In the first round, the New Orleans Saints went out and addressed what, after a tumultuous offseason, were the two most gaping needs on the roster. Andrus Peat out of Stanford has a good shot at coming in and starting on the offensive line, either at his natural tackle position, sliding either Zach Strief or Terron Armstead into the interior line, or taking over the recently vacated left guard position (although Sean Payton is saying none of them are moving to guard so I guess that's still up in the air). Stephone Anthony of Clemson will join, and hopefully revitalize, a linebacking corps that has been in decline for years and will now be without leading tackler and defensive captain Curtis Lofton.
Alas, the Saints weren't the only team that got to add shiny new players. Hated (or disliked or ambivalently regarded, depending on your level of commitment) divisional foes the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers all took a shot at upgrading their problematic rosters in the draft's first and most glamorous round. Let's take a look at what they did and if they should now be considered more formidable opponents.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
As had been widely anticipated, the Bucs went with localish hero Jameis Winston out of Florida State with the first overall pick. A Heisman and National Championship winner, Winston comes in with the pedigree of a #1 quarterback pick that aligns with the likes of Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning. Then again, he also has the same pedigree as Sam Bradford, Vinny Testaverde, David Carr, and JaMarcus Russell, so who knows? The whole draft is a crapshoot, and no position is more difficult to project at the next level than quarterback.
When it comes to a question of whether or not they've improved at a key position, though, one must begrudgingly acknowledge that they almost certainly have. After the once promising Josh Freeman just totally forgot how to play football, Tampa cut ties with him, let Giraffe Man Mike Glennon start a few games, then took a flier on career backup Josh McCown, who'd just come off a weirdly great half season with the Chicago Bears. Alas, McCown turned back into a pumpkin and the Bucs were in a position to take Winston, the guy generally regarded as the most pro-ready QB in a pretty solid draft class for them.
Of course, this wouldn't be a write-up of Jameis Winston without mentioning his off-field/character issues. Some of his incidents can be chalked up as youthful mistakes that can now be good-naturedly mocked. Others, like the accusation of sexual violence, are far more troubling. None of us can know what happened between Winston and his accuser, but we can hopefully rest assured that, despite the general permissiveness which benefits the wealthy and the famous, the new Tampa Bay quarterback will no longer be the beneficiary of the astonishing permissiveness and protection of the Tallahassee Police Department. There's no telling if Winston will bring to Tampa Bay the ignominy that Atlanta's last #1 pick brought to that franchise, but it is fair to say there is reasonable cause for concern.
The Falcons were one of the very few teams in the NFL last year that actually had a worse defense than the Saints. With their first pick of 2015, they got busy trying to amend that by drafting the very talented LB/DE Vic Beasley out of Clemson. A two-time All-American, Beasley projects as a guy who could come in and make an impact right away as a rusher, a huge asset for a team that finished 30th in the league in sacks and 21st in rushing defense. Some optimistic prognosticators thought that Beasley would still be on the board for the Saints at 13, but alas that was not to be.
While I'm disappointed that it appears the Falcons made a smart decision and got better, it's pretty fun that college teammates Beasley and Anthony will now be on opposing sides of one of the NFL's most fun and heated rivalries. I was hoping a quick Google search would tell me that these two were best friends and roommates, but no such luck. Still, let's all pretend that's the case for the sake of heightened drama and human interest.
The Panthers selected LB Shaq Thompson, and Shaq Thompson is the coolest. He was drafted in the 18th round of the MLB draft when he was 18 years old by the Boston Red Sox, went and joined their rookie league team, then quit after striking out 37 times in 39 at-bats, went back to high school, and became a 5-star football recruit, then a first-team All-American at UW. He was the #1 safety in the country coming out of high school, but then switched to linebacker to get in on more action. Just for fun, he started at running back last season against Colorado and gained 215 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown. I wish Shaq Thompson was my little brother. I would never shut up about him.
The thing is, though, the Panthers didn't really need a super awesome linebacker/safety/athlete/superhero. They were 10th in the league last year in yardage allowed and already have uber-talented youngster Luke Kuechly shoring up a pretty solid Linebacking crew. Naturally no defense is perfect and Thompson in all his versatility is a guy they could probably plug in anywhere and be productive, but where the Panthers really needed to get better was on the offensive line.
An already shaky unit encountered further instability when they let Left Tackle Byron Bell go in free agency. It appears now they intend to replace him with Michael Oher, and while it's fun to have the most famous lineman in the country on your team, he was dreadful for Tennessee last year and may be on his way out of the league. Naturally this is just one round, but it appears the Panthers made the understandable but problematic choice of the slick sports car over the practical family automobile. We'll see how that plays out.
And that's it for the first day in the NFC South. Obviously there's much to come for all three of these teams and your New Orleans Saints, but I think it's fair to say that with our two solid picks in the first round the Who Dat Nation carried the day. Let's hope that carries through to Round 7 and beyond.