The Tampa Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions and brought everyone back. So with the rest of the NFC South chasing the Bucs what did the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and New Orleans Saints do through the 2021 NFL Draft to try and close the gap? And who did the champs add to their already loaded roster? Here's a look at what each NFC South team accomplished in this year's draft.
Objective Achieved: Extra firepower on offense, reinforcements on defense
Many say that the Falcons should start looking to the future at the quarterback position, but the team still firmly believes in Matt Ryan. So instead, new general manager Terry Fontenot instead gave Ryan and new head coach Arthur Smith a freak of nature at tight end in Florida's Kyle Pitts. Protecting Ryan, who is now 36, is of paramount importance, which is why Michigan offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield and Stanford center Drew Dalman were taken. Arizona State wide receiver Frank Darby will try and claim a spot in the pecking order of a loaded receiving corps so he may need to make his mark on special teams early. The defense also needs plenty of attention after giving up nearly 400 yards per game last season. UCF safety Richie Grant figures to start right away and cornerbacks Darren Hall (San Diego State) and Avery Williams (Boise State) could claim their spots in the secondary rotation as well. Defensive linemen Adetokundo Ogundeji (Notre Dame) and Ta'Quon Graham (Texas) add fresh bodies up front.
Objective Achieved: Weapons around Sam Darnold
Things may have not worked out for Darnold in the Big Apple, but the Panthers believe that they can change his fortunes. So they used a good portion of their draft picks to put supporting pieces around him. Wide receivers Terrance Marshall Jr. (LSU) and Shi Smith (South Carolina), along with tight end Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame), bolster the receiving corps. Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard gives Carolina an intriguing backup for workhorse Christian McCaffrey, who missed all but three games last season because of injuries, and offensive tackle Brady Christensen (BYU) and guard Deonte Brown (Alabama) add much-needed depth up front. But the team didn't ignore the other side of the ball either with South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn the first defender off the board at eighth overall and Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon a potential steal in the fifth round. Washington cornerback Keith Taylor could primarily be a special teams player as a rookie.
New Orleans Saints
Objective Achieved: Filled roster holes and maybe found quarterback of the future?
The defending four-time NFC South champs have undergone a lot of roster turnover this offseason between free agency and the retirement of Drew Brees. Some combination of Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill is the expected plan under center for 2021 but could Notre Dame's Ian Book be the future? The team is reportedly very high on the fourth-round pick. The Saints used their first-round pick on Houston defensive end Payton Turner, who addressed a need but many are still questioning whether it was the right decision at 28th overall. Stanford cornerback Paulson Adebo is expected to claim a starting spot on the back end, perhaps as soon as this season, and the same goes for Ohio State linebacker Pete Werner. Kentucky offensive tackle Landon Young will be a rotational guy early but could emerge as a future building block up front whereas South Alabama wide receiver Kawaan Baker may have to make his mark on special teams first.;
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Objective Achieved: Quarterback of the future?
When you return all 22 starters from the team that won the Super Bowl that means the roster is in pretty good shape. But the draft pick that's sure to get the most attention is that of Florida's Kyle Trask. The sixth quarterback taken, Trask gets the benefit of learning from Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians while dealing with the scrutiny that comes from the possibility that he could be the one to follow the GOAT. Brady turns 44 in August so his future will remain a hot topic. Otherwise, Tampa used its draft picks on adding depth pieces, including defensive end/edge rusher Joe Tyron (Washington), offensive tackle Robert Hainsey (Notre Dame), wide receiver Jaelon Darden (North Texas), linebackers K.J. Britt (Auburn) and Grant Stuard (Houston), and BYU cornerback Chris Wilcox. The team is particularly high on Tyron and Darden.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of atlantafalcons.com)