NFL Draft Grades: NFC South

Drake London headlines the class leading to strong score in NFL Draft Grades
(Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The NFL Draft is officially over so it is time to hand out NFL Draft Grades! These NFL Draft Grades will cover all 32 teams who will be graded based on who they picked, team needs, and their overall draft process. Here are the NFL Draft Grades for the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons: A-

The Falcons were a pleasant surprise this draft and became one of my big winners. In total rebuild mode, they hit a lot of key positions to give them a starting point for this new era. While Drake London in the first round is not what I would do, he is a tremendous talent. I understand the point of this offense needing some weapons, because other than London they really only have Kyle Pitts. Although I might’ve preferred Charles Cross or Kyle Hamilton.

That said I think they had a tremendous Day 2. They secure two edge rushers in Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone. They both need some improvement defending the run but getting pressure is a key element to any defense, and both of these guys can do that from day one. Also on defense they add Troy Anderson, the super athletic middle linebacker. An award winner at QB, RB, and LB in college, he has tremendous athleticism and football IQ. While he’s still learning the position, having an ultra-athlete at middle linebacker to run and cover up a lot of holes can only help.

They also got potentially their next franchise QB in the third round. Desmond Ridder was the number one QB on my board with his blend of pro-style experience, arm strength and athleticism. He has some trouble with accuracy but now has two big, athletic pass catchers that can cover a lot of that up. Head Coach Arthur Smith should love Ridder, who was compared to Ryan Tannehill coming out.

Carolina Panthers: B+

The Panthers were a team I was really worried about going into this draft. Head Coach Matt Rhule seems to be on the hot seat which usually leads to some bad decisions. Instead, the Panthers really made the most out of their limited draft capital and had a good weekend.

In the first round they took Ikem Ekwonu who will slide in at left tackle right away. With the ability to play guard as well, they can move him around as time goes if need be. Ekwonu has All-Pro level potential with his demeanor and athleticism.

They were patient and smart in round one, and rewarded in round three with Matt Corral falling to the bottom of the day. They made good trades to get to round three to get him, and then back into round four to take linebacker Brandon Smith. We could see Corral start before the season is over, especially if they simplify the offense to an RPO-based system. Smith is an ultra-athletic linebacker with experience off the ball and rushing off the edge.

Amare Barno is also a good edge defender, and Cade Mays is an aggressive and versatile offensive linemen. Both players came in the sixth round.

What I liked most about this draft was the patience, and the versatility. With only six picks, they got multiple players (Ekwonu, Smith, Mays) who can wear multiple hats or play different positions.

New Orleans Saints: B

The Saints had a pretty good weekend despite limited swings. The other teams to make as few picks as the Saints were the Eagles (5) and the Dolphins (4). The Eagles technically had six picks, but traded one for A.J. Brown and got a “B+”. The Dolphins had just four picks with two going to Kansas City for Tyreek Hill and got a “C+”. I’m putting the Saints between them with a “B” with their five picks that filled some positions of need.

There were two camps when the Saints traded future assets for a second first round pick. One camp thought it was ammo to trade up for a QB. The other thought there was a skill player they really liked, and an offensive tackle who was more than likely Trevor Penning. It seems the second camp was right, and they got their guys, trading up again to ensure they got Chris Olave.

Both players fill a need, and were projected to go about where they went. I also commend them for being aggressive to get the guy they wanted in Olave. It was clear with no Michael Thomas last year that this team needed more at receiver. Penning will be interesting to watch this year. A fan favorite for his aggressive and nasty temperament, but scouts aren’t sure he’s ready to start due to his technical flaws. If he can play for them relatively early and play well, it was a strong draft. If he struggles, or can’t even see the field, it wasn’t as strong.

Alontae Taylor of Tennessee was a good pickup in the second round. They did well with Paulson Adebo in the third round last year, and will hope for similar return from Taylor.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B

The Buccaneers traded out of the first round for more draft capital and did well for themselves. They hit some positional needs like tight end and offensive line. They added good talent to their defensive line in Logan Hall as well. You can afford to add depth via BPA (best player available) when you don’t have any glaring holes.

I don’t love the selection of a running back in the third round, although I understand why they did it after Ronald Jones II left in free agency. Also don’t love the punter, or second tight end. So they did lose some points in the middle rounds.

Two positions I would have liked to see them address more are wide receiver and defensive back. Of those they only took one corner in the fifth around. Their issues in the defensive backfield were obvious last year, and their only free agent addition was Logan Ryan. Tampa also essentially swapped out Safety Jordan Whitehead for Keanu Neal.

Wide Receiver could also be a need with Chris Godwin still recovering from injury. After he went down late last season and through the playoffs, you could feel another playmaker being missing from the equation. They have players in the building, which is why this doesn’t hurt their grade too much. But they really could have helped themselves had they addressed it in the draft.

Be sure to follow along as I give NFL Draft Grades for all 32 teams, right here on Fantom Sports! And for more draft content you can listen to my podcast, the Simon Shortt Podcast, on Apple and Spotify!

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