The NFC South was looking pretty wide open up until the announcement of Tom Brady’s return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The New Orlean Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers all find themselves in limbo at the quarterback position while the Bucs stave off that need for now. This division could honestly see multiple of the big quarterback names come off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft like Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, or Sam Howell.
In this article, we are going to look at each team and lay out what they have for draft picks. Then we’ll look at where they are set (unlikely to use high draft capital), where they have immediate draft needs (likely to use a pick in the first 2-3 rounds), or where they might need depth (mid to late round picks). So let’s get to it.
Atlanta Falcons - 9 Picks
- First Round: 8
- Second Round: 43, 58
- Third Round: 74, 82
- Fourth Round: 114
- Fifth Round: 151
- Sixth Round: 213
- Seventh Round: 232
Set: Offensive Tackle, Cornerback
Offensive Tackle - Oddly enough, one of the biggest positions of need for most teams is one that the Falcons look pretty good at. They have Jake Matthews locked up through 2027 and, with the fifth-year option, they’ll have Caleb McGary through 2025.
Cornerback - They hit on AJ Terrell who’s a stud and they brought in the veteran Casey Heyward from Vegas to play opposite him. They actually have 11 corners under contract currently so they’ve got depth as well.
Tight End - Perhaps they could use a blocking tight end to truly run Arthur Smith’s two tight end system but that’s something you can get for cheap. They just used a premium pick on Kyle Pitts, plus they signed another pass-catching tight end familiar with Arthur Smith’s system in Anthony Firkser so they are stocked on that side of things. With seven guys under contract, they likely need to shed some tight ends, not add them.
Immediate: Quarterback, Edge, Safety
Quarterback - This one is fairly obvious after trading Matt Ryan to the Colts. The only question is whether to go after one this year or wait until next year. Marcus Mariota knows Arthur Smith’s offense and can get it done this year. Maybe you want to see what Feleipe Franks has as well. If they do want to go for a quarterback, a solid one could be there at eight but there are some other QB needy teams that pick ahead like Detroit and division rival Carolina. If they do have their pick of the litter, they could go with a mobile option in the vein of Mariota like Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, or Sam Howell. Or maybe a Matt Ryan pocket passer type with Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral
Edge - No team had fewer sacks than the Falcons last year. And pass rush in this league is really such a premium that the high end guys need to be taken in the top ten of the NFL draft. This class is deep and there are studs at the top so it might be difficult to pass on someone like Kayvon Thibodeaux or Travon Walker if they were to slide to eight. If they don’t take one in the first then there still might be decent options there at 43 like Nik Bonitto or Drake Jackson.
Safety - Let’s be real here - a 32 year old Erik Harris and a 29 year old Dean Marlowe, both on one-year deals, are just fill-ins. You hope second round pick Richie Grant takes a step forward but that’s not a guarantee. The Falcons could grab arguably the biggest playmaker on defense in this draft in Kyle Hamilton at pick eight if he’s there. He’s all over the field on his tape from big hits to interceptions to tackles for losses off the edge. He can do it all.
Potential early round picks: QB Malik Willis (Liberty), QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), QB Sam Howell (North Carolina), QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), QB Matt Corral (Mississippi), Edge Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon), Edge Travon Walker (Georgia), Edge Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), Edge Drake Jackson (USC), S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)
Depth: Running Back, Wide Receiver, Inside Linebacker
Wide Receiver - If I were the Falcons, I wouldn’t draft wide receiver this year. Wide receiver is an expensive position so you want their rookie deals to overlap with your window to compete. If this truly is a bridge year like it’s shaping up to be, I would wait until I know who my quarterback of the future is AND THEN load up on weapons. But there is no question that wide receiver is a need when you look at this depth chart. Not only is it lacking starters but, with Calvin Ridley suspended for the entire season, there are only seven guys signed. So perhaps they do go for someone now. But that’s just not how I would build it.
Running Back - I’m in the same camp with this position as I was with wide receiver above. Running back is the shortest shelf life position in the league. There are only two starting running backs in the league older than 27 - one is Derrick Henry and the other happens to be the Falcons converted WR Cordarrelle Patterson. You have what you need to get through the bridge year with Patteson, Davis, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison, and Caleb Huntley. Wait until the rebuild is on the upswing and go for an RB then.
Inside Linebacker - Modern NFL defenses don’t use as many inside linebackers as they once did with the prevalence of nickel. They have Deion Jones under contract for this year and next but Rashaan Evans is only on a one-year deal so maybe they go with a depth pick on the inside.
Carolina Panthers - 6 Picks
- First Round: 6
- Fourth Round: 137
- Fifth Round: 144, 149
- Sixth Round: 199
- Seventh Round: 242
Set: Secondary, Interior Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Running Back
Secondary - There are a ton of CB needy teams out there but the Panthers actually did a pretty good job of filling out the secondary in recent years. They used first or second round picks on Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, and Jeremy Chinn while signing Xavier Woods to a three-year deal this offseason. CJ Henderson was the Jaguars ninth overall pick in 2020 and they seemingly stole him in a trade so we’ll have to see how he pans out. But the Panthers don’t really have the type of high end capital you need for an outside starting corner anyway.
Interior Offensive Line - They did a good job addressing this one over the last couple of years by bringing Pat Eflein in from the Jets last year then Austin Corbett and Bradley Bozeman in this year as free agents. Pretty solid up the middle.
Wide Receiver - Perhaps they could use a bit of depth late but they just drafted Terrace Marshall in the second round last year to go along with DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. There have been rumblings about a Robby Anderson trade however so, if there is smoke there, maybe they do go for a wideout.
Running Back - Even with the recent injury woes for Christian McCaffrey, the signing of D’Onta Foreman from Tennessee really solidifies this backfield. He performed admirably when Derrick Henry was hurt last year. They still have Chuba Hubbard as well as a couple of depth guys so running back is good to go for now.
Immediate: Quarterback, Offensive Tackle
Quarterback - The Panthers have a primo pick at six overall but, unfortunately, this simply isn’t a great quarterback class on paper. That doesn’t mean that the players won’t be great but there really isn’t anyone that is your “can’t miss” QB prospect like a Peyton Manning or an Andrew Luck. Malik Willis of course is the most exciting given his unique skill set and there’s been a lot of talk about the Panthers grabbing him here. But quite frankly, they’ve done a good job of keeping things under wraps so I wouldn’t be surprised if they took any quarterback off that list.
Offensive Tackle - Here is the reality the Panthers are living in - they have one pick at six and then they don’t pick again for over 130 picks. So you really have one selection for an impact player that you can trust to start right away. If it’s not going to be a quarterback, it should probably be offensive tackle which is both one of the most important positions and one that offers a lot of longevity in this league. The first couple of picks are expected to be pass rushers and there are three premium tackles in this draft: Charles Cross, Ikem Ekwonu, and Evan Neal. That’s the play if one of them is there and, if they are all gone, someone should be willing to pay a pretty sum to trade up for one of the edge guys.
Potential early round picks: QB Malik Willis (Liberty), QB Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati), QB Sam Howell (North Carolina), QB Kenny Pickett (Pittsburgh), QB Matt Corral (Mississippi), T Charles Cross (Mississippi State), T Ikem Ekwonu (NC State), T Evan Neal (Alabama)
Depth: Edge, Defensive Tackle
Edge - If they trade down from sixth and get extra picks, any position from this bottom section now becomes more of a “need”. But as of now they don’t have many high-end draft slots and that’s where elite pass rushers come from. Last year it was Brian Burns and Haason Reddick leading the charge off the outside but Reddick was signed by the Eagles. They drafted Yetur Gross-Matos in the second round in 2020 so maybe they are ready to fully unleash him but perhaps they aren’t comfortable with that and plan to add some depth.
Defensive Tackle - They’ve got Derrick Brown locked up through 2025 and they brought in Matt Ioannidis from Washington but that’s only a one-year deal. They have what they need for this season so any pick here would be made with the future in mind.
New Orleans Saints
- First Round: 16, 19
- Second Round: 49
- Third Round: 98
- Fourth Round: 120
- Fifth Round: 161, 194
Set: Quarterback, Tight End, Guard
Quarterback - I guess it’s technically possible that the Saints draft a quarterback this year. But they gave Jameis Winston two years, $28 million with $21 million guaranteed, virtually locking him into the team for two years. They also brought in Andy Dalton. So it seems more likely they play it out and, if it’s real bad, you are in position to take a quarterback next year.
Tight End - Adam Trautman came on for a bit with a decent stretch or targets mid season but he was never fully healthy. They have Nick Vannett as a blocking tight end and Taysom Hill is going to focus more on tight end as well. Not to mention converted wide receiver Juwan Johnson. All told, they have seven tight ends on the roster currently so not really a need unless the right guy is there.
Guard - This one really goes in combination with my prediction of them taking a tackle at one of their first two picks. If they do that, they slide James Hurst over to guard which he played with the Baltimore Ravens. Hurst and Peat Andrus would be a solid pairing. But it’s conditional.
Immediate: Offensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, Strong Safety, Defensive Tackle
Offensive Tackle - The Saints have fairly consistently had one of the best offensive lines in the league. And they still obviously have a ton of great pieces like Ryan Ramczyk. But losing Terron Armstead changes the complexion of the line drastically and they are in a position with one of their top picks to fill that hole right away. The top few prospects will likely be gone but someone like Trevor Penning out of Northern Iowa could start right away.
Wide Receiver - Once upon a time the Saints had three wide receivers all get 100+ targets in the same season with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, and Michael Thomas. But Michael Thomas was essentially the last wide receiver they hit on. One of Marquez Callaway or Tre’Quan Smith in the lineup to take the top off as the deep threat would be fine but this team could use a true number two after Thomas. If the right guy is there at 16 or 19, I could see it. Especially if it’s one of the top prospects like Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, or Drake London.
Strong Safety - Marcus Maye replaces Marcus Williams but they don’t really have a suitable replacement for Malcolm Jenkins. In the first round there is only one guy they would consider and he’ll likely be gone when they pick. But you can’t pass on Kyle Hamilton if he’s there. Lewis Cine to me at those picks feels like a reach. If Hamilton isn’t there I think it’s best they wait until the second or third and go for someone like Jaquan Brisker or Bryan Cook.
Defensive Tackle - Another one that doesn’t necessarily need to be addressed with one of their first round picks as interior defensive line isn’t exactly a premium position unless there is an Aaron Donald floating around. This year there isn’t but there are a couple big boys from Georgia in Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis that maybe could get them to jump in the first. But I think they go after someone later, maybe a Perrion Winfrey or Phidarian Mathis in the third.
Potential early round picks: T Trevor Penning (Northern Iowa), T Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan), T Tyler Smith (Tulsa), WR Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), WR Jameson Williams (Alabama), WR Drake London (USC), S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame), S Lewis Cine (Georgia), S Jaquan Brisker (Penn State), S Bryan Cook (Cincinnati), DT Perrion Winfrey (Oklahoma), DT Phidarian Mathis (Alabama)
Depth: Running Back, Linebacker
Running Back - Under normal circumstances, I might not have this as a need. They have the players to handle business this seasons with Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Tony Jones Jr., Dwayne Washington. But that changed this offseason when Alvin Kamara was arrested for assault. Now you look at a potential suspension and the age of Kamara and Ingram and maybe it is time to start taking some stabs on some running back help. You have to remember that they drafted Kamara himself when they already had Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 6 Picks
- First Round: 27
- Second Round: 60
- Third Round: 91
- Fourth Round: 133
- Seventh Round: 248, 261
Set: Quarterback, Center, Wide Receiver
Center - Ryan Jensen is back and it’s on a three-year deal. That takes care of that for the foreseeable future.
Wide Receiver - With the injury to Chris Godwin, perhaps they might want to take a stab on someone but they have Mike Evans, they brought in Russell Gage, ad Breshad Perriman has actually done pretty decent filling in. All reports are that Godwin’s recovery is on track and his agent already said he expects to play in 2022 (right before they gave Godwin a big contract). They have 11 WRs under contract so it’s not a drastic need.
Immediate: Tight End, Guard, Defensive Tackle, Safety
Guard - Ali Marpet announced his retirement this offseason and even the return of the GOAT couldn’t sway him to return. They brought in Shaq Mason on one side but they could really solidify their interior offensive line by bringing someone in on the left side of Ryan Jensen. First round options are guys like Zion Johnson out of Boston College or Kenyon Green from Texas A&M. At pick 60 or 90 they might be looking at Cole Strange or maybe someone like Luke Goedeke who played tackle in college but projects to be a guard in the NFL.
Tight End - Rob Gronkowski will probably be back which makes this less glaring but he’s already retired once so you need to think about the future. OJ Howard signed with the Bills so they only have Cameron Brate and Codey McElroy under contract as of now. Realistically, they need to bring Gronk back AND draft a tight end. It would be cool to see someone like Trey McBride learn from a surefire Hall of Famer like Gronkowski.
Defensive Tackle - Another spot that’s been vacated - this time by the irreplaceable Ndamukong Suh. Technically he’s still a free agent and teams can work magic with the cap but the Bucs might opt to bring someone in via the draft if the right guy is there. Two players both out of Georgia are making a case for first round draft capital in Devonte Wyatt and Jordan Davis. But interior defenders are not a premium in the draft so they could find someone in the mid rounds too.
Potential early round picks: G Zion Johnson (Boston College), T/G Kenyon Green (Texas A&M), T/G Luke Goedeke (Central Michigan), G Cole Strange (Chattanooga), TE Trey McBride (Colorado State), TE Greg Dulcich (UCLA), TE Jelani Woods (Virginia), DT Devonte Wyatt (Georgia), DT Jordan Davis (Georgia), DT Logan Hall (Houston), DT Perrion Winfrey (Oklahoma)
Depth: Running Back, Cornerback, Safety
Running Back - They lost Ronald Jones to the Chiefs and they only have four backs on the roster as of now. Leonard Fournette got paid and he’s locked in as the starter while Gio Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn can chip in on passing downs. I could see them going with a bruiser back in the later rounds just to shore up the depth on early downs behind Playoff Lenny.
Cornerback - They look good at the top of the depth chart with Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean on the outside and Sean Murphy-Bunting in the slot. But they only have seven corners on the depth chart which is thin for the modern NFL.
Safety - Instead of drafting a corner, they could instead go with a hybrid safety that could potentially help out in the slot. They can get by with Antoine Winfield, Logan Ryan, and Keanu Neal but should probably start thinking about the future of the position. That’s why it makes sense to maybe go after someone that can help out in the slot in the short term before transitioning to full time safety down the road.