Story by Wyatt Vaughn, Senior at Holy Cross High School
This past weekend the Saints had one of the most important events of the entire season, the 2019 NFL Draft. While the Saints selections are the most important of the weekend for the Saints, they should also be keeping an eye on a specific set of teams. Those teams are their division rivals in the NFC South: the Panthers, Buccaneers, and Falcons. A good draft for any of these teams could result in a Saints 2017 turnaround type season, but a bad draft could keep them picking early in the draft for years to come. Here is how the biggest rivals of the Saints did.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Overall Grade: B+
The Buccaneers started off with the fifth overall pick in the draft following a disappointing 5-11 2018 season. With that pick the Buccaneers filled a huge need at inside linebacker following the departure of Kwon Alexander. Not only did they fill a need but they also drafted arguably the best player in the entire draft, inside linebacker Devin White from LSU. White ran a 4.42 40 yard dash which is great for a linebacker. White also has great ball skills and is always around the ball. With White as their crown jewel of the draft the Bucs decided to really beef up the defensive side of the ball, taking four more defensive players following White. In the second round they picked up Sean Bunting, a corner from Central Michigan. Bunting has great speed and cover skills but lacks some size which could be a problem for him in the NFL, especially when trying to guard Saints receiver Michael Thomas. In the third round the Bucs picked up a pair of SEC defensive backs with Jamel Dean from Auburn, and Mike Edwards from Kentucky. Dean is a very well filled out corner with good speed who excels in press man coverage, but struggles when attempting to stop the run. Edwards struggles with his size, but has top-end speed and excels in finding the ball and then taking the ball carrier down. After the back to back defensive backs, the Bucs went for defensive end Anthony Nelson from Iowa. Nelson has great size and agility as a defensive end but sometimes plays a little bit too tall, which forces him to give up ground sometimes. In the fifth round, the Bucs finally went something other than defense and decided to take the first kicker in the draft in Utah placekicker Matt Gay. With above-average range, Gay connected on eight of his 11 kicks from 50+ yards but needs to improve on the height of his kicks as he had multiple blocked kicks this season. In the seventh round, the Bucs selected one final defensive player with Missouri defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. Beckner, a former high school 5-star recruit has a ton of upside for a seventh-round pick with great run defending. Beckner does struggle to rush the QB with subpar length, and weight. Overall it was a solid draft for the Buccaneers as they addressed their overall need for more defensive talent and depth. They addressed needs at linebacker and kicker and addressed them with arguably the best players at those positions. If the Bucs have hit on some of these defensive picks, it could help against New Orleans as they gave up 40, 28, 30, and 24 the last four times they have met.
Overall Grade: B-
The Falcons started this draft with the 14th overall pick after going 7-9 during the season. They used that selection to pick up Chris Lindstrom, an offensive lineman from Boston College. Lindstrom is extremely versatile and could play all along the offensive line, he has good length and exceptional lateral quickness giving him a very high ceiling. After trading up to get the 31st pick in the 1st round, the Falcons selected Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary. At 6-7 317 lbs McGary has great size and very quick hands, but lunges at times and his arm size or lack of it is a concern for him heading into the league. After not having picks on day two of the draft, the Falcons had two fourth round selections. The first they used on Kendall Sheffield, a cornerback from Ohio State. Sheffield has excellent straight-line speed and excels in press man coverage, but has very limited starting experience and lacks instincts to show for it. The second selection they made in the fourth round was defensive end John Cominsky from West Virginia (Charleston). Cominsky erased any doubt that he could compete with top competition with a steady senior bowl performance and an impressive combine performance. Cominsky has the potential to be a good pass rusher but had just three sacks in his last season and is a better run defender than anything else. With their fifth round pick the Falcons selected Pittsburgh running back Qadree Ollison. Ollison is a bigger back who has to ability to run through contact and has foot speed to press and bounce away from defenders, but he lacks any breakaway speed making him more effective as a bruising runner between the tackles. With their next pick the Falcons selected Washington cornerback Jordan Miller. Miller has above average speed, length, size, balance and feet. Miller excels press or zone coverage but could improve with his physicality and strength. With their last pick the Falcons took UL Monroe wide receiver Marcus Green. At 5 feet 8 inches tall, Green is very undersized but has great speed to breakaway and is great at getting yards after the catch, but Green has inconsistent hands and puts the ball on the ground too much. Overall for the Falcons it was a solid draft and this class will definitely help them challenge the Saints. With the two first round lineman they will definitely help Matt Ryan, who was sacked 42 times this past season, nine of which were by the Saints, the second most in his career.
Overall Grade: A
After an underwhelming 2018 season that saw the Panthers go 7-9, they began their draft with the 16th overall pick. With that pick the Panthers made a great choice and took Florida State outside linebacker Brian Burns. Burns is an elite pass rusher and has elite initial burst off the edge. This was a position of need for Carolina because they were ranked 27th in sacks last year. With their next pick the Panthers went to the opposite side of the spectrum and drafted a left tackle from Ole Miss, Greg Little. With Matt Kalil no longer with the team and Daryl Williams coming off of injury this was a huge need for the Panthers. Little has excellent length and is a smooth mover and excels in pass protection. With the Panthers third pick in the draft, they selected West Virginia quarterback Will Grier. Grier won’t start immediately but has a high-upside and would be a great backup if Cam Newton missed time, and could possibly be the QB of the future. Grier has good arm talent and is an above average athlete, mix that with his willingness to take what the defense gives him and take a hit, and the Panthers have a very nice third round pick. In the fourth round, the Panthers went back to outside linebacker to select Alabama prospect Christian Miller. Miller excelled as an SEC pass rusher with great length and good speed off the edge. The Panthers kept with the SEC trend in the fifth round and selected Florida running back Jordan Scarlett. The UF product is well built, but has great speed with great balance through contact and showed a good burst through the hole in college. With their last pick the Panthers went back to the offensive line to select South Carolina tackle Dennis Daley. Daley is a great run blocker who shows lot of effort and has great hands. Concerns in his pass protection might cause him to move to guard because of his subpar speed, and length. The Panthers got the best overall grade out of anyone in the NFC South because they got some great talent at positions that they needed it. They addressed both the offensive and defensive line with great players like Brian Burns and Greg Little. This will help especially against the Saints because last year in week 15, the Panthers sacked Drew Brees just two times, while Cam Newton was sacked four times which resulted in a Saints win.
For the Saints, there wasn’t too much to worry about in terms of picks that could hinder them from repeating as NFC South Champs. Especially with the Falcons and Bucs, their picks won’t be very impactful, as well as the rosters already aren’t very good. The Panthers though, really stepped up to the plate this weekend. With a couple great picks in tow, they are the team that looks most ready to claim the NFC South Division from the Saints.