Even though this year's NFL draft was considered weak by many, multiple teams upgraded themselves with young talent. We'll forecast the impact of the draft for each of the four teams in the NFC South. Let's take a look and see who were the winners and/or losers in the 2009 draft.
The Atlanta Falcons went into the draft with multiple holes on defense. They filled the need of tight end with the pre-draft trade with Kansas City for Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons traded down in the draft and picked up the first pick in the seventh round. The Falcons had eight selections overall, and seven of the eight picks went toward the defensive side of the ball.
The first pick in their draft was Peria Jerry at #24 in the first round. Jerry has an A draft grade by many and is looked at as possibly the best DT in the draft. Jerry should help the defensive line be more stout against the run and give John Abraham some help with the pass rush.
With the Falcons not retaining Lawyer Milloy they had a need for strong safety. It wasn't a huge surprise for Atlanta to go with safety in the second round. They nabbed William Moore, SS out of Missouri. Moore was considered a top ten talent after his junior year but he was slowed by injuries and inconsistent play last season. Even though Moore's stock dropped he was still viewed as possibly the most talented safety in the draft. If Moore pans out he will definitely have been a steal for the Falcons.
The Falcons also had holes at linebacker, corner, and defensive end. The corner positions were addressed in the third and fifth rounds. Both corners selected run in the mid 4.4 range and could provide depth or even push to start. Chris Owens San Jose St(3rd round) is 5'10, 181lbs and is considered a good man to man cover-corner. He was projected to go much later but the Falcons have had their eye on him for some time.
The fifth round selection, William Middleton was a three year starter and team captain out of Furman. He is 5'10, 193lbs and is a quality corner and high-character guy.
In the fourth round the Falcons may have struck gold with the pick of DE Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury, out of Richmond was projected to go in the second round but fell to the Falcons with pick #125. Sidbury is a highly-talented pass rusher and ran a 4.5 forty at the combine. So far Jamaal Anderson has been a bust and may lose his starting job this season. Sidbury should also help the Falcons pass rush this season and I'm sure was the pick was popular with John Abraham.
In the fifth round the Falcons also picked up OT Garrett Reynolds from North Carolina. Garrett, 6'8, 310lbs. was a three-year starter for the Tar Heels. He will be a quality backup and fill a hole created by the retirement of OT Todd Weiner.
In the sixth round the Falcons added LB Spencer Adkins out of Miami. Spencer was the first Miami player drafted at pick number 176. He is a bit undersized at 5'11, 230lbs and should be a quality backup/special teams player.
The last pick was DT Vance Walker out of Georgia Tech. He has good size at 6'2, 295lbs and was projected to go in the middle rounds of the draft. His stock dropped because of a lackluster senior season in which he battled a concussion and ankle injuries. The Falcons may have gotten another steal here as well.
Overall, the Falcons addressed almost all of their needs in the trade for Gonzalez and the draft. The only place I see they are still thin is at linebacker. We know Peterson and Lofton will be starters, but it's still up in the air on who will start the other linebacker position. Coy Wire filled in last year and was solid but unspectacular. Stephen Nicholas is younger, faster, and more athletic and hopefully will push for the starting position. Past these four guys Atlanta doesn't have much linebacker depth so look for them to add some more players in free agency. The Falcons drafted very well and this could be an A draft if William Moore and any of the other draftees pan out. DRAFT GRADE: B+
Like Atlanta, the Saints went into the draft looking to bolster their defense. The Saints were the most aggressive players in free agency in the south and made some good acquisitions. Keeping Jonathan Vilma was big, but the additions of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator and S Darren Sharper should help as well.
The one thing that hurt New Orleans is they only went into the draft with four picks. The first round selection of Malcolm Jenkins CB/S could help the D out significantly. Jenkins was the number one ranked corner in the draft and has decent size at 6'0, 204lbs. He ran a 4.51 forty at the combine and looks like a solid pickup for the Saints.
Their next selections didn't come until the fourth round where they picked SS Chip Vaughn, and LB Stanley Arnoux (both out of Wake Forest). Vaughn may be a good pick as he was projected to go in the second to third round. Vaughn is 6'1, 211lbs and ran a 4.42 forty and is good in run support.
Arnoux is 6 ft. 230 lbs and ran a 4.56 forty. Both of these look like solid pickups. The head-scratcher for the Saints was trading up to take a punter in the fifth round. No doubt the Saints had kicking woes last season but that move didn't make much sense. Thomas Morstead out of SMU was their pick. He is 6'4, and weighs 225. Although he was projected to go in the seventh round, the Saints thought he had the strongest leg of all the punters in the draft.
Other than reaching for the punter, the Saints had a solid draft by picking good players that they sorely needed on defense. The Saints didn't have enough picks and the reach on the punter drops their grade as well. GRADE: C+
One bane this off-season for the Panthers has been the Peppers saga. They franchised him, but he is yet to sign the tender. Due to the fact that franchising Peppers took a ton of cap money, the Panthers were virtually non-existent in free agency. Also they had no first round draft pick and in a questionable move traded away their number one next year.
Carolina ended up with seven picks in the draft (2 second, third, 2 fourth, fifth, and seventh). With their first pick Carolina selected DE Everette Brown out of Florida State.
If the team trades Peppers then this pick may end up being a good one. If they don't it may not be so good for the Panthers. Brown with his high motor and work ethic seems like a solid pickup but the team has other, more gaping holes. It seems like a lot to give up for an insurance policy if Peppers leaves. Brown was projected to go in the first round and is a good player.
The other second round pick, FS Sherrod Martin out of Troy will add depth to the Panthers secondary. Evidently the Panthers are going to try him at corner. The knock on Martin is he was often injured, missing one whole season and having three major operations. If he can stay healthy he should be a solid pickup.
In the third round the Panthers reach to select DT Corey Irvin out of Georgia. He was projected to go in the later rounds of the draft. Irvin only had one season as a starter and probably will serve as a backup. He does have good size though at 6'3, 303lbs.
In the fourth they selected RB Mike Woodson (who is said to have injury and attitude problems) to replace the third running back slot vacated by Nick Goings. Woodson is a great return man and that may be where he finds his niche with the Panthers.
The other fourth round selection was FB Tony Fiammetta. A good blocker and pass protector, may be the heir apparent of FB Brad Hoover. Hoover looks like he's still the man but he is getting older. Fiammetta looks like a backup for now.
What might be a late round steal was the pick of OL Duke Robinson in the fifth round. Robinson was projected to go in day one but dropped. Robinson definitely has talent but has been known to not have a great work ethic and has weight issues. Could be a great value pick if the Panthers can motivate him.
In the seventh round the Panthers took CB Captain Munnerlyn who definitely has the coolest name of anyone in the draft. Munnerlyn is undersized at 5'9 and 185. He will probably be relegated to a backup at best.
Overall, the Panthers didn't do a bad job but they didn't do a spectacular job either. Not having a first rounder and trading away their first rounder next year hurts. Also, most of the guys they selected will be backups and may not help the team that much this season. Not sure they filled the need at defensive tackle where they were decimated last year with injuries. DRAFT GRADE: C-
The Bucs have made some moves this offseason that puzzle me. First, they hire an unproven head coach and a new general manager. They in turn do a major roster purge of veterans. Then they add the oft-injured but talented TE Kellen Winslow. That didn't seem like a bad move, until they gave him a huge contract extension before he even proves himself.
This team has tons of cap money, but also looks like Swiss cheese looking at the holes. One glaring need (for a long time) has been quarterback. In the first round they traded up to get Josh Freeman out of Kansas State. Freeman has talent but is raw and will take a while to develop. He probably won't be an impact player for the Bucs this year, considering all the quarterbacks on the roster. The pick may have been a little high for Freeman but it was a position of need. The question is will he pan out? The Bucs better hope so.
In the third round Tampa selected DT Roy Miller out of Texas. He is 6'1 and 310lbs and is a run stuffer. Looks like a good pickup for the Bucs and could surprise.
In Round 4 they selected DE Kyle Moore out of USC. He is 6'4, 265lbs and is a solid player. He had five sacks last season which was the most in his career. He was on a defense full of playmakers and may have been overlooked. Could be a good player for the Bucs.
OT Xavier Fulton was the Bucs fifth round pick. He is 6'4, 301lbs and played college ball at Illinois. A solid player with good work ethic but was inconsistent in college. Could end up being a starter given time.
The Bucs had two seventh round selections and picked CB E.J. Biggers, and WR Sammie Stroughter. Biggers is 5'11 and 180lbs, and ran a 4.34 forty. His knocks are he doesn't have the athleticism to cover NFL receivers and he is too lanky.
Stroughter has talent and may be a good pickup. He has good return ability and is a decent receiver.
Overall the Bucs picked up some guys that can help but didn't make a big splash. Freeman may end up being good but it might take a while. The defensive linemen will definitely help out. The team has too many holes and didn't do enough to address them. DRAFT GRADE: C