Michael Amato is going to study team-by-team each squad's NEEDS over the next few weeks. Enjoy the ongoing series of articles as we explore the upcoming NFL draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs had a strong first half last year under first-year coach Greg Schiano, but struggled down the stretch and finished at 7-9. The draft will be the first step towards becoming more consistent in 2013.
Tampa will have to take a tight end at some point because at the moment Luke Stocker and his 28 career catches are on top of the depth chart. That’s not going to scare anybody and with a receiving core that is not very strong outside of Vincent Jackson, the Buccaneers are going to need more production from that area. The problem here is that Tampa just dealt their first round pick to the Jets for Darrelle Revis, and top rated tight end Tyler Eifert isn’t going to survive on the board until the second round. Zach Ertz from Stanford might be the more realistic option in the second.
Speaking of Freeman, Schiano appears to not be entirely confident about him and showed some interest in bringing in Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel in the offseason to create some competition. With that being said, the Bucs could take a quarterback later in the draft that Schiano can groom.
Tampa has also had a propensity to draft defensive lineman early in the last few years and selecting Gerald McCoy, Da’Quan Bowers, and Adrian Clayborn are evidence of that. If they are not sold on Eifert, seeing them continue that trend would not be shocking.
The Panthers need an upgrade at a lot of positions and having only five selections in this draft is not going to help matters. The good news is they have two picks in the first 44 spots, so they are going to have to hit it big there if they hope to improve.
At pick 14, Carolina could look at defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson who would help a position that desperately needs it. Richardson had a nice senior season at Missouri and finished with 75 tackles, with 10.5 of those coming for a loss. He also added four sacks and forced three fumbles. He is a great run stopper who is very disruptive and can get some pressure on the quarterback as well.
The Panthers could also be tempted to take a receiver or cornerback in the first round should someone fall slightly. Outside of Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell, whose contract will expire at season’s end, there are no difference makers out wide for Carolina.
As far as the defensive backs go, there isn’t a ton of talent there. Having to deal with the Saints and Falcons regularly who love to air the ball out, bolstering the secondary is a must at some point in the draft. It will be a long shot to see corner Xavier Rhodes from Florida State fall to them at 14, so addressing this area may have to be accomplished in the later rounds.
New Orleans Saints
Much like the Panthers, the Saints only have five picks themselves. However, New Orleans doesn’t even have a second rounder and that could be trouble for a team that needs to improve their defense in a big way. In fact, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Saints use all their picks on that side of the ball.
New Orleans finished second last in 2012 by giving up 28.4 points per game and dead last by allowing almost 150 yards on the ground per contest. Rob Ryan and his 3-4 defense will join the team as defensive coordinator, but he needs pieces that fit his system if the team hopes to return to the playoffs. There is a chance Star Lotulelei from Utah could fall to the Saints at 15, and that could end up being a steal. The defensive tackle is a great athlete at 6-3 and 320 lbs, and has the ability to take on multiple blockers while shutting down the run. He could be a great fit right in the middle of a 3-4.
If Lotulelei isn’t available at that point, then New Orleans might be wise to look closely at defensive end Barkevious Mingo from LSU and linebacker Jarvis Jones from Georgia. Either way, the Saints would be foolish not to get an impact 3-4 defender in the first round.
Other needs are depth at wide receiver and on the offensive line, but those positions should only be looked at later in the draft once the defense is addressed.
The Falcons have been rumoured to be looking to possibly trade up from the 30th pick in the first round, but with 11 picks in this draft Atlanta is in good shape to improve an already solid squad.
After losing corners Brent Grimes, Chris Owens, and Dunta Robinson, finding a suitable replacement is crucial. Desmond Trufant from Washington may still be available late in the first round, and with two older brothers already playing in the league; he has had some good role models to look up to. Trufant’s numbers slid a little in 2012 with the Huskies, but that’s mainly because teams avoided throwing his way with regularity. As a four-year starter in college, he should be prepared to become a solid pro quicker than some others at the position.
The luxury of having so many picks is that the Falcons can also use this draft to look towards the future. Drafting better backups for both the tight end and quarterback position would be smart. Tony Gonzalez won’t be around much longer and if Matt Ryan ever goes down with a significant injury, turning to Dominique Davis could be an Atlanta fan’s worst nightmare.