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Key NFL Draft Picks To Fill NFC South Offensive, Defensive Holes

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(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

(credit: Al Bello/Getty Images)

By Tony Meale

The 2013 NFL Draft will take place this week, so let’s take a look at which holes each team in the NFC South needs to fill to have a successful draft.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons, who enter 2013 with a “Super Bowl or bust” mantra, have enough offensive firepower to win the NFC, but defensive depth is an issue that must be addressed.

Adding Osi Umenyiora should improve a unit that ranked 23rd in pass defense, 21st in rush defense and 28th in sacks. Umenyiora turns 32 in November but still has several good years left. That said, it wouldn’t hurt to use the 30th overall pick on a stud defensive end such as Florida State’s Bjoern Werner if he were to fall in the draft, as no returning Falcon had more than 4.0 sacks last year.

Atlanta also needs help in the secondary. Asante Samuel and Robert McClain can certainly hold their own, but it’s a little thin after that. Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks, Houston’s D.J. Hayden and Boise State’s Jamar Taylor could all be available at the end of the first round.

Offensively, Atlanta is in good shape. Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for 171 catches, 2,549 yards and 17 touchdowns last year and might be the best one-two wide receiver punch in the league. Steven Jackson is an upgrade over Michael Turner, while Tony Gonzalez (93 catches, 930 yards and eight touchdowns) remains an ageless wonder. The only offensive player Atlanta may consider drafting in the first round is Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert, who could get one year of tutelage under Gonzalez and become Atlanta’s tight end of the future.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have started 2-8 in each of the last two seasons and are 2-12 in games decided by one possession. The silver lining, however, is that Carolina went 5-1 in its final six games last year.

If the Panthers hope to continue that trend, they must get better defensively – especially in the trenches and in the secondary. The Panthers were tenth in total defense last season thanks in large part to rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, who led the NFL with 164 tackles. He also led Carolina in interceptions – with two.

Carolina picks 14th overall, and it’s not hard to imagine the team taking a defensive tackle such as Star Lotulelei or Sharrif Floyd or a safety such as Kenny Vaccaro. Any pick that will help Carolina pressure Matt Ryan and Drew Brees is a good one.

Offensively, the Panthers were ninth in rushing last year, which is good, but 16th in passing, which is mediocre. Steve Smith turns 34 in May, and Carolina’s next best receivers are Brandon LaFell and Louis Murphy – two names that don’t exactly inspire a great deal of confidence. If West Virginia’s Tavon Austin falls to 14, the Panthers would be wise to pounce. Like Tyler Eifert to the Falcons, this potential move makes a lot of sense on a lot of levels, as Smith has a wealth of information he could pass on to Austin, who is almost identical in height and weight.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

New Orleans Saints

Defense.

It was historically bad in New Orleans last year.

The Saints allowed a whopping 7,042 yards last year – far and away the worst in the league. Need some perspective? The New York Giants, who had the second worst total defense, allowed “only” 6,134.

Thus, aside from finding a left tackle to replace Jermon Bushrod, who signed with Chicago, the Saints’ No. 1 priority entering the draft is defense. Doesn’t even matter which position. Just take the best defensive player available with virtually every pick and pray that the defense, which will shift to a 3-4 under new coordinator Rob Ryan this year, goes from far and away the worst in the league to merely below average.

Unfortunately for the Saints, they’re without a second-round pick due to Bountygate, which makes their 15th overall pick that much more important. Jarvis Jones (OLB), Barkevious Mingo (OLB), Sheldon Richardson (DT) and Kenny Vaccaro (FS) are all worthwhile first-round options.

Bottom line: the Saints were second-to-last against the pass last year and dead last against the run. Whether it’s a stud run-stuffer, elite pass-rusher or lock-down corner, New Orleans needs it.

2013 NFL Mock Draft – First Round Picks Here

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Just how bad was Tampa Bay’s pass defense last year?

It was worse than that of the Saints.

The Buccaneers allowed a league-worst 297.4 passing yards per game last season, so improving the secondary and the pass rush – Tampa’s 27 sacks were tied for 29th in all of football – are the top priorities entering the draft.

Tampa did sign two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson and is reportedly the leading candidate in the Darrelle Revis sweepstakes, but if the Bucs can’t land the Jets’ star corner, the 13th overall pick will almost assuredly be used on Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes or Washington’s Desmond Trufant. It’s conceivable that a stud tackle (Star Lotulelei) or end (Ezekiel Ansah or Bjoern Werner) could be drafted, but the Bucs need someone to match up against Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston and Steve Smith.

Offensively, Tampa – like many teams – is reportedly enamored with Tavon Austin, who figures to be an immediate difference-maker wherever he lands. Tampa, believe it or not, finished with the tenth-ranked passing offense a season ago – despite not having a true slot receiver on its roster.

Still, Tampa’s pass defense was so bad last year that it’s hard to envision the Bucs not addressing that immediately come draft day.

More:

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Cincinnati-based sportswriter Tony Meale is the author of The Chosen Ones: The Team That Beat LeBron and contributes to several outlets, including MLB.com and MaxPreps. He has a master’s in journalism from Ohio University and is available for guest-speaking engagements. Follow Tony Meale on Twitter @tonymeale.

Key NFL Draft Picks To Fill AFC North Offensive, Defensive Holes

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