NFL Draft Team Needs: NFC South

As the 2022 NFL Draft approaches, it is time to start preparing for one of the most important weekends of the year, with your favourite NFL team drafting their next generation of young talent out of college.

To help you prepare for and enjoy the draft more, I am putting together an in-depth look at the Team Needs of every team in the league. These articles will be coming thick and fast throughout the month of April, so you can read them all to fully understand who needs what and which picks they have to address it, or you can keep an eye out for the division that your team is in.

In this particular entry, we are looking at the NFC South, with four teams ranging from one of the Super Bowl favourites that won 13 games last year all the way to a team that is drafting sixth overall after losing 12 last year. The former team thought they might need a quarterback and now they don’t, and the latter hasn’t worked out whether or not they want a QB yet.

Let’s break this chaos down.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Record: 13-4

Needs: Offensive Line, DT, CB, TE

Draft Picks: 1st (27th), 2nd (60th), 3rd (91st), 4th (133rd), 5th (170th), 7th (248th, 261st)

Getting Tom Brady to unretire took one team need off the list and immediately extended the window of championship aspirations. The Buccaneers want to take full advantage of their extremely talented roster for as long as they can. Head Coach Bruce Arians is taking a step back now, however, Todd Bowles is a very capable replacement and the Bucs won’t miss a beat on the basis of the HC change, in my opinion. Their objective is now to try and sure up the roster while they can. It is especially important to fill some holes with young players who will stick around long after the GOAT retires for real.

This offseason, Tampa Bay did lose a couple of key players, potentially because they didn’t know that they would be making another championship bid if they were to stay. Ali Marpet and Alex Cappa, both offensive guards, are no longer with the team. The former chose to stick with his own retirement plans and the latter got a big deal from the Cincinnati Bengals who needed to bolster their O-Line badly this year. In an attempt to fill the void created by these losses, Tampa traded for Shaq Mason, but that still leaves a space open for a starting guard on an otherwise solid offensive line. That is priority number one, especially when they’ll have a 45-year-old QB standing behind them.

The other offensive position I’d like to see them address is the Tight End position, as they moved on from O.J. Howard this year. The status of Rob Gronkowski is up in the air, but the Bucs are hopeful. If he returns, whoever they add will be afforded the benefit of sitting behind Gronk and Cameron Brate, learning and growing without the urgency of the other positions we’re talking about within these team needs. If Gronkowski, behind the scenes, seems likely to retire, they would need to consider a replacement who will be NFL-ready faster.

On the defensive side of the ball, the defensive line will be the biggest target, especially the interior defensive line. Vita Vea is one of the best nose tackles in the entire league, but he is a one-man-army without any backup. It’ll be even more effective if you can still have that dominant player, but then also add more depth behind him, and put better players beside him to take advantage of the amount of attention he commands. Adding more talent to the D-Line, when this is already one of the most dangerous front-sevens in the entire league sounds pretty good.

Behind that group up front, they have a solid defensive backfield, including the young talent of Antoine Winfield Jr. among the veterans, however, I think they could still benefit from some young depth in that secondary. The cornerback position would likely be where I’d start, although I wouldn’t ignore available value at safety.

New Orleans Saints

Record: 9-8

Needs: WR, Offensive Line, CB, QB

Draft Picks: 1st (18th), 2nd (49th), 3rd (98th, 101st), 4th (120th), 5th (161st), 7th (237th)

The New Orleans Saints are in quite a unique position, right now. They have, within the space of two years, lost their hall of fame Quarterback and their hall of fame Head Coach, and their roster – while still home to individuals who are very talented such as Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan and Marshon Lattimore – lacks a certain oomph that it had just a few years ago. Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston can battle it out for the starting QB spot, but I think that any desire for either of those two to play may have left with Sean Payton.

This weird situation they find themselves in has one benefit, they don’t need to address QB this offseason. Obviously, they could, but they don’t need to. I think they’re better off laying the infrastructure now and then finding their next franchise QB later. I said this same thing for the Detroit Lions in the NFC North team needs article. If your team is not in the position where the QB is the only missing piece of the puzzle, don’t rush the pursuit of one and settle for a worse player, while also putting them onto a mediocre roster. The allure of making the playoffs may be too tempting, but I personally think they should address other things before they focus on their future at the quarterback position.

If you’re going to improve the QB situation, why not do so by drafting wide receivers and offensive linemen. The best thing about these positions is the sheer variety of investment options – do you splash on a first-round receiver or try and hit on a day two guy that you can mould? This allows the general manager, in conjunction with new head coach Dennis Allen, to keep himself open to whatever falls on the board. If a wideout they like is there, they can take him and then look to the offensive line later, or the other way around.

The Saints’ offense has traditionally been built around quick, efficient plays, so their OL prospects don’t necessarily have to be insane to do the job. However, their current starting left tackle is James Hurst, who started just 44 games in six whole years in Baltimore, before joining the Saints where he has started in 20 of 29 appearances.

If they can secure a new left tackle and add a receiver, the offense will benefit massively. I would like to see at least one reasonably early defensive addition in this draft, too. This team needs more cornerback depth. Marshon Lattimore is a legitimately dominant corner. Top 10 at his position without question, as far as I’m concerned. He’s on his own though. The depth chart behind him needs some young playmakers who can put pressure on the opposition QB and force them to throw it at Lattimore a little bit more, or take advantage if they try and target the receivers who aren’t worthy of his man-coverage.

Atlanta Falcons

Record: 7-10

Needs: WR, Defensive Line, LB,

Draft Picks: 1st (8th), 2nd (43rd, 58th), 3rd (74th, 82nd), 4th (114th), 5th (151st), 6th (190th, 213th)

Well, this is pretty tough. The Atlanta Falcons, just five years on from a Super Bowl appearance, are one of the teams that is the hardest to predict on a year-over-year basis. It’s probably equally likely for them to make the playoffs as it is to have a top 3 draft pick in 2023. The team lost their long-time starting QB, Matt Ryan, to the Indianapolis Colts, and now Marcus Mariota sits at the top of their depth chart. Mariota has flashed real talent during his time in the league, but he will almost certainly be a downgrade for the passing game from Matty Ice.

If we’re going to talk about downgrading the passing game, why don’t we give a quick mention to the fact that the best wide receiver – and arguably the best player, period – on this team is suspended. Calvin Ridley will be out indefinitely, with the minimum period of time being one season before he can appeal for reinstatement. That means their WR1 is Olamide Zaccheaus. That is not ideal. Therefore, I would say that wide receiver would be a major priority for me to address in the draft.

To make it clear, that doesn’t mean they have to take a WR in the first round over more talented players if they like them, it just means they need at least one start-worthy wide receiver over the first two days of the draft. The very small silver lining to Ridley being gone is that they will be able to give new young players more game time and also get a better draft pick next year while they’re at it. Outside of WR, I think the majority of the improvements should be defensive.

The defensive line contains a certified star player in Grady Jarrett, who extended his contract and will be sticking around for some time. With that being said, I want to see him have some help. Having one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the league doesn’t mean as much if he’s the only person the opposition OL has to focus on. Another 3-4 edge who can play that role and will be around for a few years would give Jarrett a partner worthy of some attention and they will both benefit.

I would also like to see some improvements behind the line, starting with the linebacker position. Rashaan Evans and Deion Jones are very capable inside linebackers, but their outside group is a little bit weaker and has an important role against both the run and pass in the 3-4. Adding a versatile linebacker to this group who can play outside – or both inside and out – would help with depth, at the very least, or could even provide a starter.

The defensive backfield could also use a boost, too, and there are some really talented DB’s available in the draft who are likely to go around the spot where the Falcons are, so don’t be surprised if the Falcons opt to add a little extra sauce to their secondary with their first pick.

Carolina Panthers

Record: 5-12

Needs: QB, Offensive Line, CB

Draft Picks: 1st (6th), 4th (108th), 5th (144th, 149th), 6th (199th), 7th (247th) 

The Carolina Panthers are another team who have some great individual players, but they are missing some key elements to make the difference between good players and a good team. Star players Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore carry the load on offense. Defensively, veteran linebacker Shaq Thompson and their young core of safety Jeremy Chinn and edge rushers Yetur Gross-Matos and Brian Burns. These are all very solid pieces, so building on top of that is naturally made a bit easier. However, unfortunately, I exhausted every name I can think of that is definitively above average at their position. Anything else, they could work on.

By far the most important thing, in the immediate future, though, you’re going to want someone to be at the centre of the team. A franchise QB who can grow with the team and make use of the talent they have. Seeing Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore wasted on Sam Darnold is frustrating as a neutral, but I can imagine it’s even worse as a Panthers fan. So, if they can keep trying to find their long-term starting QB, that would be priority number one for my money.

When you have a good QB – especially if you have a great RB and solid wide receivers, as the Panthers do – the first thing you have to do after that is bolster that offensive line. The offensive line could do with an addition or two, whether they grab a quarterback or not, admittedly, but the urgency to improve their blocking skyrockets if they take a QB.

There is one notable problem for the Panthers, that you may have already noticed. The Panthers have the sixth pick overall… and that’s it. They do not have a single pick on day two of the draft. So, they draft at 6, and then wait another 102 picks before they’re back on the clock. This means that they either have to trade back and replenish their picks, settling for either a lesser QB or no QB at all.

If I was the GM in Carolina, I’m of the opinion it’s my guy or nobody. They will have spoken to all of the top QB prospects and researched who they like the most. If they can’t get their guy with the sixth pick – or with a short trade back still in the top half of the first round – I would immediately look to try and trade back and get as much value as possible. The sixth overall pick is a valuable one, so they really do have the opportunity to fill out that 100-pick void, if they don’t like the value.

If they decide they want to improve their defense, despite their very limited draft capital beyond the first, I think that the cornerback position is their biggest need on that side of the ball, as Stephon Gilmore is no longer on the team.