Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 May 2007

Four Downs: NFC South

Guest column by Jeff Bathurst

Atlanta Falcons

Draft Review

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.

Remaining Needs

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 … 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.

Undrafted Free Agents

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.

Carolina Panthers

Draft Review

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.

Remaining Needs

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.

Undrafted Free Agents

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.

New Orleans Saints

Draft Review

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.

Remaining Needs

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.

Undrafted Free Agents

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.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Draft Review

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.

Remaining Needs

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.

Undrafted Free Agents

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.

Posted by: Guest on 09 May 2007

32 comments, Last at 21 May 2007, 1:28am by Alex

Comments

1
by Mac (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 5:15pm

I love these articles.

2
by Duck in MA (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 5:44pm

Piscitelli went to Oregon State, not Oregon. Otherwise, another nice breakdown.

3
by Shawn (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 5:51pm

Word from the AJC is that Atlanta plans to start Houston at CB and move Jimmy Williams (back) to safety.

4
by Stereochemistry (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 5:56pm

Nice article as always; love reading these.

As a Bucs fan I just have to add: I guess the Bucs are content with Chad Owens as returner this year, though I also remember reading that one of the speedster rookies they picked up is being tried out as well; as for WR, don't forget they just drafted Maurice Stovall last year, and Paris Warren the year before that. Neither are first round guys, but with the Bucs going defense early and often in the draft, it would be hard to pick up a day 2 WR just to be #6 or 7 on the depth chart

5
by rk (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 6:14pm

Joey Porter feels disrespected by the Saints' decision to sign a player who shares his name.

6
by sam (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 6:15pm

I hadn't noticed that the Bucs had picked up Chad Owens. He showed potential as a Wide Receiver in Jacksonville (caught everything thrown his way) in 2005 and 2006 preseasons. He never really contributed much on the field, though, as a receiver or PR. He had a problem fielding punts, fumbling a couple in one game versus Indy and the coaches really never trusted him after that.

7
by Nathan (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 6:37pm

Not exactly off-topic but kind of, it would be nice to see an analysis of how teams deal with punt returners, and fumbles.

I remember several teams sticking by a guy after multiple muffs in multiple games next to year other. I wonder if any of the better punt returners delt with this, and then went on to success.

It's always a difficult thing with something in an extremely low dataset to determine the proper way to handle it. If you are in a situation of importance, you don't want a guy to let a ball go, but at the same time, if the kid has skills like great return vision, you almost have to charge through it and hope he turns out.

Random rambling.

8
by Erasmus (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 6:52pm

I doubt anyone is going to replace Charles Grant anytime soon after the huge deal he got.

The Bucs needed to get younger on defense and did in a big way

9
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 6:56pm

The Panthers gettning a punt returner is going to be a bigger deal than that looks on the surface. The numbers here point to the Panthers havnig far and away the worst punt return unit in the league last year and a very subpar kickoff return as well. Anyone who can return either/or will be a huge boost.

10
by Truman (not verified) :: Wed, 05/09/2007 - 11:44pm

I strongly disagree with the assertion that Atlanta didn't fill their needs.
DE was a major need given the loss of Patrick Kerney to free agency and no one wants to see Chauncey Davis starting in his position.

Jimmy Williams will be moved to safety as a previous poster mentioned; Offensive Line was also a position of need given Petrino's power running game, he's signed a lot of big bodies as free agents and some guys he coached at Louisville who are all 300+ as the team moves away from the smaller, quicker cut-blocking guys who excelled in getting their QB killed.

DT might be a problem, depending on how the Jackson, Coleman and Babineaux situations resolve themselves, but the team had no way of knowing about Coleman before the draft and there was no elite DT prospect in this draft.

11
by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 9:58am

Do you think these college coaches ( like Petrino) have an advantage the first couple years when the draft rolls around?

If Rhema Mcknight is ever going to make the NFL, going from that ND offense to that Saints offense is about the best scenerio he could hope for. He might not be the most athletic or have the best hands, but his reads should help him.

10- Of course you have to bust on the Falcons O-Line. It's not their fault Prick holds onto the ball forever, and looks at the Defensive ends rushing at him.

12
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 10:22am

Saints make all right moves. Saints NFC champs, buy tickets now for Arizona.

/raiderjoe template as applied to Saints.

Anyway, I find it interesting that people still ignore Will Smith, even though he started in the pro bowl at DE. And Rob Nincovich will be back after injury last season, so he can provide some depth, and is a good pass rusher. He's a gritty, high motor guy, and a fan favorite to boot.

13
by Theo, Holland (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 11:38am

10.
Jackson? Grady Jackson? Isn't that the guy FO fell in love with a while ago?

14
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 11:40am

11

I'd say no. If they did have an advantage, they'd probably last longer as pro coaches then they tend to. In fact, I think college coaches just out have a little bit of bias towards players they had tried to recruit, players on their old teams, and teams they played against.

I think they still view the game too much like college, where they need to recruit and extract talent, and a million assistant coaches will handle everything for you while you have free time to enjoy the publicity of being a head coach.

When you enter the pro level, you should already have most of the physical tools you need, it's just a matter of getting adjusted to the speed, technique, and mental aspects of it. and I don't think a lot of college coaches really understand that. I'm often against college coaches to the pros, unless it's as a coordinator role first.

15
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:04pm

Saints picked up Walter Thomas, undrafted. Anybody see him before? Supposedly, he can do backflips.

16
by Chris (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:15pm

14- Bobby Bowden fits the bill of a guy who has his assistants do everything.

What if college coaches who go pro are better at recruiting talent to bring in, but aren't as familiar with current nfl talent, and the things that people are doing in the pros? What if they are fine, but quality guys for their staff are reluctant to join coaching with them?

I don't have a problem at all with college guys biased towards players they coached and/or recruited. They would have more insight into these guys work habits, character, and history more than some scouts on these 15 minutue interviews. If a staff is on the fence with a couple of guys, really knowing those players could give them the key insight for making a huge financial commitment on the guy.

Also consider this, most college coaches go to the NFL because of their successes in college. If the coaches were successful in college, they most likely had good players. I'd expect a Norm Chow was telling his PD to bring in Leinart, Bush, White, Jarret, Justice, Steve Smith etc. If Bobbt Petreno was bugging his PD to take Okoye, Michael Bush and BB next year, I don't think he would be really reaching based on personal relationship.

17
by Cathedraticum (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:23pm

I find it most impressive that someone from the division has been in the NFC Championship game the last 5 years. Seems like the SEC addage fits here. They all beat up on each other all year then by the time the playoffs roll around they are battle tested.

18
by asg (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:24pm

Can we do something about the "kissyface21" ad? It's borderline NSFW.

19
by Crushinator (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:25pm

16

I'm more saying that they have too much personal insight. Just because they've seen a player a lot, they might think he's a better choice than a player the coach hadn't seen as much of. A player is not more or less talented just because a coach happened to witness him or not.

Recruiting doesn't matter in the NFL, from a head coach perspective. You get drafted, you go to the team that drafted you. You get traded, you go to the team that traded for you. and as long as you win and players get paid, your players will often want to stick around.

Most college coaches aren't really ready for the insane work hours and commitment an NFL coach has to have to be successful. Personality and recruiting is EVERYTHING in college. A head coach can get away with letting his assistants do everything at the NCAA level, and rely on his ability to recruit to just completely outmatch the opposition.

We know that teams like USC are going to win a ton of games. Why? Because they're just flat out more talented than a lot of the teams they play. The talent spectrum in the NFL is far more compressed, and you have to be better prepared and smarter about your gameplan. I'm sure Georgia Tech went into some games last year where they just said "We're going to hurl the ball to Calvin Johnson every single play" and that was a viable strategy. At the NFL level, it's a lot more complex.

Plus, most pro coaches have a ton of contacts in college anyway. I think it's better that they're distanced from witnessing the player in person because then they can wind up thinking this player is much better (or worse) than he actually is. I know for example Steve Spurrier was a terrific example of all this during his NFL stint.

20
by weaponx (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:33pm

15 - Link to a pre draft article about Walter Thomas in my name.
“I feel like I’m a big secret,� Thomas said. “The secret of the draft.� Walter Thomas, 21, 6-foot-5 370 pounds, can bench-press 475 pounds and squat 800. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds.

21
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 1:27pm

I think any benefit a college coach has in seeing players more is offset by the fact that the kind of talent that wins football games in college won't necessarily win games in the NFL. Adjusting their baseline for what "talent" is probably takes long enough that the short-term benefit doesn't help.

22
by TED F!@#$ING GINN!? (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 1:43pm

Re 19:

I agree with your view on college -> NFL. Nick Saban drafted Jason Allen in the 1st Round last year and he couldn't even get onto the field. Superstars like Yeremiah Bell were ahead of him on the depth chart.

Saban recruited Jason Allen out of high school, but he wound up going to Tennessee. Saban continued to be enamored with him throughout college.

Saban also drafted Travis Daniels because he played for Saban at LSU.

I'm not saying that either of these players won't grow into great starters, I hope they do, but I definitely think Saban had blinders on when he was drafting.

I agree that college coaches focus too much on their own players or players that they've seen in their conference.

23
by Sophandros (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 2:30pm

19: I watched and attended several GT games. Believe it or not, Chan Gailey did not go into game saying that they were going to hurl it at CJ every play. OK, maybe having Reggie Ball at QB had something to do with it (see the bowl game this year, when Ball was academically ineligible...) but still. Then again, maybe that's why Chan isn't an NFL coach.

24
by Alaska Jack (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 3:35pm

I just think it's awesome that Juran Bolden quietly had a 10 year career, after playing his college ball for the mighty Mississipi Delta Community College Trojans. Incidently, eight picks later the Chiefs drafted Joe Horn, who played his college ball for the mighty Itawamba Community College Indians. - Alaska Jack

25
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 7:13pm

Man oh man, nothing steams me like ads that are borderline NSFW.

26
by langsty (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 7:15pm

13: "Jackson? Grady Jackson? Isn’t that the guy FO fell in love with a while ago?"

yup. He was the Falcons' best defender last year, though that's kind of damning with faint praise.

27
by Alaska Jack (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 7:38pm

18: what is kissyface21? Why can't I see this ad? (Uh, purely in the interests of reviewing it for improper content. And stuff. Yeah.)

28
by Truman (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 8:28pm

Re: 13
Jackson had a great year last year, but recently decided it was a good idea to file a lawsuit against the team. He claims they released medical information regarding his weight last year when he was a free agent to lower the demand for his services and now wants compensation.

29
by langsty (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 8:51pm

GJ is reporting to minicamp tho, so hopefully he'll stay with the team at least another year...

30
by stravinsky (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 10:15pm

kissyface21 is the new Catholic Match Girl

31
by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 05/11/2007 - 1:24am

kissyface21 is poor replacement, who lacks depth. Just like going from McNabb to Garcia. Yes, Garcia is ok, and you can win games with him, but he's no Catholic Match Girl... or something like that.

32
by Alex (not verified) :: Mon, 05/21/2007 - 1:28am

#19: "A head coach can get away with letting his assistants do everything at the NCAA level, and rely on his ability to recruit to just completely outmatch the opposition."

I don't buy that at all. If all you have to do is have superior talent, why didn't Ron Zook win a National Championship at Florida, despite having virtually the same starters that Urban Meyer had this year. Zook is the poster boy for college coaches that are great at recruiting but lose in spite of superior talent.