panthers have needs everywhere and it just seemed like they reached a lot or drafted at positions that weren’t exactly need areas. I think the Panthers have a culture that values the RB and LB positions. That doesn’t sit well with me as a scout, they are two of the easier positions to fill, and also doesn’t sit well with me when reviewing their depth chart. With Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whitaker, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis they didn’t need to spend quality picks on the two positions but did anyway with 1st and 5th round picks on LB and a 5th round pick on RB. They only had 5 picks in all due to the Funchess trade up, another dubious decision, so to use 60% of them on non-need positions strikes me as odd. Also 3 of their 5 draft selections were reaches per my board. D+

 

New Orleans Saints

Pre-draft analysis: The Saints are in salary cap hell so they need a lot of young, cheap talent on both sides of the ball so they can weather the storm and not jettison anymore elite talent ala Jimmy Graham. The strategy to me is a lot of trading down and getting good value across the roster, no matter the position.

Best Impact Pick: Andrus Peat-Many scouts did not agree but I had Peat as the #1 OT on my board all year. He is kind of a Jake Long type in that he’s a better run blocker than pass blocker but has enough size, length and athleticism to stay at LT long term. The Saints have a rotating door at OL with Grubbs out, Unger in but didn’t seem that bad off at OL so it is a little surprising that they went OL with their first pick. Nonetheless Peat should start somewhere immediately and be a quality starter in Year 1 and a potential Pro Bowler down the road.

Best Value Pick: PJ Williams-He was an early 2nd rounder on my board and appeared to be one of only 6 cornerbacks in this draft that could start immediately so to get him in the 3rd round was a steal.

Worst Value Pick: Stephone Anthony-I think Anthony is talented but when Saints traded away Jimmy Graham for Max Unger and a 1st round pick I suspect they were hoping for more than this. I don’t see Anthony as being a Pro Bowler down the road and think they will regret the trade and this draft pick as it seemed like a reach.

Overall: I did not like this draft as there was no rhyme or reason to any of it. I thought they’d trade back quite a lot yet never did it once, actually they even traded up into the 6th round at one point. I didn’t see OT as a need area so staying at #13 for Andrus Peat seemed a bit odd, good value though I’ll admit, and was even stranger when one pick later the Chargers gave up a lot to move up for Melvin Gordon. So basically I know there was a trade on the table for the Saints to move back only 6 spots, net additional picks, and then possibly draft a player at a bigger need area than OT. In the end they passed on the opportunity and then went about reaching for players like Anthony, Hau’oli Kikaha, and Garrett Grayson. To come out of this draft with an OT and QB in your first four picks again gives me pause as this roster needs young talent almost everywhere except those two spots yet you drafted them anyway. Sometimes sticking to your draft board isn’t logical and I think that this was one of those times. C-

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pre-draft analysis: Their 2014 offseason additions have all been purged and with it any hope of being a playoff team in 2015. This draft is all about finding franchise building blocks to join the new era Bucs of Mike Evans, Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy.

Best Impact Pick: Jameis Winston-He, Kevin White, Amari Cooper, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are my top 5 picks for 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Winston should beat out Mike Glennon immediately and has three very talented pass catchers to throw to in Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. I saw him as that rare franchise QB and fully expect him to be a 12-15 year starter.

Best Value Pick: Donovan Smith-He was a mid 1st rounder on my board so to get him in the 2nd round was a steal. I had him higher graded than Cedric Ogbuehi and DJ Humphries, both of whom went in the 1st round.

Worst Value Pick: Ali Marpet-He wasn’t a huge reach in the late 2nd round but with Hroniss Grasu still on the board I question it a little bit. Marpet is a great story but Grasu was an All Pac-12 player for multiple years and is the rare guy that can probably match Marpet’s athleticism. We shall see which is the better player in 3 years.

Overall: I loved the Bucs draft and can’t tell you how underrated it was that they took Winston at #1 Overall. Yes he is a former Heisman winner and they had a huge need at QB but there was a lot of crap that Winston threw on their lap and instead of caving to public pressure they stayed the course the entire time and let it be known that Winston probably was going to be their guy. I think that’s important as they quietly did it right from the get go so that fans could be more comfortable with it. If they had started on Mariota or Leonard Williams and then moved toward Winston days or weeks before the draft I think the mood of the community would have been different. Winston is a dumbass but he’s a franchise QB and you have to roll the dice on him. Now they have arguably the best young QB/WR duo in the league and added quality OT and C prospects to help along that young, talented offense. A-

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