With the Denver Broncos securing Super Bowl 50 another NFL season is in the books. It’s never too early to look ahead to next year, starting with the 2016 NFL Draft April 28-30. Carolina has won the NFC South each of the past three seasons and made it all the way to the Super Bowl in 2015.
What do Ron Rivera's Panthers need to do to stay a contender and what about the rest of the teams in the division?
2015 Snapshot: Atlanta (8-8) started off the season strong before crashing down to earth. The Falcons had the worst pass rush in the NFL last season, as they were the only team to not reach 20 sacks on the year.
Biggest Needs: Falcons have very similar needs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - pass rushers and secondary help.
First-round pick: No. 17 overall
Potential Picks: Reggie Ragland will be one of the most complete linebackers in this draft. The Falcons would be lucky to land him at pick No. 17, and it is evident that Quinn will not pass up on the opportunity if he drops that far. Other options for the Falcons include Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Calhoun was a very talented pass rusher for three straight seasons in East Lansing and helped anchor a top defense in college football. One guy that may jump ahead of Calhoun is Clemson’s Kevin Dodd. Dodd has more size to him than Calhoun and may make a more immediate impact.
2015 Snapshot: The Panthers (15-1) had the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL this season and they didn’t have their top receiver for a single snap! They also had a stout defense led by All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. They didn’t get it done on the world’s biggest stage, but 17-2 is nothing to scoff at.
Biggest Needs: If you have to nitpick the weaknesses of this team then defensive end is the first place to look. Another need for Carolina, that may be easier to address given their draft position, is cornerback.
First-round pick: No. 30 overall
Potential Picks: A guy that may still be available is the physical freak from Baylor, Shawn Oakman. Standing tall (6-9), Oakman could be extremely difficult for many offensive linemen to handle with his superior length. It would also be smart for the Panthers to shore up their secondary, and I believe Eli Apple from Ohio State would be a great fit. Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller, brother of Bears’ Kyle Fuller, is a gifted corner as well.
New Orleans Saints
2015 Snapshot: Statistically speaking the 2015 New Orleans Saints (7-9) may have had the worst defense of all time. The Saints easily surpassed the previous NFL record of 40 passing touchdowns allowed, letting opposing quarterbacks toss 45 on them in 2015. In addition to being historically bad against the pass they also had one of the worst run defenses in the league, allowing the most yards per carry at 4.9.
Biggest Needs: There is truly no defensive position the Saints don’t need help at, but getting a dynamic pass rusher could go a long way in turning this unit around. If there is a fire sale of defensive ends in the early goings the Saints should refocus their attention to getting a big, physical defensive tackle to clog up the middle.
First-round pick: No. 12 overall
Potential Picks: Clemson’s Shaq Lawson or Oregon’s DeForest Buckner would be great selections at defensive end. At the defensive tackle position, Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson would greatly improve the Saints’ run defense. He would also make life a lot easier for Cameron Jordan coming off the edge. Another guy with the ability to disturb two or three blockers is Penn State’s Austin Johnson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2015 Snapshot: After a strong start to the 2015 season (6-6), the Buccaneers lost four straight games to finish 6-10. Head coach Lovie Smith was fired and replaced by former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Biggest Needs: Besides Gerald McCoy this defense has gaping holes all over the place. With McCoy drawing so much attention in the middle, a dynamic pass rusher on the end of the line would be a perfect addition for Tampa Bay. A defensive end consistently hurrying the quarterback can help the secondary a great deal. Another option would be to directly beef up the secondary by targeting a corner or safety in the early rounds.
First-round pick: No. 9 overall
Potential Picks: Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, is a perfect fit. The Miami Dolphins are apparently in love with Ogbah and plan to take him. If that does happen, Clemson’s Shaq Lawson is still a great option. Jalen Ramsey, the former FSU teammate of Jameis Winston, would be exactly what the Bucs need if they elect to address the secondary. Ramsey is a tremendous athlete and versatile enough to play free safety or cornerback. If he comes off the board before they get a crack at him, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III is similarly gifted.