The NFC South held the cards to the draft as the franchise with the top pick hailed from the division.  In the end the division had a much greater impact than most thought after a number of unexpected trades.

Atlanta Falcons

Entering the draft most thought the Atlanta Falcons would concentrate on defense.  Hence there was great surprise when the rumors came to fruition and Atlanta jumped up twenty slots to select receiver Julio Jones, giving away a boatload of picks in return.  There’s a lot of risk in this move for a number of reasons.  Jones can be a dominant, go-to receiver when he’s hitting on all cylinders.   He has also been underachieving at times and does not play to his potential consistently.  Considering the needs on Atlanta’s defense and the fact there was great depth at the receiver position starting late in round one, albeit no player the caliber of Jones, this was a risky proposition for the Falcons and Jones must quickly produce to justify the move.  Round three was premature for the services of Akeem Dent, a two down run defender with limited upside.  Jacquizz Rodgers was a solid choice in round five and should help out as a situational ball handler.  Cliff Matthews was a steal in the final frame and will do well in the Falcons system.

The bold move to jump up and grab Julio Jones was risky and will ultimately determine the fate of this draft.  On paper we don’t like it considering all the circumstances.  Grade C-

Carolina Panthers
The Panthers were in the unenviable position of possessing the first pick in this draft.  Unenviable for a variety of reasons we illustrated the weeks prior to the actual event.  In the end they chose the quarterback and made Cam Newton the top pick, a decision we disagree with.  In a nutshell we see to much risk with this selection and the potential downside of taking Newton far outweighs the upside.  Character traits aside, (something we feel will be corrected) his inaccuracy, inconsistent passing and the transition to an NFL offense made this choice to risky.  Carolina came back and had some brilliant selections after Newton.  Terrell McClain and Sione Fua were both terrific picks in the third round and the defensive tackle duo should work well on the inside for the Ron Rivers defense.  Cornerback Brandon Hogan was a major roll of the dice in round four but receiver Kealoha Pilares in round five then Lawrence Wilson in round six and Lee Ziemba in the final frame were all good value picks.

For better or worse this draft will hinge on the success, or lack thereof, of Cam Newton.  While we don’t like the selection Carolina deserves credit for unearthing as many as four starters from the third round on. Grade B-

New Orleans Saints

Conventional wisdom had the Saints taking a defensive tackle late in round one yet when Cameron Jordan slid into their laps the defensive end was too good to pass up.  In our opinion Jordan was the most underappreciated player in this draft and dropped because of his seemingly aloof and goofy personality.  Yet on the field he does nothing but strap on his helmet and come to play.  The Saints will find ways to implement Jordan and he instantaneously improves their defense.  New Orleans made a bold move back into round one, giving away future picks to chose Mark Ingram.  This is a terrific choice for a number of reasons.  Not only will the Alabama product be a favorite in the Big Easy but he’ll be the workhorse back Sean Peyton wants and Drew Brees needs.  Many were surprised when Martez Wilson slid into the third frame- not us.  Wilson is a gifted athlete that can be a three down defender at a number of linebacker spots.  He also lacks a physical nature to his game which, if he does not pick up soon, will push him out of the league.  Johnny Patrick is a solid nickel back and a third round choice that can develop into a starter.  Greg Romeus was worth a shot in the final frame and Nate Bussey has been a favorite of ours- a speedy outside linebacker prospect that should flourish on special teams.

This was a terrific draft from start to finish.  The Saints got value, took risks with limited downside and could come away with three starters and several situational back-ups.  Grade A-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers are a team on the cusp and a franchise that’s drafted quite well in recent years.  The organization hoped to add a few more pieces to the puzzle and are banking on Adrian Clayborn filling the role of pass rusher.  Clayborn offers a world of talent but at times plays on skates.  If he cranks it up he’ll turn into terrific value as the 20th player selected.  Da’Quan Bowers free-fall through the top of the draft finally ended when Tampa scooped him up with the 51st pick.  For the Buccaneers it was a no brainer.  Even with a knee injury some say could shorten his NFL career Bowers was too good a value to pass up.  Tight end Luke Stocker was a solid pick in round four while Daniel Hardy was value in the final frame.  The duo compliment each other well.  We think round three was a bit early for the talents of linebacker Mason Foster. Ditto for Ahmad Black in round five.

Tampa Bay selected several potential role players in the later rounds yet the final grade on this draft rests on the ability of the top two picks to generate a pass rush.