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Doug Farrar

The draft in review: The NFC South

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Atlanta Falcons: A team very much in need of long-term outside linebacker talent came up with a great one in Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon(notes), who can do everything required in Atlanta's defense - cover in zones, wait for plays to happen, and crowd the line. He's a perfect fit for the Falcons' gap-control front. After that, things got a little interesting. GM Thomas Dimitroff, one of the best execs in the business, put together a good but unspectacular draft that indicated his impression of the team as close to a playoff run with the talent he already had (which is probably accurate). The disappointment is that there isn't a solution for the pass rush problems. However, there are sleepers all over the place. Fifth-round cornerback Dominique Franks(notes) is an especially intriguing prospect. They traded up to get him, and Franks will pay off in the long run.

Carolina Panthers: Without a first-round pick, the Panthers got a first-round talent in Jimmy Clausen(notes). The Notre Dame quarterback surprisingly slipped to the 48th overall pick, and will compete immediately with Matt Moore(notes) for the starting job, and he's got the grasp of the pro-style offense to pull it off. The Panthers actually drafted three quarterbacks - there was also third-rounder Armanti Edwards(notes), the two-time Payton Award winner from Appalachian State, who will move to receiver/Wildcat guy at the next level. In the sixth round, Cincinnati's Tony Pike(notes) came off the board. He's more of a developmental project than Clausen. Third-round LSU receiver Brandon LaFell(notes) gives whoever is playing quarterback in Carolina this year a reliable guy with good size opposite Steve Smith.

New Orleans Saints: The rich get richer, as the Saints got an absolute steal with USC offensive tackle Charles Brown(notes) at the bottom of the second round. Medical red flags dropped him, but Brown is a legitimate left tackle prospect and gives the team some interesting post-Jammal Brown(notes) options. In the first round, New Orleans added to the defensive backfield with Florida cornerback Patrick Robinson(notes), an athletic but inconsistent player who will undergo the Gregg Williams Crash Course. The pick of Miami tight end Jimmy Graham(notes) in the third round was panned by some, as he was primarily a basketball player for the ‘Canes, but nobody plots offensive mismatches better than Sean Payton, and Graham is a ridiculous athlete. However, LSU defensive tackle Al Woods(notes) may be as important a pick as any for the Saints, given their weakness against the run in three-man fronts. Woods is an underrated big guy who can help in a rotation.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: And speaking of defensive tackles ... whoa. The Bucs went hard after the position with Oklahoma stud Gerald McCoy(notes) with the third overall pick, and UCLA fire hydrant Brian Price(notes) 35th overall. The question is, how will they be used? Both McCoy and Price project best as 3-tech tackles in a four-man front, which puts Tampa Bay on the hook to go away from power and go with pure speed and agility inside. Given the way their front four played against the run last year, it's not as if the new kids will do worse. GM Mark Dominik also gave second-year quarterback Josh Freeman(notes) two big targets. First, there was second-rounder Arrelious Benn(notes) from Illinois, a productive player who Bucs head coach Raheem Morris once recruited at Kansas State. Then, Syracuse's Mike Williams, who dropped to the fourth-round because of off-field issues, but has first-round talent if he can put it together.

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