2013 NFL Draft: Grading the NFC South

 

Star LotuleleiIn the NFC South, there's no shortage of superstars on the offensive side of the ball. Between players like Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Julio Jones, and Doug Martin, it's rare to see a divisional match-up with out the potential for some serious fireworks. 

It appeared as though the entire division had that in mind when they entered the draft, as each team put an emphasis on the defensive side of the ball. Was each team able to acquire weapons that will help slow down those high powered offenses in 2013?

 

Carolina Panthers

Pick Player

1.14 Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2.12 Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

4.11 Edmund Kugbila, OG, Valdosta State

5.15 A.J. Klein, ILB, Iowa State

6.14 Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon

Analysis: Doubling down at the defensive tackle position with their first and second round picks, the Panthers couldn’t have been more pleased with the players that fell to them at 14 and 44 overall. Star Lotulelei is a rare playmaker on the interior that has the power to play a 0-technique or 1-technique nose tackle position, as well as the quickness and pass rush ability to operate as a 3-technique. The following defensive lineman, Kawann Short can also play both interior positions but will likely provide the Panthers with a more dynamic pass rushing skillset. The two players complement one another perfectly and should be long-term starters.

The Panthers were inactive during the 3rd round, as they traded away that pick during the 2012 draft for a 4th rounder. Considering hindsight is 20-20, I’ll withhold judgment on the move that netted defensive end Frank Alexander, who played significant snaps in his rookie season as a rotational rusher.

In the 4th round, the Panthers drafted Valdosta State offensive line Edmund Kugbila. With their selection of the Ghana-born guard, Kugbila became the first Valdosta State player drafted since linebacker Artie Ulmer was selected at pick 220, in the 7th round of the 1997 NFL Draft. Kugbila is a bulky, powerful being that has the talent to develop into a starter. For the second consecutive year, this team has picked an offensive lineman that played at Cowboys stadium during the Lone Star Conference festival, as they picked up Midwestern State guard Amini Silatolu in the 2nd round of last year’s draft.

Adding linebacker AJ Klein and Kenjon Barner in the 5th and 6th rounds only improve the quality of depth at the Panthers’ two strongest positions, but also will provide for special teams production.

Despite having just five draft choices, I feel like the Panthers came away two potentially high level starters, earning a B-.

New Orleans Saints

Pick Player

1.15 Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

3.13 Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

3.20 John Jenkins, DT, Georgia

5.11 Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma

6.15 Rufus Johnson, DE/OLB, Tarleton State

Kenny VaccaroAnalysis: With the Saints being another NFC South team that only had five draft choices in this year’s draft class, I was impressed with the amount of talent they added at key positions of need.

In the first round, the Saints drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro, who should be a mainstay for this defense in the coming years. Considering Vaccaro’s range, instincts and physicality, Rob Ryan now has a chess-piece with which he can center his defense around.

The Saints made quite a haul in the third round, selecting two big-time trench players after forfeiting their 2nd rounder in the aftermath of “Bounty Gate”. On the offensive line, the Saints nabbed arguably the most athletic lineman in the 2013 draft class with former Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead. A criticism we had with Terron Armstead was his lack of pop or consistent force with his initial punch at the point of attack. As the draft grew closer and closer, however, word came out that Armstead played the entire 2012 season with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder, possibly explaining the lack of pop. Nevertheless, Armstead possesses rare movement skills and athleticism to become a fixture at the left tackle position.

Trading back into the 3rd round and flipping over to the defensive side of the ball, the Saints stopped the skid of former Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins. In Rob Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, Jenkins is a great fit in that he has experience as both a 0-technique nose guard and 5-technique defensive end. Jenkins slimmed down for the NFL Combine, but we’ll see if he can control his weight by the time the season rolls around. Extremely powerful and at times unblockable, Jenkins needs to show consistency with both his pad height and hand placement at the point of attack.

5th round pick Kenny Stills has a chance to break into the Saints’ receiving corps and I personally like his chances to emerge as the third wide receiver behind Marques Colsten and Lance Moore. Capable of playing outside or in the slot, Stills’ vertical speed, savvy as a route runner and high football IQ will serve him well with quarterback Drew Brees. Look for Stills to have a sizeable impact in 2013.

And finally, the Saints final pick was used on Tarleton State standout Rufus Johnson. At 6’5, 266 pounds, with explosive first step quickness and violent, sudden hands, Johnson more than passes the eye test as a mid-round, small school talent. Being a player I had a chance to scout in person for their game versus Abilene Christian and at the Texas versus the Nation all-star event, Johnson was a player that had been on our radar at Optimum Scouting for most of the draft season. Johnson’s competitiveness and natural talent should earn him a roster slot, if he transitions successfully to a 3-4 outside linebacker position.

Overall I like how the Saints improved their talent base on defense and added players to positions of need on the offensive side of the football. For their work in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Saints get an A.

 

Atlanta Falcons

Pick Player

1.22 Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

2.28 Robert Alford, CB, Southeastern Louisiana

4.30 Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson

4.36 Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford

5.20 Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU

7.37 Kemal Ishmael, S, Wake Forest

7.38 Zeke Motta, S, Notre Dame

7.43 Sean Renfree, QB, Duke

Analysis: Addressing the cornerback position was the first and foremost of concerns in the Falcons’ draft room, as the team released Dunta Robinson and lost Brent Grimes to free agency. By trading up for Desmond Trufant and selecting Robert Alford in the ensuing round, Falcon fans have to be pleased with general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s ability to restock and reload at such a crucial position. Trufant was the top cover corner at the Senior Bowl, and Robert Alford’s twitchy, quick-footed skill set translates very well to the nickel cornerback position.

To move up and select Trufant, the Falcons surrendered their 3rd round pick, so picking back up on the third day of the draft in a similar fashion to the Panthers, Dimitroff and company selected two defensive ends in Malliciah Goodman from Clemson and Stansly Maponga from TCU. Since releasing end John Abraham, the Falcons have reloaded at defensive end with these two selections and

Goodman will have a chance to start at left end, and Maponga will serve as a rotational pass rusher. Goodman’s size, length and athletic ability scream upside, but his play shows an inordinate amount of inconsistency. Goodman uses his long arms effectively to play the run with extension, yet he lacks any sort of counter move to be an effective edge rusher, so we’ll see if he can develop into the pass rusher that his skill set suggests he’s capable of being.

Moving to the Maponga pick, although I have my reservations about him as an every down player, his burst off the line, ability to bend and turn the corner should enable him to have a productive career as a pass rush specialist. Also lacking in the counter move repertoire, Maponga is a bit of a one-trick pony as a speed rusher, showing only glimpses of speed-to-power moves and a nifty spin move to the inside. Of the two ends, Goodman clearly presents a greater upside in the long run as he can be a full-time starter in time. Maponga will likely always work of a rotation, which is fine, given his strengths as an explosive speed rusher.

The other picks on the final day of the draft, should contribute as backups and special teamers right away, with Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta highlighting the bunch as an overachiever with great playing instincts, toughness and experience. His 4.8 speed pushed him down draft boards, but don’t be shocked when he’s starting somewhere in three or four years. Tight end Levine Toilolo brings rare size to the table, as a 6’8, 260 pound matchup nightmare in the redzone, but otherwise shouldn’t be asked to fill future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez’ shoes as the starter in 2014. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree will be a solid backup for the duration of Matt Ryan’s career in Atlanta, and C-USA defensive player of the year Kemal Ishmael should be a prime time coverage defender on kicks and punts for the Falcons. Ishmael notched over 200 tackles during his career at Wake Forest and started 49 games.

While I feel the Falcons reached for both defensive ends Maponga and Goodman, their selections of Trufant and Alford still keep their grade at a respectable C+.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pick Player

2.11 Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

3.11 Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

4.3 Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois

4.29 William Gholsten, DE, Michigan State

5.14 Steven Means, OLB, Buffalo

6.21 Mike James, RB, Miami (FL)

Mike GlennonAnalysis: Before the draft even began, the Bucs hit the jackpot by landing All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis from the Jets. Only surrendering their 1st round pick in 2013 and a conditional 3rd or 4th next year, the Bucs add the top corner in the league. Revis has no guaranteed money in the 6 year $96 million dollar contract he signed, and additionally, the Bucs have the option of releasing Revis following any one of those 6 seasons. So if Revis is healthy and performs well, the Bucs fleeced the Jets into giving up the best coverage defender in the NFL. If he’s healthy and performs poorly, the Bucs can cut him after one season –no big deal.

Moving back to the draft, the Bucs stayed at cornerback and added the tall, lanky yet physical Johnthan Banks out of Mississippi State. Banks’ hand usage and ability to disrupt routes off the line of scrimmage masked his lack of elite deep speed in his days in the SEC; that being said, his lack thereof was exposed at the NFL Combine and led to his fall out of the first round. Still, Banks is more than a capable starter with a polished game and excellent ball skills to be productive out of the gate.

The selection of Mike Glennon in round three undoubtedly was directed towards incumbent starter Josh Freeman, who hasn’t progressed since his breakout rookie season. In the end, I’m not a fan of picking a quarterback unless he’s a starter and, to me Glennon’s lack of functional mobility will always hold him back. Yes, the arm talent is there with the former NC State quarterback, but I still feel like Josh Freeman is a far superior option.

In the 4th, the Bucs bulked up on the defensive line with two Big Ten prospects in Akeem Spence and William Gholsten. Spence, who’ll likely start at the 1-technique nose tackle position, compliments Gerald McCoy skill set very well as a stout, albeit not flashy run stuffing defensive tackle. As for the William Gholsten pick, the Bucs have to be pleased with where they got the former Michigan State Spartan, as Gholsten looks like a first or second rounder off the hoof. Capable of walking opposing tackles back into the quarterback’s lap and dominating off the edge, it’ll be interesting to see how much production the Buccaneers coaching staff can squeeze out of the talented defensive end.

And while many haven’t heard much about the team’s final two selections, don’t sleep on linebacker/end Steven Means and running back Mike James. Means will be making the switch from a college defensive end to linebacker, and his movement skills at Buffalo’s pro day likely solidified his standing as a late round draft pick. Last but not least, Mike James has the “inside track” to backing up Doug Martin, according to general manager Mark Dominik. James ability as a pass catcher and pass protector gives the Bucs two things they did NOT have with former backup LeGarrette Blount.

If you include the trade for Darrelle Revis in evaluating the 2013 draft, it’s hard not to love what they were able to acquire with their picks. With potentially three starters in this draft class, the Bucs earn themselves a strong A-.

 

 

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