Herein resides the Super Bowl champion BUCCANEERS, led by TOM BRADY. Things went quite well in 2020, so the team wisely brought back all of it’s starters for another go round. On the other hand, the SAINTS, who have been all-in for several years to make a Super Bowl run, have hit the wall. DREW BREES has officially retired and they are hard against the Cap financially. The PANTHERS are in year two of the RHULE REGIME REBUILD, and the FALCONS are beginning their post-DIMITROFF era. In essence, it is the BUCS division. Let’s look at how things went for all 4 in the Draft process.
FALCONS The biggest dilemma for this franchise was choosing between a total rebuild, by jettisoning QB MATT RYAN (36-years old) and starting from scratch, or assuming RYAN has multiple good years left in him on the football field, and building around him as quickly as they can. They chose the latter. More than a few Draftniks have criticized their Draft, but I am not among them. Most of the Picks they made were solid, and all were needed to bolster the overall roster. However, it just can’t all be done in one Draft, and now we discover that JULIO JONES had already told management that he wants out to finish his career in a winning program. The FALCONS want a First Round Pick for their star receiver, but apparently no one initially offered that in return for a 32-year old wideout with 9 seasons of wear and tear behind him, and a big contract to boot. So any trade for him will only benefit the 2022 Draft list for the FALCONS. At Pick 4, the team selected KYLE PITTS from Florida, who is acknowledged to be an elite weapon, not merely the top TE in the Draft. Nice weapon to replace JULIO with. They also finished their Draft at Pick 187 with WR FRANK DARBY of Arizona State, who I felt was much better than a last round pick. Great value at that Pick. In Round 2, they got RICHIE GRANT/S/UCF, who after a splendid week at the Senior Bowl seems primed to fight for the S spot vacated by KEANU NEAL, lost as a VFA. At Pick 108, they took DARREN HALL/CB/San Diego State, another Senior Bowl standout that will fit right into several spots in their secondary sub-packages. Their OL was infused with young talent in the ’19 DRAFT with LINDSTROM/McGARY, who have worked out well when healthy. So they went to that well again for OG/T JALEN MAYFIELD/Michigan and OC DREW DALMAN/Stanford. Both may battle for starting slots as Rookies. Another smart later round Pick was the selection of ADE OGUNDEJI/DE/ER/Notre Dame in Round 5. At the least, he should be a solid edge-rusher from the get-go. Despite letting TODD GURLEY go, they did not draft a RB. But they did sign VFA MIKE DAVIS and undrafted Rookie JAVIAN HAWKINS/Louisville. It looks like a solid start to rebuild their roster. But this effort will have to be followed up with quality/quantity for several more years, at least.
PANTHERS Head Coach MATT RHULE is trying to reset the “program” in Charlotte. With one year under his belt, he and his staff went to Mobile to coach at the Senior Bowl. It may have been a better learning experience for he and his staff than it was for their players. 7 Rookies on his current roster participated in Senior Bowl week, 5 of them being Draftees. A major goal of the PANTHERS Draft was to add offensive weapons to their roster, after using all of their 2020 Picks for defensive players. RB CHUBA HUBBARD/Oklahoma State was selected in Round 4 to help CHRIS McCAFFREY in the backfield. TOMMY TREMBLE from Notre Dame was selected in Round 3 for his blocking and receiving as a TE or H-B. Big guy TERRACE MARSHALL/LSU (6’3) and little guy SHI SMITH/South Carolina (5’9) were added to their receiving group, as well as two OL that should fight for starting jobs in BRADY CHRISTENSEN/BYU and DEONTE BROWN/’Bama. BROWN is a mauling 350-pounder. JAYCEE HORN/South Carolina, (son of JOE HORN), was their first round Pick. He is expected to start on a Corner. DAVIYON NIXON/DT/Iowa was taken in Round 5 and should see plenty of action in their DL rotation. With 11 Picks, RHULE spread it around and got quite a few guys that I had pegged to go a round or two higher than where he got them. Good value at the Pick in many cases. By the way, for any of you that have any doubts that RHULE is resetting the team in his image of the PANTHERS, going forward, please note that as of the day this article is being written, the PANTHERS 90-man roster contains only 4 players 30 or older.
SAINTS The SAINTS have been going all-in for the past 3-4 years to get to, and win, another Super Bowl before they would lose the services of DREW BREES as their QB. Due in large part to bad luck, and/or bad calls by NFL officiating crews, the team did not make it and now BREES has retired. Left behind is an aging team with Salary Cap issues to deal with, and too few recent Draftees to carry the load. Like BILL BELICHICK last year when Mr. BRADY left the PATRIOTS, SEAN PAYTON will need to demonstrate that he is one of the best coaches in the League, or face a struggle to even reach a .500 season record. The struggle will be real in the Big Easy for their favorite football team. They had a solid Draft, but nothing special IMO, and as has been the case in recent years, too few Picks to sustain a roster (6). They went hard on Defense for their 3 Picks in the Top 76. Maybe too hard. PAYTON TURNER/DE from Houston showed some natural pass-rush skills, but I only know of a couple of folks who might have had him ranked as a First Round talent. PETE WERNER/LB/Ohio State was their guy in Round 2. Again, a solid player, but maybe a Round too high. PAULSON ADEBO/CB/Stanford in Round 3 was very solid, though some folks still question his speed for a CB job in the NFL. Then SEAN went a wee bit crazy grabbing IAN BOOK from Notre Dame at Pick 133, late in Round 4. This would appear to be a shot-in-the-dark that SEAN will develop this guy into something most of us thought was beyond his talent; an eventual NFL starting QB. LANDON YOUNG/OT/Kentucky, in Round 6, almost makes up for them drafting RICK LEONARD/FSU/OT in Round 4 of the 2018 Draft. KAWAAN BAKER/WR/USA will add some young depth to their receiving room. BAKER earned himself a late Draft spot with a solid senior season, topped off by some nice Pro Day numbers. The SAINTS have made a habit of finding 3 or more Rookie Free Agents for their roster each year, but that looks to be a lot to ask in this Covid depleted prospect year. I do think that TE/DYLAN SOEHNER/Iowa St, and RB/STEVIE SCOTT/Indiana might have a shot to make the 53-man roster. Could be tough going, down in the Bayou this NFL season.
BUCCANEERS TOM BRADY played the role of Pied Piper heading into the 2020 campaign, and again this year by seducing NFL vets to join him/or stay with him in Tampa. Never in the Super Bowl era has an NFL team returned all of its starters for a follow up season like this one. Not until the BUCS did it this Spring. Among other things, this allowed GM JASON LICHT to pick for talent level, rather than need with their 7 Picks. First Rounder JOE TRYON/ER/Washington has the kind of length and talent that JPP has used to good effect in his NFL career. He could replace JPP in the near future. I like the drafting of QB KYLE TRASK/Florida at the end of Round 2. Despite what it looks like at times, BRADY cannot play forever. The current vet back-up duo of GRIFFIN/GABBERT has no one excited about the post-BRADY era. TRASK put in two years of good play starting for DAN MULLEN up the road in Gainesville. Those who point to his bad stats in the Gator’s Bowl Loss in January are ignoring the reality that he was playing with backups at almost every skill position, while the first teamers were already getting ready for the NFL Draft. In a couple of years working with BRADY and Offensive Coordinator LEFTWICH, he might indeed be the next guy. ROBERT HAINSEY in Round 3 was a “great” Pick. I was not on his bandwagon until watching him for a week in Mobile. The ex-Notre Dame Captain is an average athlete, but a very solid football player that could probably fit in at all 5 OL slots. That is a game day dream for an NFL OL Coach. HAINSEY will be a great locker room addition and a starter at OG or OC, and soon. JAELEN DARDEN/WR/North Texas may be the mini-me replacement for ANTONIO BROWN in 2022, and could see return work as well. K.J. BRITT/LB/Auburn missed most of the 2020 season with a bad thumb injury, but showed athleticism, leadership, and a high FBI during Senior Bowl week. The team got Mr. Irrelevant in GRANT STUARD/LB/Houston at Pick 259. He is short, but can run, is smart, and I would bet he’s worth having around just for his likely influence on Special Teams units. No pressure to reach for something here, and it may have led them to the best overall Draft in the division. The rich get richer, as they say.
I especially like what MATT RHULE is doing with the PANTHERS, as this Draft effort indicates, but no one is catching the BUCS unless BRADY goes down for the count. The SAINTS and FALCONS are now officially playing catch up with some nice Draft pieces. A healthy KYLE PITTS/FALCONS, could be the front runner for ROY on Offense this season.