Our journey through the NFC continues as we keep checking in on each division with some 2019 NFL Draft predictions.
Every single team in the NFL has a chance to get better on April 25th, but given the dominance of the New England Patriots, there is a strong argument the pressure is on the NFC.
I’d argue the NFC South is actually the best division in this conference. The New Orleans Saints were probably the best team from that side of the league last year and ultimately got robbed in the NFC title game.
The Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers didn’t have the years they would have wanted, but neither team lacks talent or experience. I’m not sure what to make of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but this division runs three teams deep, and there’s a case to be made that the arrival of head coach Bruce Arians does change things a bit.
Regardless, all of these teams have talent and will be out to get even better this month. You can profit off of what they do if you bet on the 2019 NFL Draft, so perhaps we can kill two birds with one stone here.
Join me as I dissect each team’s needs, mock their picks, and gauge which team is slated to win this division in 2019.
New Orleans Saints
As I touched on, the Saints were awesome last year and got burned by a terrible non-call in the NFC championship game. That makes for two heartbreaking defeats in the playoffs over the past two seasons, but they’re still built for a title run.
As good as they are, the Saints can stand to improve like anyone else. Let’s see just how by breaking down how I’d like their first four rounds in this year’s draft to go.
Mocking the Saints 2019 NFL Draft
Oof. The Saints are great, and I expect them to be back up top in this division, but they only have one draft pick within the first four rounds.
That is regrettable.
There is a time and a place for diving into the later rounds of the draft, but this isn’t it. Instead, I’m trying to focus on how teams can quickly improve in the draft, and usually that’s going to be through adding players within the first few rounds.
New Orleans does have a second-round pick, though. Let’s see how they can get better with it.
- Round 2 – Pick 62: Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
I have seen a lot of different things mocked to this pick. One is tight end, and another is the Saints’ quarterback of the future. Well, the team brought in Jared Cook and also held onto Teddy Bridgewater.
Neither of those moves makes sense to me, especially with Drew Brees’ title-window closing. It’s win-now mode if you’re the Saints, and with only one pick in the first four rounds, they need to make it count.
I think that comes in the form of defensive back help. The Saints don’t have much beyond Marshon Lattimore, and while their defense has been better over the last two years, I wouldn’t exactly call it elite.
Improving their pass defense gives the Saints a big boost, especially when they have to try to slow down the Rams, Falcons, Vikings, and Packers. If they get to the Super Bowl, that extra corner help could come in handy if they run into someone like the Chiefs, too.
The pick doesn’t have to be Mullen, but he has great size/speed combo and comes from an excellent program where he battled elite competition. He’s a fine pick, but attacking the defensive side of the ball has to be New Orleans’ modus operandi in the draft, regardless of what they do.
I don’t think the Panthers were as bad as people thought they were last year. A 6-2 start is seemingly nullified by a 1-7 collapse, but Cam Newton’s shoulder injury was evidently a pretty big deal.
That was a bummer to see, but the Panthers still displayed a talented offense and were highly competitive most weeks. If they get a healthy Newton back, they could easily be a nuisance to the Saints in this division.
Panthers 4-Round Mock Draft
While I don’t think the Panthers are that far off as they stand, they still have some clear issues. Their defense took a step backward in 2018 and could use some help, while it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to add some youth to their offensive line.
Carolina lost some key veterans on defense, but this could give them a chance to add some speed to that side of the ball. Blessed with five picks inside the first four rounds, Carolina could do some serious damage this year.
- Round 1 – Pick 16: Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan
- Round 2 – Pick 47: Amani Oruwariye, CB, Penn State
- Round 3 – Pick 77: Nate Davis, OL, Charlotte
- Round 3 – Pick 100: Te’Von Coney, LB, Notre Dame
- Round 4 – Pick 115: Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic
The big priority is getting this Panthers defense back to where it needs to be. They have some great pieces, but they lost some veteran bite with Thomas Davis and Julius Peppers departing.
Carolina also ranked 27th in sacks last year, so they need to generate more chaos up front. I don’t know if they can actually land a talented defensive end like Rashan Gary at the 16th pick, but he has to be a person of interest.
The secondary is probably set at the safety positions for now, but the corners still need some work. It’s no lock that Oruwariye is the answer in round two, but he has a nice size/speed blend and knows how to make plays on the ball.
Te’Von Coney adds depth at linebacker, while Nate Davis is a necessary grab to beef up the o-line. Singletary is a luxury pick in round four, but Carolina has zilch behind star offensive weapon, Christian McCaffrey.
Singletary is going to drop due to poor timed speed and less than ideal size, but he’s got feature back skills and looks like a fine rotational option.
Overall, the Panthers need to build back up in the trenches and keep adding depth that can compete. They’re closer than people think, and if they can stay healthy, they’ll be a problem in 2019.
The Falcons had the unfortunate task of facing the defending champion Eagles on the road in week one last year. Their red-zone woes were put on full display in that game, and while they flashed brilliance at times in 2018, that was a running theme.
Atlanta has the talent and system to churn out points, but the offense was disappointing at times, and the defense simply wasn’t good enough on a regular basis.
I still think there is a foundation of a winner here, but the Falcons need to go for the jugular more often. Before that, though, they need to operate with better balance and do their defense a favor.
Predicting Atlanta’s Picks Through Four Rounds
Atlanta is close to getting back to the playoffs and chasing down that elusive title, but they still have some work to do. They should get going on the defensive side of the ball and then look to bring in another running back and perhaps some depth pieces for the o-line.
The Falcons have plenty of ammunition going into the 2019 NFL Draft, so let’s see what they can/should do with their five draft choices within the first four rounds.
- Round 1 – Pick 14: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
- Round 2 – Pick 45: Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech
- Round 3 – Pick 79: Ben Powers, OL, Oklahoma
- Round 4 – Pick 117: Terrill Hanks, LB, New Mexico State
- Round 4 – Pick 137: Mike Edwards, S, Kentucky
Atlanta really doesn’t need to waste picks on offensive talent right now. If an amazing value at running back slides to them, then sure, but I don’t see anyone they need to go out of their way to obtain in the first four rounds.
Instead, defense is the focus. Ed Oliver sliding all the way to 14 is a mild reach, but I’ve seen him mocked further down. There have been character and size concerns, so if he can slide, the Falcons finally get a beast to pair with Grady Jarrett.
Ferguson is another guy who will slide due to off-field issues. Some think he could be around in round two, and he’s a day-one talent. This is a steal to enhance Atlanta’s sulking pass rush, which ranked just 22nd in sacks in 2018.
I also would attack some o-line depth and snatch up some bodies at safety and linebacker. The Falcons really fell apart defensively once they got hit by injuries to Keanu Neal and Deion Jones. Protecting themselves with better depth could go a long way in making sure they stay in this thing deep into the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Lastly, we have the Buccaneers, who were ridiculously explosive in the air in 2018, actually finishing #1 in total passing. The system and talent were there, but the consistency simply wasn’t.
Switching from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Jameis Winston and doing a back and forth two different times didn’t help matters. The team just lacked direction, couldn’t run the ball, and also had major issues defensively.
With veteran head coach and offensive guru Bruce Arians now calling the shots, the Bucs have a legit chance to start anew in 2019.
4-Round Buccaneers Mock Draft
Tampa Bay is already trending in a more positive direction with Arians in town. It’s seriously exciting to see what he can do with an offense that was already as explosive as anyone a year ago.
Establishing the run should be part of that, so the Bucs may opt to seek out a new running back and then also focus on improving a defense that allowed the second-most points per game last season.
There’s much to do, so let’s see what Tampa Bay can accomplish through the first four rounds in this year’s draft.
- Round 1 – Pick 5: Devin White, LB, LSU
- Round 2 – Pick 39: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama
- Round 3 – Pick 70: Lonnie Johnson Jr., CB, Kentucky
- Round 4 – Pick 107: Vosean Joseph, LB, Florida
It probably pains Bruce Arians to take so many defensive players, but the Bucs aren’t going to be able to compete without them. Johnson and Joseph are just depth for now, but hopefully they can compete for bigger roles in the not too distant future.
I debated between Jawaan Taylor or Devin White for the 5th pick. Tampa Bay could use some better pass protection, but they did just hand more money to top left tackle Donovan Smith.
White is a game-changer on defense, so clearly the play is to improve on the offensive line from within and hope an impact defender lifts the other side of the ball. I think White can do that, and with three of four picks spent on defense, Tampa Bay could turn the corner.
Jacobs in round two is a solid value. Tampa Bay does have some running backs to give a whirl, but they’d be wise to cut bait and start fresh. Jacobs is a true feature back who can do it all, allowing the Bucs to rebuild their offense and get a little more consistent.
Who Will Win the NFC South in 2019?
I really do think this division is a lot better than people think. It certainly is better than what these teams showed last year when nobody other than the Saints finished better than 7-9.
That sounds bad, but the Panthers are as balanced as anyone, and both the Falcons and Buccaneers can blow the lid off your defense. All of these teams can put up points, but consistency and defensive ability are big question marks.
Of the lot, the Falcons and Panthers are the biggest threats to the Saints. They’ll give them a fight early, but this story ends the same in 2019. The harsh reality is New Orleans has unfinished business.
That’s been the case for two years running now, and I think the Saints finally get it done in 2019. It could end with a Lombardi Trophy, but it at least starts with another division crown.