Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: NFC South

by Doug Farrar

Atlanta Falcons

Draft Review

Congratulations, Matt Ryan. You are now the captain of the resurgent Titanic.

Exactly 365 days after local police found a dog training complex behind Michael Vick's house and 66 dogs on the property -- setting into motion one of the worst years any sports franchise has ever suffered -- the Falcons made a very public break from the Vick era by drafting the Boston College standout third overall. While beleaguered team owner Arthur Blank sees Ryan as the ticket out of the disaster Blank himself helped create, general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith see him as the talented, versatile potential leader of the new Falcons power offense run by offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey was seriously considered, and the team reportedly talked to the St. Louis Rams about trading up to the second pick to get Dorsey, but it feels like the Falcons were going quarterback all along. After traveling to workouts to see Ryan, Chad Henne, Joe Flacco and San Diego's Josh Johnson, a final meeting between Ryan and all the Atlanta head men seemed to clinch it.

Ryan isn't just the senior who threw for 4,507 yards and 31 touchdowns -- he's the humble, well-spoken future star who will hopefully energize an understandably hesitant fan base with the idea that this team knows what it's doing again. Any ancillary concerns (like his 19 interceptions or sub-60 completion percentage in 2007) were set aside as products of a poor supporting cast. The Falcons needed and got the best quarterback in this year's draft. That's the perception. Ryan holds the key to the reality.

Atlanta traded up with the Redskins to acquire another first-round pick, taking USC offensive tackle Sam Baker at 21. For all the talk that Dimitroff put out there before the draft about building from the lines out, Baker was the only lineman chosen among Atlanta's 11 selections. The three-time All-American could be an immediate starter at tackle, though some see his power blocking style and short arms and think he projects better inside. Oklahoma middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a very instinctive player who has drawn comparisons to Houston's DeMeco Ryans, will push Keith Brooking back outside. LSU cornerback Chevis Jackson is an aggressive player with average speed who might be better off at free safety. Louisville receiver Harry Douglas, a hit at the Combine with his quotable nature, is tough inside despite his size. Georgia running back Thomas Brown, taken in the sixth round, might be the surprise of this class if he can stay healthy. He has had injury issues every season since his high school senior year, but he's got change-of-pace size and speed.

Remaining Needs

The Falcons drafted 11 high-quality young men who will pass any character test. What they did not do was address their interior offensive and defensive line issues, the Baker pick aside. Atlanta's offense ranked 32nd in Adjusted Line Yards and 23rd inAdjusted Sack Rate. It was no better on the other side, as the team ranked 28th and 21st in Defensive ALY and ASR. Part of the problem with the offensive line was Bobby Petrino's inability to match blocking schemes to the players he had, but Ryan (should he start sooner than later, which is the assumption) and new big-ticket running back Michael Turner could find it tough going early on. Atlanta goes into minicamp with Jonathan Babineaux and Kindal Moorehead as the projected starting defensive tackles. Problem is, they're both under 300 pounds, and there isn't a run-stopper to speak of while Trey Lewis deals with ACL issues. There's also no definite replacement for cornerback DeAngelo Hall, though Hall's trade to the Raiders took a big weight off a few shoulders from a personality perspective.

Undrafted Free Agents

Oklahoma strong safety D.J. Wolfe had a sixth-round grade, but his story is fairly common among corner/safety "tweeners." Thought to be a bit small for the position at 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds, his 4.6 speed at the Combine and at his Pro Day scuttled his stock. If there's one thing you can call cornerback-sized players who run like safeties, it's "undrafted." Wolfe has potential as a nickel coverage player and on special teams. Georgia middle linebacker Brandon Miller might stick as a backup; his college coaches thought him to be the fulcrum of the Bulldog defense. The Falcons had been tracking Slippery Rock offensive tackle Mike Butterworth since his Cactus Bowl appearance (boy, that was a fun sentence to write). They were the only NFL team to send a representative to his Pro Day.

Carolina Panthers

Draft Review

When Panthers owner Jerry Richardson proclaimed that he wanted his offense to resemble the smashmouth approach of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise at its best, he wasn't just whistling Dixie. Power was the overriding theme of this draft, beginning with Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart, the 13th overall pick. Stewart is a beast to tackle; with his 5-10, 235-pound frame and sub-4.5 speed, there isn't a defensive back in the NFL who's going to look forward to dealing with him one-on-one. To get Stewart and battery-mate DeAngelo Williams past the first level of defenders, general manager Marty Hurney orchestrated a trade with the Eagles that took Carolina 24 spots up and back into the first round. It was there at 19 that the Panthers took Pitt tackle Jeff Otah, an enormous man (6-6, 322 pounds) who will move to right tackle. Otah is raw, and there are questions about his instincts, consistency, and ability to deal with edge rushers, but he operates under the hypothesis that it's a lot harder to get around him when you're trying to get your wind back after being flattened by one of the strongest prospects in recent memory. The fact that he allowed 8.5 sacks in his senior season seems to validate the wisdom of the move to the right side. The Panthers gave up second- and fourth-round picks in 2007 and their first-rounder next year for Otah, which certainly puts the pressure on.

Carolina followed their first two selections with two possible third-round steals. Iowa cornerback Charles Godfrey projects as a free safety in the NFL, though he's played all around the defensive backfield. He could start right away. Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, the reigning Bednarik Award winner, dropped far beyond where most expected (yours truly had him going 19th overall, exactly where Otah did, in the FO mock draft). The Panthers had Connor much higher on their draft board and couldn't believe they got him at 74. He's a surprisingly athletic player who can fit in just about anywhere in a 4-3 squad, though he looks best in the middle. Second-year sensation Jon Beason might move outside.

Keeping it close to home -- by which I mean "Football Outsiders World Headquarters in beautiful downtown Framingham, Massachusetts" -- Carolina chose Waltham's own Mackenzy Bernadeau in the seventh round (250th overall). Bernadeau attended Division II Bentley College, staying close to home so that his disabled mother could see him play. A knee injury forced the 6-4, 305-pound guard out of his last four regular season games, the Cactus Bowl, the Texas vs. the Nation game and the Combine. However, a great performance during Boston College's Pro Day got the attention of many scouts, and Bernadeau visited several NFL teams before the draft. He'll be a major project at the next level -- probably practice squad at best -- but he could be worth the investment down the road for a team willing to show him the ropes.

Remaining Needs

Like the Falcons, the Panthers have some serious issues along their defensive line. It was a surprise to see them wait until the sixth round to address this with Wisconsin guard Nick Hayden. The recent Darwin Walker signing is more a stopgap than anything on the defensive line. If Jake Delhomme's recovery from Tommy John surgery hits any snags, Carolina's left with the two-pronged plan of Matt Moore and Brett Basanez, so it might have been a good idea to take a flyer on a late-rounder like Tulsa's Paul Smith.

Undrafted Free Agents

South Carolina defensive end Casper Brinkley began the 2007 season on the All-SEC team along with his twin brother, linebacker Jasper. However, fate took a bad turn for Jasper, who was on the Butkus and Lombardi watch lists, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in late September. He'll return to school in 2008 with a medical waiver while his brother gives the NFL a shot. Casper struggles in coverage, but he might stick with his ability to rush the passer; Carolina's 23 sacks last year was the second-worst total in the league, ahead of only the Bengals.

New Orleans Saints

Draft Review

The problems were all too clear for the 2007 Saints: They gave up 245.3 passing yards per game, 30th in the NFL. Their 32 passing touchdowns allowed tied with the Lions for the NFL's worst. They allowed a 96.9 passer rating and 7.87 yards per attempt, both the NFL's worst. Former Colts cornerback Jason David was completely victimized by the switch from zone to man coverage. The Hole-in-Zone jokes are already getting old, but watching the Saints' secondary in action is still high comedy. Their 27.8% DVOA against the pass was the league's worst by far. New Orleans' run defense wasn't so bad, but what was the point in hauling the rock when you could go up top with impunity? Opposing offenses passed the ball a league-leading 652 times.

Clearly, something had to be done, and the Saints dealt with the problem from the front to the back in the draft. They traded up three spots in the first round and took USC defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who looked like Warren Sapp on leapers during Senior Bowl practices and proved to be virtually unblockable in the game. Ellis played nose and 3-technique in college, but he'll be a perfect under tackle in the NFL. Ellis' senior season was a revelation from start to finish. He had to be held out of USC's spring drills because he was disrupting the offense so much, and he took off 11 pounds from the Combine to his Pro Day just to further impress. He lasted longer in Kansas City line coach Tim Krumrie's brutal hand-fighting drill than did any other tackle this year when he visited the Chiefs. The Saints hope that his ability to wreak havoc in the pocket will upset the quarterbacks who previously found their defense easy to solve.

In the second round, New Orleans took Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter, a small, speedy defender with minimal tackling ability but great short-area and open-range quickness (think Andre Dyson or Kelly Jennings as rough comparisons). His occasional lapses in coverage are mitigated by sheer athletic prowess. Porter can play the nickel right away, and he could do more soon with this lineup. North Carolina defensive tackle Demario Pressley and the fourth-round trade for ex-Jets linebacker Jonathan Vilma rounded out a solid need-based draft. Both Pressley and Vilma have struggled with injuries; they'll decide whether this draft is spectacular. Ellis, however, is as sure a thing as you'll find in this draft. Keep an eye on fifth-round lineman Carl Nicks of Nebraska. If he can set things right after the character concerns that forced his drop on the boards, he could be a force at guard sooner than later. The Saints also got Wisconsin's Taylor Mehlhaff, the best kicker in this draft class.

Remaining Needs

Cornerback was such a problem that the Saints basically threw the kitchen sink at it by drafting Porter and signing Randall Gay and Aaron Glenn. However, if Porter takes a while to develop and Mike McKenzie's ACL recovery doesn't go as planned, there's a very uncomfortable reliance on Jason David. Believe it or not, there could be another move at the position. Depth at running back is a concern, especially if you're of the opinion that Deuce McAllister is basically done. Reggie Bush needs a counterpart; maybe Dominic Rhodes gets a shot there. Pierre Thomas is the sleeper.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Geathers name has been well-known in New Orleans since 1984, when the team took Witchita State defensive end James "Jumpy" Geathers in the second round. The elder Geathers lasted 13 seasons in the NFL, playing for the Saints, Redskins, Falcons and Broncos. His son Jeremy, also a defensive end, declared for the draft after his junior year and wound up signing with the Saints as a free agent. If bloodlines mean anything, Jeremy's in good shape -- his dad put up 62 sacks in 163 career games; his uncle Robert Sr. played for the Bills for six seasons; and his cousin Robert Jr. currently plays for the Bengals. At a slower 6-2 and 256 pounds, Jeremy might be a man without a position, but name will get him some traction.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Draft Review

The Buccaneers, like the Raiders franchise that spawned head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, have no problem taking chances on athletic players with "interesting" pasts. They gave serial troublemaker Jerramy Stevens reps at tight end last year, and receiver Antonio Bryant, who previously washed out in Cleveland, Dallas and San Francisco, is currently languishing on Gruden's roster. When they took Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib with the 20th overall pick, it wasn't a surprise. Talib is a fast, talented player who scared some teams off after admitting that he tested positive for marijuana three times at school. He was also suspended for two games in 2006 for undisclosed disciplinary reasons. He did display some growth in his overall work ethic through his collegiate career, and there are those insiders who believe that marijuana is a far more common issue among college players than is currently disclosed. Legal and ethical debates aside, Talib now has to prove that the people who dinged him as immature were wrong. He'll also have to quiet the doubters who wonder why Tampa Bay didn't take South Florida's Mike Jenkins instead.

The Bucs turned their draft into a track meet with their second pick. If you remember how difficult Jeff Garcia found it to do anything in the playoff loss to the Giants, you won't be surprised that Gruden and Allen took a speedy receiver in the second round. It wasn't Cal's DeSean as many expected; that Jackson went to the Eagles. The Bucs decided on Appalachian State's Dexter Jackson, the man who took Michigan to school with two touchdowns in that improbable upset, and later impressed at the Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, and Combine. He's a little bigger than most waterbugs at 5-10 and 182 pounds. The comparison is Antwaan Randle El; the dream is Steve Smith.

Speaking of athletic, Rutgers tackle Jeremy Zuttah was picked in the third round, and if Gruden wants to run the tackle eligible, Zuttah's their man. In the fifth round, Tampa Bay selected a quarterback they have had their eye on for a long time: Josh Johnson, the Pioneer League superstar who suffered back spasms at the Combine but redeemed himself at his Pro Day. Bucs senior personnel assistant Doug Williams took a special interest in Johnson, whose underrated onfield acumen is the result of extensive work with Jim Harbaugh. South Carolina running back Cory Boyd looked solid at the Shrine Game. Might he be this year's Earnest Graham? He'll be a short-yardage option early on.

Remaining Needs

"My guts are ripped out of my body right now." That was Gruden's quote when asked how it felt to pass on all the receiver talent beyond Jackson. The Redskins had a similar need for a big receiver, and they took two -- Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly. Tampa Bay's more balanced draft leaves concerns at the receiver position. Joey Galloway will be 37 in November, Michael Clayton has caught a total of 87 passes in the three seasons since his 80-catch rookie year, and though Harry Douglas may love him some Ike Hilliard, the Bryant acquisition and D.J. Hackett's visit displayed that there's still a big need there.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Bucs will give Tommy Blake, the TCU defensive end who is battling social anxiety disorder, a tryout in their upcoming minicamps. Blake went into his senior season expected to compete for national awards, but his multiple departures from fall camp, and the fact that he ballooned up 30 pounds to 280 from his junior year, made 2007 a lost season. Blake missed five games, refused to work out at the Combine, and redeemed himself just a bit at his Pro Day. The sad tales of Alonzo Spellman and Dimitrius Underwood have teams on alert, but Rob Rang of, who included Blake on his "Rang's Gang" team of undervalued players, believed Blake's potential to be worth a roster spot.


42 comments, Last at 21 May 2008, 2:19am

1 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

"those insiders" = anyone with common sense.

2 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

I'm hoping that the Buc's not stockpiling receivers in the draft is a sign of their faith is Paris Warren.

He seemed to be well-respected by his team-mates and had a great preseason until his injury.

3 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Anyone hate this part of the football season? If you ask me this is the only real "offseason" as there isn't the draft to look forward to and we basically have until August to watch the preseason (though that isn't much to watch if you ask me)

Just wanted to share a site I was lead to that may help some of you take away the sting of the slow part of the year. It's a link sent through my name and it is a football based RPG that is free! Just click on my name and check it out :)

4 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

If Jake goes down, maybe the Panthers can get Brett Favre to come in....

5 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Not to exactly highjack the thread, but at the end of each comment, please vote for which NFC South team had the best draft.

My vote (as a Saints fan) is of course the Saints. They traded up to get the DT they wanted (with minimal loss), a speedy CB, Jonathan Vilma with their 4th (via trade with the Jets), another DT, and a K who will hopefully be able to do what Mare was supposed to be doing last year. (BTW, the last time the Saints drafted a left-footed kicker was '82--Morten Anderson)

To me, their draft seems like a good marriage of value-based with need-based drafting. The only player who might have been a "reach" was Pressley in the 5th, and they jumped up 2 spots because Cincy was going to take him with the next pick. BTW, with the Saints jumping ahead of Cincy TWICE to take DT's, plus LSU beating Ohio State for the BCS, I worry that southern Ohio football fans may try to destroy Louisiana.

7 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

The comparison is Antwaan Randle El; the dream is Steve Smith.

That's really a terrific line. Kudos.

For Saints team needs, Center is looking like it might become a gaping hole. They signed G/C Matt Lehr to replace the departed Jeff Faine, only to have him implicated in a steroids scandal. Between that and McAllister, I think there's reason to believe that their explosive offense won't be very potent this year.

Anyone hate this part of the football season?

This part isn't so bad. There's plenty of minicamp happenings and OTA's to speculate. The worst is July. From the end of OTA's til the beginning of training camp, it's a complete dead month. No practices, no signings, and no releases. The entire league is on vacation.

8 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Mularkey is the OC of the Falcons now? HA!

For any Atlanta fans out there, take it from a Buffalo fan who also watched Mikey in Miami -- it's gonna go like this.

1. Mularkey will speak early and often about an offense rooted in power running and deep passing. He may even have a team built for it.

2. When game day comes, you will see neither power running nor deep passing. He will mysteriously switch to a dink-and-dunk passing offense and a shocking number of poor gadget plays.

Count on it.

9 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Boy, I spent all last year rooting FOR Cleveland so Dallas would have a crappy pick this year. Now I have to spend all this year rooting AGAINST the "black cats". I hope you like Otah - you paid a lot for him.

10 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Where's Will when you need him?

Since Delhomme played in the Panthers' first three games his Tommy John surgery wasn't until mid-October. When a pitcher has this surgery the usual recovery time is over a year, so how is he going to be ready for this season?

Yeah, QBs throw less passes than pitchers throw pitches (albeit with a heavier ball), but pitchers aren't getting tackled. Obviously the Panthers believe he'll be ready (or they really love Matt Moore), but the trade for Otah may become very expensive ...

Love the psychology on the trade though: Fox and the GM may be asked to leave the building, but they might just burn it down on the way out.

11 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

I think I read that it's because the throwing motions are different.

I'm curious about the Otah pick; aren't zone-blocking schemes supposed to have smaller, quicker linemen? It seems counter-productive.

12 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Slippery Rock? Boy do I love undrafted free agents!

13 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

"Tim Krumrie’s brutal hand-fighting drill" -- That sounds like an extremely bad-ass drill. Can anyone provide further description of what it entails?

14 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

For Saints team needs, Center is looking like it might become a gaping hole. They signed G/C Matt Lehr to replace the departed Jeff Faine, only to have him implicated in a steroids scandal. Between that and McAllister, I think there’s reason to believe that their explosive offense won’t be very potent this year.

Lehr was signed to add depth, Goodwin is the guy they want to start (see article).

With Pierre Thomas, Aaron Stecker, Reggie Bush, and Jamaal Branch (who's also coming back from an injury), I'm not worried about the Saints RB depth after McAllister, though I clearly hope Deuce comes back healthy.

15 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

I tried to tell you the Eagles wouldn't take a LB at 19, but noooo. . .

I'm surprised the Bucs took Jackson when they did. I'd hoped the Eagles would nab him in the 3rd, if only because he's got 10-15 pounds on DeSean Jackson.

16 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

3/JoRo's link is a reference-generating link which will benefit him. Removing the "?ref=..." section will remove this, if desired.

17 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

I'd call it unlikely that DJ Wolfe sticks as a nickel corner in the NFL - he played some corner at OU, and was utterly horrible. I'd guess he'll make a solid special teams guy, though.

18 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

re 8: ahahaha, that is not very encouraging :( he has definately promised a lot of power running thusfar.

anyway, tampa's draft was pretty interesting. one of the more interesting comparables i heard for Josh Johnson was actually Rich Gannon, who was originally drafted as a safety by the patriots.

19 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

I mentioned in the Audibles thread that I thought it insane that John Fox still thought it viable to build a team around a power running game. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that both Jerry Richardson and Mike Mularkey think so, too.

That said: when was the last time that this approach to offense was successful? The Vikings last year (would have been if they were successful)? The 2000 Ravens? I'm coming up blank beyond that. Is there any model for this approach that looks at all repeatable?

20 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

The 2006 Bears, the Steelers, the Broncos (although more of a finesse running team), the Schottenheimer Chargers, and the Giants. Those are the teams I can think of that have had some success on offense with a power running based attack. Although, with the Steelers, it's mostly because Big Ben is so awesome. Oh, the Chiefs might be another example.

21 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

FO Web Guys:

Dear Lord, you guys have to take down that noisy interstitial ad - the one that starts, "FOUR YEARS AGO..."

22 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

defensive coaches (like John Fox) tend to not be v. risky from an offensive standpoint, and have more appreciation for salting the game away with the run. one reason i've always had extra respect for belichick and dungy is their willingness to get away from this despite their strong defensive backgrounds. still, it's probably a valid way to build a team, especially if you have a young QB who you want to put in situations where they can win.

23 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

22: I'd add Parcells to that list too. He might not have ever had a team with an offense quite like the current Pats or Colts, but his Jets and Cowboys had some passing heavy or at least balanced offenses, and he definitely appreciated the value of occasional deep balls.

Also, to FO: thanks for posting that Tackle eligible clip--it is amazing.

24 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Texas lore holds that the legendary UT football coach Darrell Royal said that there are three things that can happen when you pass the football, and “two of them are bad.” There are claims that this was said by other coaches (University of Tennessee coach Robert Neyland, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty), but Royal definitely used the saying in 1964 and his association seems strongest. Royal liked to run the football.

Darrell Royal
or maybe some one else. But a lot of NFL coaches agree. Hence the power running game.

25 Re: Four Downs: NFC South a Bears fan I'm curious...which of the Tampa QBs are we most likely to have a shot at?

26 Re: Four Downs: NFC South


Apparently Krumrie is a big, big guy. The drill is of his own devising and involves him putting his arms on the prospect's shoulders and pushing down on them, the young DLmen have to knock them off, at which point he puts them back on. He is a great believer in his drill as he thinks it measures arm strength, hand strength and endurance. Some people think it is a load of crap, tells you nothing which helps you determine if the player is going to be a successful lineman and is all about Krumrie's ego. I think it probably has some value at either end of the scale, a guy who is great at it might have good endurance and use his hands well, a guy who is awful (Alan Branch) might not be physical enough to play in the NFL.

27 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

and I've alway said that four things can happen when you run, and three of them are bad. You can lose yards, you can not gain any yards, you can fumble, or you can gain yards. No, 5 things, add negative yards on a penalty. 5 things can happen and 4 things are bad.

Isn't over simplification fun?

When you punt....

28 Re: Four Downs: NFC South


The ones not good enough to stay in Tampa.

(Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski seem the most likely).

29 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Jacksonville's been to the playoffs 2 of the last 3 years and despite David Garrard's emergence, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are still the dominant feature. I'm not sure exactly what qualifies as a power running game but they do use a fullback.

30 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Jacksonville are a great example, since they pretty much just beat you physically or they don't beat you at all. They can run on just about anybody - they faced 8-man fronts all year, and they RAN on those 8-man fronts. They have a great run-blocking line, 2 outstanding backs, receivers that are big and are good blockers, and when they stayed in 3rd and shorts the slants and shallow crosses were usually available.

31 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Tim Krumrie's hand-fighting drill:

Linked on my name.

33 Re: Four Downs: NFC South


Simms and Gradkowski have to be gone, but the Bears probably have a shot at Brian Griese again, I'd think. Garcia's the starter, Luke McCown looked pretty solid last year in backup duty, and Josh Johnson's a fresh pick with a lot of potential, so he stays. I can't imagine being able to stash him on the practice squad, so you'll have to keep him on the active roster. That leaves Griese as the odd man out. Can't imagine they'd keep four QBs on the active roster, so I'd think Griese would be gone as well. Which is so, so upsetting.

34 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

The Falcons drafted Sam Baker?!?

You wouldn't know it from reading audibles, the draft chat or the report card. It's only the biggest trade of the first round.

35 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Am i the only Carolina fan that wonders what has happened to our drafting ability? The titans are getting a roasting for repeatedly taking backs in the first or second round but in 4 years the panthers have now taken Shelton, Williams and Stewart at a time when conventional wisdom seems to be that good backs can be found much further down the draft. For example, look at what Green Bay did last season... Added to that is the fact that the monumental price paid for Otah means that if he is anything less than fantastic it immediately becomes a very bad decision. I'm not saying it was the wrong decision, but for a team with an increasingly large number of holes to pay so much to fill just one of those seems like a very risky/reckless strategy.

36 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

#11 CarolinaNick

You missed that part where they abandoned the zone-blocking.

#5 Joseph

As to if the Panthers "won" the draft, I think they definitely went "all in." There are a whole lot of if's - if the O-line can gel, if Jake's elbow is OK, if Peppers can find his fire, if Moose still has it in him, if ....

Should the vast majority of those go well - watch out! Half plus a couple breaks - in the playoff hunt but maybe miss again. Lot's of misses - a slow-motion train-wreck that you can't seem to look away from and the Cowher era begins.

37 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Can anyone tell me why so many experts had the Panthers picking a QB in the 5th round or so? The Panthers have TWO mid-level/OK backups who are already familiar with the team & playbook. How does adding a third back-up (who DOESN'T know the team & playbook) add to the situation.

I guess from some other reading a fourth QB is needed to round out the squads for practice - if so, the UFA they got makes way more sense to me than burning a pick.

Oh, and on Defense - does the excess of linebackers and the supposed weakness of the D-Line mean a hybrid 4-3/3-4? Lot's of Zone Blitzes or dropping Peppers into coverage? Place your bets now.

38 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Can you give the entire division an F for the draft? The Falcons for spending the #3 overall pick on a QB who is unlikely to have a better NFL career than Chris Redman, the Panthers for getting abused in the trade for Otah, the Bucs for drafting PacMan Jr., and the Saints for, well, being the Saints? (OK, that's a little hyperbole there; give the Saints a B for getting the other impact DT in the draft).

Frankly, the only shining spot in the Falcons draft was drafting Lofton. Baker was a necessary reach as there wasn't going to be any decent OTs left for the second round, and he should be serviceable. One wonders about all the other linebackers they drafted, though. Are they anticipating not signing Boley to a long-term deal? If so, the draft goes from F to F-. Sigh

39 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

oh, I like the Lofton pick if it means moving Brooking back to weakside - he's just been brutal in the middle for a few years now. I will be pissed if they don't lock up Boley to a long-term deal though. He made a name for himself in 07, but he's really been the team's best defender for two years running now.

Baker was a guy I liked a lot before the draft, but afterwards I kept hearing how NFL people, including line coaches, had him projected as a center prospect (!). Which is disconcerting. But I think the Ryan pick will turn out well, even if Dorsey + Henne would've been more satisfying from a 'value' perspective.

40 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Pac-Man junior? For smoking pot? Um, slight difference between that and Mr. Jones, wouldn't you say?

41 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

Since now that Arizona and SF are decent this is probably the weakest division in the NFL, you have to take things with a grain of salt.

If DelHomme comes back, Otah and Stewart should make a decent start on a running game, and DJ Hackett is the best receiver opposite Steve Smith Steve Smith has ever had. The Panthers are a bad team that has the opportunity to go 8-8 because Peppers and Smith are really, really good.

New Orleans is a rebuilding team that wants to contend. Drew Brees is the real deal, and Sedrick Ellis will be a force, but they are four or five players away from being Dallas, let alone Indianapolis or New England.

Atlanta is rebuilding and knows it. Cutting bait on Vick may have been necessary, but he was the best athlete on the team. And his only competition is also gone. I would have traded down from #3 and gotten a couple of linemen rather than selling out on Ryan. Joey Harrington and Chris Redman are both serviceable replacement level players.

Tampa Bay probably won't make the playoffs again, just because they are getting rather old, but they made most of the right moves to get another chance before Garcia, Galloway, Barber, etc. give up the ghost.

42 Re: Four Downs: NFC South

"Georgia middle linebacker Brandon Miller might stick as a backup; his college coaches thought him to be the fulcrum of the Bulldog defense."

Say what? As a pretty close follower of Georgia's football team, and a keeper of some FO-esque stats for the Dawgs, I am stunned at this. Where did you get this information? Miller hardly saw the field late last year and he wasn't exactly dealing with injuries. There were at least 11 defenders more important to the team last year than Brandon Miller. He does have NFL ability, though, at DE if he'd ever give it a try.

Otherwise, a very nice rundown of my Falcons' draft.