The NFC South is shaping up to be one of the league's most interesting divisions
The NFC South will be all about the quarterbacks in 2020. Drew Brees returns to New Orleans, Matt Ryan is still going strong in Atlanta, and the Carolina Panthers are getting a fresh start with a new coaching staff and Teddy Bridgewater under center. But the biggest move of this entire offseason came from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who won the Tom Brady sweepstakes after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots. If that wasn't enough, Brady will be reunited with Rob Gronkowski down in Florida.
But the preparation work for the 2020 season is just getting started. The 2020 NFL Draft represented the next step in that process. Here is what each team accomplished through last week's draft.
Objective Achieved: Building up the defense
With the offense in pretty good shape, especially after signing Todd Gurley following his release by the Rams; much of the Falcons' focus this offseason has been on retooling the defense, and for good reason. It was already a challenge for Atlanta having to face Drew Brees twice a season, not to mention Cam Newton during some of his better years, but now Tom Brady joins the division. So it was no surprise to see the Falcons use four of its six picks on defense.
First-round pick A.J. Terrell should start at cornerback right away and defensive end Marlon Davidson also should see plenty of snaps. Mykal Walker also has a chance to become a key contributor at linebacker while safety Jaylinn Hawkins may be used primarily on special teams early on. Third-round pick Matt Hennessy could be the heir apparent to six-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack at center and, for those that care, the Falcons could have a new punter this season following the selection of Syracuse's Sterling Hofrichter.
Objective Achieved: A new-look defense
Matt Rhule's lone season in the NFL was spent as an assistant offensive line coach for the Giants, but Carolina's new head coach had one thing in mind for his first draft – defense. Rhule and GM Marty Hurney used all seven of their picks on that side of the ball. Derrick Brown (No. 7 overall) is the headliner and he will immediately take his starting spot as one of the anchors for the Panthers' 4-3 look. Fellow defensive linemen Yetur Gross-Matos and Bravvion Roy should serve as key reserves up front.
The other four picks were defensive backs with safety Jeremy Chinn (second round) and cornerback Troy Pride Jr. (fourth) the most likely to see significant playing time early. Former XFL safety Kenny Robinson (who played at West Virginia in college) and Florida International cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver also will get their opportunities to claim their spots in the overhauled secondary.
New Orleans Saints
Objective Achieved: Traded a bunch of picks for three guys
It was a very interesting draft for the Saints. For a team whose championship window could be closing given Drew Brees' age (41), New Orleans didn't have a ton of needs. So taking Michigan center Cesar Ruiz in the first round (24th overall) makes sense given the priority placed on protecting Brees. Likewise, Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun feels a clear need, but it cost the Saints a third-round pick next year to swap places with Cleveland to get him (third round, No. 74 overall). But that was nothing compared to what was to come.
First, GM Mickey Loomis traded his remaining picks (a fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-rounder) to Minnesota so he could take Dayton tight end Adam Trautman at the end of the third round (No. 105). That position wasn't necessarily a huge need with Jared Cook and Josh Hill already on the roster. But the more curious move was then trading back in near the end of the draft to select Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens. Even though Taysom Hill (who signed a two-year, $21 million contract the day after the draft) was already on the roster and the Saints agreed to a one-year contract with former Tampa Bay starter Jameis Winston on Tuesday, Loomis and Sean Payton thought enough of Stevens to send a sixth-round pick to Houston to ensure they got him. New Orleans is fully focused on the 2020 season but this draft will have ramifications in 2021, and perhaps beyond.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Objective Achieved: Preparing for the TB12 era
The Buccaneers were already all-in as soon as they landed Tom Brady. Trading a fourth-round pick to New England for Rob Gronkowski (and a seventh-round pick) a few days before the draft was just another way to welcome their new quarterback. But GM Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians took it another step by using three of their first four picks to further bolster the offense.
First-round pick Tristan Wirfs will likely take over at right tackle while running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn will either be part of a timeshare with Ronald Jones or he could assume the lead role in the backfield. Wide receiver Tyler Johnson gives Brady another weapon to throw to. The defense wasn't completely ignored as safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (second round, No. 45 overall) is projected to start and Khali Davis could back up Vita Vea at nose tackle.
— 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.