The NFC South was always going to be a one-horse race in 2021 with the Buccs bringing the whole band back and the Saints moving on from Drew Brees. The Buccaneers are still likely to compete in 2022 given that Tom Brady has cut short his retirement, but the question is has the draft closed the gap. Well, all the other street teams look to be in varying stages of a rebuild, but which have gotten better?
2021 Finishing Positions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-4
New Orleans Saints 9-8
Atlanta Falcons 7-10
Carolina Panthers 5-12
USC WR Drake London (No. 8 overall)
Penn State Edge Arnold Ebiketie (No. 38 overall)
Montana State LB Troy Andersen (No. 58 overall)
Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (No. 74 overall)
Western Kentucky Edge DeAngelo Malone (No. 82 overall)
BYU RB Tyler Allgeier (No. 151 overall)
Georgia OG Justin Shaffer (No. 190 overall)
Georgia TE John FitzPatrick (No. 213 overall)
The Falcons moved on from former MVP Matt Ryan this year and look to be planning for the future rather than aiming to compete in 2022. They will likely start the season with 2015 No 2 draft pick Marcus Mariota at QB and they did get him some help with their first-rounder this year. They addressed a huge need at WR with Drake London (who we had them taking in our mock) and this gives them a nice big bodied dual-threat with Kyle Pitts.
Their pass rush was pretty anaemic in 2021 and they have added a couple of edge threats in Ebiketie & Malone but despite that, they look short-handed on that side of the ball. Their big move was in picking their future QB Desmond Ridder and they god pretty good value here snagging him at pick 74. If Mariota doesn’t shine we could see him starting in the latter part of the season.
Overall Grade B-
It is hard to see the Falcons competing in 2022 on the strength of this draft.
N.C. State OT Ickey Ekwonu (No. 6 overall)
Ole Miss QB Matt Corral (No. 94 overall)
Penn State LB Brandon Smith (No. 120 overall)
Virginia Tech Edge Amaré Barno (No. 189 overall)
Tennessee OG Cade Mays (No. 199 overall)
Baylor CB Kalon Barnes (No. 242 overall)
Carolina didn’t have a whole lot of draft picks this year, thanks largely to what they gave up to get QB Sam Darnold. They at least gave him some help by drafting Ickey Ekwonu who was one of the clear top two Offensive Linemen in this year’s crop. They then went on to pick Darnold’s likely successor Matt Corral (who we really like – off-field issues aside). Most of the remaining picks went on the defense and there could be a starter of two amongst them.
Overall Grade B+
The Panthers did as well as they could with the picks they had. Despite this, they are still favourites for the NFC South Wooden Spoon.
New Orleans Saints
Ohio State Chris Olave WR (No. 11 overall)
Northern Iowa Trevor Penning OT (No. 19 overall)
Tennessee Alontae Taylor CB (No. 49 overall)
Appalachian State D’Marco Jackson LB (No. 161 overall)
Air Force Jordan Jackson DT (No. 194 overall)
The Saints look to be rebuilding on the fly and although they only had five picks three of them were in the top 50. This was probably a smart move as they just missed the playoffs last season which was quite impressive when your starting QB and star WR misses most of the season.
Chris Olave lining up opposite Michael Thomas should be fun to watch and with a stronger O-Line, thanks to the addition of Penning Winston might just get enough time to find them.
Alonte Taylor flew under the radar but was one of the best Corners in the SEC in 2021. He ran an impressive 4.36 at the combine and could fit in nicely in Nickel packages. Finally, the two Jacksons will add a bit of depth to an already stacked defense.
Overall Grade A-
New Orleans has given up a lot to get those two high first-round picks but they didn’t need a whole lot anyway. They might just be enough to see them make a wild card in 2022 and if they do it was draft capital well spent.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Houston DE Logan Hall (No. 33 overall)
Central Michigan OG Luke Goedeke (No. 57 overall)
Arizona State RB Rachaad White (No. 91 overall)
Washington TE Cade Otton (No. 106 overall)
Georgia P Jake Camarda (No. 133 overall)
Sam Houston State CB Zyon McCollum (No. 157 overall)
Minnesota TE Ko Kieft (No. 218 overall)
LSU LB Andre Anthony (No. 248 overall)
The Buccaneers did a nice trade giving up the 27th pick getting to pick first on day two and also adding a 4th & 6th. Thus they ended up picking eight times overall. Logan Hall will add depth on the left side of their defense and Luke Goedeke will similarly be no 2 on the Depth chart at Left Guard.
Tom Brady will be pleased with the addition of dual-threat RB Rachaad White who was the Sun Devils’ leading rusher and receiver in 2021. They also added a couple of Tight Ends and also filled another area in need of depth at CB with Zyon McCollum. McCollum is a tremendous athlete, running a 4.33 40-yard dash and recording the fastest three-cone drill for a cornerback in combine history! If he makes the adjustment from FCS to the NFL he could be a bargain in round 5.
Drafting a punter in round four was their only head-scratching move. Mind you Jake Camarda did play for the National Champions Georgia in 2021 and was SEC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2020 so even this sort of makes sense.
Overall Grade A+
The Buccs did everything right trading out of the first allowed them to add picks which they used to play the board in the later rounds. Their roster was already pretty stacked and now they have added a nice bit of youth to the depth chart. They may have pulled slightly further ahead in the division thanks to this.