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Recent Results: WR Julio Jones, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, C Peter Konz, & LB Sean Weatherspoon
Recap: The Falcons paid a hefty price for Jones. They traded two first-round picks to acquire the talented receiver, but Jones is developing into one of the league’s premiere players. In fact, he and quarterback Matt Ryan project as one of the decade’s best passing combinations. Weatherspoon is another quality first rounder, as he’s a solid starting linebacker. The organization deserves credit for its late-round addition of Rodgers, who's emerging as one of the NFC's best all-purpose running backs.
Best Scenario: DE Bjoern Werner, CB Jordan Poyer, & TE Travis Kelce
Draft Preview: Defense is the likely focus of general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s 2013 draft. Werner is a good start. He’s not special in any area, but he’s not necessary bad either. He’s a substance over flash defensive end. In round two, Poyer is excellent value. He’s a legitimate starting corner from day one. Kelce is an interesting third-round prospect. He only has one year of productivity, but he could learn the ropes from Tony Gonzalez and develop into a poor man’s Heath Miller.
Recent Results: QB Jimmy Clausen, DE Greg Hardy, LB Luke Kuechly, OG Amini Silatolu, & QB Cam Newton
Recap: Clausen was always an overrated prospect. He had his defenders, but he never had high-level talent. The Panthers only used a second-round pick on him, so they didn’t really feel the blow. Newton’s entering an important season. He’s the face of the franchise and one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in football. The third-year is usually when quarterbacks take significant leaps, so this could be a special season. Other notable picks include Hardy, who’s coming off an 11-sack season. Finally, Kuechly was last season’s defensive rookie of the year.
Best Scenario: DT Sheldon Richardson & WR Justin Hunter
Draft Preview: Expect some combination of a defensive tackle and wide receiver from Carolina. They could go Cordarrelle Patterson early and Kawann Short with their first two picks. The latter might be a stretch, though. Nevertheless, a combination of Richardson and Hunter provides them the best of both worlds. Richardson’s an outstanding interior prospect. He deserves more hype from the media than he’s receiving. Frankly, I wouldn’t challenge the notion that he‘s worth a top 10 pick. Hunter, meanwhile, is the dynamic receiving threat Newton needs on the outside.
New Orleans Saints
Recent Results: OT Charles Brown, TE Jimmy Graham, RB Mark Ingram, DE Cameron Jordan, & CB Patrick Robinson
Recap: Many players above enter an important season. Brown could end up competing at left tackle since Jermon Bushrod signed with Chicago this off-season. Jordan expects to play defensive end in the new 3-4 defense and Ingram could finally take on a larger role in the offense. Regardless of their futures, Graham is the gem from the Saints' last three drafts. He’s one of the most dangerous players in football and teams simply struggle to defend him. It’s early in his career, but he could be one of the all-time great receiving tight ends.
Best Scenario: LB Jarvis Jones & S Phillip Thomas
Draft Preview: Because of their need to create big plays on defense, New Orleans hired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. He needs talent to work with, especially at linebacker and safety. There’s a lot of pushback regarding Jones because of an unimpressive pro day. However, his 2012 tape is as good as any 3-4 outside linebacker in this draft. Ryan’s created enough to play to his strengths and hide his weaknesses. Thomas is an ideal third-round safety. In most drafts, he could possibly sneak into round two (he could in this draft, too), but this is a strong group of safeties, so I suspect somebody slips.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Recent Results: S Mark Barron, WR Arrelious Benn, DE Da’Quan Bowers, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB Lavonte David, LB Mason Foster, RB Doug Martin, DT Gerald McCoy, DT Brian Price, & WR Mike Williams
Recap: The Bucs aren’t lacking depth from their recent draft classes. Foster (third round) and Williams (fourth round) are starters. Benn’s the notable disappointment. He hasn’t lived up to his second-round status. Clayborn had a decent rookie year, but suffered a season-ending injury early last season. It’s a significant year for Bowers and McCoy. The former expects to replace Michael Bennett at defensive end, and another strong showing from McCoy, would justify his draft billing. However, last year’s draft class could elevate the franchise to the postseason. Barron, Martin, and David all graded out well as rookies, with Martin being arguably the league’s best rookie running back.
Best Scenario: CB Dee Milliner & CB Johnthan Banks
Draft Preview: If Tampa is unable to land cornerback Darrelle Revis via trade, then expect them to make an aggressive attempt to land Milliner. Throwing their second-round pick in with their first could tempt the Browns, Cardinals, and Bills in the top 10. I also wouldn’t doubt Tampa drafts two cornerbacks under this scenario. Banks is a great value pick in round three. He plays his best covering the slot, but he could play outside. Nevertheless, I still believe Revis will land in Tampa either before or during the draft. Presumably, they’ll part with the 13th overall pick. As a result, that changes Tampa’s approach. Watch out for names along the lines of Tank Carradine and Zach Ertz in round two.