Draft capsules for NFC South teams:
9. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-10)
LAST SEASON: Tripled victory total from previous year, yet wasn’t enough to save job of coach Lovie Smith, who led team to 6-6 before losing final four games. No. 1 overall draft pick Jameis Winston played every snap as rookie, throwing for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns, 15 interceptions. Team finished in top 10 offensively and defensively in same season for first time; rankings were misleading. Offense fifth in yards gained, but 20th in points scored. Despite ranking 10th in total defense, Bucs were 26th in points allowed. Smith took blame and was replaced by ex-coach’s second offensive coordinator in two seasons, Dirk Koetter.
THEY NEED: DE, DT, CB, S, WR, G, LB.
THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, TE.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida; DE/LB Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky; OT Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame.
OUTLOOK: Smith and third-year GM Jason Licht used 12 of 13 selections past two drafts to address deficiencies on offense, landing six starters — four from 2015 (Winston, LT Donovan Smith, RG Ali Marpet, MLB Kwon Alexander). Now that team seems to have its QB and offense is on track, Licht figures to seek help for inconsistent pass rush and porous secondary. Four likely starters were added in free agency, three on defense (DE Robert Ayers, CB Brent Grimes, LB Daryl Smith), one on offense (LG J.R. Sweezy) brought in to replace Logan Mankins, who retired.
12. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)
LAST SEASON: Posted second straight losing record, but also won three of last four to avoid what would have been coach Sean Payton’s first 10-loss season. Defense ranked 31st in NFL for second straight season. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was fired during season, replaced by Dennis Allen. Offense remained near top of NFL, where it’s been since Payton and QB Drew Brees joined together a decade ago.
THEY NEED: DE, DT, G, CB, OLB.
THEY DON’T NEED: RB, OT, TE.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville; DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson; DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson; OLB Darron Lee, Ohio State; DT A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama.
OUTLOOK: New Orleans’ most significant free agency additions were TE Coby Fleener, LB James Laurinaitis and DT Nick Fairley. Offseason moves also included release of G Jahri Evans, WR Marques Colston, LB David Hawthorne and CB Brandon Browner. Saints’ most pressing needs are improving pass rush and run defense. Questions also surround interior offensive line. Top two guards are Tim Lelito and Senio Kelemete, both young and relatively unaccomplished, with little depth behind them. Brees is 37, so drafting future QB isn’t out of question.
17. ATLANTA FALCONS (8-8)
LAST SEASON: Falcons started 5-0 and 6-1 under first-year coach Dan Quinn, but playoff hopes faded when they lost seven of eight games, including six straight. WR Julio Jones had second-most catches and yards receiving in a season in NFL history, and RB Devonta Freeman had breakout season as dual-threat back. Falcons couldn’t overcome 30 turnovers. Ryan threw 16 interceptions, and his 21 TD passes were his low since 2008 rookie season. First-round pick Vic Beasley couldn’t solve longstanding pass-rush problems; Falcons were last in league with only 19 sacks.
THEY NEED: S, LB, WR, TE, DT.
THEY DON’T NEED: RB, C, CB.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: WR Josh Doctson, TCU; OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia; ILB Reggie Ragland, Alabama; S Keanu Neal, Florida; WR Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi.
OUTLOOK: GM Thomas Dimitroff’s top free-agent signings were three-time Pro Bowl C Alex Mack, WR Mohamed Sanu and LB Courtney Upshaw. Each should start. More help is needed following releases of WR Roddy White, S William Moore and LB Justin Durant. Quinn could push for more help at LB, even after adding Upshaw, bringing 2010 first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon back to Atlanta and signing LaRoy Reynolds. Adding playmaker at WR like Doctson or Treadwell may be tempting.
30. CAROLINA PANTHERS (17-2)
LAST SEASON: Panthers had magical season, starting 14-0 before losing at Atlanta. Carolina still won its third straight NFC South title and defeated Seattle and Arizona to reach Super Bowl, where it fell flat in 24-10 loss to Denver. League’s highest-scoring offense during regular season simply had no answers for Von Miller and Broncos’ pass rush. Despite loss, it was most successful season in franchise history and team appears in good shape to have another big season with its core group of players under contract. Only exception is at cornerback, where team rescinded franchise tag offer to All-Pro Josh Norman, allowing him to become free agent.
THEY NEED: CB, DE, S, OT, WR, P.
THEY DON’T NEED: QB, C, G, LB, K.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: CB William Jackson III, Houston; S Karl Joseph, West Virginia; DE Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State; OT Jack Conklin, Michigan State.
OUTLOOK: Panthers didn’t have any major holes until they let Norman walk in free agency. Now theyre particularly thin at cornerback, where Bene Benwikere and journeyman Robert McClain are only two with NFL experience on roster. Team also had need at safety with Roman Harper now a free agent.
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