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NFC South draft needs: Panthers should continue to reinforce D

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With the 2016 NFL Draft on tap at the end of this month, Bucky Brooks is breaking down the biggest areas of need for every team in the NFL, division by division. Below is his look at the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons (5 total picks)

» Round 1: Pick 17 overall
» Round 2: Pick 50
» Round 3: Pick 81
» Round 4: Pick 115
» Round 7: Pick 238

Biggest needs: defensive line, inside linebacker, safety.

The Falcons' defense continues to keep the team from contending in the NFC. Thus, Dan Quinn will look to get bigger, faster and stronger at every level on that side of the ball. Along the line, the Falcons need a pass rusher to complement the speed and quickness of last year's first-round pick, Vic Beasley. Two of Beasley's former Clemson teammates, Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd, possess the power-based game to set the edge, but also display the pass-rush skills needed to create chaos in the backfield. Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah could be a viable option as a dynamic rusher capable of turning speed into power off the edges. At defensive tackle, Mississippi's Robert Nkemdiche, UCLA's Kenny Clark and Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler are athletic interior rushers with the size and quickness to destroy offensive plans between the tackles. On the second level, the Falcons could use a swift linebacker with the speed and quickness to thrive as a sideline-to-sideline playmaker. Georgia's Leonard Floyd, Ohio State's Darron Lee and LSU's Deion Jones could get extended looks. The Falcons must find an enforcer between the hashes to discourage throws down the middle. Florida's Keanu Neal is an ideal fit for the role, but West Virginia's Karl Joseph and Duke's Jeremy Cash could also fill the void in the middle.

Carolina Panthers (6 total picks)

» Round 1: Pick 30 overall
» Round 2: Pick 62
» Round 3: Pick 93
» Round 4: Pick 129
» Round 5: Pick 168
» Round 7: Pick 252

Biggest needs: cornerback, defensive end, safety.

The Panthers' nasty defense helped guide the team to Super Bowl 50, but the unit needs some retooling to lead a run back to the title game. The defensive end spot must be occupied by an athletic pass rusher with exceptional first-step quickness and acceleration. Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah and Penn State's Carl Nassib could be in play on Day 1, or the team could take a flyer on a Day 2 candidate like Florida's Jonathan Bullard to see if he can upgrade the pass rush as a complement to Kony Ealy. Josh Norman is clearly established as a premier cover corner, but his current year-to-year status as a franchise-tag player could force the team to look hard at the CB group. Miami's Artie Burns, Ohio State's Eli Apple, Clemson's Mackensie Alexander and Baylor's Xavien Howard might garner interest. The Panthers also would love to find an athletic playmaker in the middle of the field. In the safety crop, Ohio State's Vonn Bell, West Virginia's Karl Joseph and Clemson's T.J. Green could draw interest.

UPDATE: The Panthers announced Wednesday they've rescinded the franchise tag on Norman, making the All-Pro corner an unrestricted free agent.

New Orleans Saints (6 total picks)

» Round 1: Pick 12 overall
» Round 2: Pick 47
» Round 3: Pick 78
» Round 4: Pick 112
» Round 5: Pick 152
» Round 7: Pick 237

Biggest needs: defensive line, cornerback, wide receiver.

After watching the Saints fall from their perch atop the NFC South over the past few years, Sean Payton will make a concerted effort to fix the roster on both sides of the ball. On defense, the Saints need impact players at the line of scrimmage to alleviate some of the pressure on the secondary. New Orleans could use an impact rusher off the edge, but an interior disruptor would help Cam Jordan and others feast off one-on-one matchups on passing downs. Louisville's Sheldon Rankins is a natural fit as an active 3-technique with first-step quickness and burst, but the Saints could also snag a player like Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson or Jarran Reed, big boys who would help the team win on early downs. If the team elects to wait until Day 2, Louisiana Tech's Vernon Butler and UCLA's Kenny Clark could also be options as undervalued playmakers on the inside. At cornerback, the Saints sure could use a ballhawk with solid instincts and takeaway skills to fortify the team's nickel and dime packages. Mississippi State's Will Redmond, Alabama's Cyrus Jones, Minnesota's Eric Murray and North Carolina Central's Ryan Smith are undervalued prospects capable of making a big impact at CB3 as Day 2 or Day 3 prospects on the Saints' draft board. On offense, the release of Marques Colston could force the Saints to add a big-bodied pass catcher to act as a chain mover between the hashes. Stanford's Devon Cajuste, UCLA's Thomas Duarte, Tulsa's Keyarris Garrett and Tennessee's Marquez North are quality possession receivers with red-zone potential.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7 total picks)

» Round 1: Pick 9 overall
» Round 2: Pick 39
» Round 3: Pick 74
» Round 4: Pick 108
» Round 5: Pick 148
» Round 6: Picks 183 and 197 (from Redskins)

Biggest needs: defensive end, cornerback, safety.

After dispatching Lovie Smith due to the underperformance of the defense, the Buccaneers are committed to retooling the unit to fit new coordinator Mike Smith's scheme. Tampa Bay desperately needs a pass rusher to play alongside Gerald McCoy on the front line. Thus, Clemson's Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd could be in play on Day 1. If the team elects to wait until later in the draft, the Buccaneers could target Penn State's Carl Nassib, Florida's Jonathan Bullard or Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun. Keep an eye on Illinois' Jihad Ward and Grand Valley State's Matt Judon as developmental options. At cornerback, the Buccaneers might consider adding an athletic cover corner with solid ball skills and instincts. Florida's Vernon Hargreaves would be an ideal fit as a CB2/nickel corner, but the team could land a sub-corner on Day 2 or Day 3. Mississippi State's Will Redmond, Oklahoma's Zack Sanchez, Temple's Tavon Young and Samford's James Bradberry might get consideration. The Buccaneers also need a playmaking safety to roam between the hashes. Could Ohio State's Vonn Bell or Florida's Keanu Neal be the answer?

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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