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2013 NFL DRAFT TOP NEEDS: NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS (13-3)

2013 Draft Picks: 30 (1st), 60 (2nd), 92 (3rd), 127 (4th), 133 (4th), 163 (5th), 198 (6th), 236 (7th), 243 (7th), 244 (7th), 249 (7th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: OC/OG Peter Konz, WISC (55, 2nd), OT Lamar Holmes, SMSP (91, 3rd)

Decision Makers: GM Thomas Dimitroff, Head Coach Mike Smith

The Falcons current regime finally broke through last season by winning their first playoff game defeating Seattle in the second round before exiting the postseason and will look to take that next step this year by getting to a Super Bowl. Most of the cast is back so they will remain one of the top teams in the NFL, although they need to rebuild their cornerback corps, add a young pass-rusher ready to contribute immediately and a pair of offensive linemen to play on the right side.

1.   Cornerback – The Falcons saw their once deep cornerback corps be dismantled this off-season. Dunta Robinson was cut, while Brent Grimes and Chris Owens signed elsewhere in free agency. Asante Samuel still remains a dangerous ball-hawk and Atlanta likes Robert McClain. Still, they need to draft at least one corner they feel comfortable about starting next to Samuel and probably a second one slightly later in the draft they can develop.

2.   Defensive End – They cut veteran John Abraham and replaced him with former Giant Osi Umenyiora this offseason, which some consider a downgrade. Osi turns 32 this season and has seen a steady decline in his production the last few years and isn’t in the long term plans. They also waved goodbye to Ray Edwards during the season. Meanwhile, Kroy Biermann remains a solid starter and they like 2012 fifth round pick Jonathan Massaquoi, although he barely saw the field as a rookie. A young pass rusher is needed.

3.   Tight End – Dimitroff was able to convince future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez to come back for one more season after last year’s playoff run showed that Atlanta isn’t far away from getting to the Super Bowl. Regardless of what happens this season, it is unlikely he’ll put off retirement again so finding a tight end to learn under the legend for a year should be on their radar during the draft.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)

2013 Draft Picks: 15 (1st), 75 (3rd), 109 (4th), 144 (5th), 183 (6th)

2012 Draft Selections: NT Akiem Hicks, REG/Canada (89, 3rd)

Decision Makers: GM Mickey Loomis, Head Coach Sean Payton

2012 was a year to forget for the Saints and their faithful as they had to deal with the “Bountygate” scandal that saw them lose Sean Payton for the season along with a number of other personnel that was suspended for parts of the year. A tough start to the season ultimately doomed them, but it was their legendarily bad defense that couldn’t stop anything that cost them most of their games. They weren’t able to add much in last year’s draft as they didn’t make a pick until late in the third round, while they will have to make their draft selections this year count with just five of them to work with. The defense switches to a 3-4 scheme this year so a lot of new talent needs to be added to this roster.   

1.   Outside Linebacker – New Orleans has a collection of interesting pass-rushers in Junior Galette, Martez Wilson, veteran Will Smith and free agent pickup Victor Butler. Galette and Wilson are still developing talents, while Will Smith is an unlikely fit for a 3-4 defense. Only Butler, who was a solid backup in Dallas has pro experience in the system, although he comes over after having just played under Rob Ryan with the Cowboys. Drafting a stud pass-rusher for this defense needs to be priority number one for the Saints.

2.   Left Tackle – The Saints saw Jermon Bushrod head to Chicago in free agency leaving a huge hole on their offensive line. 2010 second round pick Charles Brown appears to be his replacement at the moment, although he’s battled injuries in his career and hasn’t impressed when in the lineup. They signed draft bust Jason Smith for depth. While the Saints value guards more than tackles they still need someone who can legitimately protect Brees’ blind side and be in the lineup on a consistent basis.

3.   Best Defensive Player Available – The 2012 Saints defense was one of the worst in the history of the NFL. They couldn’t stop the run or the pass and now they transition from a 4-3 scheme that they’ve run for the last number of years under Gregg Williams and Steve Spagnuolo to a 3-4 scheme led by Rob Ryan. The transition is not going to be easy and may take some time. They have holes everywhere on defense, so focusing on landing the best available defensive prospect throughout the draft that can fit their new 3-4 system should be their overall goal.

CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-9)

2013 Draft Picks: 14 (1st), 44 (2nd), 108 (4th), 148 (5th), 182 (6th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: MLB Luke Kuechly, BC (9, 1st), OG Amini Silatolu, MWST (40, 2nd)

Decision Makers: GM Dave Gettleman, Head Coach Ron Rivera

New General Manager Dave Gettleman takes over for the fired Marty Hurney and is tasked with finding the talent to take this franchise back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. There are some good pieces to start with in Cam Newton, a solid pass rush and a talented linebacker corps, but they still need a lot more talent if they plan on surpassing the Falcons or Saints in the NFC South. Gettleman is on the record as saying he is looking to land at least two immediate starters in this draft and is specifically targeting the trenches. Finding a long term replacement for veteran left tackle Jordan Gross who will turn 33 before the season and be a free agent next year should be on their radar if a prospect falls to them.

1.   Defensive Tackle – The Panthers group of interior defensive linemen is one of the worst in the NFL. They resigned Dwan Edwards, while fellow starter Ron Edwards was released. They spent a pair of third-rounders on Sione Fua and Terrell McClain in 2011 out of necessity, but neither has developed into a starter and they need to be upgraded. Edwards, Fua and McClain are all big, space-eaters so finding someone with the ability to penetrate and get into the backfield from the inside would be their best move. Adding a defensive tackle or two should be at the top of Carolina’s draft priorities.

2.   Defensive Back – While they’ve added some nice cornerback depth in Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore to help the resigned Captain Munnerlyn, they still have a need for a young stud corner at the top. Josh Norman was solid as rookie, but he’s probably not that guy. Playing in a division with receivers like Julio Jones, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson along with quarterbacks Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, the Panthers need to get as many talented corners as possible. They signed free agent Michael Mitchell to start next to Charles Godfrey at safety, but there’s not much behind them and they could both be upgraded anyway.

3.   Wide Receiver – Steve Smith will be 34 when the season starts and can’t play forever. Brandon LaFell has become a solid target that may be ready to take the next step after averaging just under 40 catches a season in his first three years, while the rest of the receivers they’ve drafted over the past few years haven’t worked out. Louis Murphy also signed with the Giants. Carolina needs to find Cam Newton some more weapons, preferably someone who might be able to take over for Smith when he calls it a career.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (7-9)

2013 Draft Picks: 43 (2nd), 73 (3rd), 112 (4th), 126 (4th), 147 (5th), 181 (6th), 196 (6th)

2012 Early Draft Selections: SS Mark Barron, ALA (7, 1st), RB Doug Martin, BSU (31, 1st), OLB LaVonte David, NEB (58, 2nd)

Decision Makers: GM Mark Dominik, Head Coach Greg Schiano

The 2012 season started so promising for the Bucs as they won six of their first ten games, but then just won one the rest of the way and looked awful doing so. There is some work to be done on both sides of the ball if the Bucs plan on avoiding a sixth consecutive season without the playoffs. General Manager Mark Dominik made his first big move in doing so this season as he recently acquired CB Darrelle Revis from the Jets for their 13th overall pick this year along with another conditional 2014 mid-round selection. A great move considering there wasn’t really a cornerback prospect worth taking at that spot in the first round. They also need to figure out if Josh Freeman is their quarterback of the present and future as he appears to have fallen slightly out of favor with the coaching staff.

1.   Defensive End – They spent a pair of early draft picks in 2011 on Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers, but both have battled injuries in their short football careers and more recently Bowers was busted for trying to bring a gun on a plane and is facing some legal issues. Meanwhile their most consistent and productive pass-rusher Michael Bennett left for Seattle as a free agent. They need someone who can contribute immediately to replace him. This should be their top priority. Adding a defensive tackle that can stuff the run to replace the reliable, but departed Roy Miller should also be on the docket.

2.   Cornerback – Despite making a great move by adding the best cornerback in the league in Darrelle Revis, he is still coming off a torn ACL and may take some time to get back to full speed. Eric Wright continues to deal with injuries and suspensions, while under performing when in the lineup and E.J. Biggers headed to Washington as a free agent. They also traded the troubled, but talented Aqib Talib during last season.  Adding a corner still remains one of their top needs.

3.   Tight End – The tight end position needs some help. Dallas Clark is a 34-year old free agent, while Luke Stocker has been slow to develop. They brought in Packers backup Tom Crabtree, but he’s not the game breaker or productive player Josh Freeman and this offense needs at the position. There are some intriguing mid-round options they could look at in the draft.

Written By: Mark Scott

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