Atlanta Falcons

Down Here

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

Free agency and the NFL Draft have already taken place so we have an idea of what each roster will look like.

The NFC South has received a lot of attention with the arrival of Tom Brady to Tampa. Let’s take a look around the division and make some predictions.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers made the biggest splash in free agency by signing Tom Brady. They also traded for his former retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

They drafted Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs in the first round. Wirfs played 10 games at right tackle and three at left tackle last season. He was named an All-American and he should be able to help protect Brady.

Tampa Bay ranked 25th in total defense and they probably will struggle again in 2020.

The Bucs have received a lot of hype this off season. I don’t think they can live up to it. Brady will turn 43 in August and he’s going in to his 20th season.

Think back to Peyton Manning’s final season when his play drastically deteriorated. I think age and attrition will hamper Brady. The Bucs will win 8-9 games, but they will not be legitimate contenders.

Carolina: The Panthers got rid of their franchise quarterback Cam Newton and signed Teddy Bridgewater.

They are led by All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey. He’s really the only weapon on offense and they lack a talented wide receiver.

Carolina used all seven draft picks on defensive players. They did struggle defensively in 2019, ranking 31st in total defense. They gave up 28.8 points per game.

The best-case scenario would be for three or four of the players they drafted to step in and contribute immediately. That would mean they have young players making mistakes but gaining experience. The Panthers will win 4-5 games.

Atlanta: They were a tough team to figure out last season. The Falcons were bad, but they beat New Orleans and San Francisco, two of the best teams in the NFC.

They drafted two offensive linemen in the first round of the 2019 draft but they both dealt with injuries. Protecting Matt Ryan has been a recurring issue. If that can get solved, they might have one of the most potent offenses in the NFL. They still were fifth in total offense.

The running game struggled last year, and it was addressed by signing running back Todd Gurley. Gurley has dealt with a knee injury that has decreased his play significantly.

They ranked 20th in total defense. Dan Quinn’s job is on the line and I think he will be fired. Atlanta should win 7-8 games.

New Orleans: The Saints were 13-3 in 2019. They were one of the best teams in the league and they return many players from that team.

Future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees sustained a torn ligament to his right thumb that caused him to miss five weeks. He’s also 41 years old so his window to win another Super Bowl is closing.

The offense has playmakers like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas that defenses have to plan for. They ranked ninth in total offense and 15th in total defense.

They will win 10-11 games. New Orleans has to hope they don’t play the Vikings in the playoffs and they will have a chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Super NFC South

By: JJ Lanier news services

The NFL gets a lot of credit for its parity from year to year and there are multiple examples over the years proving that to be true.

When it comes to the Super Bowl, because of the Patriots stranglehold on the AFC, most of the parity has come from the NFC.

There has been a different team representing the conference in each of the past six seasons, many of which were not considered to be Super Bowl contenders to begin the season.

As we look towards next season, could one of the NFC South teams be that team to surprise everyone with a Super Bowl run?

The obvious answer would be the New Orleans Saints, which takes them out of this particular conversation since they wouldn’t be a surprise.

Out of the three remaining divisional teams, I don’t think there’s much doubt the Panthers are the longest of long shots next year.

They have a new coach with a new philosophy, they lost their best defensive player (Luke Kuechly) to retirement and decided not to bring back their most reliable offensive player (Greg Olsen).

And then there’s the question of whether Cam will ready, if he’ll be back in Charlotte at all. Trust me, Kenny Maybe had a better chance of making it to the second round of “Dancing With the Stars” than the Panthers do of making it to the Super Bowl.

Next up, to me at least, are the Falcons. I realize most people probably believe in the Falcons more than the Buccaneers, but I’m just not there.

Atlanta has been on the decline for the last three seasons; they haven’t been able to quite put things together on either side of the ball since their Super Bowl run, and frankly, I don’t trust Dan Quinn.

I stated earlier this season, the worst thing that could happen to Atlanta was to finish the season strong, giving management a reason to keep Quinn around, and I’m sticking to it.

On the flip side, the talent is there to make a run, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which is why I give them a better chance than Carolina. On paper they look like best team out of the three to give New Orleans a run for the division title, but I’m not quite sold on it happening.

So, yes, between the Panthers, Falcons, and Buccaneers, I would pick Tampa to be the surprise team next year. I don’t know if it’s the viral infection I’ve been battling combined with the Police Academy marathon I binged today (thanks Netflix), but for some reason I’m going with the Buccaneers.

Truth be told, I’m not really sure why I should even feel this way, except that after five years I’m still foolish enough to think James Winston can surely get his stuff together for at least one full season.

I mean, the 5,100 yard and 33 touchdowns is so appealing, as long as you completely ignore the 30 interceptions that went along with it. Surely Bruce Arians can do something with that, right?

Of course, these things were being said about the 49ers last year, and the Rams the year before that, and the Eagles before that, which is why every team begins each season with a renewed sense of hope.

Maybe we’ll be able to add an NFC South team to that list; except for the Panthers. Seriously, it’s going to be a long year.


Tis’ The Season

By: JJ Lanier news services

As we find ourselves in the midst of the holiday season, and with the NFL regular season winding down, I figured I’d put on my giving hat and pass out what I hope each NFC South team is able to treat themselves to this offseason.

And much like the holidays, each team may not be getting exactly what they want, but they need to remember it’s the thought that counts.

For the Carolina Panthers, I bring them a new offensive line. The Panthers history of drafting or signing offensive linemen in free agency is like our experiences in Target or Wal-Mart.

We visit either store with the mindset of buying just one thing, but ultimately leave with our hands full of crap we don’t need. In the case of the Panthers they either don’t buy the one thing they want, or they wind up buying the generic version that’s cheaply made because they spent half their budget on those other items.

It doesn’t matter if they have Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, or Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from Remember the Titans under center, if they don’t improve their offensive line, they won’t be Super Bowl bound anytime soon.

It may not be the area they need the most improvement in, but there’s a new running back under the tree for the Atlanta Falcons.

Look, I get what they’ve tried to do with Devonta Freeman and he’s had some success, but he’s not the answer in the backfield.

Realistic expectations for Freeman are caught somewhere between Darren Sproles and Christian McCaffrey, which is great when you need a change of pace, but not when he’s your featured back.

Sure, the Falcons could use a new head coach and some help on the defensive side of the ball, but a running back will help take some pressure off Matt Ryan, while possibly helping him extend his career a bit.

I’m not gifting anything to the Saints team, as much as I am one player; Drew Brees. And for Brees I’m giving him the chalice, and never-ending life, from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

Tom Brady is receiving a lot of attention for his level of play at 42 years old, but Brees is only 2 years younger, has sustained more injuries, and I’d argue is playing at a higher level.

New Orleans proved they were still one of the NFL’s top teams with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, but there’s no substitute for what Brees means to that team.

More than likely, Brees only has a few more good years left, and I imagine Saints fans would do anything they could to keep him playing.

As for Tampa Bay, they’ll find a map in their stocking to help them figure out where the hell they’re going as an organization.

The Buccaneers have gone through head coaches this past decade like they’re a top tier, mid-major football program, only they’re firing them instead of losing them to better jobs.

It’s a toss-up as to whether or not their quarterback will throw for 400 yards or 4 interceptions in a game and there’s a distinct possibility both will happen.

The defense is inconsistent and basically, they are a team without an identity. The only downside is that most of the players in the NFL are too young to have ever had to use a map, so it may not quite have the desired result it was originally intended to have.

And like any good present, just in case they don’t like it, I’ll make sure to leave the receipt.

Pick Away

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The NFL regular season is winding down. We know who the contenders are and the teams that need to try again next year.

I’m going to take a look at the projected NFC South draft order and team needs.

Pick #5 Atlanta: The biggest team needs are edge rusher, defensive back and offensive line.

The Falcons have struggled to protect their $150 million quarterback Matt Ryan. In the Thanksgiving game against New Orleans he was sacked nine times (tying a career high). Atlanta failed to sack Drew Brees, which brings the team’s needs in the trenches into focus.

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is by far the best pass rusher in the draft. I do not expect him to be around when the Falcons pick, so I think Iowa edge rusher AJ Epenesa will be their pick. He had double-digit tackles for loss the last two seasons. He had 10.5 sacks in 2018 and 9 in 2019.

Pick #12 Carolina: Their biggest team needs are DB, OL and defensive line.

Quarterback might also be a need since Cam Newton has not played since Week 2. Kyle Allen has stepped in but he has not played well. His QBR is 38.3, which is 30th, and he’s thrown double digit interceptions.

The Panthers defense cannot stop the run, ranking 29th in run defense. Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs would be a good pick. He has great size standing at 6’2 and 208 pounds. He has 3 interceptions and 8 pass breakups this season.

Pick #14 Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers biggest team needs are QB, RB, OL and DL.

Jameis Winston is in the final year of his rookie contract and he’s still struggling. He’s been a turnover machine his entire career and this season is no different.

Winston leads the league with 20 interceptions. That would be too much for a rookie but he’s in his fifth season and he has also had off the field issues.

The Bucs have several other areas of concern but I believe they will prioritize drafting a franchise quarterback.

Oregon QB Justin Herbert could be the answer. He has prototypical size at 6’6 and 237 pounds. He’s a senior so he has a lot of experience which is invaluable.

Herbert helped bring the Ducks program back to a national title contender. This season he has 31 touchdowns with only 5 interceptions, so we know he can protect the football.

Pick #29 New Orleans Saints: The Saints are truly Super Bowl contenders so this might turn into the 31st or 32nd pick.

The biggest needs are WR, interior OL and DB. Michael Thomas is great but he could use another receiver to help stretch the field. Thomas is a true possession receiver and he is the focal point of the defense.

A player with speed would be explosive and they could make teams pay for covering him one on one.

Three of the seven Saints defenders who have played the most snaps in 2019;  Vonn BellEli Apple and P.J. Williams happen to be members of the New Orleans secondary. All three are scheduled to become free agents in 2020.

Clemson receiver Tee Higgins would be a great addition, assuming he’s still on the board.

The Peach Curse

By: Kipp Branch news services

Ten run top of the first inning, blown 25 point Super Bowl lead with 17 minutes left in the game, 2nd and 26 in the National Title game, 4 game sweeps after having the best record in the NBA Eastern Conference, back up QB playing like a Heisman winner in 2018 SEC Title game, Loss after loss to Florida in Jacksonville in 2002, 2003, 2005, when UGA has clearly better teams, 3-2 sliders drilled over the left field fence to change the balance of a World Series, being beat into submission by a FSU home run barrage in the 2019 Athens Baseball Regional.

You get my drift? The list goes on and on. The curse of Georgia sports is real and right now there does not seem to be a cure at this moment in time.

The latest debacle was masterfully created by the 2019 Atlanta Braves.

We should have seen this one coming from a distance. The Braves went 97-65 in the NL East, clinched a division and slumped into the playoffs against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Braves were drilled 13-1 in a deciding game 5 in the NLDS. BTW, Atlanta has not won a post-season baseball series since 2001.

Yeah, we should have seen this one coming, but the 2019 Braves provided something the Georgia sports scene longs for and that is hope.  All of that hope faded in about 20 minutes during the 5PM hour on October 9th, 2019.

The debacle started before the series even began when Mike Soroka was slated to only get one start in the series. How does your two most consistent starters during the regular season Mike Soroka and Max Fried only get one combined start in the NLDS?

Fried, a 17 game winner, was relegated to the bullpen in the series where he struggled at times. Maybe his manager could have given this 25 year old kid a confidence boost by giving him something he earned during the regular season, which was a start in the NLDS.

Why didn’t Mike Soroka get two starts in this series? Seven strong innings in game three, but yet he was slotted as a game three starter after a meaningless start in New York on September 29th, which he was coming off 10 days rest after beating the Phillies on 9/19.

If the rotation was Soroka, Keuchel, Fried, Foltynewicz, and Soroka do the Braves win this series? Then you have Keuchel ready for game one of the NLCS.

We know Dallas Keuchel did not pull his weight in the series; or maybe he would have if he was not pulled in the 4th inning of a 1-1 game in game 1 with 2 outs.

Atlanta signs him for $13 million in June for a playoff run and you don’t let a Cy Young winner pitch out of a little jam in the 4th inning?

Why not let Josh Tomlin stay in the game in game 4 when he was mowing down the Cardinals at the time?

We know Freeman, Donaldson, and Markakis struggled at the plate in the series batting .200, .158, and .143, respectively. Freddie, just one fly ball in game 4 and you are hosting the Nats with a World Series on the line.

Why do managers feel like they have to manage differently in the playoffs? I get the all hands on deck mentality in elimination games, but Fried in the bullpen with 17 wins during the regular season raises a lot of questions. Baseball is a funny game maybe our most unpredictable game.

Position players have to produce runs, pitchers have to get outs, and managers have to make the right moves.

As a team the Braves failed in all three areas. The team is young and will continue to grow. Brian Snitker got badly out-managed in this series and I just did not see that coming.

This was a bitter defeat for the Atlanta Braves, and it appears the Curse of Georgia Sports is alive and well.

UGA is undefeated in football, but you have this sick feeling in your stomach don’t you Georgia sports fans that you cannot explain?

The Washington Nationals in the NLCS really stings.

Running Division

By: JJ Lanier 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.

Southern Draft

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. 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-

New Dirty Birds

By: TJ Hartnett news services

The NFL Draft is a magical time. It is both a beginning and an ending.

One door shuts on the college career of young and hungry hopefuls, while the door to their professional career opens wide.

It’s a time of hope for fans as well, as they look for their favorite team to draft the players that will turn them around or help them take the next step.

People will debate until they are blue in the face which college player should be drafted at what point in the draft, or who is the best fit for what team and who will be the player that falls the farthest. The point is everyone has an opinion about the NFL Draft and that includes Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, apparently.

Word is that Ryan sent a text message to the Falcons’ General Manager, Thomas Dimitroff, thanking him for drafting offensive linemen with both their first and their second picks in the Draft. That says something profound about how badly Ryan needed protection after season that saw him get hit third-most in the league and sacked eighth-most.

Those offensive linemen were Chris Lindstrom at 14 and Kaleb McGary, whom the Falcons traded up for to draft 31st overall.

Lindstrom is a guard from Boston College and McGary played right tackle at Washington, though he could also be moved to guard.

Lindstrom was not likely the 14th best player in the Draft, but the Falcons made a statement by drafting him and by trading their 2nd and 3rd round picks in order to get McGary in the first round. The O-line is going to be better this year come hell or high water.

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that the Falcons signed two offensive guards during the offseason in Jamon Brown and James Carpenter.

It seemed fairly likely that those two would be starting for Atlanta come September, but with these two draft picks it now seems like a competition for those positions will be on. These are choices that potentially improve the team by leaps and bounds.

After missing the 2nd and 3rd rounds, the Falcons picked up cornerback Kendall Sheffield from Ohio State. Sheffield’s game is his speed and will play an important role for the team, if his pectoral injury doesn’t plague him the way it plagued Desmond Trufant.

Dimitroff then took John Cominsky, a Defensive End from Charleston, for his second pick in the 4th round. He’s got size and versatility, and his presence could keep the likes of Vic Beasley, Jr. and Takk McKinley on their toes and motivated.

Round 5 saw the Falcons draft a running back from Pittsburgh by the name of Qadree Ollison. Ollison is a big dude and should be capable of brining power to the short-yardage game of the Falcons, serving as a nice compliment to Devonta Freeman.

Atlanta’s second pick of the 5th round was another corner: Jordan Miller – also of Washington. Their second at that position of the draft, Miller will add depth to the secondary and join another former Washing player in Trufant there.

For Round 6, the Falcons branched out and took a wide receiver: UL Monroe’s Marcus Green. Green isn’t going to supplant Julio Jones, but he may be counted upon to make both kickoff and punt returns. He has the potential to provide some explosive returns and provides competition with free agent signing Kenjon Barner for the role.

Save The Dates

By: JJ Lanier news services

It’s all about the presentation.

In the past, when a recruit signed with a school, or a player announced he or she was turning pro, at the most they would hold a conference at their respective school to mark the occasion.

Now, it’s all about the theatrics; Instagram posts, professionally done videos, etc.

That same hype has trickled down now to the release of the NFL Schedule.

Instead of quietly releasing the upcoming season schedule, it’s all about the creativity from each team’s marketing and social media departments. I know I might come across like a millennial version of Archie Bunker, yelling at those “darn kids”, but I actually love it.

And thankfully for those of us in this area, both Atlanta and Carolina were the two videos battling it out for the top spot.

If you’re grading on the overall creativity and consistency of the video I think you have to go with the Panthers. Their idea to present the matchups as if they were competing in an actual video game was nothing short of brilliant.

As someone who spent the better part of the ‘90s navigating through his teenage years, I appreciated their nods to games like Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and Goldeneye. The only thing that could’ve improved their overall presentation was somehow slipping in a score of 28-3 for either of their matchups against Atlanta.

Now, since I am a big Game of Thrones fan, and even though it has become a popular trend of late, I can give the Falcons props for their homage to one of the most popular shows of my generation.

While you can debate the originality of the idea, the video did provide possibly the best five seconds put on film this year. There is certainly no love lost between Carolina and Atlanta, but the one thing both fan bases can agree upon is their complete disdain for anything associate with the New Orleans Saints.

So, when the Falcons video included a ram knocking over a Saints player, followed by a ref running up to the knocked player and waving off any infraction I almost gave them a standing ovation, in my living room. That’s pettiness at its finest, and I’m all in.

There will be numerous touchdown celebrations, quarterback sack dances, and taunts throughout the season, but I don’t know if any of them will be as brutal as that takedown the Falcons just performed on the Saints.

I do think there was some room for improvement though. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like they missed a golden opportunity by not including a “Jameis Winston running out of Publix” set piece.

I admit I haven’t actively searched out New Orleans or Tampa Bay’s schedule release video, but I doubt it compares at all to these two.

Oh, and as for the actual schedule itself, would it really matter all much if not for these videos? I mean, most of the games are already predetermined and no matter how difficult or easy we perceive a schedule to be, it all changes once the season begins anyway.

One thing the NFL does better than any other league- the NBA isn’t too far behind- is they’ve turned their season into a year around event.

The release of their schedule is just one more thing we as fans now have to look forward to. I know I sound like Meathead, but I almost don’t care how my team does this season; it’s all about the announcement video now.

NFC South Draft Report

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

The 2019 NFL Draft starts April 25, 2019. For the 31 other teams that didn’t win the Super Bowl they have a chance to add players and improve their franchise. Let’s take a look at the NFC South and see who they might select in the first round.

Tampa Bay (5-11): The Buccaneers have the fifth overall pick. They had a bit of quarterback controversy to begin the season before Jameis Winston came back from his four-game suspension.

It looks like the Bucs will stick with the troubled young QB. Bruce Arians has taken over as head coach and he will try to give Winston protection.

Left tackle Donovan Smith will be a free agent. On the right side, Demar Dotson is entering the last year of his contract and turns 34 in October. That is why Alabama’s Jonah Williams should get picked to protect Winston’s blind side.

Atlanta (7-9): The Falcons are coming off of a disappointing season that had many injuries on the defense. They need to drastically improve on that side of the ball and on the offensive line.

Head coach Dan Quinn is on record saying he is only comfortable at center and left tackle.

With the 14th pick guard Cody Ford from Oklahoma makes sense. He’s extremely physical and he would help change the identity of the line. He played guard and right tackle so he might also be shifted to that position.

If defensive tackle Ed Oliver (Houston) is still on the board he should get selected. He reminds me of Aaron Donald because he can totally disrupt an offense.

Carolina (7-9): The Panthers started off the season hot before the seven-game losing streak. They are in an interesting position because star quarterback Cam Newton had surgery on his injured shoulder. Some time tables have predicted him to miss the 2019 season.

They also need help on defense. Mario Addison led the team with nine sacks. They need help getting to the quarterback and that is the direction they will go with the 16th pick.

They can draft a local player like Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell. The defensive end registered 50 career tackles for loss and 27 sacks in three seasons. He added 56 total pressures and 30 total stops during his final year. He’s 6’4, 265 pounds with great first-step quickness.

New Orleans (13-3): The Saints had a great season, advancing to the NFC Championship game. They should have won the game but a terrible no call for pass interference against the Rams cost them. They traded their first-round pick in the 2019 draft to move up and select Marcus Davenport.

The biggest needs are tight end, defensive tackle, running back and linebacker. Running back Mark Ingram will be a free agent so that may create a need. Alvin Kamara is great but he works best paired up with a physical runner.

New Orleans will pick 62nd in the second round. I think they will want a pass catching tight end. I’m not sure who will still be on the board by the time they make the pick. The best-case scenario is Irv Smith from Alabama. The best available might be Dawson Knox of Ole Miss.

Prior to last year the NFC South was the toughest division in the league. The Saints were the only playoff team so the other three teams need to get better. It will be exciting to see how everything plays out.