Each NFC South Team’s Biggest Draft Need

By Leo Silbert

It is getting to the point of the year that fans are trying to figure out who their team needs to draft or what position needs the most help. Some teams like the Patriots don’t have a glaring need so they are able to pick for desire and are allowed greater risks. Other teams like the Browns have needs all over the map so they are best suited to just take the best available player. I’m going to sort this out by division and within the divisions I’ll sort them by 2016 records.

Next up, the NFC South:

  1. julio-jones             Atlanta Falcons- The Falcons have made it to the Superbowl this year so calling anything a need is a little bit of a stretch since they didn’t need it this year so far.  They definitely were one of the surprise teams to win their division this season and even when they did not many people believed in them along the way.  I too am guilty of this, but they have continually proved me wrong.  Their offense is just incredible to watch.  Matt Ryan has re-emerged as a top 5 quarterback in the NFL, Devonte Freeman and Tevin Coleman combine for a great 1-2 punch at running back behind one of the 10 best offensive lines in the league and Taylor Gabriel and Mohammed Sanu have proved to be excellent complementary pieces to one of, if not the, best wide receivers in the league Julio Jones.  Their defense has been solid in the secondary led by rookie Keanu Neal, linebackers led by rookie Deion Jones, and a defensive line led by second year player Vic Beasley.  The defense is incomplete though.  The defensive line doesn’t have a great run stuffer and the linebackers haven’t been good at stopping the run either so I think that the better option for them would be to take a big interior defensive lineman who can stuff the run and help the linebackers by clogging up holes.  The Giants this year were a great example of how a run stuffing interior defensive line can mask deficiencies by the linebacker corps and can make a weakness at two places into a relative strength.  If the Falcons get a disruptive interior defensive lineman, then this year could be just the tip of the iceberg of their potential.
  2. mike-evansTampa Bay Buccaneers- This team looked for a while that it could arrive to the playoffs a year too early, but a late season mini-slide kept them out and sets them up to break out in Jameis Winston’s third season.  Their offense looks like it is just about there already with Jameis Winston and Mike Evans complementing each other greatly as a deep thrower paired with a guy who makes 50/50 balls seem more like 75/25 balls in his favor.  They also have 3 of their 5 offensive lineman performing above average and 2 capable running backs when they are healthy in Doug Martin and Jacquizz Rodgers.  They also have some pieces on defense, but not a complete unit.  Their biggest weakness on defense is similar to the Falcons as they need run defense as none of their front 7 players are great in that area.  So since they have the same core problem as the Falcons, their draft need is the same as the Falcons in a disruptive interior defensive lineman.  The Bucs already have one disruptive interior lineman in Gerald McCoy, but he too doesn’t excel in run defense.  If they can get a guy in the mold of a Michael Brockers, then they can have one of the best defensive interiors in the league which will limit what opponents can do on offense and help out the rest of their defense against the run game.
  3. Drew BreesNew Orleans Saints- Does anyone remember the last time the Saints had a defense that could stop anyone?  That would be in 2013 when they were 4th in yards against and scoring against.  That is a long time in football terms, especially when at the time people were still more focussed on their offense.  But since then, it seems like Drew Brees has had to play 16 games worth of first to 40 wins every year and however great Brees is, he can only do so much.  The Saints are still the same offensive juggernaut they have been since Brees and Sean Payton arrived to the team in 2006.  Brees threw for over 5,000 yards yet again which has seemed to become routine for him, they had the best rookie wide receiver in the league in Michael Thomas, and their offensive line isn’t too good.  Their running back situation isn’t ideal, but the Saints pass the ball short often enough to simulate a running game with their short passing game.  Their defense though needs help at just about every spot not taken up by either Jordan Cameron or Kenny Vaccaro.  What they need more than anything though is someone who can match up with an opponent’s number one receiver and help to at least slow him down so the offense can maybe just play some games of first to 30 wins.
  4. cam-newtonCarolina Panthers- This team had one of the biggest negative turnarounds of any team in recent memory, going from 15-1 and losing the Superbowl to 6-10 and a top 10 pick.  Some people might be quick to overreact and say that the loss of Josh Norman made the team fall apart, but his replacement James Bradberry played pretty well in his stead and Norman, however good he was in 2015, was not worth 9 wins.  The biggest part of the Panthers’ regression was the regression of Jonathan Stewart as a running back.  The Panthers are at their best when teams aren’t able to key on whether Cam Newton will run the ball, throw the ball, or hand it off to the running back on any given play.  With Stewart showing his age this season, teams were able to key in on Newton and shut down the Panthers’ offense.  If the Panthers are able to grab a guy like a Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook, then you can see this team get back to close to their 2015 form really quickly.

Previous articles in this series:

AFC East- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/each-afc-east-teams-biggest-draft-need/

AFC North- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/15/each-afc-north-teams-biggest-draft-need/

AFC South- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/each-afc-south-teams-biggest-draft-need/

AFC West- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/16/each-afc-south-teams-biggest-draft-need-2/

NFC East- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/each-nfc-east-teams-biggest-draft-need/

NFC North- https://sportselite1.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/each-nfc-norths-biggest-draft-need/

A NEW ERA!

Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Luke Kuechly, Marcus Peters, Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald! Ladies and gentlemen, we are, and have been for the last 4 years, witnessing the rise of a new era! Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Peanut Tillman? Gone, retired, sipping mojitos on a beach with open toe sandals on. The more the years go by the more we see long time NFL greats leaving the game and opening doors for the infusion of young talent like the names mentioned above. It has been happening right before our very eyes and I just really sat back and thought about it. Pretty soon there will be a time when we could be watching Derek Carr and Blake Bortles duke it out for the AFC Championship. Yup, it won’t be Big Ben vs Tom Brady or Peyton vs Tom Brady, but Bortles and Carr. An older Tom Brady will be at special games being honored right before he takes a seat to watch someone else quarterback his team, maybe even Garappolo.

 

Last year Blake Bortles threw 35 TDs and 18 INT in just his second season in the NFL. He had plenty help from some more young talent in WR Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Two up and coming pass catchers that have already made for a pretty decent duo. Could they give Jacksonville a modern day Jimmy Smith and Keenan Mccardale type combo? Oh the potential!  Jacksonville has been quietly building itself to compete in this new era and they are looking to be a staple in it for a while. I didn’t even mention the young talent on the defensive side of the ball… I’m telling you, a time where the Patriots are 4-12 and Bortles is leading the Jags to constantly contending in the playoffs could be close. I know Pats fans won’t like that last sentence right there.

 

While I am on the subject of young QB’s and young teams, let’s take a flight out to the west to where there the dawn of another era has possibly begun. Derek Carr also broke the 30 touchdown threshold last season with 32 of his own, against just 13 INT’s. Carr has shown he is the guy for Oakland to build around and they are already headed in that direction. The raiders have youth all around. Young pass catcher Amari Cooper is coming back for his second season, which I believe will be his true breakout year, and you can’t forget about TE Clive Walford. Throw in RB Latavius Murray and the fact they have the best young defender and soon to be best defender in the NFL period, in Khalil Mack, then you can clearly see the Raiders are setup nicely for this new era. You’ve heard of black holes in space? Well the Raiders are setting themselves up to be one here on earth, sucking up any team in its path.

 

A new era! It’s been unfolding right before us for some time. We saw Russell Wilson win the SB in his second NFL season in 2013 and lead them back there again the next year, resulting in a loss however, but still he got them there back to back. Pretty impressive for your first three years if you ask me. Cam Newton nearly led Carolina to an undefeated championship season. Despite the loss in the super bowl, it was a rather impressive season and I believe he will be back sooner rather than later. Rookie Marcus Peters of the Kansas City chiefs had 8 interceptions in 2015. Good enough to be tied for the league leader alongside Reggie Nelson.  There are plenty other names I can throw out here too. In fact, there are too many young players on their way to greatness to name, but the point of all this is to open the eyes of your everyday NFL fanatic to the fact that the NFL that some of us grew up with is quickly changing. Players are more talented than ever now. Before you know it you’re going to be watching “A Football Life” in 2026 about how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were the best QB’s to play the game. Basically what I am trying to say here is… Open your eyes and don’t blink, because this isn’t your fathers NFL anymore!

 

By Lawrence Edwards

NFL MUST SEE MATCH-UP WEEK 1

Ladies and gentleman! The 2016 NFL season is fast approaching. Almost time for tail gating, trash talking, surprise seasons, disappointing seasons, break out players and much, much more. From now up until that sweet Sunday Kickoff I’ll be choosing the “must-see” match-ups for each NFL week. This week we start off with a good old SB 50 rematch coming up in week 1.

 

Last time we saw these two teams Peyton Manning was walking off in the sunset with his second SB ring, Von Miller hoisting the SB MVP award and Cam Newton walking out on a post-game interview. Fast forward to June 2016 and a lot has changed, at least for the defending champs. Denver watched Brock Osweiler, Danny Trevathan, and Malik Jackson walk out the door for nice pay days. It also doesn’t help the fact that Von Miller is threatening a hold of the 2016 season unless he gets paid top dollar. But the biggest question is “Can the defense still do enough to carry the team even when Von Miller inevitably returns?” The good news is I don’t think Von Miller will hold out the season and they still have a pretty good LB in Brandon Marshall, the other Brandon Marshall that is.

 

Carolina on the other hand locked LT Michael Oher to a 3 year deal and resigned Paul Soliai, DE Charles Johnson and RB Mike Tolbert. Some may think the biggest transaction was CB Josh Norman being allowed to walk in free agency but Carolina obviously believes that someone can fill that role immediately, especially with how dominant the front 7 is. Cam Newton is healthy and Carolina brings back pretty much everyone from last year.

 

Despite all off Denver’s losses in free agency, I still view this as the must see match-up in week 1. I don’t believe for one second Von Miller actually would actually be willing to miss a game. Millers hold out will end with either them getting a deal done making him maybe the highest paid player or he’ll play on the tag. With Miller looking to give Cam Newton flashbacks of the nightmares he put him through in the Super Bowl and Cam looking to exact revenge on a somewhat different but still dominant Denver defense this match-up will live up to the hype. What’s not to like about getting a chance to get a little payback on the team that shattered your story book season in the end? Look for this match-up to be hard hitting and Superman dabbing fun, and deliver on what us football fans like to see! As of this moment I have Carolina taking advantage of a Peyton-less Denver and just slightly weaker defense and pulling this one out. But it’s early, opinions could change after training camp and preseason when we get a chance to see what rosters will look like but for now…

31-17  

 

 

By Lawrence Edwards

Who Will Control NFC South?

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The question is will the  Carolina Panthers control the NFC South again? Last year it seemed that no one could beat the Panthers, it didn’t matter if the team played in their division or not. Atlanta Falcons managed to make it to .500 record but, the Saints and the Bucs did not. Should I mention that in 2014 that no team in that division made it to a .500 record but, the Panthers somehow still won their division.

Last season the Panthers lost their top wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for the season after he tore his ACL during the first practice of the summer. Now a year later he has returned. Their receiving core is back intact as of now. One of their problem areas is at running back. They have Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, Jonathan Stewart and Brandon Wegher. Let’s start with Jonathan Stewart, the man that can’t stay healthy. His last full season played was in 2011. Why do they consider this guy a starter? Did I mention he is limited in the OTA’s right now? Maybe his body is trying to tell him to quit or become a water boy. Whittaker on his third team, well he isn’t much to talk about. This will be Artis-Payne’s second season. He didn’t play much, but I did like what I saw from the kid. A positive note, his rushing average is higher that Trent Richardson’s. I think if he gets more experience, he will actually be a good player. Cam Netwon who almost lead the team with rushing yards, had the best season of his career last season. He increased his touchdowns to 35. He also didn’t throw as many interceptions as previous years.

The Panthers did take a big blow to their defense this off-season. They lost their top cornerback Josh Norman. Norman was shutting top wide receivers down the majority of the season. Will their defense be as good as last year? They still have Kuechly and Davis but can they stop the ball down the field? We will see.

 

The Falcons

When you hear the Atlanta Falcons name mentioned you automatically think of Julio Jones and Matt Ryan. These two have a great chemistry together. They also have an effective running back Devonta Freeman, who had a 1000-yard season. His backup Tevin Coleman wasn’t bad either. Since last season Roddy White had one of his worst seasons of his career since he started in the NFL, was let go this off-season. He was replaced by Cincinnati’s wide receiver Mohammad Sanu. Their tight end situation isn’t bad but, the Falcons did draft Austin Hooper from Stanford. They started last season with a 5-0 record, but, ended with an 8-8 record. So what happened? The defense played horrible and were last in sacks. The offensive line couldn’t protect Ryan so, he was making very questionable decisions. During the 2016 NFL draft the Falcons main focus was to draft defensive players. Will these upgrades and drafts help?

 

The Saints

Where to start with the Saints. The team, as a whole, had problems from the offense to the defense. The New Orleans Saints last season had a record of 7-9. The most consistent player on the Saints is well QB Drew Brees. He had a great season last year. Let’s first talk about their running back situation the Saints have Mark Ingram who has been on the team since 2011 and still hasn’t had a 1000-yard season. The last time he played all 16 games was in 2012. They signed C.J. Spiller for what reason I don’t know he didn’t do anything. They did draft a running back Daniel Lasco from California. They lost Jimmy Graham in 2014 so they had Benjamin Watson to fill his shoes. Watson did have one of the best season of his career, but they lost him in the off-season. The Saints did sign Colby Fleener to replace Watson. The defense for the Saints was garbage. They were ranked second to last in the league. A positive note the Saints did focus their draft on defensive players. They also signed Roman Harper for the second time.

 

The Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the team with the fans who thought Jameis Winston was going to be their savior. Well, he might be but last year he wasn’t. The Bucs had 6-10 record last season. Last season Winston ranked 28th out of 34 in QB rankings. Winston also ranked fifth in the league in interceptions, but he did have a great yards gained pass completion. The Bucs have a great running back in Doug Martin and their offensive line last season was awesome, if they weren’t there was no way Martin was going to have over 1000-year season. What hurt the Bucs was losing their tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to shoulder injury for the season. They also lost Vincent Jackson to a knee injury for the season. Losing Jackson probably hurts them the most. He was one of the top players on the team and when he went down they only had Mike Evans. Mike Evans had a great yardage season last year, but only scored three touchdowns all season. Really? That’s horrible, Jackson only had three, but he got hurt. Seferian-Jenkins had four, but, again, he got hurt. Those two have great reasons why they didn’t score. The Bucs did fire Lovie Smith this past January. Maybe that is what needed to happen for them to have a better season.

 

The NFC South will be interesting to watch this season. The question is will they be a great division or horrible.

Check out the show here.

The Past, Present & Future of Greg Hardy

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The Past

(Written by LaDonna Williams)

During Greg Hardy’s’ career at Ole Miss he had great numbers that left many believing he would enter the NFL Draft after completing his Junior season as a First Round Selection. Despite the adoration of coaches and scouts, Hardy returned to Oxford for his senior season. Following career numbers of 26.5 sacks, 90 solo and 57 assisted tackles Hardy found his stock drop dramatically, and was not drafted until the sixth round by the Carolina Panthers. What was the reason for Hardy dropping after an exemplary college career? Coaches questioned his durability following an off-season surgery to a broken bone in his foot before his Senior season at Ole Miss. They also noted his inconsistency to play hard each and every down. The Panthers took a chance on him in my opinion because of the impending loss of Julius Peppers.

Greg’s career with the Panthers lasted from 2010 to 2014 with his best season coming during the 2013 campaign where he earned a Pro-Bowl nod with 15 sacks, 40 tackles, and 25 assisted tackles. On field Greg Hardy could do no wrong, but off the field was a different story altogether. His 2014 season left him sidelined due to an impending investigation into a domestic violence case in which he was implicated by his ex-girlfriend. The proof against him was damning. His ex was covered in bruises and he maintained a stance of his innocence saying that he never laid a hand on her. So just how did she get the bruises Greg, tripped on the carpet? The vacuum cleaner attacked her? To add insult to injury, on Hardy’s’ court date she didn’t show up. Why would this woman not show up to court after what you put her through? Just how much did you pay her to not show? One benefit of being on the NFL’s Exempt list is that you still received your salary, so we know you had the money.

 

The Present

(Written by Micheal Hester)

Following the decision to not resign Greg Hardy in March of 2015 by Jerry Richardson, the former second team All Pro defensive end was set to be the top defensive lineman on the NFL free agent market. With speculative buzz of interest from the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Greg Hardy signed with the Dallas Cowboys on March 18, 2015. Considered a high risk/high reward for the Cowboys due to an inept pass rush in the 2014 playoff match-up that cost them against the Green Bay Packers (although some blame it on the controversial no-catch) the signing of Hardy, at the moment, felt like one that would propel the Dallas defense skyward.

We’re going to avoid digging into the X’s and O’s of Hardy’s stint as a Cowboy here. After his initial 10-game suspension was reduced to a 4-game suspension by the NFL. It was apparent, at that moment, that Hardy’s verbal state was a wildcard. With Cowboys’ head coach, Jason Garrett, having to figuratively pull him aside and speak to him, Hardy’s verbal antics simmered down for the moment. For the moment, yes. A few weeks later into the season, Hardy’s verbal outburst turned a bit physical when he was seen by FOX ‘s camera crew knocking the clipboard out of Cowboys’ special team’s coach’s hands and seemingly unable to be calmed by fellow teammates, Tyrone Crawford and then-injured/inactive Dez Bryant. The next Hardy verbal altercation came in week 10 of the 2015 NFL season when he was seen verbally sparring with Buccaneer fans during the Cowboys’ match-up versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And this all happen, sparingly through the Dallas Cowboys’ 2015 season, with constant sports media bashing of his very presence in the league and the Cowboys’ decision to take the swing at him.

Amid the media scrutiny of both Hardy and the Cowboys organization, and Hardy’s obvious decision to “lay low” despite the hypothetical bull’s eye on his back, Hardy finished the season with 6 sacks (2nd on the team) one interception and 32 quarterback pressures (1st among all Cowboys’ defenders) So where does Greg McKarl Hardy stand as of now? No longer on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster or any NFL roster, to be exact. With the high point of the free agency period gone and not being picked up by any of the 32 NFL teams, the writing is on the wall. The fact that he missed all but one game of the 2014 season and four games of the 2015 season, but still managed to put up 6 sacks, 32 quarterback pressures, and one interception proves that Hardy is still a physical specimen that can still make an impact on a number of NFL defensive lines around the league even with missed time from the NFL.

Sometimes the risk isn’t worth it. And that’s a powerful stance, considering that his former employer, Jerry Jones, is one of the biggest and most powerful risk-taking “gamblers” in the world of professional sports. Although the media bearing had no effect on the Dallas Cowboys’ losing record in the 2015 season, the very presence of a player of his nature and given his past incident, makes a player like Greg Hardy a volatile and dividing locker room presence. If you ever played ant sport on any particular level, you know, firsthand, that locker room division eventually trickles onto the field. And sometimes, even a mogul like Jerry Jones has to decide when enough is enough, for the sake of the very team being ran by himself, son Steven Jones and head coach, Jason Garrett…with the latter whose very theme is “the right kind of guys”. Greg Hardy is a freakish athlete with the potential to return to elite form in no time for a number of NFL teams, who could use his talent on their defense immediately. But, Greg Hardy is almost a troubled soul with a checkered past who’s main priority, right now, should be life rather than football.

The Future

(Written by Brian Jones)

What does the future hold for Greg Hardy? Does he have a future in the NFL?

There’s no definitive answer to that question. As of today, he’s out of the league and there’s been no substantive movement towards signing him from any team. Dallas has come out and adamantly said they won’t be re-signing him and a return to Carolina isn’t happening. The draft is over and training camp is starting soon and although teams will tell you that we aren’t signing him or we don’t have any interest in signing him the truth of the matter is that they’ve discussed bringing him in or they will soon. Injuries will happen and needs will develop because of this and because of overall attrition on rosters. You don’t find 27-year old defensive ends who are former Pro Bowlers and have multiple double-digit sack seasons on their resume’ who are available right now.

Someone will go out (eventually) and sign him along with the inevitable media attention and scrutiny that is going to come with it. He can still be a serviceable player; pass rushers don’t exactly grow on trees these days after all. The team that does sign him has to understand what they’re getting and getting into. Keeping him away from questionable members of the media who will ask pointed questions is a start. Keeping Hardy off camera together is a great idea too. Keep in mind, before his first game last season he made derogatory remarks about Tom Brady’s wife and her sister and infamously said he wanted to come out guns blazing–this after being suspended for a domestic violence conviction where he threw her on a bed of guns and other assault weapons. On the field he’ll need to be insulated by coaches and teammates (see the sideline incident with Dez Bryant last season for an example of why) and be in a defensive scheme where he can rush the passer and be a disruptive force on the field.

While there are some who say and hope he never plays another down in the NFL – and there’s a miniscule chance that could happen –it’s very likely Hardy sees the field again in 2016 in NFL.