NFL

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Failure To Fly

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Making it to the proverbial mountain top is the goal of almost any athlete and coach.

The only problem with getting to the top is things can only go down from there. The Falcons may not have technically made it to the top of the mountain, but they, and Dan Quinn in particular, are finding out how quickly that fall can come.

So, here’s the good- Quinn ended an 18 draught for Falcons when he led them to the Super Bowl a few years ago.

He also guided them back to the playoffs the following year, something most teams that lost in the previous years’ championship game had struggled to repeat, so I give him credit for that. Plus, the Falcons have had some injuries, particularly on defense, which should be taken into account.

Now for the bad news- in today’s NFL none of what I mentioned above really matters, especially when you didn’t actually win the Super Bowl.

Since their Super Bowl appearance three years ago, Atlanta’s win total for each season has been 10-7-and “on pace for fewer than 7 wins this year”.

I realize after you win 14 games you’re going to step back, and 10 wins certainly isn’t anything to shrug, but it’s still a continual decline.

Defensively, the Falcons have had difficulty stopping the run and forcing turnovers; not a great combination, to say the least.

Fortunately, outside of the Houston game, where their defense had more leaks than the staff at the White House, they’ve been able to minimize the damage when it comes to points.

Surprisingly enough, the offensive side is really where they’ve been hurting. Matt Ryan is currently having a career worst TD/INT ratio and the running game is basically nonexistent.

Point being, you can deal with a few less wins each year as long as there isn’t a huge drop off in performance on the field, which isn’t the case.

Throw in the injuries to Drew Brees and Cam Newton, combined with Tampa’s inconsistency, and the season was opening up to be Atlanta’s for the taking.

The Falcons have yet to face either of those teams. All three are playing better than expected, so while their success isn’t a direct correlation to Atlanta’s struggles, it does make the season up to this point that much harder to handle.

You also can’t ignore Atlanta has some pretty high priced players that are right in the middle of their primes (Julio Jones) or close to nearing the end (Ryan), adding additional urgency to each season.

Personally, I don’t think Quinn should be in danger of losing his job, but the Falcons care about my opinion as much as McDonald’s does about my individual boycott of the McRib- seriously, that whole sandwich is just unnatural.

But, it’s all about what have you done for me lately, and if this current trajectory continues, Quinn answer will be very short.

I remember the simultaneous look of joy and exasperation on the face of my high school chemistry teacher when she found out we (her students) had the highest end of course test scores in the state; she was at the top of the mountain.

Unfortunately for Quinn he’s currently experiencing the exasperation and difficulty in Atlanta without having ever experienced the joy beforehand.

If things don’t change, he may not have to worry about it anymore, at least not in Atlanta.

Time to Rise Up

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Falcons are off to a 1-3 start. The beginning of the Dan Quinn era started great but it’s been all downhill since the Super Bowl LI debacle.

On Sunday, the Falcons lost to Tennessee (2-2) 24-10. The Titans are not a good football team and this was a home game, so this is a bad loss. The question is who is to blame for this terrible start? Can Atlanta turn this season around?

“It is a tough loss, and we’re as disappointed as our fans are,” Quinn said. “You better believe we’re going to look at everything. When you’re sitting at 1-3, you want to make sure you’re finding the answers.”

The first person to start with is head coach Dan Quinn. He took over as the HC in 2015. He’s a former defensive coordinator and so far he has not produced a good defense in Atlanta. They ranked 28th in total defense last season. This season they make every team look like super stars.

Marcus Mariota has been a bust thus far in his NFL career. He’s consistently injured and his play is inconsistent. He played poorly in the previous two losses before they broke that streak against the Falcons. He had 227 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions and completed 66% of his passes.

Rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown had 3 receptions, 94 yards and 2 TD’s. Derrick Henry rushed for 100 yards. You can see the defense didn’t stop the run or pass.

The talent on the roster has been built by Quinn over the last 5 years. Sadly, they are in the same position they were in back in 2015.

“When you see Atlanta, what bothers you is if they don’t get to the quarterback, it’s all about speed (in the secondary),” Phil Simms said on “The NFL Today” studio show. “They play one defense. Guys wide open.”

The defense under Quinn consistently has gaping holes in the zone coverage, poor angles to pass-catchers and lack of speed in the secondary. The first two things can be attributed to Quinn’s defensive design and poor technique by his players.

The strength is supposed to be on the offense and they are playing poorly. Dirk Koetter is back in his second stint as offensive coordinator in 2019.

He previously held the OC position in Atlanta from 2012-14. Some of the growing pains might be from him trying to get familiar with the new talent on the roster.

Atlanta also has a poor offensive line they tried to fix in the offseason. They drafted two offensive linemen in the first round and guard Chris Lindstrom broke his foot in the season opener.

Guard Jamon Brown left the Titans game with a concussion in the first half and could not return.

Center Alex Mack has never missed a game in his Falcons career but he had to leave Sunday’s game with an elbow injury. He was able to return later in the third quarter.

Because of the poor line play, Atlanta cannot run the ball or protect Matt Ryan. The Falcons are ranked 27th in rushing offense with 70 yards per game. Ryan has 8 TD’s and 6 interceptions this season.

He’s second in the league in passing yards behind Patrick Mahomes by less than 200 yards. The difference is Mahomes has 10 TD’s and no INT’s.

There are two division rivals playing with backup quarterbacks and Atlanta still will not win the division. Hopefully they end up with a top 5 pick at the end of the year.

Turn Off The Cam-Era

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We like our athletes a certain way- strait-laced, singularly focused on winning, and someone who plays the game the “right way”.

Of course, the definition of “right way” seems to change depending on what team the player is on.

So, when you have someone as gregarious as Cam Newton, playing the most visible position there is in sports, he’s going to be a lightning rod for all sorts of criticism.

This has led to numerous hot topic articles such as Newton’s post game press conference attire and how he only cares for himself. (Who cares about what he wears; Dwayne Wade wore pants to a presser that were size Osh Kosh B’Gosh for crying out loud. And as for Newton’s selfishness, that’s easily debunked by simply Googling “Cam Newton Charity Work”.)

While those topics may be fun to write about, the main storyline concerning Newton should revolve around whether or not it’s time for he and the Panthers to part ways.

It’s not a new sentiment by any means, but up until recently it was one whose fuel was fired by those who didn’t like Cam for reasons beyond his play on the field.

After the Panthers Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay, WFAN’s Joe Ovies tweeted: “Cam Newton game theory: Proving your shoulder strength is fine by overthrowing it every other pass attempt.” Besides wishing I had come up with that quip, the only thing I would’ve added was “…. while running for his life behind a porous offensive line.”

Cam shoulders a lot of the blame for his play when it comes to his lack of accuracy and his decision making, neither of which has improved much since he was drafted, but it’s not completely his fault he and the Panthers organization may have to decide on his future quicker than originally anticipated.

I think everyone could foreshadow his injuries due to way Cam plays the game, but Carolina’s inability to provide their franchise quarterback with any type of stability on the offensive line sure did expedite the whole thing.

I don’t remember exactly where I read it, but Cam has apparently had either a different Left Tackle or Guard to begin every season since 2013. It’s kind of hard to feel comfortable in a pocket when the people protecting your blindside change as often as Jon Gruden’s feelings towards his quarterbacks. (Knock on wood if you’re with me.)

Plus, it’s not like Cam has had an abundance of talent at the wideout position to help him as he’s scrambling for his life.

Kelvin Benjamin’s talent was surpassed only by his love for Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and Devin Funchess was so ineffective I actually forgot his name for a second.

The Panthers do have some young talent at the position now, but with the beating Cam has taken I’m not sure if it even matters at this point.

Behind Steve Smith and Julius Peppers, Cam is probably my third favorite Panther, so I very reluctantly answer the question I posed above about parting ways with a “yes”.

I still believe Cam can play and is an above average quarterback, I’m just not sure Carolina is where it’s going to happen. Both sides have legitimately done their best to make it work, it just didn’t turn out like they had hoped.

Whether his departure takes place this year or down the road, Cam’s positive impact on the Panthers and the city Charlotte will speak much louder than his fashion sense.

As The Jaguars Turn

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Just barely into a long NFL season, and the Jacksonville Jaguars look like a franchise in chaos. Injuries, poor coaching, and a star player demanding a trade hovers over DUVAL.

The Jaguars made a huge splash in the off season by signing Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles. The deal was a four-year contract worth $88 million. The deal reportedly has 50 million dollars guaranteed.

Nick Foles’ Jaguars debut did not follow script. Foles was injured in the first quarter against Kansas City, suffering a broken left clavicle (collar bone). Rookie Gardner Minshew replaced Foles after the injury.

The Jaguars’ aspirations for a revival this season relied on Foles arrival. Many fans believe the Jaguars are one capable quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender.

Just one quarter into the season, the Jaguars already were left dealing with an injury to Foles and now they will be without him for 8 to 10 weeks.

Game two was filled with drama. First on the field, trailing 13-6 with three minutes remaining, the Jaguars took possession at their 32-yard line. Gardner Minshew lead a two minute and thirty second drive capped with a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr.

Coach Doug Marrone decided to go for a two-point conversion.  Leonard Fournette was stopped inches short of the goal line and the Jaguars fell 13-12.

Doug Marrone must have thought he was a Riverboat gambler, who decided to risk the game on a controversial decision to go for two-point conversion at the end of the game.

From the decision to the actual play call, Fournette run between the tackles. The question remains why go for two?

The Jaguars defense was playing extremely well. Minshew had the hot hand, leading a 68-yard scoring drive.

Coach Marrone just outsmarted himself and his team paid the price. My opinion, the Jaguars should have taken their chances with momentum into overtime.

The headline story Jags camp was the sideline spat between All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey and head coach Doug Marrone.

On a third down play, Ramsey was covering Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.  Hopkins made a diving catch and Ramsey immediately jumps up and waves his arms to signal incomplete.

Ramsey wanted Coach Marrone to have the play reviewed. Marrone did not throw the red challenge flag. The drive continued and the Texans kicked a field goal to take the lead 3-0.

Gene Steratore, the CBS official analysis, stated the it looked pretty clear that it was not a catch. Ramsey walking off the field clearly upset and when Coach Marrone said something to him, he turned around and the two went at it.

Marrone put his hands on Ramsey, who jerked away. Moments later, he walked over to Ramsey and said something that set him off again. Ronnie Harrison had to get between Ramsey and Coach Marrone.

That’s when it ended. Not so fast.

On the following Monday, the Jaguars All-Pro cornerback demanded a trade. Ramsey must be taking a line out of Antonio Brown’s off-field play book.

Ramsey quoted “the whole city trash. Coaches trash, fans trash too. They only care about crab trays and hard drugs. I’m Out!”

 

Lifting Off?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

We are only 2 weeks into the NFL season so there are still many questions that have not been answered.

The team I’m specifically referring to is the Atlanta Falcons. They lost the season opener at Minnesota. Then they rebounded and won a Sunday night game against Philadelphia.

They looked like two different teams. In the first game, the Vikings ran all over Atlanta and won 28-12. They only threw the ball 10 times, which is unheard of in 2019.

What I find troubling about this is head coach Dan Quinn. He is a former defensive coordinator from the Seattle Seahawks. He was there during their last Super Bowl run. Logically, we expected him to turn the Falcons into an elite defense and that has not happened yet.

There were several key injuries last season to players like Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Deion Jones. All of those players returned to start the season and the defense gave up 111 yards and 2 touchdowns to Dalvin Cook.

Minnesota missed the playoffs last season and they are not a contender this year. A loss like that makes me scratch my head.

The next game against the Eagles is completely different. They just won the Super Bowl in 2017 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2018. They are considered the best team in their division.

Atlanta won the game 24-20. They forced Carson Wentz to throw 2 interceptions. They also held Philly to only 49 yards rushing. That’s impressive but the Eagles are not a good running team so we have to take that into account.

Matt Ryan threw for 320 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 picks. They rushed for 57 yards. Julio Jones scored 2 touchdowns and had 106 receiving yards.

He became the franchise’s career leader in receiving yards with his winning score, passing Roddy White.

“He’s had a lot of great ones, that’s for sure,” said quarterback Matt Ryan. “It’s special for him to break a record that way, in such a critical situation, in such a clutch moment. That’s pretty cool.”

Calvin Ridley had his second 100-yard receiving game of his career, hauling in 8 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Falcons rookie tackle Kaleb McGary was injured in the second quarter with a left knee injury. He did return in the fourth quarter.

That’s good news because he should be able to continue playing for the rest of the season. He’s one of the two linemen drafted by Atlanta in the first round. The other, guard Chris Lindstrom broke his foot in the first game and was placed on IR.

Last season the team struggled to protect Ryan and that might be an issue this season. The team also cannot run the ball. That means Ryan will have to throw more so the chance for interceptions goes up.

Previously Atlanta has played to the level of their competition and that has not changed. The next four games are against Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston and Arizona. They should be favored to win all of those games.

The schedule gets tougher Week 7 with home games against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle. Week 9 is the bye week.

Drew Brees has ligament damage in his right thumb and he will undergo surgery. He could miss 6 weeks. That means the team that was the favorite in the NFC South is now just as bad as Carolina and Tampa Bay.

By default, the Falcons are the best team in the division. Let’s see if they take advantage and build a big division lead.

The Strong Silent Type

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

For the better part of a decade at the wide receiver position, there has been almost a direct correlation between a player’s ability to perform on the field and his antics off it. The crazier the antics the more talented the player must be, otherwise why put up with it.

That said, it’s somewhat poetic that on the same day Antonio Brown is turning in a diva performance the entire cast of “Real Housewives of New York City” would’ve been proud of, Julio Jones is signed a contract making him the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.

I say this because when a player like Jones- someone who doesn’t throw sideline rants, blames losses on his lack of targets, or post videos on social media demeaning the organization he plays for- becomes the highest paid, it almost catches you by surprise. (During the stretch when Jones wasn’t getting many red zone targets, could you have pictured him posting a video of all his touchdown catches in Atlanta followed by the words “Remember Me???” as the video fades to black? Now how about Brown?)

I’m sure Jones is more vocal behind closed doors, but if so that at least seems to be where those conversations stay. And while some may look at him holding out as diva-like behavior I have no issue with it, especially when you consider the way it’s been handled by both Jones and the Falcons.

There are several different avenues to venture down when you discuss making a 30-year-old the highest paid wideout in the league, but the real story that will have implications across the league are the terms of the extension- $66 million over the next three years, all guaranteed.

Regardless of what side of the argument you fall on- whether contracts should be guaranteed or not- you must admit Jones’ contract could be the turning point for how those contracts are handled in the NFL.

How many times have you heard of a deal stalling out not because of the length or total money involved, but because of the guaranteed dollars?

As annoying as it is, there’s a reason “The number of years or total dollar amount doesn’t matter, it’s all about what’s guaranteed” comment is ingrained in our minds. I understand why NFL money isn’t guaranteed, but it’s a huge hurdle that sometimes can’t be overcome.

In a profession where contracts are built upon existing contracts with other players, why in the world would another player of Jones’ caliber settle for anything less than a fully guaranteed contract, or at least something close to that. If I were him, I wouldn’t.

I’m not saying this is something that will happen overnight, or take place for every player in the league, but the precedent has been set and I imagine there will be a line of football players waiting to follow in Jones’ footsteps.

Whether or not you believe Jones is worth the money at this stage of his career, or if you think he’ll have lived up to his contract five years from now may not even matter.

There’s a good chance we’ll look back at his signing as a change of the times and something that may alter the way the NFL handles contracts from here on out.

And it all happened without the use of Instagram.

Running Division

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When it comes to the NFL, quarterbacks are going to get most of the publicity, good or bad. And if two of the last four NFL MVP’s have been quarterbacks within your division (Cam Newton, Matt Ryan) and a third is a future first ballot Hall of Famer who also happens to be the all-time leader in passing yards (Drew Brees) you can understand why the position gets the attention it does.

However, if you look past the big names at the top of marquee, you’ll see the teams in the NFC South have a pretty impressive supporting cast, especially at the running back position.

Atlanta Falcons: DeVonta Freeman.

The Falcons running back reminds me of the younger brother you never let play in your buddies’ pickup games until mom forces you to let him play, only to find out he was better than most of your friends.

Since his arrival in 2014, Freeman has quietly put together a very underrated start to his career. In the three years leading up to this last season, when Freeman was inured for all but two games, he was averaging just under 1,500 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns a year.

That may not put him on the level of the next two players I’m about to mention, but that is the type of production almost any coach would take from the running back position.

Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey.

There were times last season where it felt like McCaffrey had his hands on the ball more than Cam Newton.

McCaffrey saw his rushing attempts almost double in his second full season, but much like Freeman, his main potency comes from catching balls out of the backfield; he had 107 receptions this past season.

He had almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year and as much as Newton is the main driver within the offense, McCaffrey has become the focal point.

New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara.

The Saints running back is the Fantasy Football gift that just keeps giving. His numbers actually fall in between the aforementioned Freeman and McCaffrey, but his ability to break loose for the big play/score puts him a category just above his divisional peers.

In today’s NFL, where catching the ball out of the backfield is almost as important to a running back as their ability to run between the tackles, don’t be surprised if Kamara becomes a Top 5 within the next year or two.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Peyton Barber.

My wife always says to ignore anything that comes before “…..but,” so I’m going to dispense with the niceties; Barber just isn’t on the level with the three that I’ve mentioned.

The former Auburn Tiger running back is much more one dimensional than his counterparts and yet he may still be the worst of the four in that one particular area.

In a story where I’m trying to make the case that the strength of the running back position in the NFC South is on par with any other division in the NFL, Barber is the counterpoint to that argument.

Over the past few years the NFC South has been able to place much of their notoriety on the shoulders of Brees, Ryan, and Newton.

For a variety of reasons, they may be forced in the near future to turn to a different set of players. Those players may already be in place; they just happen to be at a different position.

Coach Killer?

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When was the last time you heard an offensive lineman referred to as a “Coach Killer”? Better yet, have you ever heard of any lineman be referred to in that way?

In most cases, that moniker is reserved for the quarterback because when it comes to the NFL the quarterback is the rock star and most everyone else is just “in the band”.

Now, sometimes your franchise gets lucky and you find an Eddie Vedde leading your squad; others times you get stuck with Scott Stapp.

While I don’t think James Winston has fallen to the dollar bin ranks on the former Creed singer, he’s well on his way.

And as much as he is walking that fine line between being a relevant starting NFL quarterback and a bust, he is also becoming dangerously close to becoming the aforementioned coach killer.

Coach number one was Lovie Smith, who lasted all of one season before being replaced by Dirk Koetter.

Now, I’m not saying Winston was the reason Smith was let go, but I have to imagine he was at least consulted in the decision, especially since it was apparently made due to his relationship with Koetter. I find it hard to believe that if Winston wanted Lovie to be around that a change would’ve been made.

By the time Koetter was let go after last season Winston had long lost any pull he might have had with the organization. But, when you get a coaching gig the way Koetter did, your tenure is pretty much based on the performance of your quarterback.

Which leads us to Bruce Arians, the Buccaneers current coach. Arians is known as a player’s coach and someone who gets the most out of his quarterbacks, hence the reason he’s in Tampa.

No matter what anyone says, or how many years are on his contract, Arians was brought in for one reason; to turn Jameis Winston around and to do it this year.

The likelihood of Tampa having a successful season in spite of Winston is highly unlikely, which would more than likely lead to the Buccaneers parting ways with the former number one overall pick.

If that were to happen Tampa would be starting over again at quarterback. I could see the organization sticking with Arians to mold a new quarterback, but does anyone really see him coaching more than 3-4 years?

If things were to play out that way Tampa would be changing coaches just as their new quarterback would theoretically be entering his prime- not exactly the ideal situation for a franchise to be in.

Wouldn’t it make more sense then to just hire a new head coach from the outset; one who would grow with the new qb, much like the Bucs originally intended with Winston and Smith? (Brining in a new GM probably wouldn’t be a bad idea either, if I’m being honest.)

All this has nothing to do with Arians and his ability to coach, or whether he’s a good fit for Tampa. It’s all about the Buccaneers trying one last ditch effort to get Winston to become the quarterback they’ve always believed he would be. I mean why else bring Arians in and not separate themselves from Winston; there were a myriad of reasons that would’ve justified parting ways with him, both on the field and off it.

So, now Winston’s future (and reputation) rides on the back of Bruce Arians. Here’s hoping his new coach has a little Rick Rubin magic in him.

Put A Ring On It

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There are a plethora of ways franchises honor those who have made an impact on their organization.

Retiring a jersey or being inducted into a “Ring of Honor” is probably the highest, followed in no particular order, by throwing out a first pitch, being a part of the coin toss, or the always beloved “Bobblehead Day”.

Recently teams have found a way to celebrate a player’s career by signing them to a one-day contract, allowing them to retire with that particular team.

This got me thinking about what former Atlanta Falcons player, that was with the team during his prime but did not retire as a Falcon, should be brought out of retirement and signed to a one-day contract? I was not expecting the conclusion I came to.

To begin with I went ahead and eliminated names like Deion Sanders, Tony Gonzalez, and Warrick Dunn, even though all three had very successful stints in Atlanta. Sanders and Gonzalez had longer, more successful tenures with other organizations and Dunn left Atlanta to go back and retire in Tampa.

Some of the obvious names I gravitated to next were guys like Jamaal Anderson, Roddy White, Jessie Tuggle, and even Michael Turner; all players who made a significant impact during their time in Atlanta.

However, the first three played their entire careers with Atlanta and Turner finished his career there, so all four have already retired as Falcons.

Of course, at this point there’s one glaring name staring me right in the face, like my wife when she sees my clean clothes draped over the couch, and that’s Michael Vick.

On one hand there’s no player in the history of the Falcons organization that deserves to be on the receiving end of a one-day contract, and the sentiment behind it, based off of on the field production.

On the other hand, there’s also not a player in the franchise’s history that deserves to be honored in any capacity less than Vick.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I am not an Atlanta Falcons aficionado, so I have no doubt there is some lineman or quarterback from 30 years ago that I’m unaware of. Having said that, I came up with three names I feel like would be deserving of being awarded the one-day contract: Andre Rison, Gerald Riggs, and John Abraham.

Rison was a bright spot on a struggling Falcons team during his time in Atlanta. He made four of his five Pro Bowl appearances in a Falcons uniform and spent more of his career in Atlanta than anywhere else.

Riggs is the team’s all-time leading rusher (6,631 yards) and received all three of his Pro Bowl selections during his Falcons career. He has been enshrined into the Falcons Ring of Honor, so that alone may exclude him from this particular festivity.

Abraham, on the other hand, is an interesting case. He is the franchise’s all-time sack leader and obviously had a very successful run in Atlanta. However, you could argue he achieved more in less time at the start of his career when he was with the New York Jets. Which organization he is associated with the most probably depends on whether you live in Atlanta or New York.

With all due respect to those three players, I thought I’d wind up having a bigger name to celebrate; looks like Atlanta does a much better job of keeping their top flight guys than I gave them credit for.

Southern Draft

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr.

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2019 NFL Draft is in the books.

Some teams drafted well and others made some head scratching decisions. I’m going to take a look at the NFC South and rate each teams draft.

Atlanta Falcons: Picks: Boston College OG Chris Lindstrom; Washington OT Kaleb McGary; Ohio State CB Kendall Sheffield; Charleston DE John Cominsky; Pittsburgh RB Qadree Ollison; Washington CB Jordan Miller; Louisiana-Monroe WR Marcus Green

With the 14th pick, guard Chris Lindstrom was selected. The offensive line needs to improve but Lindstrom was rated as a late first round pick at best. Then they traded the second and third round picks to get the 31st pick. The Falcons selected tackle Kaleb McGary.

He was not going to be selected in the first round. If Atlanta wanted him, they could have waited. The trade up value was not good and McGary has issues handling edge-rush speed. The strength of this draft was defense, especially in rounds 2 and 3. Atlanta missed on adding impact players on defense. Grade: C

Carolina Panthers: Picks: Florida State DE Brian Burns; Mississippi OT Greg Little; West Virginia QB Will Grier; Alabama DE Christian Miller; Florida RB Jordan Scarlett; South Carolina OT Dennis Daley; Georgia WR Terry Godwin

Burns was a great pick. He should make an impact rushing the passer immediately and he can develop his game over the next few years.

Daley and Godwin were good value picks in Rounds 6 and 7. They also doubled up on pass rushers by selecting Christian Miller. Grade: B+

New Orleans Saints: Picks: Texas A&M C Erik McCoy; Florida S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson; Rutgers S Saquan Hampton; Notre Dame TE Alize Mack; Idaho LB Kaden Elliss

Erik McCoy was a great pick for the Saints. He has Day 1 talent mixed with intelligence, toughness and competitiveness. New Orleans needs him to protect an aging Drew Brees.

Safety Gardner-Johnson was a good pick as well, addressing a position of need. The first two picks were good but I’m not sold on the rest of the players they selected. Alize Mack was rated as a top recruit going to Notre Dame. He never played like it in college. The Saints need to win now so they don’t have the luxury to develop these players. Grade: C

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Picks: LSU LB Devin White; Central Michigan DB Sean Bunting; Auburn CB Jamel Dean; Kentucky S Mike Edwards; Iowa OLB Anthony Nelson; Utah K Matt Gay; Bowling Green WR Scott Miller; Missouri DT Terry Beckner Jr.

Devin White is a great pick. I expect him to be a Pro Bowler for the next decade. He has great closing speed and athleticism.

Jamal Dean is a questionable pick because of his injury history. He was medically disqualified to play football by Ohio State due to his suffering multiple knee injuries in high school. He sat out 2015, transferring from Columbus to Auburn, which cleared him to play.

Dean suffered yet another knee injury in preseason 2016 camp, which sidelined him for the year.

The Bucs ignored the offensive and defensive lines for some reason. They also drafted a second kicker in four years. Grade: C-

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