For a division that had only one team finish above .500 -- the Buccaneers at 9-7 -- it stands to reason that the draft was of vital importance. The teams certainly acted that way, compiling a large number of draft choices. The Falcons had the most with 11 picks, while the Panthers had nine. The Bucs and Saints had seven and six, respectively. With all four teams devoted to getting younger, the rookies figure to get a chance at cracking the rotation.
Safest pick: Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (Saints). New Orleans was desperate for help at the interior of the defensive line and after being unable to get Glenn Dorsey, it traded up to take Ellis, an elite talent in his own right.
Riskiest pick: Quarterback Matt Ryan (Falcons). All eyes will be on the Boston College product as he follows Michael Vick as the team's leader under center. Ryan will likely face intense scrutiny with the reeling franchise in the midst of rebuilding.
Best Day 2 value: Linebacker Dan Connor (Panthers). Slated to be a first-round talent by many evaluators, Connor was a steal in the third round and can fill in immediately for the departed Dan Morgan.
NFC South draft recaps
With 11 picks, the Falcons set out to find the core of what they hope becomes a successful rebuilding project. A new coach and GM were already in place and now with Ryan, they have brand new people at the three most important positions in the franchise. The team traded up to get USC's Sam Baker in the first round and he will be counted upon to keep Ryan upright as the rookie QB learns the ropes. Third-round picks Chevis Jackson and Thomas DeCoud bring playmaking ability to a remade secondary, while third-round WR Harry Douglas provides Ryan an explosive threat on the outside.
See Atlanta's complete draft
The Panthers are under pressure to win immediately after missing the playoffs for two straight years and they dealt away next year's No. 1 pick to trade back up into the first round and take OT Jeff Otah with the 19th pick. Their first pick in the first round was RB Jonathan Stewart, chosen 13th. The club hopes both of those players are able to step in immediately and contribute to an offense that struggled mightily last year. Connor and third-round CB Charles Godfrey are potential impact players on the defensive side of the ball. Fifth-rounder Gary Barnidge gives the team the pass-receiving tight end it has lacked.
See Carolina's complete draft
The 2007 draft class for the Saints was largely underwhelming and the team was likewise disappointing, finishing 7-9. In 2008, the Saints aggressively navigated the draft in hopes of changing those fortunes. Ellis is a potential star at defensive tackle and second and fifth-round picks Tracy Porter and DeMario Pressley also have a chance to make a major impact on the new-look defense. Wisconsin's Taylor Melhalff, taken in the sixth round, will compete with veteran Martin Gramatica for the kicker job.
See New Orleans' complete draft
The Buccaneers infused a great deal of athleticism to a team sometimes lacking in that area last season. First-rounder Aqib Talib can step in right away at nickleback and fourth-round DT Dre Moore also has a shot to be a steady rotation player on the defensive line. Seventh-rounder Cory Boyd is an excellent receiver coming out of the backfield and second-round WR Dexter Jackson can fly. Notorious for collecting QBs, coach Jon Gruden added a seventh signal caller to the roster with the fifth-round selection of Josh Johnson. Sixth-round LB Geno Hayes fits the team's physical defensive style.
See Tampa Bay's complete draft