The NFC South has produced the NFC representative in the Super Bowl for the past two years with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. And just like the last two years, this will be another year of highlight reel play from this division.
Atlanta are the top dogs following last year, but the big question is, how do they respond following that epic collapse in the Super Bowl? With Matt Ryan at quarterback and Dan Quinn as head coach, they should be set to make back to the playoffs despite losing offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to San Francisco.
Besides the Falcons, the biggest surprise was the fall of the Panthers. They went from playing in the Super Bowl to having a Top 10 pick the following year. Carolina needs to find their identity, as do the Saints. The Saints have mired in mediocrity since winning the Super Bowl in ’09. They can’t keep wasting Drew Brees’ ability. The intriguing team of the division is Tampa. After an ugly shakeup at head coach last offseason, the team seems to be all systems go under Dirk Koetter.
Here, is how things came to be in the NFC South over the 2017 NFL Draft…
Atlanta Falcons: B+
1.) Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
3.) Duke Riley, LB, LSU
4.) Sean Harlow, OG, Oregon St.
5.) Damontae Kazee, CB, San Diego St.
5b.) Brian Hill, RB, Wyoming
5c.) Eric Saubert, TE, Drake
Every pick here could contribute in someway in 2017. That is impressive. McKinley, had the most moving moment of the draft as he came on stage after being selected, holding a portrait of his grandmother, who he had promised on her deathbed that he would make it to the NFL. The Falcons got gassed in the Super Bowl, which makes McKinley a perfect fit. His motor never stops. Last year, the Falcons took Deion Jones, who had only started one year at LSU before starring for Atlanta. Riley, could be considered a clone. Harlow, could contribute sooner than later now that there is a whole open at guard. Hill, provides a reliable power back. Saubert, could emerge a starter a few years down the road.
Best pick: Damontae Kazee
The Falcons are set on the outsides, but needed help in the slot. Kazee, in the fifth-round was a steal. A three year starter for the Aztecs, Kazee displayed impressive ball skills totaling 16 interceptions over that time.
Carolina Panthers: C+
1.) Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
2.) Curtis Samuel, WR, Ohio St.
2b.) Taylor Moton, OT, Western Michigan
3.) Daeshon Hall, DE, Texas A&M
5.) Corn Elder, CB, Miami
6.) Alex Armah, FB, West Georgia
7.) Harrison Butker, K, Georgia Tech
McCaffrey to kickoff the Panthers weekend was a home run. He is a dynamic, Swiss army knife that can lineup all over the field. He’ll take a lot of pressure off of Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart. Samuel, is a very similar player to McCaffrey which was a head scratcher. Moton, is a versatile lineman, who could be a swing tackle or guard. The Panthers need to protect Cam Newton better. Hall, played opposite No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett, and was rather overshadowed. He will learn a lot behind Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers. Butker, could signal the end for Graham Gano.
Best pick: Corn Elder
Losing Josh Norman crushed the Panthers last year. Elder, can help move forward. Elder, is a competitive corner who can lineup in the slot. While he’s not the biggest, he displayed good ball skills, breaking up 23 passes the past two seasons.
New Orleans Saints: A+
1.) Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio St.
1b.) Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
2.) Marcus Williams, S, Utah
3.) Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
3b.) Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
3c.) Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic
6.) Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE, Miami
This may be my favorite draft class in the entire league. The Saints have been devoid of talent for awhile now, this injection of talent could really wake up the team. Lattimore, fell to them, because of injuries. If he can stay healthy, the Saints picked up a premier corner talent. Ramczyk, will be the bookend opposite Terron Armstead. Williams, will help the Saints get better after posting the 32nd ranked pass defense and allow them to run three safety packages. Anzalone, could become a starter if he stays healthy. He’s an athletic freak. Hendrickson, isn’t a flashy pass rusher, but he is an effective pass rusher. He had 23 sacks the past two seasons.
Best pick: Alvin Kamara
He was underused at Tennessee, which means he has a lot of tread left on his tires. Kamara, can return kicks, catch the ball out of the backfield, or be a change of pace running back. When your quarterback gets older, you support him with a strong rushing game. The Saints have done that.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A
1.) O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
2.) Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M
3.) Chris Godwin, WR, Penn St.
3b.) Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU
5.) Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise St.
7.) Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, DT, USC
The Bucs did a wonderful job here. Howard, fell and the Bucs couldn’t have been more happy. Evans, has a little growing to do. He looks for the knockout hit instead of wrapping up. He’ll be dynamic if he can improve his tackling. Godwin, is a tremendous talent. Remember when Allen Robinson came out to little fanfare, then became a Pro Bowler? Godwin, isn’t too far off. Beckwith, was an ascending talent until he tore his ACL late last year. If he can get back to where he was, this was a steal. McNichols, is a player. He’s not the biggest, but maximizes his ability in both the pass and run game. Tu’ikolovatu, is a two down run-stuffer.
Best pick: O.J. Howard
In today’s game it is rare that a complete prospect comes out of college, especially at tight end, but Howard is the real deal. He can block inline, he is a dangerous receiving threat who can stretch the seam. He is a special talent.