The Falcons Super Bowl appearance largely covered up the blemishes that made this a rather disappointing season for the NFC South as a whole. Let us not forget that the Panthers were perhaps the most disappointing team in football, that the Saints are clearly on the decline, and that while the Buccaneers finished above .500, they also finished the season with a negative scoring differential.

Upgrades are certainly needed all across the rosters of this division – the defending NFC champs included. Luckily this draft is a deep one…

Atlanta Falcons

2016 Record: 11-5

2017 Draft Picks: 31, 63, 95, 136, 174, 249

Sure they made it to the Super Bowl last season and their roster is stacked, but so did the Panthers just one-year prior and look at the letdown they had in 2016. Rather quietly, the Panthers were gutted in the depth department, saw a regression of their offensive line, and also lost a few foundational pieces – particularly on the defensive side of the football. While the Falcons didn’t lose any foundational pieces, they are certainly in need of depth all across their defense and will be looking for a new right guard. That is where I expect them to lean most heavily in this draft…

Below I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions in descending order, ranked by importance:

| Right Guard, Edge, Safety, Defensive Tackle, Linebacker, Cornerback |

Many are considering the end of the first/beginning of the second round the offensive guard sweet spot in this draft. Seemingly working perfectly in the Falcons favor, their top need happens to be at right guard and they are picking 31st overall in the first round. I currently have them slated to take Pittsburgh guard Dorian Johnson, however a few other guys at the position appear to be in play. Forrest Lamp would almost definitely be the pick if available when Atlanta is on the clock, however chances are that he won’t last that long. Other names to keep in mind are Dion Dawkins out of Temple and Dan Feeney out of Indiana.

While they seemingly hit a home run with Vic Beasley a couple of drafts ago, Atlanta is in desperate need of a presence opposite him. A particularly good fit in the second round would be an edge player whose skillset compliments the finesse, speed, and athleticism of Beasley. Carl Lawson of Auburn comes to mind, as his 35 bench reps at the combine perfectly reflect his explosive hand punch seen on tape. This upper body strength helps him rag-doll offensive tackles on bull rushes, while his 4.67 40-yard speed helps him capture the edge when needed. On top of it all, he’s a multi-time team captain, a noted locker room leader, and is always playing with a maxed out motor. Likely to see mostly one-on-ones while rushing opposite Beasley, Lawson should have an excellent rookie season. If it weren’t for his spotty injury history (missed 2014 with torn ACL), he would be a lock first rounder.   

Playing the board through the lens of their team needs, Atlanta would be wise to target an aggressive, pocket pushing, three technique in the third round. Luckily for them, that is exactly what DeMarcus Walker out of Florida State is. While he mainly played as a base end in college, most of Walker’s sack production (26.5 over last two seasons) came as a three technique defensive tackle on passing downs. That is where he best projects at the next level. Paired with Dontari Poe, Grady Jarrett, and Jack Crawford, Walker would be an excellent addition giving the Falcons a versatile pass rushing option in their defensive line rotation.

While the Keanu Neal pick from a year ago appears to have worked out, he’s still playing out of position as the Falcons starting free safety. To best utilize his skillset, Neal needs to be playing closer to the line of scrimmage as a more prototypical strong safety. In the fourth round, Jadar Johnson out of Clemson should still be available when Atlanta is on the clock, which would be perfect for them because his ball hawking skillset properly fits the mold of a modern NFL free safety. He picked off five passes for Clemson's National Championship squad, proving that he can serve as an excellent last line of defense against top-level talent.

With their final two selections, the Falcons can be expected to fill their final two needs – linebacker and cornerback. Players in likely available in the 5th-7th round range include (CB) William Likely, (CB) Brian Allen, (LB) Ben Boulware, (LB) Dylan Cole, and (LB) Matt Milano.

Carolina Panthers

2016 Record: 6-10

2017 Draft Picks: 8, 40, 64, 98, 115, 152, 192, 233

From Super Bowl to last place – 2016 was not a kind one to the Panthers, as it served as the season in which their roster holes were exposed. Luckily for Carolina they have eight picks in this deep draft to address their ample needs. Beefing up their depleted offensive line will be critical, while adding another offensive playmaker and some defensive depth will be equally as important. If handled properly, there is no reason that this draft can’t make the Panthers the team to beat in the NFC once again…

Below I have narrowed down their specific needs to the following positions in descending order, ranked by importance:

| Running Back, Offensive Tackle, Edge, Cornerback, Safety, Wide Receiver |

Like many other mockers, I have the Panthers taking LSU running back Leonard Fournette at 8th overall. Sure they still have Jonathan Stewart in the backfield, but he’s over 30 years old now and is largely ineffective. Fournette on the other hand is one of the most explosive backs in years, leaving many to heap Bo Jackson comparisons upon him. While I really like him, I am not that bullish on the LSU product. Ultimately though, I think a battering ram such as himself will take some much needed pressure off of Cam Newton and will stabilize the Panthers otherwise inconsistent running game. To get an idea of what a dynamic player Fournette can be, watch the video below… He’s one of the most dangerous backs I have ever studied at the second level. He can kick it into multiple higher gears with legitimate breakaway speed, he possesses a devastating spin move, and can truck absolutely any defensive back or linebacker in his path.

Considering the wide range of needs that the Panthers have, chances are that they will play the board BPA with all of their selections. With that in mind, it should be noted that they could go in a variety of directions with their two second round picks. For example, they could consider an offensive tackle to fill their next biggest need and take a player like Taylor Moton or Cam Robinson, or they can take one of the many top cornerbacks that are likely to still be available in the second round like Teez Tabor or Cordrea Tankersley. My gut feeling though is that they will be enamored with another freakish athlete like they were in the first with Fournette, and will ultimately settle on UConn safety Obi Melifonwu with the 40th overall pick. Cards on the table… I don’t really like the player, however his aforementioned freakish athleticism is undeniable and hasn’t been overstated at all. Melifonwu is a prototype that has never been seen before in this game. Heck, a safety who is 6-foot-4, 225 lbs. and can run a sub-4.4 40-time is something that has never been seen before in a video game. With these physical tools, Melifonwu is capable of splash plays and for masking many of his mental errors, however my beef with him is that he doesn’t play aggressive enough and doesn’t read and react with much conviction at all. Instincts, football IQ, and toughness are typically three of the hardest things to unlock in a prospect, so taking a guy who needs all three is a tall order in the second round. Having said this, considering the Panthers love for project prospects and toolsy athletes, the fit makes sense here.

With the 64th overall pick – the final of the second round – expect Carolina to take one of the players I mentioned above. Likely the top cornerback would be the pick, so prepare for someone like Tankersley or Tabor.

Onto the third and it is time that the offensive tackle depth – or lack there of –is addressed; providing they don’t do so in the first or second of course. Matt Kalil was just paid handsomely to man Cam Newton’s blind side for the foreseeable future, so a right tackle mold is more of what they will be looking for. Players to consider include Antonio Garcia and Will Holden, however my favorite fit for Carolina here is Florida State’s Roderick Johnson, and while I know I just said that a right tackle build is what they will be looking for, Johnson’s sky-high potential and mauling ability in the run game will be too much for them to pass up on. Ultimately he has the prototypical frame of a left tackle (36-inch arms!) but the mindset of a right-sider. He’s still really raw and is unlikely to be ready to start immediately, but that will be fine for them because he can learn the position behind Michael Oher and Daryl Williams.

Of the Panthers top four receivers, all of them are over 6-foot and all of them are slow and inconsistent. While they are flush with “go up and get it” guys, Carolina has no consistent “target hound” out of the slot a la Julian Edelman or Cole Beasley. How bout Ryan Switzer out of North Carolina in the fourth round for the Panthers? He’s lightning quick, can handle a high volume of targets, is a deft route runner, and an electric punt returner. In fact, Switzer finished his career at UNC as the NCAA’s most accomplished punt returner, as his eight return touchdowns are tied for most all time. If nothing else, his return skills will be worth the selection alone, as he should be able to easily replace the production that Ted Ginn provided. Of the tape I have watched this season, I have to say that Switzer’s game against Pittsburgh is amongst the most impressive. The guy is a gamer through and through and it shows up in spades here (16 rec, 208 yds, 1 TD).

With their final late round picks, the Panthers would be wise to spend at least one of them addressing their remaining need – edge rusher. While they just brought back Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson, unless they are aging as well as Jennifer Aniston, chances are that they are not long-term answers. This still leaves Carolina with a void or two on the outside going forward, so developmental players in the later rounds must be studied. Players I like include Carroll Philips out of Illinois, Avery Moss from Youngstown State, Hunter Dimick from Utah, and Josh Carraway from TCU.

New Orleans Saints

2016 Record: 7-9

2017 Draft Picks: 11, 32, 42, 76, 103, 196, 229

It seems like the same story every year, but the Saints once again need help on defense. The difference this offseason however is that they also need to look to improve offensively, as their once high-powered machine is beginning to rust. Drew Brees is not only another year older, but also the Saints lost Brandin Cooks via trade, and are lacking depth at nearly every other offensive skill position…

Below I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions in descending order, ranked by importance:

| Edge, Cornerback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Quarterback, Tight End |

With the structure of this draft class and the amount of needs that the Saints have, their number 11 overall pick has really been a tough one to mock. Ultimately I have settled on Michigan defensive lineman Taco Charlton – a player I don’t love, but who has all of the physical tools to be an excellent pro. His versatile skillset and athletic traits make him a fit as a guy who will fall just out of the top-10 because of his rather unpolished game despite his physical tools.

At the end of the first, with their second pick, cornerback will be in play, as will running back, quarterback, wide receiver, and tight end (yes, I know I just listed their remaining needs). Considering the wide range of directions they can go in, the Saints are likely to play the board BPA. Some may say that the best CB on the board is the way to go (Fabian Moreau, Chidobe Awuzie, Tre’Davious White, Gareon Conley), while I believe that they would have no choice but to take a quarterback if either Mitch Trubisky or DeShaun Watson is still on the board at 32. The most impactful of scenarios however would be if they took a chance on a guy like Joe Mixon – troubled running back out of Oklahoma – as his dynamic skillset will instantly facelift this sluggish offense. While Mark Ingram is still solid, Mixon brings not only an explosive aspect to the run game, but he also provides the Saints with an accomplished receiver out of the backfield. Outside of Christian McCaffrey, Mixon is probably the best receiving back in this draft, so his role on this team would be clear for at least his rookie season, while he will likely be given every opportunity to eventually become the featured back going forward.

Turning around quickly, the Saints pick again at 42nd overall and it is likely here that they target a cornerback. Any of the four I listed before will be in play, along with Sidney Jones and Adoree Jackson.

Headed into the third round and once again the Saints are picking twice. It is here I expect them to grab a developmental quarterback and some type of pass catcher – either a wide receiver or tight end.

While I have beat to death my narrative of Brad Kaaya being better than you think, I will give that a rest and instead saddle the Saints with Davis Webb, quarterback out of Cal. Rather than wasting my time reiterating him as a player, I will show you his pro’s and con’s as listed in my blog

Continuing to play the board, the Saints are likely to take a pass catcher with their second third round selection. Whether that is a tight end or wide receiver depends on how the draft plays out, so I will give you thoughts on both…

Late third round wideouts include Amara Darboh out of Michigan, Dede Westbrook out of Oklahoma, Isaiah Ford out of Virginia Tech, and Kenny Golladay out of Northern Illinois. Tight ends include Jonnu Smith out of FIU, Jordan Leggett out of Clemson, Cole Hikutini from Louisville, and Jeremy Sprinkle out of Arkansas. Of the names listed, I like Dede Westbrook the best in this slot because his skillset is so reminiscent of the recently departed Brandin Cooks. Once Ted Ginn inevitably flops, the Saints are going to need a deep threat to replace the production that Cooks so perfectly provided them. Westbrook proved at Oklahoma time and again that his deep playmaking abilities were the real deal in spite of his mediocre size. In his final season at Oklahoma, Westbrook hauled in 80 balls for 1,524 yards and 17 touchdowns. That type of ability to take the top off of a defense (4.38 speed) will perfectly pair with Michael Thomas going forward and will likely extend Drew Brees’ career another couple of years.

With their final two picks, like most teams, some extra depth should be added across the rest of the roster. The best bet to make would be some extra depth on the defensive side of the football, meaning that players like (LB) Peter Boulware, (Edge) Dylan Donahue, (CB) Jeremy Clark, and (LB) Elijah Lee will all be in play for the Saints in the sixth and seventh rounds.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 Record: 9-7

2017 Draft Picks: 19, 50, 84, 125, 162, 204, 237

While there was considerable improvement for the Bucs last season, they still finished in the negative when it came to point differential. That should be a major hint that this draft will be defensive heavy for Tampa, however keep in mind that they also do have a handful of offensive improvements to make as well. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans can’t do it all by themselves…

Below I have narrowed down their top needs to the following positions in descending order, ranked by importance:

| Safety, Cornerback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Linebacker, Tight End |

As of now, I have the Bucs taking a playmaker with the 19th overall pick, as Curtis Samuel out of Ohio State, or “Christian McCaffrey: East” as many are beginning to call him, would transform the identity of this Tampa Bay offense. He can run it like a back (771 yards, 8 TD’s, 8.0 yards per carry in 2016), can catch it like a wideout (74 rec, 865 yards, 7 TD’s in 2016), and has rare speed and athleticism (4.31 40-time). He has the ability to become every bit as dynamic as Percy Harvin was in his prime, which is something that would tremendously lighten the workload and attention put on Mike Evans and Jameis Winston. That means less double-coverage for Evans, and less seven-step drops for Jameis. Perhaps considered a “luxury pick,” but one that will help out this ball club immediately nonetheless.

In the second round, the Bucs will have every chance to fill their biggest need – safety – as it is likely to be the sweet spot for the position. Available players include Josh Jones, Marcus Maye, Quincy Wilson, Obi Melifonwu, and Marcus Williams, however I believe that the best fit for their team is Desmond King out of Iowa. If he came out last season, King would have been taken in the first round as a cornerback, however considering the depth at the position this season, his stock has been bumped down slightly. Also after another year in school, it has become apparent that his best NFL position will likely be at safety because of his excellent tackling form and willingness combined with his less than spectacular athleticism. For Tampa, King will be able to plug and play as a free safety in their defense, as his ball hawking traits and sure tackling will be a perfect compliment to the recently signed J.J. Wilcox.

In the third, more secondary help is to be expected for the Bucs defense, as a cornerback would need to be taken at 84th overall at the latest. Either Corn Elder out of Miami or USC’s Adoree Jackson make sense here considering the Buccaneers seemingly have no issue with undersized corners (see: Brent Grimes and Vernon Hargreaves). Elder is best utilized out of the slot, while Jackson has big time outside potential, however his skillset is still raw. Initially though Jackson will be able to contribute as one of the better gadget touch and return men in the league, so his selection would be worth it regardless if he fully develops as a corner or not.

I’ve been doing a lot of fourth round linebacker work so far this offseason, so it is safe to call that this position’s sweet spot. There will be a run on the position for sure to kick off the fourth, but depending on what type of backer you are looking for, there may be less available guys than you think. The Buccaneers are set at the Mike and Will spots, so a player built in the Sam linebacker mold is more of what they will be looking for. In the fourth round range, the best player fitting the bill is Alex Anzalone out of Florida, who can provide nastiness in the run game, while he can pin his ears back on passing downs and get after the quarterback. If he is gone by then however, Kendell Beckwith out of LSU is a nice consolation prize, because while he projects as a player with only two down capabilities on the strong side, the Bucs are likely to only use their nickel personnel in passing situations anyway.

With their final three picks, the Bucs will be looking to add overall roster depth and address their final two needs at the pass catching spots. Wide receiver Malachi Dupree out of LSU is probably the best candidate to fill the void left by Russell Shepard, while tight end George Kittle out of Iowa will provide the Bucs with a “move” tight end capable of creating mismatches out of two TE sets.


I am dedicating this section to not necessarily the likeliest of scenarios, however I plan on keeping it as realistic as possible. Essentially I want to give you an idea of what selection could end up being the most fantasy impactful for the 2017 season for each team in the division. It doesn’t have to be someone that I have discussed for the team above, but rather a realistic scenario in which the team picks a player who would be a fantasy ringer for 2017.

Atlanta Falcons

This is tough for the Falcons because their draft is expected to be so defensive oriented. The best I can probably come up with is for IDP leagues, as both Carl Lawson and DeMarcus Walker have the potential to wreak havoc in the sack department early on.

Carolina Panthers

Leonard Fournette ­– I shouldn’t have to flesh this one out any further…


New Orleans Saints

The Saints are intriguing for this exercise… Joe Mixon obviously is the first that comes to mind, but if integrated properly, Dede Westbrook could have an equally as large impact. Considering the Saints – idiotically might I add – just invested a lot of money into Ted Ginn, I’ll give the edge to Mixon here.

For all of the reasons I stated above, Mixon can transform this Saints offense. He can catch it out of the backfield, while he also is a guy who you can give if to 25 times a game if you want. If he didn’t punch a girl in the face in his freshman year, we would be talking about him potentially going off the board as the first running back in this draft. Keep him in mind for your fantasy drafts this season, regardless of where he ends up.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

For reasons I outlined above, Curtis Samuel has Percy Harvin potential. If things work out how they should, he has a chance for 1,500 scrimmage yards and double-digit touchdowns early on in his career.