Draft 2019: NFC South Team Needs
The NFL Draft is less than a month away, which means that teams who fell flat in the 2018 season have a chance for redemption in 2019 if they make the right draft picks and free agency moves.
This is the case for the NFC South, a division that went from sending three of its’ four teams to the playoffs in 2017 to the Saints leading the pack by a wide margin as the only playoff team in 2018.
The NFC South has the potential to be one of the best divisions in the league if each team can address the holes that were dug too deep in the 2018 season. The team that needs the most help in the NFC South is arguably the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Buccaneers had yet another disappointing season last season by finishing at 5-11 and although they have two potential starting quarterbacks on the roster with Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick, a quarterback might be one of their most glaring needs.
Tampa Bay benched Winston part of the way through the 2018 season for Fitzpatrick, which makes it difficult for fans and critics to have complete confidence in their starting quarterback. Drafting a quarterback in the later rounds to develop over the years might be in the cards for the Buccaneers.
Another position the Buccaneers need is a pass rusher. According to Sports Info Solutions, Tampa Bay had the fourth-lowest pressure rating in the league, which shows that McCoy and Pierre-Paul might not be enough to solidify the defensive line, especially with Carl Nassib gone.
In a defensive heavy draft, the Buccaneers have plenty of options to pick up a young and explosive pass rusher like Montez Sweat or Nick Bosa or maybe patch up that middle linebacker.
The Buccaneers could also use some more help at offensive tackle. Earlier this month Tampa Bay decided to franchise tag Donovan Smith, but some might see that as only a temporary fix for an offensive line that needs more depth and stability.
They would be smart to take advantage of the decent offensive line draft class this year by grabbing a lineman in the second or third round.
Lastly, The Buccaneers have a glaring need at cornerback. Despite investing in Vernon Hargreaves, Carlton Davis, and M.J. Stewart for their secondary, they still struggled in zone coverage, which new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been a fan of in Arizona and New York.
This need could be addressed by signing one of the lower profile cornerbacks left in free agency or by drafting a guy in the second round that helps solidify the secondary.
With a repaired defensive line and filled holes in the offensive line and secondary, Tampa Bay could have a shot at the playoffs after their explosive offensive performance from last year.
If the Panthers are going to exceed expectations after a dismal 7-9 season in 2018, there are several holes they need to address if they want to be in playoff contention.
The first hole they need to fill is at the center. With the retirement of five-time Pro-Bowler Ryan Kalil, the Panthers have no choice but to find a replacement if they want Cam Newton to flourish after a season where he was plagued with injuries.
Signing a veteran center would be their best bet. Travis Swanson is still on the market and would be a good fit.
Another offensive line position Carolina is in dire need of is a tackle. Since Daryl Williams left in free agency, that offensive line is yearning for more young talent.
They also have a gap at left tackle as well, so the Panthers need to hone in on one of the top offensive line prospects with their first-round pick and build depth in the offensive line in the later rounds
The Panthers also need more depth at the safety position. Despite signing Eric Reid to a three-year contract, they still need another safety at either the strong safety spot or free safety since strong safety Mike Adams’ age has started to affect his production.
The free agency class for the secondary is deep with both higher tier and mid-tier safeties to choose from, so the Panthers would likely be able to fill that hole through free agency instead of the draft.
Carolina should also be in the market for an edge rusher. With Julius Peppers’ retirement, the Panthers don’t have another guy in that position deserving of being double-teamed by another team’s offensive line, and the only way they are likely to find that guy is through the defensive-heavy draft.
Cam Newton is undoubtedly the starter for the Panthers in the 2019 season, but with his shoulder being in a fragile state, Carolina needs a more dependable back up.
Most veteran quarterbacks with ample winning experience have been taken off the board, but Geno Smith is still a free agent and would be good enough back up for Newton until the Panthers see fit to search the draft for Newton’s successor.
The Panthers have playoff potential, but if their front office doesn’t address the glaring gaps in their roster, they could be looking at another disappointing season.
Although their roster issues had more to do with injuries than lack of talent last season, they still have several position needs that, if acquired, will elevate them to a possible playoff team.
Their most dire need might be an edge rusher. With quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Cam Newton in their division, the Atlanta Falcons need an edge rusher that raises their sack total and puts pressure on the quarterback.
Now that Terrell McClain is a free agent, perhaps taking a guy like Ed Oliver out of the draft could help fix this issue.
Another glaring issue for the Falcons is that guard position. They’ve rotated a few guys in and out of this position over the past few years, two of whom are currently free agents while the third is coming off a major injury.
Odds are that Atlanta will fill this hole with a veteran free agent that won’t take a huge hit on their little remaining cap space. A guy like John Brown would be a good fit for them, or if they do want to look to the draft for their next guard, there’s Oklahoma’s Cody Ford as well.
Offensive tackle is another line spot that needs attention, with Jake Matthews being the only dependable player in that position. This need will likely be addressed in the middle or late rounds of the draft.
Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley have done well for the Falcons, but overall their pass rushers haven’t been consistent enough in pressuring the quarterback.
Atlanta will likely seek to find another pass rusher with their first-round pick in the draft. If they are looking to grab one of the big names like Sweat, Nick Bosa, or Quinnen Williams, they might have to be willing to trade up a few picks.
Despite having a prime talent like Devonta Freeman at running back, their former talented backup Tevin Coleman has signed with San Francisco after sitting the bench under Freeman’s shadow.
They still have Ito Smith but the Falcons will likely search for running back depth in the later rounds of the draft with the plethora of later round picks they possess.
Another running back and a solidified offensive line could help Atlanta’s offense flourish and lead them to a playoff run similar to 2017.
It’s hard to poke holes into a roster of a team that missed the Super Bowl because of a missed pass interference call, but the Saints can still find ways to improve their roster.
One way they can start is by getting more depth at the linebacker position. With Manti Te’o being a free agent, the Saints have Demario Davis and Craig Robertson.
If there are any unexpected injuries for Davis or if they want to work more guys into the linebacker positions, they should pick up a veteran from free agency and maybe draft another linebacker in the middle rounds of the draft.
Since the departure of Jimmy Graham for the Seahawks, the Saints have been in dire need for a dependable tight end. Drafting a tight end in the second or third round would allow the Saints to develop a tight end to take over one of the starting tight end positions.
Unexpectedly, New Orleans recently entered the search for another running back after the departure of Mark Ingram.
The Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara duo from the 2018 season wreaked havoc on the defenses of opposing teams, and losing him is a punch to the gut for the Saints.
The Saints could grab Josh Jacobs from Alabama late in the first round or in the second round, but if they don’t want to take a chance with a rookie, C.J. Anderson is still on the table in free agency.
Since New Orleans is not one of the many teams with seemingly unlimited salary cap space, a restructuring of Drew Brees’ contract would alleviate the monetary burden while they have more free agents left to sign.
The Saints are a team stacked with talent; talent that almost took them on a Super Bowl run. If the Saints can resign most of their key free agents and fill some of the tiny holes left by departed players, they could be the NFC South front-runners once again.
Sommer Thomas is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, please email her at email@example.com.