Published On: Sun, Apr 15th, 2018

Identifying the biggest need for every NFC South team

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theScore goes division by division to identify the biggest positional needs for all 32 NFL teams entering the 2018 draft, which will be held from April 26-28.


Atlanta Falcons

Biggest need: DT
Secondary needs: TE, WR, CB

For a second straight year, the Falcons enter the draft without any glaring roster needs. Of course they can make upgrades, but the Falcons have at least one well-above-average starter at each position. However, they lost nose tackle Dontari Poe to free agency, leaving Grady Jarrett without much of a partner at defensive tackle.

Tight end Austin Hooper was the Falcons’ third-leading receiver last season, though he wasn’t consistently dangerous. Atlanta could use the versatility of two-tight-end sets to capitalize on the balance between its running and passing game. They could also use another top-three wide receiver to reduce the burden on Julio Jones.

Potential draft targets: The Falcons hold the 26th pick in the first round and should have a few defensive tackle prospects to choose from. Top-rated nose tackle Vita Vea is projected to be off the board already, but Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, Florida’s Taven Bryan, and Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne could all still be available. To replace Poe, the Falcons’ best option may be Payne – a nose tackle with a knack for finding the football who can suck up blocks to create room for Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley.

With four top-rated tight ends in the draft, the Falcons should be able to land at least one in the second or third round. If they’re looking for a new starter, South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst or Penn State’s Mike Gesicki could be worth a second-round selection, but if they want more support behind Hooper, selecting Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews in the third round might be ideal.

Carolina Panthers

Biggest need: WR
Secondary needs: DE, DB, OL

Cam Newton needs more help than just Torrey Smith. After trading away Kelvin Benjamin last season, the Panthers quarterback was publicly upset about his lack of targets, and rightly so. Carolina couldn’t land a top pass-catcher in free agency and needs to look at the draft as a way to add at least one new receiver.

In acquiring Smith, the Panthers also lost Daryl Worley from their already-thin secondary, leaving holes at corner and safety after Kurt Coleman’s release.

The Panthers’ pass-rush was carried by 30-year-old Mario Addison and 38-year-old Julius Peppers last season. They’re both back next year, but they need some young talent to mentor in order for Carolina to sustain pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Potential draft targets: Receiver needs to be a priority in the first round, though this class doesn’t have any slam-dunk superstar pass-catchers. If Calvin Ridley of Alabama remains on the board, he’d be an easy pick, but Maryland’s D.J. Moore, who visited with Carolina on April 10, is a more realistic option.

LSU pass-rusher Arden Key has been a bit of a red-flag prospect since briefly quitting the team last spring, but if the Panthers took him in the second round and he learned the pro game from a future Hall of Famer like Peppers, he could turn out to be a huge steal.

At the combine, UCLA offensive tackle Kolton Miller showed off the kind of athleticism that can help the Panthers as they look to move to more of a spread offense. Tyrell Crosby from Oregon could be another option to improve the offensive line who’s available in the second or third round.

New Orleans Saints

Biggest need: DE
Secondary needs: QB, CB, WR

The Saints’ defensive line was stronger in 2017 than it had been since the last Super Bowl run, but still lacks an edge rusher to pair across from Cam Jordan. Filling that niche and making an upgrade at outside corner over starter Ken Crawley could take New Orleans’ defense from satisfactory to dominant in 2018.

On the offensive side, the Saints may finally look for a successor to 39-year-old Drew Brees with a high pick. That wouldn’t necessarily improve the on-field product for next season, but knowing there’s a plan for the future would put many fans’ minds at ease. If the Saints decide to go all-in for another ring with Brees, another difference-making pass-catcher – whether it be a receiver or tight end – could create havoc for opposing defenses.

Potential draft targets: The Saints may have to trade up to land any of the top-rated pass-rushers – Bradley Chubb, Marcus Davenport, or Harold Landry – though they assumed the same before landing Marshon Lattimore last April. They do not own a second-round pick, but if Kansas edge rusher Dorance Armstrong Jr. is still there in the third round, he could be the missing piece to New Orleans’ puzzle.

Since the team owns the 27th overall pick, some members of the Saints haven’t been secretive about coveting former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson as Brees’ eventual successor. His athleticism and Sean Payton’s offensive creativity could be an explosive combination.

If the team wants to use the top pick to get better immediately, they may have to reach for a position of need. Tight ends like Hayden Hurst, Dallas Goedert, or Gesicki may be an option, as well as Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard, but all four could also be available in the second round if New Orleans trades back.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Biggest need: S
Secondary needs: CB, RB, DE

The Buccaneers’ secondary is hurting pretty much across the board. Vernon Hargreaves hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft status, Brent Grimes is showing obvious signs of age, and the only safety worth getting excited about is last year’s second-rounder, Justin Evans.

Pass-rusher could have been the Buccaneers’ top need if they hadn’t traded for Jason Pierre-Paul. Still, the 29-year-old isn’t guaranteed to fix the problems by himself, and teams can never have enough options to get after the quarterback.

Meanwhile, though Doug Martin was far from a stud the past two seasons, he was Tampa Bay’s top option at running back and needs to be replaced.

Potential draft targets: With the No. 7 overall pick, the Buccaneers have the chance to land one of this year’s elite prospects. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick could be the perfect fit, since he can play safety and slide down to fill in at slot corner.

If Fitzpatrick is gone, UTSA pass-rusher Davenport should be an option at No. 7. He’s still very raw, but wouldn’t need to start right away behind Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry.

The Buccaneers don’t have a pick between the 39th and 102nd spots, so expect them to address other positions early and go after a running back late, where they can find value. Notre Dame’s Josh Adams, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, and Tennessee’s John Kelly could be viable options.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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