NFC South Draft Grades: Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Buccaneers

By The Sports Xchange  |  Updated May 2, 2016 at 5:00 PM
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Grading an NFL Draft immediately after it occurs is akin to giving your compliments to the chef based on the menu. It will take at least three years before we can truly assess how the 32 NFL teams fared this weekend. But waiting is no fun. As such, let's take a take at which teams appear to have done the best job of filling needs and building for the future via the seven rounds of the 2016 NFL draft.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Florida safety Keanu Neal walks onto the stage after being selected by the Falcons with the 17th overall pick. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
The selection of Florida safety Keanu Neal will be perceived by some as a reach, but the Falcons were desperate to add physicality to the back seven of Dan Quinn's defense. Neal is a punisher in the mold of Seahawks Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor, who, of course, Quinn knows well after coaching him in Seattle. Quinn (who also served as a defensive coordinator at Florida) also knows Neal well, as he helped recruit him to the Gators. The Falcons added more speed to their defense with highly athletic (but raw) outside linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell in the second and fourth. Late picks Wes Schweitzer and Devin Fuller could struggle to make the roster, despite needs at these positions on this club.

Grade: C

Carolina Panthers

Louisiana Tech DT Vernon Butler poses with Goodell after being selected by the Panthers with the 30th overall pick. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
While cornerback and offensive tackle were considered bigger needs by those outside of the building, Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman might have been thinking about the future contracts of defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei with the first-round selection of Vernon Butler, a long, powerful athlete who wowed at the Senior Bowl after starring at Louisiana Tech. With his need for a "hog mollies" satisfied, the Panthers shifted towards corners to potentially replace Josh Norman, selecting three consecutively in the middle rounds. Small schooler James Bradberry has exciting size (6-1, 211) and physicality but is facing a big jump from Samford. West Virginia's Daryl Worley (6-1, 204) has a similar frame and game but comes with off-field issues. Zack Sanchez lacks their bulk but is a playmaker with 15 interceptions in his career, projecting best to the nickel position.

Grade: C

New Orleans Saints

Saints fans lead a second line parade through the streets of New Orleans on April 15, 2016. Photo by A.J. Sisco/UPI
The Saints ranked last (or close to it) in virtually every defensive category a year ago but took a big step toward rectifying that with the addition of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, a disruptive force up the middle who should complement standout Cameron Jordan nicely, as well as safety Vonn Bell, a hard-hitter with range. Fellow former Buckeye wideout Michael Thomas has a pro-ready build and temperament, which isn't surprising considering that he is the nephew of former No. 1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson and should be able to help Drew Brees immediately. Canadian prospect David Onyemata turned heads at the East-West Shrine Game, but the 6-3, 300 pounder from Manitoba is clearly a project. Running back Daniel Lasco is a terrific athlete who could surprise if he can stay healthy.

Grade: B-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III poses with his jersey after being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 11th overall pick. Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
The Bucs looked smart sticking close to home a year ago with Jameis Winston and doubled down with relatively local product Vernon Hargreaves, a three-time All-SEC corner at Florida with the quick feet, instincts and tenacity to be a star in the NFL. Noah Spence wowed at Ohio State, Eastern Kentucky and the Senior Bowl but comes with well-documented baggage and was not as explosive in workouts as expected. His burst off the ball, however, could make him an immediate contributor, just as Hargreaves will be. Kicker Robert Aguayo may never face more pressure on the field than off it after the Bucs' decision to trade third- and fourth-round selections to nab him at No. 59 overall. To be fair, Aguayo is far from your ordinary kicker, nailing every one of the field goal attempts inside 40 yards in his three seasons at Florida State. And it is worth noting that with PATs being brought back, some feel that kickers are more valuable than ever and the Bucs struggled mightily at this position in 2015. Of Tampa's day three selections, I'm highest on former UCLA right tackle Caleb Benenoch, whose length and raw athleticism could make him a future starter with more seasoning.

Grade: C+

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