Yes, I’m fully aware I put the word EGO instead of ECO in the saying “Confessions of an Economic Hitman,” but it does better justice for business, so let’s roll with it. Today, as the title suggests, I’m going to give my thoughts, ramblings, and criticisms of the drafts by NFC South teams. Being a Falcons fan, I might hold them in a brighter light than the rest, but hey, homerisms are allowed after all. What do I know, though? I’m just a Southerner who likes rambling on sports, and has at least one window open to sports even when I’m “supposed” to be studying. What is “studying” anyway? I’m not familiar with that word. It must mean watch more sports. OK, OK, before I start rambling too much, let’s just get to the draft.
Best Pick: Jake Matthews (OT) – Protection (No, Corey, not the protection you’re thinking of) was one of the biggest needs, if not the biggest need for them, and Matthews helps provide that. More known as Manziel’s personal blocker at College Station, with the most NFL ready tackle at his disposal, Ryan should see his numbers go up from last year when the Falcons were 4-12 and had more injuries than Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall. With Julio Jones and Roddy White fully healthy, Matty Ice should return to borderline top 10 QB status, and the addition of Devonta Freeman (will discuss later) also helps the run game with the aging of Steven Jackson. If you look at the Falcons’s season, they were one possession away from winning multiple games, including ones against New Orleans, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and San Francisco. Matt Ryan’s interceptions were what killed them in most of those games, as he was forced to throw earlier than he would have liked, given no pass protection.
Worst Pick: Ra’Shede Hageman (DT) – Many people probably have Dez Southward as the worst pick, but I see Hageman as the worst pick, not due to positional need, but due to the fact that the more pressing need of DE needed to be addressed. Atlanta’s pass rush stank last season, and with Stephon Tuitt and Kony Ealy still available, the Falcons should have nabbed one of those two players instead of Hageman. Of course, the falcons defense needs an overhaul, and Hageman should help in stopping the run. It was more important, however, to nab a good pass rusher to go opposite Osi Umenyiora, as the Falcons honestly have no one. My worry with Hageman is he’s either 100% or 0% and has a tendency to give up if he’s slow off the block or behind in the play. When he’s on, however, he blows up RBs, QBs, and plays.
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Devonta Freeman (RB) – I like this pick for a number of reasons. Most notably due to the aging of Steven Jackson and the realization that Jacquizz Rodgers isn’t the future back in Atlanta. Freeman was top 10 last season at FSU in yards after contact, has great field vision, runs over defenders, and reaches top speed almost immediately. The downside to him is he’s 5’8, undersized for an ideal lead back, can get pushed around by bigger defenders, and doesn’t always bounce off defenders. The lack of size isn’t too big of a concern, as Maurice Jones-Drew is 5’7″ and Sproles is 5’6″, and they are still good backs in the NFL. Draft Freeman late, or as a handcuff to SJax, as I see Freeman taking a few carries away each game, and should SJax continue to decline or get injured, Freeman, not Rodgers or another back, would be the RB to own.
Best Pick: Kelvin Benjamin (WR) – The loss of Steve Smith to the Ravens and the lack of a true WR1 in Carolina set the stage for Benjamin to step in and contribute right away. Will he be the WR1 for Cam Newton this season? Maybe not immediately, but by midseason, you can put your money on it happening. At 6’5″ and a 4.61/40, Benjamin fits the mold of a WR1. He also had a whopping 15 TDs on a mere 54 receptions last season at FSU. He likely won’t end up being the best WR from this season’s draft, but he’s one with access to the most immediate playing time. Draft and enjoy, as I see the potential for seven TDs here.
Worst Pick: Trai Turner (OG) – Unless the Panthers expect Byron Bell or Nate Chandler to fill in left tackle for the retired Jordan Gross, they might turn to Turner to see if he can handle protecting Newton. Drafted as a guard, Turner may be forced into action as an OT if their left tackle position is an open door for defenders to knock around Newton.
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Kony Ealy (DE) – With the pillars of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy entrenched as the top 2 Des, Ealy won’t see time as a full-time DE immediately. He could, though, see time in 3 DE sets, and occasionally spell Chase Blackburn at weak side linebacker or Thomas Davis at strong side linebacker. In other words, the NFC South is in trouble, as the divisions nastiest defense just got nastier. Ealy could see his sack total approach 9.5 this season, given the Panthers will afford him every opportunity they can for him to be on the field.
New Orleans Saints
Best Pick: Brandin Cooks (WR) – One of the most talented receivers in this draft class, Cooks had a whopping 128 receptions and 1730 yards last season at Oregon State. A bit undersized at a shade over 5’9″, Cooks isn’t going to be your prototypical WR1, and fits the mold of a WR2 better, but he is fast (running a 4.33/40 at the Combine). Given the inconsistencies out of the Saints WR3 in recent years, look for Cooks to fill that bill and be a force in the Saints’s pass-heavy offense. The last thing the NFC South and NFC in general needed was another weapon for Brees. Look for Cooks to post 5 scores this season, and he is well worth a late round pick.
Worst Pick: Stan Jean-Baptiste (CB) – Baptiste – Saint. Those two words just go together. One of the more underrated CBs in the draft, SJB landed in a bad spot, as he is behind Champ Bailey and Kennan Lewis, both of whom are ballhawks. Add safety juggernaut Jairus Byrd to the mix and there just won’t be that many picks left over for Baptiste to get his hands on. More of a future starter, Baptiste will see limited time this season, unless injuries start hitting the Saints’s secondary. If there was ever such a thing as a cornerback handcuff, it would be advisable to cuff SJB to Bailey, given his age.
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: I’m aware of the notion that later round picks don’t typically contribute. Honestly, though, I don’t much care for it, and the Saints 5th round pick, Vinnie Sunseri (S), is a hard hitter. He is a White version (No, really, he is White) of Roman Harper, who was overshadowed by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at Alabama, and given the lack of talent at safety behind Kenny Vaccaro and Jairus Byrd. Sunseri could be on the field more than anticipated this season. The Saints look to be getting more aggressive in the secondary, and Sunseri could be the surprise contributor in the group. He will take a few seasons to fully develop, but the saints won’t be too shy about showing him the field, given their lack of depth at safety. Draft him as your final defensive player and see what happens. Interesting dynasty name to keep tabs on. Interesting fact – Vinnie’s brother, Tino, plays QB for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Best Pick: Mike Evans (WR) – Three of the four teams in the NFC South have great receiving cores that can beat ya a million different ways. The Bucs finally get a reliable, big bodied receiver to complement Vincent Jackson. Mike Evans is a man-child and a handful to cover. The most physical receiver in the draft, I view Evans as a bigger, more physical version of Wes Welker who can also get downfield, and plain snatch the ball from receivers. Corners and most safeties won’t be big enough to cover him, and linebackers will be too slow as Evans can move for his size (4.53/40, 6’4+”). Evans’s learning curve will be less steep with head coach Lovie Smith’s trust in the more accurate, better coverage reader, Josh McCown (now 34) at the helm, than with Mike Glennon while he still matures as an NFL QB (will start if McCown goes down). Gimme $100 on Evans posting 800+ yards and 7 scores this season. Evans will be McCown’s 2nd favorite target in the red zone behind VJax. See: McCown starting as the Bears QB when Cutler was hurt. More accurate than Jay Cutler, and should have been the Bears QB down the stretch last season.
Worst Pick: Kadeem Edwards (OG) – The Bucs needed an offensive guard, but waited until the 5th round to nab one. The offense could be directly correlated this season with how well their offensive guard need is filled to keep McCown upright. Edwards wasn’t that highly touted coming out of Tennessee State, and he’ll likely be in competition with Purdue’s Kevin Pamphile for a starting gig. Edwards will be given first crack, but if he falters, the Bucs pass game and offense could struggle this season, limiting the effectiveness of the WR duo in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. Bucs fans should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. If Tampa Bay struggles with guard play, the rest of the NFC South won’t complain, as the division is already loaded with 3 other powerhouse teams.
Sleeper Fantasy Contributor: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE) – One of the best TEs in the draft, Seferian-Jenkins should be able to step in right away and contribute as a tight end in Tampa Bay. He isn’t of the pedigree of Ebron, nor does he have as good of hands as Jace Amaro, but ASJ is in a great situation in Tampa Bay, as he’ll be the 3rd best receiver on the Tampa Bay team that should be pass heavy with Doug Martin making his way back from a torn labrum. I’ll be targeting Jenkins if I can’t grab a top TE or Ebron, as I love this kid’s potential in the NFL. There’s potential here for him to be a top 8 TE this season, given the Bucs’s offensive line holds up at the guard spot, and McCown proves the Bears made a mistake letting him go, as he has the potential to make Tampa Bay a playoff team.
Overall, I think all the NFC South teams had solid drafts, and the Bucs could have had the best draft in the South, if they had nabbed an OG earlier. I like what my Dirty Birds did, but frustrated they didn’t grab a DE or an OLB that could be a DE convert, as they still lack in the pass rush. The Saints added a much needed playmaker with the departure of Sproles, but could have done a better job addressing their need for a CB. The Panthers upgraded their offensive weapons and seem poised to be a force in the NFC South again, they just need to find an answer at left tackle. This is going to be a nasty, hard-hitting, bloody season in the NFC South, where I see potentially 3 playoff teams coming out of ATL, N.O., & CAR, with the Buccaneers not far behind. Week 1 commences the Battle as the Aints play in Atlanta. RISE UP!