NFL DRAFT REVIEW: AFC NORTH
By Simon Carroll
The NFL Draft is in the books. And whilst it is far too early to assign grades to these draft classes we can analyse how they have affected team’s rosters, and the divisional outlooks ahead of the upcoming season.
We continue this series with a look at the NFC South:
|4||119||Mykal Walker||LB||Fresno State|
After all the pre-draft buzz about making a splash and trading up in the first round, the Falcons draft was in the end relatively sedate. Fans might not be overwhelmed with the selection of AJ Terrell at sixteen, but ultimately if he’s the corner that Dimitroff wanted and they couldn’t find a dance partner to move back then you take your guy. Terrell has the length and competitiveness to replace the departed Desmond Trufant from day one.
As expected the defensive line was the next area of focus. Davidson is a versatile piece who lined up on the edge for Auburn but projects to kick inside a lot more in the NFL. Whatever technique he comes from, he’ll be able to get after the quarterback – a much needed commodity for The Falcons. After a total rebuild of the offensive line last year, Matt Hennessy comes in as a backup on the interior who is likely the long-term replacement for the aging Alex Mack. A tad undersized, Hennessy is hugely competitive and will be a fan favourite in Atlanta.
There were some interesting late round additions for the Falcons too. Jaylinn Hawkins brings a level of aggression bordering on reckless. He’s been ejected multiple times for targeting at Cal but will aide a defense that has accused of being soft before, particularly in Keanu Neal’s absence. And the 7th round selection of Hofrichter likely signals the end of Matt Bosher’s career in Atlanta.
|2||38||Yetur Gross-Matos||EDGE||Penn State|
|2||64||Jeremy Chinn||S||Southern Illinois|
|4||113||Troy Pride||CB||Notre Dame|
|5||152||Kenny Robinson||S||West Virginia|
|7||221||Stantley Thomas-Oliver||CB||Florida International|
In what is likely going to be a rebuild year in Carolina, the Matt Rhule era began with a draft focused entirely on defense. The losses of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe on the defensive line meant that tackle was a priority, and in Derrick Brown they got the best in the draft. Dominant against the run or the pass, Brown will be a terror in the NFC South. They also found some pass rush from the edge in Yetur Gross-Matos. Potentially a first rounder that slipped to day two, YGM makes a fearsome tandem with the impressive Brian Burns. This new-look defensive front could be devastating.
The secondary became the focus after the first two picks. The ultra-physical Jeremy Chinn could operate the hybrid LB/S role very much in vogue in the NFL right now. And in Troy Pride and former XFL star Kenny Robinson the Panthers added some much-needed athleticism to their back end. All these picks possess high upside but likely will need some time to acclimate to the next level. For a team not expected to challenge in 2020, allowing this defense some time to develop shouldn’t be a problem.
The lack of even one addition to the offense may have taken some Panthers fans by surprise. But between Rhule and the creative Joe Brady they should have more than enough tricks up their sleeves to get the best out of Teddy Bridgewater, CMC and co. Interesting times ahead for Carolina.
New Orleans Saints
|7||240||Tommy Stevens||QB||Mississippi State|
A New Orleans brewery was the location of the smallest haul in this year’s class. But it seems the beer didn’t go to the heads of Mickey Loomis or Sean Payton, who got terrific value with each of their first three picks. With a stacked roster The Saints were able to focus on best player available at each juncture. Cesar Ruiz was the standout interior lineman in this class, and can play center or guard. Despite Andrus Peat re-signing expect to see the always busy Ruiz make the field as a rookie, likely at right guard in place of Larry Warford.
No second round pick? No problem for this team, who arguably got top fifty value with both of their third round selections. Zack Baun was a borderline first round prospect until he returned a diluted drug test sample at the combine. Whether you believe the excuse of excessive fluid intake for weight reasons or not, nobody can deny the steal for The Saints as he fell to the third round. His versatility will see him line up all over the front seven in Dennis Allen’s creative defense.
Adam Trautman, for me, was the best receiving tight end in the draft. He showed his ability to compete with the elite talent at the senior bowl despite hailing from a small school, and immediately offers a high-end backup to Jared Cook. The interesting story of how Payton usurped The Panthers for Tommy Stevens brought a cheeky end to a small but successful draft for The Saints, who are very much Super Bowl ready.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|2||45||Antoine Winfield Jr||S||Minnesota|
Is it time for Bucs fans to get excited? Wonder all you want about how much Tom Brady has left in the tank – Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay front office are all in. Fresh off swinging a trade for Rob Gronkowski, they give their new quarterback better protection up front and a running game to lean on. Jason Licht had to jump up a spot to get their man, costing them a fourth rounder. But out of all the tackles to fall within their range they will be delighted it was Wirfs. He’s proficient in run blocking and pass protection, and is an immediate upgrade on Joe Haeg on the right side.
Brady was given a chain mover on day three in Tyler Johnson, a guy who can play inside or outside and has the consistent play-making ability reminiscent of Julian Edelman. And with Ronald Jones failing to impress the last couple of years, adding Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Raymond Calais (likely a special teamer) it at least shows a dedication ton establishing the run.
Some late-round picks added depth on defense, but out of all this draft class the selection of Antoine Winfield should get fans the most excited. What was a suspect secondary has been transformed the last two years into a young and promising unit. Winfield has the ability to play strong, free or split-safety and even moonlight as a slot corner. His ball-playing skills add a touch of panache to this defense.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.