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Panthers aside, NFC South is about fine tuning in draft

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Jason Bridge / US Presswire
The Panthers must address several issues, including the QB situation, without a full complement of draft picks.


Pat Kirwan examines the draft needs for all 32 teams, by division, this week. The biggest need for each team is listed first and followed in descending order.


NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Needs: DE, WR, nickel CB, TE, OLB, RT

Atlanta is a solid team with specific needs. An end opposite John Abraham who could be his eventual replacement would help. A wide receiver to pair with Roddy White would give Matt Ryan another target when teams roll coverage to White. TE Tony Gonzalez is probably in his last season and doesn't separate like he used to. A linebacker with blitz skills who could play on the tight end side would put Sean Weatherspoon on the weak side, where he could run and hit.

Free agency could mean the loss of one of the right side blockers (Tyson Clabo or Harvey Dahl). That will drive the Falcons to look for help on the line in the draft. Atlanta has nine picks and general manager Thomas Dimitroff is very good at finding talent and moving around when needed.

*Draft choices: 27, 59, 91, 123, 155, 187, 199, 219, 220

Carolina Panthers

Needs: QB, DE, DT, OLB, CB

The Panthers let a number of quality veterans go last offseason, including Julius Peppers, leaving the roster depleted. While they got 29 starts from the 2010 rookie class, 10 of those were by QB Jimmy Clausen, who threw just three touchdowns.

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With Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman in the division, there is a quarterback issue in Carolina. When you consider the Panthers gave up what turned out to be the first pick in the second round to trade up for WR Armanti Edwards last year, you realize they can't fix all of their problems in one draft.

They will get RT Jeff Otah back after he missed all of 2010, but will probably lose RB DeAngelo Williams and CB Richard Marshall, if and when free agency starts. The Panthers averaged an NFL-low 12.2 points in a 2-14 campaign and look headed for more of the same.

At this point, do they skip on Cam Newton in the first round and hope to be in line if Andrew Luck comes out a year from now? That is risky business.

*Draft choices: 1, 65, 97, 129, 161

New Orleans Saints

Needs: OLB, DE, S, OL

The Saints have a solid roster and the addition of DT Shaun Rogers, if he's in shape and ready to take orders from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, only helps the interior defensive line rotation. New Orleans should continue to focus on that side of the ball early in the draft, especially on the front seven.

If free agency happens prior to the draft, it is possible the Saints' needs will change dramatically, because of the high number of players scheduled to hit the open market. Currently, finding DE Alex Brown's eventual replacement is a must. Adding an outside linebacker to replace Danny Clark and/or push Scott Shanle is also important. One area that is not a concern is tight end. New Orleans hit a home run when it took a chance on Jimmy Graham last year and released Jeremy Shockey as a result.

With four picks in the top 88, GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton should hit on their top needs.

*Draft choices: 24, 56, 72, 88, 216

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Needs: DE, OLB, MLB, CB, G

GM Mark Dominik has done a brilliant job in his first two drafts and needs to put another class together. The team got 52 starts from its rookie class a year ago and quickly developed WR Mike Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, S Cody Grimm, DT Gerald McCoy and RB LeGarrette Blount.

It's no secret a pass rushing defensive end is missing, and should be available with the 20th overall pick. I also hear middle linebacker Barrett Ruud will not be brought back, so a signal-caller who can play the Tampa 2 defense is important. CB Ronde Barber re-signed, but the team must find and develop the 14-year veteran's eventual replacement.

*Draft choices: 20, 51, 84, 115, 148, 182, 212

*The draft picks are unofficial at this point. The league is expected to release the complete draft order by the end of March.

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