The NFC South is a division that had a very intriguing seven rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Carolina ended up taking the draft's biggest star in Cam Newton. The Falcons had a lot of intrigue surrounding their draft, particularly when they traded up in Round 1 for Julio Jones. The Saints also did some trading of their own the first round when they traded back to select Mark Ingram at No. 28.
But the best draft class of this entire division goes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They got good value at basically every spot, and they filled their biggest team needs.
So here is my draft analysis of each and every draft pick from the NFC South, as well as overall team grades.
1. (6) WR Julio Jones, Alabama: The Falcons got a great player here who will be a big help for the offense. They gave up way too much here to trade up to get him though. I like the pick, but their grade is lowered significantly because of what they gave up for it.
3. (91) ILB Akeem Dent, Georgia: I like this pick, and I think he will fit well in Atlanta. This isn’t really the biggest need though, as they still need to find another pass-rusher.
5. (145) RB Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State: Rodgers is a steal at this point in my opinion. Yes, he is pretty short, but he’s very powerful for his height, and he is effective running both inside and outside of the tackles.
6. (192) P Matt Bosher, Miami: He is a good player, but they could’ve probably gotten a decent punter as an undrafted free agent.
7. (210) OG Andrew Jackson, Fresno State: This is a solid pickup for the Falcons, as Jackson will be a nice backup for them. He fills the need for offensive line depth.
7. (230) DE Cliff Matthews, South Carolina: Matthews is a fourth or fifth-round prospect who will help improve the depth at defensive end.
Final Team Grade: C
I understand the reasoning behind trading up for Jones, but I think it came at too high a cost. Jones will essentially be the No. 2 option in Atlanta, so it just doesn’t make sense to give up that much for a No. 2 receiver.
The Falcons failed to address their two biggest needs in a pass-rusher and secondary help. They got Matthews in Round 7, but he won’t help the pass-rush out much next season.
I may be in the minority here, but I’m not a fan of the Atlanta draft class.
1. (1) QB Cam Newton, Auburn: This is an excellent pick for the Panthers in my opinion. I’m higher on Newton than a lot of others are, but I think he can become a star in this league. He will need some time, and I wouldn’t start him this season if I were Ron Rivera, but he gives the Panthers a true franchise quarterback after whiffing on Clausen last season.
3. (65) DT Terrell McClain, South Florida: McClain is an underrated player who fills a huge need for the Panthers. He should challenge for a starting spot right away.
3. (97) NT Sione Fua, Stanford: Another solid pick, as Fua could also challenge for the other starting defensive tackle spot next to McClain.
4. (98) CB Brandon Hogan, West Virginia: Hogan is a nice pickup here, as he provides depth at the cornerback position. I do think there were a few more talented corners available, but solid pick regardless.
5. (132) WR Kealoha Pilares, Hawaii: Carolina needs some depth at wide receiver, but this is a reach. I did not expect Pilares to be drafted, and there were several better prospects available at this point.
6. (166) LB Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut: This is an excellent pick here, as I had Wilson much higher on my board. He provides nice depth and could develop into a starter down the road.
7. (203) OG Zach Williams, Washington State: The Panthers needed the depth, but I thought Williams would go undrafted.
7. (244) OT Lee Ziemba, Auburn: An excellent value pick, as I had Ziemba as a fourth-rounder. He will provide nice depth on the offensive line.
Final Team Grade: C+
I personally am a fan of Carolina for taking Newton first overall because I think he has the potential to develop into a star. I don’t see him helping out much in his rookie season, but he has a lot of potential.
Otherwise, I thought the Panthers did a good job of addressing their defensive line needs in the third and fourth rounds. This wasn’t a spectacular draft by any stretch of the imagination, but they got solid players who addressed their biggest needs.
1. (24) DE Cameron Jordan, California: This is a steal for the Saints. I had Jordan as a top-12 player because he has excellent size and is solid against the run. He also has great pass-rushing ability, and I think he will be an every down player.
1. (28) RB Mark Ingram, Alabama: Ingram is the best running back in this draft, and he provides another dimension to the running game. If Reggie Bush stays around, Bush and Ingram will form a very nice running back combination.
3. (72) OLB Martez Wilson, Illinois: Wilson is a solid value pick here, and he fills a very big need for the Saints at linebacker.
3. (88) CB Johnny Patrick, Louisville: Patrick is another nice pick for the Saints, and he will provide excellent depth at the cornerback position.
7. (226) DE Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh: I love this pick here at this spot. If Romeus was healthy all of last season, he would’ve been a likely second-round pick. If he can come back from his injuries next season, he could be another seventh-round steal for the Saints.
7. (243) OLB Nate Bussey, Illinois: Bussey will provide depth, but Mark Herzlich would’ve been a much better pick here.
Final Team Grade: B+
I’m a big fan of what the Saints did, especially on day one. Cameron Jordan is an all-around good player, and he’ll be a big boost to the defense next season. Mark Ingram gives them a great inside running threat, and I expect him to be a star. Wilson and Patrick were also solid picks, and I expect Wilson to earn a starting role next season.
The most interesting pick was Greg Romeus, as he is a low risk in the seventh round and could pay huge dividends.
1. (20) DE Adrian Clayborn, Iowa: This fills the Bucs' biggest need at defensive end, and Clayborn is a very nice fit here. I think Cameron Jordan is a better player at this spot though. Regardless, Clayborn should make an instant impact at defensive end next season.
2. (51) DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson: Bowers was once considered the potential No. 1 overall pick, and he falls all the way to 51 due to injury concerns. Excellent value for the Bucs, and he’ll have a big chip on his shoulder as he enters the league.
3. (84) OLB Mason Foster, Washington: Another very nice value pick here, as Foster will help to improve the talent at the linebacker position. He should contend for a starting spot in his rookie season.
4. (104) TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee: This is a good value for the Bucs, as I had Stocker rated as a third-round guy. He gives them great depth behind Kellen Winslow.
5. (151) S Ahmad Black, Florida: Black is another very good value pick at this spot, and he helps improve the suspect depth at the safety position.
6. (187) RB Allen Bradford, USC: This fills a pretty sizeable need for the backup spot, but I didn’t think Bradford would be drafted.
7. (222) CB Anthony Gaitor, Florida International: Gaitor will give the Bucs some depth at the cornerback spot. He is a very underrated player and is good value here in my opinion.
7. (238) TE Daniel Hardy, Idaho: I don’t really see the value or the need for Hardy here. I’d be surprised if he even makes the roster.
Final Team Grade: A
Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers will provide an enormous boost to the Buccaneers' pass-rush. They got good value for both of them, and they give the Bucs a formidable defensive line for years to come.
Mason Foster was an excellent pick in Round 3, and I expect him to become a starter early in his career. Both Luke Stocker and Ahmad Black provide depth, and I think they will both make an impact next season.
Overall, this was a very nice draft for a quickly improving team.