Free agency has predictably thrown a wrench into the perfectly conducted 2014 NFL draft strategies. Following their moves, what is new for the NFC South?
Atlanta Falcons – Strategy: Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson in sight
Thomas Dimitroff went into free agency with a clear plan in mind. Before the market really started to heat up the Atlanta Falcons struck early and quickly. They added two major pieces to their defensive front in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson while also retaining solid defensive tackles Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux. On top of that they also added a very good guard in Jon Asamoah to help with their running game. Two areas remain in terms of needing a big upgrade, one is outside pass rusher and the other is left tackle. Since it’s clear the Falcons are switching to a 3-4 alignment their ability to nab a rusher should be easier in this 2014 NFL draft, which makes them clear cut favorites to pursue top tackles like Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson in May.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Strategy: Sammy Watkins chase heating up
No team was more aggressive at bringing in new faces than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Such was a big strength of head coach Lovie Smith when he commanded the Chicago Bears. Michael Johnson and Alterraun Verner fill key needs on defense while Anthony Collins fills the left tackle spot and Josh McCown is the favorite to become their new starting quarterback. The only major position they haven’t addressed at all is wide receiver. Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford said his unit needed more speed on the field to compliment Vincent Jackson. This all but guarantees that the Bucs are going to make a strong push to get Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins who is fast becoming one of the top overall target in the draft.
New Orleans Saints – Strategy: Dee Ford among possible outside rushers
They only made one free agency move thus far, but the New Orleans Saints made sure it was a darn big one when they landed three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd on a six-year deal. Putting him with Kenny Vaccaro has really changed the dynamic for the Saints secondary, leaving them with only one real need left on defense, which is adding an outside pass rusher to compliment Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette. There are a number of interesting names who could help such as Kyle Van Noy of BYU or Jeremiah Attaochu of Georgia Tech but their big fish should be Auburn standout Dee Ford who gave some of the best tackles in college football fits down the stretch last season.
Carolina Panthers – Strategy: Brandin Cooks looks more enticing
Just like that the last notable piece of that great Carolina Panthers 2003 team is gone. Steve Smith departed on less than ideal terms from the only franchise he’s every know. At age 34 he feels he can still play and other teams are anxious to give him that opportunity. Meanwhile the Panthers are getting a little bit desperate. In addition to losing Smith they also saw Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon sign with other teams. Wide receiver went from a need to a HUGE need that quickly. While there is still time for them to get some help in free agency, their 2014 NFL draft plans remain clear. Getting a dynamic receiver for Cam Newton is a must. How perfect would it be then if they could land Oregon State star Brandin Cooks who exhibits the exact same traits as Smith. Though not very tall his speed, hands and toughness create havoc with defensive coverages. He would make a perfect replacement.
In all, the NFC South is going to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of the NFL next season and no team will have more to prove than the Atlanta Falcons after a dismal 2013 season. See if they can turn it around this fall by getting your Falcons tickets today.