New Orleans Saints

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.

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.

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-

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.

NFC South Draft

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

The NFL Draft is April 26, 2018. So, it is approaching soon.

This can change the fortune for several franchises. The best division in 2017 was the NFC South because they had three playoff teams. Let’s take a look at the division and their 1st round picks.

No. 7 Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers (5-11) were the only team in the division with a losing record. They took a step back because they were 9-7 in 2016. We expected them to improve and make the playoffs. They also added speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson to pair with Mike Evans but it obviously did not work.

The biggest team needs are defensive back, running back and offensive guard. Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick would be a great pick. He played both safety and corner in college. He can cover and he’s physical and can make tackles. He also has very good size at 6’1, 201 pounds.

No. 24 Carolina: The Panthers (11-5) rebounded last year after regressing in 2016. They addressed a need by drafting running back Christian McCaffrey in the 1st round last year. He was very good as a pass catcher but he did not run the ball well. He only rushed for 435 yards and averaged 3.7 yards per carry.

The biggest team needs are wide receiver, offensive line and defensive line. The Panthers traded their #1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo on Halloween.

Cam Newton needs a good WR so I think they will go in that direction. Courtland Sutton from SMU should still be available. He’s 6’4, 225 lbs. so he’s a big target.

He caught 68 passes for 1,085 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017. Newton struggles with accuracy so having a tall receiver with a big catch radius is a good move.

No. 26 Atlanta: The Falcons (10-6) had an up and down year coming off last year’s heartbreaking Super Bowl meltdown. They did win in the first round of the playoffs against the LA Rams. They came very close to beating the eventual world champion Philadelphia Eagles in the second round, losing 15-10. Atlanta should return to being an elite team if they make the right personnel moves.

The biggest needs are defensive line, WR and offensive guard. Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst would be a good fit. Putting him next to Grady Jarrett might give the Falcons one of the best young defensive lines in the league.

No. 27 New Orleans: The Saints (11-5) had a great season. They have the best running back duo in the NFL and an elite veteran quarterback. They lost to Minnesota in the divisional round of the playoffs on the last play of the game. The defense ranked 16th in total D and 17th in run defense.

They need to improve the defensive front seven, WR or slot corner. Boston College defensive end Harold Landry might be selected here. He showed he could rush the passer in 2016 when he recorded 16.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. Landry is a bit of a one-year wonder though because he did not have a season with more than 5 sacks outside of 2016.


NFC South: Best In Football

By: JJ Lanier news services

Go ahead and stop me if you’ve heard this before: everything in the NFL is cyclical. I know, it’s been more times than Stephen A. Smith yells about someone having the “unmitigated gall”, but it’s also extremely accurate.

Five years ago the NFC West was a disaster. Two years ago it was the toughest division in football. This year the entire division, outside of Seattle, will be as inept as the Florida Gator offense.

The past few years the NFC South hasn’t had much to brag about. Obviously, the last two NFC representatives in the Super Bowl have come from the division, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at; it’s just that there hasn’t been much else to get excited about.

That should change this year as the South looks to be the toughest division in the NFC, if not the entire NFL. (The AFC West may have something to say about that last part).

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Best Case Scenario

By: JJ Lanier news services

I’ve mentioned before how little faith I put into mock drafts and after this year’s first round you can see why. If there was a NFL Draft Bracket, similar to March Madness, predicting the events of Thursday night would’ve been like predicting South Carolina to make it to the Final Four.

Well, I put about as much stock into the post-draft grades as I do the mock drafts. So, rather than give each team a grade that will surely come back to bite me at some point, I’ve listed each team, along with the best and worst outcome they can expect from their drafted players. Some of these may or may not be realistic. I’ll let you decide.

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NFC South Draft Preview

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

The 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia is on the horizon. We get to see where future stars will land and get to see if teams will address their needs. I’m going to take a look at the NFC South and look at some possible landing spots for the 1st round of the draft.

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