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NFC South NFL Draft Grades

Steve Shoup

NFL Draft Grades are in…        jakematthews

 

ATLANTA FALCONS:

Round 1, Pick 6 (6)          

Jake Matthews OT          Texas A&M        

Grade:  A+

 

Round 2, Pick 5 (37)        

Ra’Shede Hageman         DT           Minnesota         

Grade:  A-

 

Round 3, Pick 4 (68)        

Dezmen Southward        FS           Wisconsin           

Grade:  C+

               

Round 4, Pick 3 (103)     

Devonta Freeman           RB           Florida St.           

Grade:  B-

 

Round 4, Pick 39 (139) (Compensatory selection)             

Prince Shembo OLB        Notre Dame

Grade:  B-

 

Round 5, Pick 7 (147)     

Ricardo Allen      CB           Purdue

Grade:  B-

 

Round 5, Pick 28 (168) (From Panthers through Vikings)

Marquis Spruill  ILB          Syracuse             

Grade:  C

 

Round 7, Pick 38 (253) (Compensatory selection)             

Yawin Smallwood             OLB        Connecticut       

Grade:  B-       

 

Round 7, Pick 40 (255) (Compensatory selection)             

Tyler Starr           OLB        South Dakota

Grade:  C+

OVERALL GRADE: B+

ANALYSIS:

 

The Falcons likely tried pretty hard to trade up for Jadeveon Clowney, but in the end the cost proved to be too much. Instead Atlanta “settled” for OT Jake Matthews who projects to be a premier left tackle and one of the safest and most NFL ready picks in this draft. Matthews is the son of HOF great Bruce Matthews, and hes has the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps as one of the best blockers in the league. The Falcons saw Matt Ryan spend far too much time on his back last year, and grabbing Matthews goes a long way to fixing that issue. In the 2nd round the Falcons took defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was considered by many to be a first round talent. Hageman can play either inside or outside if Atlanta goes to more 3 man fronts this year and would play inside in their 4 man fronts. While Hageman is a good talent, he’s still pretty raw so he probably won’t produce much early on. The good news is Atlanta has a number of defensive tackles so that Hageman won’t need to be rushed as a rookie. In the third round the Falcons took CB/S Dezmen Southward. While he offers good size and potential as a safety, he’s also been inconsistent and this was maybe a bit of reach.

In the mid-to-late rounds the Falcons grabbed a young running back to pair with Steven Jackson in Devonta Freeman, and then just stocked up on defensive depth. They took a number of interesting defensive players including Prince Shembo, Tyler Starr and Ricardo Allen. All three are intriguing prospects with some potential to develop into a more significant role. They really improved the depth of their defense with these picks and helped out a pretty weak unit from a year ago.

The Falcons did a nice job hitting a number of their needs in protecting Matt Ryan, adding significant help on defense and finding some help at running back. What keeps this grade from being higher is the fact that they ignored two of their biggest needs; edge rusher and tight end. While they added a lot of help on defense the Falcons didn’t add any significant edge rushing talent. Shembo and Starr could contribute in this area, but they aren’t going to be impact guys. Atlanta needs a more consistent pass rush if they want to take their defense to the next level and it is unclear where exactly that is going to come from. The lack of a tight end isn’t as big of an issue, but Matt Ryan is losing his most consistent weapon of the last few years and Atlanta right now is relying on young unproven players with limited projection.

 

 

CAROLINA PANTHERS:

Round 1, Pick 28 (28)

Kelvin Benjamin               WR         Florida St.           

Grade:  B-

 

Round 2, Pick 28 (60)     

Kony Ealy             DE           Missouri              

Grade:  B

 

Round 3, Pick 28 (92)     

Trai Turner          OG         LSU       

Grade:  B+

 

Round 4, Pick 28 (128)   

Tre Boston          SS           North Carolina                  

Grade:  B-

 

Round 5, Pick 8 (148) (From Vikings)       

Bene Benwikere              CB           San Jose St.

Grade:  C+               

 

Round 6, Pick 28 (204)   

Tyler Gaffney    RB           Stanford

Grade:  C+

OVERALL GRADE: C+

ANALYSIS:

 

The Panthers came into this draft with major needs at wide receiver, all along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. The Panthers took FSU WR Kelvin Benjamin with their first round pick to fill the need at receiver. Benjamin has incredible size and potential, but he’s also one of the more raw receivers in this deep class and a bit of a questionable pick in the first round. He’s not likely to make much of an early impact for the Panthers and is more of a pick for the future. In the 2nd round the Panthers ignored all of their pressing needs and went with the sliding defensive end Kony Ealy. Ealy doesn’t have an immediate role as he sits behind Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, but he does provide depth and could replace one of the defensive ends if the Panthers can’t afford both next offseason. In the 3rd round the Panthers finally got around to addressing their offensive line in guard Trai Turner. Turner is a raw prospect, who has the upside of a mauling guard who should excel in the running game.

Later in the draft the Panthers picked up a pair of defensive backs and a back-up running back. Safety Tre Boston is one to watch for as the Panthers went with stopgaps this year in free agency at the safety position. Boston will likely be a valuable reserve this year, but he could earn a starting role down the line.

Overall this was an odd draft for the Panthers they added just one wide receiver and one offensive linemen despite it being a pretty deep draft at both positions. While both players have talent and potential they are also unlikely to produce much next season. Kony Ealy could help in a situational role, but his impact will likely be limited due to his playing time. For a team that won 12 games last year and needed to fill a lot of holes, the Panthers didn’t add much help for this season. While the players are good prospects, the lack of impact this year could cause a major fall in the standings for the Panthers.

 

 

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS:

Round 1, Pick 20 (20) (From Cardinals)   

Brandin Cooks   WR         Oregon St.         

Grade:  B            

 

Round 2, Pick 26 (58)     

Stanley Jean-Baptiste    CB           Nebraska            

Grade:  B+     

 

Round 4, Pick 26 (126)   

Khairi Fortt          ILB          California            

Grade:  C+

 

Round 5, Pick 27 (167)   

Vinnie Sunseri   SS           Alabama                             

Grade:  B-

 

Round 5, Pick 29 (169) (From Patriots through Eagles)    

Ronald Powell   OLB        Florida

Grade: C+

 

Round 6, Pick 26 (202)   

Tavon Rooks      OT          Kansas St.

Grade:  C

 

OVERALL GRADE: C+

ANALYSIS:

The Saints needed to add weapons for Drew Brees in this draft and they did just that trading up for WR Brandin Cooks in the first round. It cost them their 3rd rounder to move up 7 spots, but the Saints landed a blazing fast receiver in Cooks, who is refined and a quality route runner with nice hands. Cooks will push Kenny Stills for a starting role, and even if he ends up the 3rd receiver he should have opportunities to make a positive impact as a rookie. In the 2nd round the Saints targeted corner Stanley Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Baptiste had been rising up draft boards given his size and raw potential. He should help out a thin corner group, though likely will be in more of a 4th corner role as a rookie.

In the later rounds the Saints added a lot of defensive depth grabbing ILB Khairi Fortt, OLB Ron Powell and S Vinnie Sunseri. All three should help the Saints depth and special teams, but Sunseri is one to watch become more than just a back-up. Sunseri has great football intelligence and instincts and was a leader on that Alabama defense. It won’t be easy to become a starter on the Saints, but he could push to be in on some three safety sets.

Overall the Saints got the receiver they wanted, but got very little else in this draft class. Though Cooks is a good player, trading up for him was probably the wrong move for the Saints. While they needed extra weapons, the Saints still have Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and the promising Kenny Stills. Those three could have handled the vast majority of the targets from Drew Brees and the offense would have still been one of the best in the league. A receiver could have been added later (possibly in the 3rd round). The Saints could have used a pass rusher or defensive lineman more in the first round and there were plenty of worth picks at 27. The Saints also didn’t address the center position, which seems pretty risky given how thin it is. All in all Cooks is probably the only player who is going to make any sort of impact this year, which is a little disappointing for New Orleans.

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS:

 

Round 1, Pick 7 (7)          

Mike Evans         WR         Texas A&M        

Grade:  A-

 

Round 2, Pick 6 (38)        

Austin Seferian-Jenkins                TE           Washington       

Grade:  A-

 

Round 3, Pick 5 (69)        

Charles Sims       RB           West Virginia                    

Grade:  B+

 

Round 5, Pick 3 (143)     

Kadeem Edwards             OG         Tennessee St.                  

Grade:  B-

 

Round 5, Pick 9 (149) (From Bills)              

Kevin Pamphile OT          Purdue

Grade:  C

 

Round 6, Pick 9 (185) (From Bills)              

Robert Herron   WR         Wyoming

Grade:  B

 

OVERALL GRADE: A-

ANALYSIS:

The Buccaneers were desperate to add weapons to this offense and hit a homerun with their first two picks of WR Mike Evans and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Both players add size and catching ability to a skill position group that includes Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and Brandon Myers. Jackson, Evans and Seferian-Jenkins have tremendous potential as a pass catching trio and offer three big physical targets for Josh McCown to utilize this year. With Jackson drawing the focus of the coverage, both Evans and Seferian-Jenkins could have a field day against opposing defenses. In the third round the Buccaneers took a surprise pick in RB Charles Sims. Running back wasn’t considered a major need with Doug Martin set as the starter and Mike James and Bobby Rainey filling in nicely last year while Martin was out. Sims though is a good value pick here, and given that both Martin and James suffered serious injuries last year, Tampa probably doesn’t want to be so thin at the position this year.

In the later rounds the Buccaneers continued drafting offense landing a pair of offensive linemen and another receiver. Though Robert Herron was the Buccaneers final pick, he could quickly work his way up the thin Bucs depth chart at receiver and make an impact as a third receiver as a rookie.

The Bucs didn’t have a ton of picks, but they restocked their offense with this draft and landed potentially two impact offensive weapons. Given how many picks and how much money they’ve spent on defense in recent years it’s understandable their offensive focus this year. Both Evans and ASJ should make an impact as rookies and could make the Buccaneers offense a serious threat to deal with.

 



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