Draft Grades

NFC South draft grades: Past actions hurt Falcons, Saints

NFL.com analysts Chad Reuter and Bucky Brooks are handing out grades for every team following the 2012 NFL Draft. Click the team name to see each team's entire class.

The 2011 draft-day trade that brought receiver Julio Jones to the Falcons added an impressive prospect to an already strong offense -- but robbed them of their first-round and fourth-round selections this spring. Filling their needs became difficult under these circumstances, but they ended up with a solid draft, finding good value on the offensive line with their first pick and adding some solid defensive prospects later on in safety Charles Mitchell (sixth round) and tackle Travian Robertson (seventh).

Best pick: Peter Konz, C/OG, Wisconsin (Round 2, 55th overall pick).
Because of the position he plays and some concerns about his quiet demeanor and ankle injuries, Konz fell into the Falcons' lap in the middle of the second round. The Badgers' center will play at right guard as a rookie while waiting to take over for veteran Todd McClure in the pivot.

Questionable pick: Lamar Holmes, OT, Southern Mississippi (Round 3, 91).
Holmes has potential because of his length and somewhat surprising athleticism, but he was picked a bit earlier than expected. His career will be compared to those of more highly rated tackles selected after him -- Bobby Massie and Brandon Mosley.

Sleeper pick: Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy (Round 5, 164).
The two-time first-team All-Sun Belt pick had only six sacks in 2011 after racking up 13.5 sacks as a sophomore, yet still decided to enter the draft. Though only 6-foot-2, his ability to rush the passer and play with leverage on the edge made him a solid pick outside the top 150 overall selections.

One year after getting its franchise quarterback in Cam Newton with the top pick, Carolina added more potential starters to the roster. Second-round pick guard Amini Silatolu improves the offensive line, while Joe Adams (one of three Arkansas receivers drafted) provides Newton another strong target. The Panthers also added depth at defensive end and cornerback, potentially getting them a bit closer to playoff contention.

Best pick: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (Round 1, 9).
Although some might argue that linebacker wasn't one of the team's biggest needs, Kuechly's overall production was too great to ignore. He'll start in the middle (or outside, if needed) for a decade. Thomas Davis' injury history (he's played only nine games the last two seasons) was another factor in the decision.

Questionable pick: Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma (Round 4, 103).
Teams were very interested in Alexander's sturdiness and hustle on the outside, to be sure. But giving up a 2013 third-round pick in the pursuit of his services seems like a steep price -- one that many teams have regretted paying in the past.

Sleeper pick: Josh Norman, CB, Coastal Carolina (Round 5, 143).
Norman's stellar play at the Shrine Game didn't quite convince teams to take a chance on him in the top half of the draft. He has the physical tools to make teams regret not picking him earlier. Now he only needs to put in the work to make it so.

Having already lost their first-round pick in last year's draft-day trade for running back Mark Ingram, the Saints forfeited their second-round pick because of the bounty scandal. That made it difficult for the team to greatly improve its roster. Though New Orleans found a couple of intriguing prospects, it's tough to say it was even an average draft class.

Best pick: Akiem Hicks, DT, Regina (Round 3, 89).
If Hicks had ended up playing for LSU -- his intention before recruiting violations surfaced -- he might have become the star that Michael Brockers did in 2011. His combination of size (6-4 5/8, 315) and athleticism mitigates the risk some might say the Saints took by picking him near the end of the third round.

Questionable pick: Corey White, DB, Samford (Round 5, 162).
The Saints only had five picks, which limits the number of possibly "questionable" selections. White does have potential to become a contributor in the secondary, but they had a chance to get a pass rusher like Troy's Jonathan Massaquoi, who would have received a lot of playing time early with the four-game bounty suspension of defensive end Will Smith.

Sleeper pick: Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin (Round 4, 122).
Maybe this should instead be called the "bargain pick," as Toon's availability in the fourth round wouldn't have been expected before last season. If able to get past his injury issues, though, he'll contribute heavily in the Saints' offense over the next few years.

The Buccaneers went from 10-6 in 2010 to 4-12 last year (losing their last 10 games of the season) and hope to return to their winning ways after the free-agent signings of receiver Vincent Jackson, cornerback Eric Wright and guard Carl Nicks. This draft class will also be a key ingredient to their success, as the team found future starters on defense, as well as a running back in Boise State's Doug Martin that reminded new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano of Ray Rice, whom he coached at Rutgers.

Best pick: Mark Barron, S, Alabama (Round 1, 7).
The Buccaneers moved back two spots (allowing Jacksonville to pick receiver Justin Blackmon) and still got the player they coveted in Barron. One league source I spoke to Wednesday said Barron was, indeed, an "impactful" player -- something all teams want in their top-10 picks.

Questionable pick: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska (Round 2, 58).
None of Tampa Bay's picks were truly questionable in terms of their talent; David should be an immediate starter for the Bucs on the weak side. However, they did give the Texans third- and fourth-round picks to move up for David (and Houston's seventh-rounder) when a similar player in Miami's Sean Spence would have been available at their original spot. Adding Spence plus another very good defensive prospect in the fourth could have made this draft haul even better.

Sleeper pick: Najee Goode, ILB, West Virginia (Round 5, 140).
Goode should be very good on special teams and contribute as a swing reserve linebacker in 2012. Don't be surprised if he takes advantage of any opportunity to start in the middle with any injuries to veterans.

Follow Chad Reuter on Twitter @ChadReuter

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