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Grading picks from around the NFC South

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Who is most-improved in pro football’s toughest division?

ARLINGTON, TX - Marcus Davenport of UTSA poses with NFL  Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #14 overall by the New  Orleans Saints during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T  Stadium.
ARLINGTON, TX - Marcus Davenport of UTSA poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #14 overall by the New Orleans Saints during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and the New Orleans Saints finally have a sack artist to play across from All-Pro end Cam Jordan. That’s also true for the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Every NFC South team has gotten better, so here’s I’ll be grading each move with a knee-jerk reaction. Hope this doesn’t look bad in hindsight!

New Orleans Saints, overall

The only thing I dislike about this pick is the price paid. It’s tough to justify two first round picks - and a fifth round afterthought - spent on a non-quarterback, but it’s tougher to draw up an edge defender prospect better than Davenport. He’s got a rare combination of size, speed, and agility while also being a big player on the football field with school records in tackles-for-loss (38) and sacks (22) among his laurels. Davenport won’t turn 22 until September, and labeling him a raw project is a misnomer: he showed a number of different pass-rush moves and high situational awareness on his college tape, he just needs to string it together consistently. Beating up speed-bump left tackles like Matt Kalil and chasing down running-scared quarterbacks like Jameis Winston won’t be new to him.

Atlanta Falcons, overall

I don’t get this pick. The Falcons had more receivers than they knew what to do with last year, and let some of them leave in free agency, so I guess this is their answer to Taylor Gabriel leaving for the Chicago Bears? Atlanta passed up bigger areas of need at guard and defensive tackle to get Ridley, so maybe they have a better plan for using him than I’m suspecting. Then again they gave Steve Sarkisian the keys to Kyle Shanahan’s high-powered offense but without a user’s manual, so who knows.

Carolina Panthers, overall

D.J. Moore is immediately the best receiver on the Panthers’ option, but he’s under 6-foot-4 so it’ll be tough for Cam Newton to find him. The Panthers have drafted three slot receivers in the first two rounds the last two years between Moore, Christian McCaffrey, and Curtis Samuel, and new offensive coordinator Mike Shula probably isn’t the best bet to get the most production out of them. While Moore is a great player and I would have liked to see him on the Saints, it’ll be tough for him to overcome the challenges ahead of him.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, overall

You’ve got to admire the Bucs’ defensive line strategy. Vita Vea is more than just a massive gap-filling run defender thanks to his impressive athleticism, lining up all over the front in college. Vea is the latest addition to their strong interior line, joining Gerald McCoy and free agent signee Beau Allen, with Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry rushing from off the edge. That’s a versatile, dynamic front that looks difficult to prepare for - on paper. That’s the story of every Bucs offseason. While Vea is a good pick, I don’t expect he saves embattled Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter from being replaced by defensive coordinator Mike Smith come November.

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So that’s a wrap for the first day’s picks. Vote in the poll and get a conversation going in the comments to let me know what you think:

Poll

Who do you think improved the most in the NFC South?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Saints
    (547 votes)
  • 13%
    Falcons
    (161 votes)
  • 11%
    Panthers
    (145 votes)
  • 29%
    Buccaneers
    (359 votes)
1212 votes total Vote Now