NFC South 2020 Draft synopsis

April 30, 2020

One name defines the entire Draft process in this division, and of course that name is TOM BRADY. Not only did it dictate much of the Bucs Draft, but likely influenced the thinking of their 3 other division opponents.

ATLANTA FALCONS        The Falcons had some heavy work to do on their roster even before the Draft, being heavily laden with big contract money with some Salary Cap trimming to do. Thus exited name players like VIC BEASLEY/ER/LB, DESMOND TRUFANT/CB, DEVONTA FREEMAN/RB, AUSTIN HOOPER/TE etc. In essence, it left them with more holes to fill than they had Picks. GM THOMAS DIMITROFF was charged with the heavy duty of juggling his needs and limited (6) Picks. The secondary was deemed a major issue and precipitated what most talent evaluators felt was the drafting of a second round talent, in Round 1. That would be Clemson CB A.J. TERRELL, who fits the physical mold (6’1/195/4.40/40) but has not yet had the stats to back them up. In Round 4, the team added JAYLINN HAWKINS, who might make an impact on the team’s deep secondary. He comes to the pro game with a reputation as a hard hitter that will upgrade their Special Teams play in addition to using his 208 lb. frame in secondary sub-packages. If the team had better roster depth right now, I would project 3rd Rounder MATT HENNESSY/OC to have a chance to win the starting OC job and allow them to cut ALEX MACK, whose peak playing days are behind him but makes serious money. However, they may lack the depth to pursue that train of thought right now. MARLON DAVIDSON/DE  of Auburn was their 3rd Round Pick and is better than you think, having been overshadowed by a star DT named DERRICK BROWN. DAVIDSON is a thick framed, heavy handed DL that can bend to generate edge rush pressure, but also hold the edge against the run. I expect to see him on the field a lot in his Rookie season. A nice surprise to most folks may be LB MYKAL WALKER (Round 4), who is an athletic, versatile guy who should be able to play either side in their LB group. WALKER had 96 tackles last season at Fresno St. and also showed some blitzing ability. He showed very well at the Shrine Bowl venue and might have a shot to take over for another departed Cap victim in De’VONDRE CAMPBELL, if not right away, later in the season. Sorry to bore you with a recurring theme, but taking a Punter named STERLING HOFRICHTER in Round 7 made me wonder about MATT BOSHER as their returning Punter, despite his good work in recent years. This team looks to me to be losing ground with their battle against the Cap, and some marginal Drafts. I say they will likely face battling Carolina to stay out of last in their division. I’m not convinced that this Draft group even makes up for the loss of their veteran players this off-season. That’s not progress for game days.

CAROLINA PANTHERS     Welcome to another team with some major rebuilding to do after losing CAM NEWTON, LUKE KUECHLY and GREG OLSEN among others. But at least they act like a team that knows it is retooling its roster. After signing and trading for a few new guys on Offense, new HC MATT RHULE, who is clearly in charge of the entire organization now, took his 7 Draft Picks and proceeded to draft 7 defensive players with those Picks. DERRICK BROWN/DT is the star of the group after a dominant career at Auburn. He has the size and athleticism to dominate even at the pro level, and right away. They also brought in another big body, with a bit less talent, in 330LB+ BRAVVION ROY, who has the bulk and strength to hold down the position on the Nose. With BROWN putting pressure on the inside, YETUR GROSS-MATOS from Penn State will be their hot edge-rush candidate, joining BRIAN BURNS, who was their first rounder last year. There is no way to replace KUECHLY, but 3rd Rounder JEREMY CHINN, who played S at SIU, might make a very pleasing and versatile player (ala SHAQ THOMPSON) that can play a hybrid role as both a coverage S and an in-the-box S/LB. Being from a non-D1 school will likely complicate the learning curve a bit, but as we saw at the Senior Bowl venue, his talent and athleticism are uncommon. 3 other Picks were purely for secondary coverage players. The only thing that CB TROY PRIDE, Notre Dame, lacks is elite speed, but he understands coverage and will help out in run support, and he should get better with NFL coaching. STANTLEY THOMAS-OLIVER was a fearless press-corner at FIU, and I see no reason why that will not translate into the pro game. He could be a nice surprise for Round 7. Finally, we have S KENNY ROBINSON, who spent his time this year starting in the XFL until the Coronavirus shut that league down… apparently for good. ROBINSON is still unfinished  as a player, but has more overall talent than almost every S currently on their roster, except fellow rookie CHINN. As mentioned above, they will battle it out with Atlanta for last place in this division. Maybe next year they can Draft for the Offensive side of the ball.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS     There wasn’t very much to work with for this Draft, with the team being in a credit card mode with their Draft Picks in recent years. They only had 5 Picks and ended up with only 4 by the end of the proceedings. The good news is that despite a lack of quantity, they surely got quality, especially in their first three Picks. First Rounder CESAR RUIZ was the top OC in this Draft class, and will have a shot at winning a job at either OC or OG right away.  He’s an athletic guy that plays with brutish force and violence. With the first of two Round 3 Picks, they took versatile LB ZACK BAUN of Wisconsin. A top notch talent and hard nosed player with a high FBI, BAUN’s big bonus is that as he showed in 2019, he can provide pass rush pressure. He had 6 sacks and 6 QBH’s in blitzing mode for the Badgers. He impressed again during Senior Bowl week. He brings some youth to an aging and expensive LB group in the Big Easy. They then traded back in Round 3 and took small-school TE ADAM TRAUTMAN of Dayton. He is their TE of the future, but should see some playing time as a Rookie. I am not sure that I understand the drafting of QB TOMMY STEVENS, even in Round 7. However, BREES is on a short time frame, WINSTON is a trial balloon, and TAYSOM HILL is a PAYTON toy more than a legit NFL QB. So whatever….  As usual, the team will count on finding some roster gems among their URFA signings. They usually do. Now on to the battle with the BRADY BUCS for the division crown.

TAMPA BAY BUCS      It may finally really be a Bucs Life, as their promo has declared. Life begins with BRADY, as well as GRONK. So the team, under GM JASON LICHT, conducted their 2020 Draft effort with an aging, but star QB taking over the team. The team immediately did the correct thing by maneuvering to draft the best OL in this Draft (on my Board) in TRISTAN WIRFS, who may get a shot at LT, or maybe RT for now, so he’s not trying to protect BRADY’s blind side as a Rookie. Then they proceeded to get some depth for their RB group. Ke’SHAWN VAUGHN, Round 3, may not be a star RB, but he does a bit of everything, including catching passes (28 in ’19), which is important to Brady. In Round 7, I believe they grabbed the steal of the 2020 Draft in RAYMOND CALAIS of La/Lafayette. CALAIS has speed and quickness to burn. He is a star in the Return Game, especially kick-offs, but I bet he handles Punts as well. Combine him with JONES/VAUGHN in a backfield trio and the BUCS look improved for 2020, despite losing PEYTON BARBER in VFA. Not that they needed a lot of help in their receiving group, but I think TYLER JOHNSON/WR/Minnesota was a solid Pick in Round 5. He only lacks speed, but is a smart, tough football player. In that Gophers Offense, catching balls from a LB size QB, he caught 86 balls last season for 1,318 yards and 13 TD’s. He runs good patterns, has reliable 9 3/8″hands and has good run after the catch ability. He could capture the Receiver-3 spot in Training Camp. Speaking of the Minnesota football program, the BUCS top Pick for Defense was wisely a S named ANTOINE WINFIELD. His dad of the same name was an NFL star with about the same 5’9/203, sized body. He’s FBI smart, physical, and a ball hawk. He also packs punch as a tackler. In 2019, he had 88 T’s- 1 PBU, and 7 INT’s. He should earn serious playing time even if he doesn’t win a starting S job, just yet. In Round 6, the team took KHALIL DAVIS/DT/Nebraska. His twin brother CARLOS was drafted by the Steelers. KHALIL did not post big numbers for the Cornhuskers last season, although amongst his 32 tackles were 8 sacks. Not too shabby for an inside player. What really got evaluators’ attention was his work at the Combine. At 314 lbs. he ran a 4.78/40-time. With 32″ long arms, he Bench pressed 27 reps. He will add quality depth to their DT group, and we’ll see if BRUCE ARIANS’ vet coaching staff can coach up this guy. And to top off this group, how about a Temple Tough kid in Round 7 named CHAPELLE RUSSELL, a LB and Special Teamer? His 4.60/40 is not too bad at 6’2/236. He also flashes 10″ hands and 32 3/8″ arms. He will help this draft group seriously improve the quality of depth on the BUCS roster. Buy some extra powder for that cannon on the Pirate ship, BUCS brass!

Everyone in the BUCS organization, including GM LICHT, has been energized by the addition of TOM BRADY, and this Draft effort validates that new energy. Now on to a slug-it-out, season long battle with the Saints for the NFC South division title. However, the Saints won’t just go away. Clear the decks for battle me hardies!