Our offseason Four Downs series continues with a division-by-division look at each team's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. In the NFC North, quality wide receivers and defensive backs are in short supply.
09 May 2007
Guest column by Jeff Bathurst
Accolades poured into Atlanta after a draft in which the Falcons picked up 11 players, including three who popped up as first-rounders in various mock drafts. Atlanta was happy to pick up Arkansas defensive end Jamaal Anderson with the eighth overall pick, and Anderson immediately slots in to take over for Patrick Kerney. He's been pegged in some quarters as the top defensive player in the draft. Texas offensive lineman Justin Blalock came at number 39 with one of the picks from Houston in the Matt Schaub trade, and then the Falcons used a pick from Minnesota at 41 to nab Arkansas cornerback Chris Houston, who had been highly touted before the draft.
Nice work early, and then they added to that with a star from the combine, wide receiver Laurent Robinson from Illinois State in the third round, and pass-rushing linebacker Stephen Nicholas from South Florida in the fourth. Two value picks even later, in the sixth round: Auburn cornerback David Irons, who was getting a lot of love for a player drafted so late, and Ohio State center Doug Datish, who only started, oh, 35 games for the Buckeyes.
So did they hit the jackpot? Bobby Petrino may not have addressed all the team needs, but those top three are sweet, with some added value in the end. The defense was a priority, and Arkansas buddies Anderson and Houston should step right up.
It's hard to argue with their top picks, but among Atlanta's needs are safety, inside linebacker, and defensive tackle, and the draft didn't address any of those â€¦ unless you count sixth-rounders Trey Lewis, a defensive tackle from (don't call it Chris) Washburn, and Daren Stone, a strong safety from Maine.
If you count "going a week without a shady Michael Vick story" as a need, then that's probably No. 1 on the Falcons list.
Petrino threw a bone to two of his former Louisville offensive linemen, Renardo Foster and Kurt Quarterman, who helped anchor the high-powered offense. The Falcons also picked up possible contributors in Georgia linebacker Tony Taylor, who was second-team all-SEC, Ohio State defensive tackle David Patterson, and Virginia Tech defensive end Noland Burchette. LSU running back Justin Vincent will also get a look.
The NFC South race is bruising even in April. As with the Falcons, the Panthers garnered a lot of approval for their draft moves. Among other things, their picks probably helped speed the surprising (or not?) departure of Keyshawn Johnson. And none was as important as their first decision, trading down with the Jets from 14 to 25 and adding the 59th overall pick and a fifth-rounder, while throwing back a sixth-rounder. Carolina went into the draft crossing their fingers for a Patrick Willis or Adam Carriker, but laid back and took Jon Beason as Dan Morgan's heir apparent at 25.
The next three picks might have been even better, as they added a big wideout in USC's Dwayne Jarrett -- more Keyshawn than Mike Williams, please -- as well as the top center in the draft, Jarrett's old teammate Ryan Kalil, at 59. Then at No. 83 they managed to nab Georgia defensive end Charles Johnson, who could spell Mike Rucker until Rucker is ready to return.
Carolina's willingness to move down set off a domino effect that ended up in four potential starting players. Add in a big-time punt-return prospect in Ryne Robinson of Miami (Ohio) and a solid player in Penn State linebacker Tim Shaw, and the Panthers were impressive.
The Panthers met definite needs at middle linebacker, wide receiver and defensive end, as well as a "not need, but would be nice to have" tight end/H-back in Oregon's Dante Rosario. Safety, providing help for Mike Minter, remains a void, and one could argue that adding Jarrett but subtracting Keyshawn means they still need bodies at wide receiver. All the USC draftees in the world won't make Keary Colbert suddenly rediscover his college form.
The "other" LSU safety, Jessie Daniels, was picked up by Carolina after the draft. Overshadowed by high draft pick LaRon Landry, Daniels was nevertheless projected to be drafted, and he brings aggressiveness and bulk, plus experience against top competition in college. Clemson guard Nathan Bennett was an all-ACC performer in college who started 38 games and provides depth. Kicker Andrew Mellock of Eastern Michigan has an accurate but not overly strong leg and will fight for a place.
Entering the draft after an aggressive off-season and still feeling the bliss of an unexpected run to the NFC title game, the Saints could afford to subscribe to the famous Best Player Available system, always highly touted but rarely actually practiced. They might have pounced on a Leon Hall or a Lawrence Timmons were they so lucky at No. 27, but they were excited to walk away with Tennessee wideout Robert Meachem anyway.
Meachem will be a part of the receiver mix right away, especially given Joe Horn's departure, and could make big contributions as a rookie. Hey, look at Marques Colston last year. The more, the merrier. Speaking of Colston, the Saints followed up their prescient pick of the Hofstra star by dipping into football factories like Kent State, Akron, Towson and Wingate in the 2007 draft.
Cornerback Usama Young was their second selection, one of two Saints third-round picks. Even after signing Kevin Kaesviharn and Jason David, the Saints need secondary help, and Young -- if indeed the best Kent State prospect since Jack Lambert, as the team says -- will help eventually. The third round also yielded needed depth on the offensive line in guard Andy Alleman of Akron. The Saints then traded up to nab Antonio Pittman from Ohio State early in the fourth, proving that even with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, they are not afraid to bring on more talent. That's the sign of a confident bunch.
Towson offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod was a late riser into the fourth round, and Wingate cornerback David Jones followed in the fifth. Their final pick was spent on a Tennessee linebacker, Marvin Mitchell, who was a team captain and has potential to contribute. They also spent a sixth-round pick in a trade to Miami for kicker Olindo Mare and a fourth-rounder in signing Jason David from Indianapolis.
The Saints were unable to pick up a pass-rushing prospect in the draft to spell Charles Grant, or replace him eventually. They didn't find either an outside linebacker or a defensive end in that search.
Signing David just before the draft and overhauling the kicking game by dealing for Mare and signing ex-Jacksonville punter Chris Hanson took care of the Saints' few remaining glaring voids.
New Orleans scooped up Notre Dame wide receiver Rhema McKnight, who ranked second all-time in receptions behind Jeff Samardzija and who was rated higher on some draft boards than Falcons third-round pick Laurent Robinson. McKnight's downside is a supposed lack of focus, and he's also blamed for "overanalyzing" coverages and schemes. Those seem to be mutually exclusive traits, but hey, maybe he's a multi-tasker.
Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko is an interesting pickup; the lefty lacks size and a little mobility, but was very well-regarded going into college before gradually losing favor.
Three other interesting signees: Long snapper Pat McDonald , who hails from the University of Alberta and was on the school's downhill-skiing team; Rutgers cornerback Joe Porter, who holds the school's 200-meter indoor record and was a Big East track champion in 2005; and Walter Thomas, a 6-4, 374-pound defensive tackle from Northwest Mississippi Community College who has played in two games since getting kicked off the Oklahoma State team after 2004.
The much-discussed Jon Gruden plan to trade up for Calvin Johnson never materialized, and Gruden was quick to dismiss draftniks who had predicted such a thing. The Bucs went completely in the other direction by picking for the defense in every round.
Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams led the deluge as the fourth pick overall, adding instant youthful talent to a front seven that had been creeping over the hill in recent years. Tampa had four of the top 68 picks, and Tennessee offensive tackle Arron Sears (No. 35) was the only offensive player chosen in the first six rounds. Adding Oregon's awesomely-named safety Sabby Piscitelli (No. 64) and fourth-round cornerback Tanard Jackson of Syracuse (nice call, Mike Tanier) probably hastened Juran Bolden's departure from the squad.
Early in the third round the Bucs picked underrated linebacker Quincy Black of New Mexico, and in the end they made seven of their 10 picks on the defensive side of the ball.
After signing Cato June and Kevin Carter, the Buccaneers were not content with their defense, and weighting the draft so heavily toward a neglected area might go far to start a quick rebuilding.
The Bucs bypassed the position of wide receiver, and despite the need for bigger contributions in the return game, theBucs did not go for a return specialist among their 10 picks. Otherwise, the Bucs hit the nail on the head by nabbing an impact defensive end, a speedy linebacker and a playmaking safety.
Sam Olajubutu, an all-SEC linebacker two years running at Arkansas, heads the Bucs' UDFA class. Olajubutu started 40 games for the Razorbacks and had 372 tackles in his career, but he only stands 5-8 or 5-9. His overall toughness and football instincts could make him a sleeper in Tampa, though. Georgia Tech's Kenny Scott is a cornerback who was projected as possibly a mid-round pick and might be able to help right away in the return game, if not in the secondary.
Two other interesting pickups are Syracuse linebacker Jerry Mackey, whose great-uncle is Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, and Division II Grand Valley State's Mike McFadden, a 6-1, 255-pound defensive tackle who was his school's all-time sack leader in college, but whom the Bucs see as a fullback.
Next week: AFC North and AFC East.
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