NFC South Division Draft Recap

April 27, 2009

With the completion of this year's NFL Draft, hope once again springs eternal in the league. Of course, that will all come crashing to a halt in the next few months, when some of these picks get injured, holdout, or just plain don't pan out. Until then, each franchise probably walked away from the draft feeling that they at least addressed some of their off-season needs.

Here is our team-by-team draft evaluation of the NFC South:

Atlanta Falcons

A year after hitting a grand slam by selecting quarterback Matt Ryan, and then having the eventual Rookie of the Year lead them into the playoffs, the Falcons appear to have turned in another solid draft, wisely choosing to focus almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball.

They began their draft by picking defensive lineman Peria Jerry from Mississippi. Not only will Jerry help to shore up what was a thin d-line for the Falcons last year, but he also could emerge as just the kind of "3 technique" run-stopper that coach Mike Smith's staff has coveted to anchor the middle of their defense.

The Dirty Birds then spent their next two picks on DBs, addressing another one of their major concerns. Choosing safety William Moore from Missouri in the second round was a smart move, as he will likely help fill the void left by the departure of hard-hitting safety and team leader Lawyer Milloy.

The same can also be said for their selection of corner Christopher Owens. Owens is an ultra-aggressive corner with good instincts and ball skills, and should help bolster a Falcons' secondary which was below average last year. In the fifth round, they also added another corner with similar skills in William Middleton from Furman.

Rounding out the team's draft picks in round 5, the Falcons were able to potentially improve their run-blocking for their backs Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood by picking up the massive Garrett Reynolds from North Carolina.

Finally, Atlanta added linebacker Spencer Adkins out of Miami (Fla). If there was any weakness in the Falcons' draft day decision-making process, it was that they didn't adequately address their depth at this position. Whether it will prove to be to their detriment, only time will tell.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers turned in a decent draft, addressing concerns up front on both sides of the ball, as well as in the defensive backfield. They may have gotten a steal by grabbing rush end Everette Brown from Florida State in the second round. Although somewhat undersized at 6'2" and 260 pounds, Brown consistently showed a tenacity and burst off the ball that ought to serve him well when going against much larger tackles on Sundays. Brown could be called upon to replace some of the lost production with the likely departure of marquee defensive end Julius Peppers.

With their second pick in Round 2, Carolina picked safety Sherrod Martin out of Troy (Ala.), in the hopes of shoring up another thin area. Although the Panthers have a solid nucleus of corners - led by playmaker Chris Gamble - their two safety positions are still somewhat unsettled. Martin will be counted on to provide depth at that spot, at the very least.

Their next three picks could either prove to be very shrewd, or simply ill-advised reaches, but that is the nature of the draft's second day.

Their lone pick in round 3 was used to acquire enigmatic defensive lineman Corvey Irvin of the Georgia Bulldogs. A perplexing prospect whose performances routinely ranged from awesome to atrocious, Irvin could possibly prove to be the steal of the draft, as he has a rare combination of size, speed, and athleticism for a player his size (6'3", 310 lbs).

Carolina had two picks in the next round, and used them to acquire a pair of players that will probably provide depth on their special teams and backfield, in that order. First, they chose tailback Mike Goodson out of Texas A & M, a quick and shifty scat-back with surprising toughness who could contribute as a returner, pass-catcher, or as a "Slash"-type runner of trick plays.

Next, they took fullback Tony Fiammetta out of Syracuse. Fiammetta was generally regarded as the best fullback in this year's draft class, as he has demonstrated both solid lead blocking and reliable hands in the passing game. This pick deserves extra praise, as Fiammetta can either be a positive addition to the Panthers rushing attack as an understudy to Brad Hoover, or a big back that totes the rock himself a la Mike Alstott or Larry Csonka.

The Panthers rounded out their draft by adding Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn, a diminutive cover corner out of the South Carolina Gamecocks program, is quite adept in man-to-man coverage, and is somewhat comparable to Dunta Robinson of the Texans. He should bolster the Panthers pass coverage, and could contribute right away in dime and nickel packages.

Last but not least, on Monday the Panthers continued their tradition of thoroughly scouting the far reaches of the globe by signing undrafted free agent running back Jamall Lee of Bishops University in Quebec. Lee, a native of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, turned in the fastest 40-yard dash time of any Canadian college player this past year (4.36), and has solid bloodlines as he is the son of former CFL great Orville Lee.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New Coach Raheem Morris looked to put his own stamp on the team by drafting plus-sized QB Josh Freeman out of Kansas State with the team's first-round pick (17th overall). Already familiar with Freeman from his previous stint coaching at K-State, Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik made a bold pick, that could prove to be brilliant or disastrous depending on Freeman's talents and the team's ability to foster his development.

Already blessed with innumerable physical tools, the main question surrounding the 6'5" 250-pounder, is whether he can effectively read defenses and adjust on the fly to disguised coverages and blitzes. He will definitely benefit from the presence of veteran NFL signal-callers Byron Leftwich and Brian Griese, whose main jobs will be to utilize their experience to mentor the youngster until he is ready to start.

The Bucs' next two picks were used on defensive lineman. At first I found this puzzling, as Tampa already has a solid core of veterans along their frontline. However, it has been Morris' stated goal to place a premium on toughness, and if anything, the addition of defensive tackle Rory Miller and end Kyle Moore should foster a very competitive environment in the upcoming mini-camps.

Rounding out Tampa's draft, they added EJ Biggers and Sammie Stroughter in the seventh round. These two players could both create added competition among the Bucs' players on the perimeter on either side of the ball, but it must be said that both could be hard pressed to make the team.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints had only four picks in this year's draft, but made the most of them, as they wisely chose to focus on defense.

With their first round pick (14th overall), New Orleans decided on All-American defensive back Malcolm Jenkins from Ohio State. Jenkins aroused some concerns among scouts at the combine concerning his ability to run with the elite receivers, as he didn't appear to be have the fluidity coming out of his backpedal that is so needed for cover corners in the NFL.

However, this could actually prove to be a strength, as Jenkins undoubtedly has the versatility, work ethic, and smarts to play at any of 3 different positions in the secondary. The Saints could even experiment with playing him as a nickel back on third downs, or have him go after the QB on disguised blitzes.

The Saints had plenty of time to mull over their next selection, as they didn't pick again until the 4th round. With this choice they once again made a sound decision in grabbing safety Chip Vaughn out of Wake Forest. A big, physical tackler and standout special teams performer, Vaughn will likely be penciled in at strong safety.

Their signing of free agent free safety and perennial Pro Bowler Darren Sharper took on added importance with the addition of the two rookies in the secondary, as the youngsters will certainly be well served by the cerebral Sharper's unmatched leadership skills and experience on the field.

Two picks later, the Saints decided to poach another player from the Demon Deacon's defense, as they nabbed inside linebacker Stanley Arnoux. The Saints brass were said to have been enamored with the 6-foot, 220-pounder's run-stopping ability and special teams play, and he will likely become an instant fan favorite among the Nawlins faithful with his Cajun-sounding name.

With their fourth and final pick, the Saints continued to show their commitment to a defensive and field position-oriented approach, as they actually moved up in order to select Thomas Morstead, an accomplished directional punter out of Southern Methodist University.

By Kweku Turkson
Staff Reporter for

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