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2014 NFL Draft Preview: NFC South
By Matt Horkman

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Recent Selections: S Mark Barron, DE Adrian Clayborn, OLB Lavonte David, QB Mike Glennon, & RB Doug Martin

Recap: While new head coach Love Smith didn’t inherit a total mess in Tampa Bay, the decision to trade cornerback Darrelle Revis after just one season stings, considering the Buccaneers traded a first-round pick to acquire the all-pro cornerback. Tampa’s received mix results from their last three drafts. Clayborn and Barron are disappointing first-round picks, but the team appears to have found a solid running back in Martin, who rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie in 2012. David, who is one of their best defensive players, is an excellent fit for Smith’s scheme. He could become the next Lance Briggs under Smith. After signing quarterback Josh McCown in free agency, Glennon’s long-term future with the team is in doubt.

Best Scenario: ILB C.J. Mosley, QB Derek Carr, WR Jordan Matthews, & TE Troy Niklas

Draft Preview: Tampa was among the most active teams in March’s free-agent period, so they’ve already filled several of their needs. They could stay put at No. 7 and target Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans or North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, but they may get better value by trading down. The Dallas Cowboys make for an excellent hypothetical trade partner, as they may need to move up to secure Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. If the Cowboys (or some other team) offer their first and second-round pick, then Tampa should take the offer and target Mosley or a quarterback with their first pick. Alternatively, they could wait until the second round to draft a signal caller, and Carr would be a solid choice with the No. 38 overall pick. Adding pass catchers to their offensive arsenal is also a priority. Matthews is one of the most polished looking receivers of this class and Niklas could develop into a quality starting tight end.

Atlanta Falcons

Recent Selections: CB Robert Alford, WR Julio Jones, C Peter Konz, & CB Desmond Trufant

Recap: The draft has not been as kind to general manager Thomas Dimitroff as it was during the early part of his tenure in Atlanta. The Falcons have drafted 20 players over the last three seasons and just two of them (Jones and Trufant) have emerged as high-level starters. The rest have been replaceable starters or backups. Ignoring the defense in favor of the offense is a fair criticism of Dimitroff. He traded two first-round picks to move up to select Jones, thinking the receiver was the final piece to a Super Bowl championship. He was wrong, as the defense held the Falcons back in 2011 and 2012, despite Jones emerging as one of the premiere receivers in football. However, instead of addressing the defense in the ‘12 draft, he focused on the offense, selecting Konz and offensive tackle Lamar Holmes with his first two picks. Both players have been disappointments.

Best Scenario: OT Jake Matthews, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, & OLB Christian Jones

Draft Preview: Based on their signings of defensive lineman Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, it seems Atlanta will play a hybrid defense in 2014. They may start with a base 43, but you’ll definitely see 34 looks. As a result, the Falcons will target versatile players on the defensive side of the ball. They could trade up to No. 2 to select Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the latter is probably going No. 1 overall, and the Rams’ asking price might be too high for Mack. It is likely Atlanta will be stuck at No. 7, forcing to choose between a defensive player and a tackle prospect. As much as I believe the Falcons need defense, there’s a drop off with defensive players after Clowney and Mack. Selecting a tackle is the best play. On day two, however, the focus should be defense, with Attaochu and Jones being superb targets. Attaochu can rush the passer with his hand in the dirt or standup and play 34 outside linebacker. Jones can play on the outside in a 4-3 or the inside in a 3-4. His versatility makes him a good value pick in round three.

Carolina Panthers

Recent Selections: MLB Luke Kuechly, QB Cam Newton, DT Star Lotulelei, OG Amini Silatolu, & DT Kawann Short

Recap: The Panthers have done a fine job of drafting high-level talent in the last three years. Newton had an impressive rookie season and led the team to the postseason in year three. He could be one of the premiere quarterbacks in all of football. The Panthers got their cornerstone on offense in 2011 and they found their cornerstone on defense in 2012. Kuechly is arguably the best middle linebacker in football. He’s a perfect fit in Rivera’s defense, earning Defensive of Player of the Year honors in 2013. The Panthers did a great job of beefing up their defensive front in 2013 by drafting Lotulelei and Short in the first two rounds. Both played well, with Lotulelei starting every game.

Best Scenario: WR Marqise Lee, OT Cameron Fleming, & WR Jared Abbrederis

Draft Preview: Unless they trade into the top 20, Carolina isn’t going to be able to land the tackle they want with their first-round pick. West Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio are right tackle only prospects, who may very well go on day one, but the Panthers should let somebody else select them. They can find a player of similar value in round two (Fleming) and focus on upgrading their receiving corps with Lee. Given the strength of this year’s receiver class, the Panthers could pluck a second starter in Abbrederis or Fresno State’s Davante Adams in round three.

New Orleans Saints

Recent Selections: OT Terron Armstead, RB Mark Ingram, DE Cameron Jordan, WR Kenny Stills, & S Kenny Vaccaro

Recap: The Saints may want to forget about the 2012 draft. They had only five picks that year because they traded their first-round pick the year prior to New England for the right to draft Ingram, and forfeited their second-round pick due to the bounty scandal. Four of the five picks remain with the team, but all are backups. Ingram’s body of work has been disappointing in three seasons, but he did perform well in the second half of last year. The upcoming season is vital to his long-term future with the franchise. Jordon and Vaccaro took to Rob Ryan’s defense well a season ago, and Armstead and Stills expect to play major roles next season.

Best Scenario: CB Darqueze Dennard, OLB Trent Murphy, & C Wesley Johnson

Draft Preview: Despite seeing a drastic improvement from their defense in 2013, New Orleans will probably target a defender with their first pick. Playing Dennard opposite of Keenan Lewis would give defensive coordinator Rob Ryan two lockdown, man-coverage corners to work with. This’ll open things up for him to get more creative with his front seven. Murphy could be apart of that front seven. He’s among the most intense players of his class and led FBS with 15 sacks in 2013. Finally, the team needs to add competition at center. Johnson was a college tackle, but he‘ll kick inside in the pros, where he could become a solid starting interior player.

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