As our journey through the league takes us down south, we visit the NFC South division where three of the teams could easily be vying for playoff spots.
New Orleans nearly made the Super Bowl last year, while Atlanta and Carolina, for different reasons, finished in the middle of the pack, but missed out on the dance. Tampa Bay is rebuilding, but brought in an offensive genius to work with its talented, but inconsistent, quarterback.
A good draft can cap strong offseasons for the Falcons and Saints, and acquiring more high-end talent with premium picks can go a long way or the Buccaneers if they select the right players.
What do these four teams need to do, either to sustain success or find it again?
Let’s take a look at the NFL Drat questions facing the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons: Offensive line or defense in first round?
Most mock drafts have the Falcons selecting a right tackle with the No. 14 overall pick in next week’s NFL Draft, and or good reason.
An addition to the O-line would be great but, setting the mocks aside, can this team afford to not go defense early?
With Robert Alford and Brian Poole gone, Atlanta has a glaring need at corner (in a division with Drew Brees and Cam Newton). Brees is coming off one of the best years of his career, Newton will presumably be in better shape throwing the ball post-surgery than he was last year, and Bruce Arians should be a boost to Jameis Winston’s passing game.
The need for help on the outside of Dan Quinn’s defense is a real one.
This draft is not especially deep at tackle, so they may indeed opt to look there in the first round (someone like Washington State’s Andre Dillard fits the bill) and look to corner with the No. 45 or 79 picks.
Whichever way they choose to address it, though, this is not something that can be put off until next year.
Carolina Panthers: Can they find someone to keep Newton upright?
Of course, this would mean bypassing needs on the Panthers’ defense, but, after all, isn’t your most important investment in the health of your former MVP quarterback?
Like the division-rival Falcons, Carolina has needs in the secondary with pass rushing assistance. Also like Atlanta, they need to be doing whatever it takes to catch up to the Saints.
That’s why the offensive line is so important. How much longer can this team watch Newton take a beating? Sure, some of it falls back onto Newton, himself, and his style of play, but it should also make drafting a tackle at No. 16 overall that much more important.
A running back later in the draft couldn’t hurt, either. They missed on C.J. Anderson last year, though the looked like Jerome Bettis late in the season for the Rams.
Christian McCaffrey is nice, but a thumper inside would also do wonders for keeping Newton off the injury report.
New Orleans Saints: How big of a priority is Drew Brees’ arsenal with limited picks in tow?
The Saints are really good. But, as good as this team is, could still use some upgrades at a few spots.
New Orleans filled a huge hole in their lineup by signing center Nick Easton, and also filled a need at tight end by bringing in Jared Cook. The Saints are ready to win their second Lambardi Trophy now, and Brees may have two years left at the level he is playing at.
Defensive end is a need, but so, too, could be receiver. Though the Saints don’t pick until the second round (No. 62 overall), a possibility exists where a stud receiver falls to the bottom of the second round and creates a tough choice for general manager Mickey Loomis.
It happened to the Broncos last year, when then-SMU product Courtland Sutton, a likely first-round selection, fell to the middle of the second round.
What do the Saints value the most?
If a prospect such as N’Keal Harry, Deebo Samuel, or J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (all projected in the early second round) fall, does New Orleans skip on defense when it doesn’t pick again until the fifth round?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Will they make a move to jump-start the rushing attack?
In theory, Tampa Bay is at the start of a process that will eventually lead the team out of its home in the NFC South cellar.
In 2018, the Bucs again finished last in the division, and has lived there in 10 of the past 11 seasons. The team needs to acquire as much talent as possible to dig itself out of this rut — though, that’s not exactly investigative reporting.
The Bucs have fielded a top-10 rushing attack only twice in the past 18 years. I know they re-signed Peyton Barber, last year’s leading rusher, and drafted Ronald Jones in the second round last year, but they got close to zero return on investment from Jones in 2018.
This isn’t necessarily all about finding a new RB1, either. If there is value in the offensive line at their second round selection, a road-grating tackle that can move people out of the way and seal the edge, that would be optimal as well. New head coach Bruce Arians turned Cardinals running back David Johnson into a star by using him extensively in the passing game.
Can he work similar magic with someone in Tampa Bay?