Draft needs: A look at the NFC South
April 4, 2003
By Jay Glazer
SportsLine.com Senior Writer
April is good for two things: getting a tax-return check and pushing oversized college boys into the top tax bracket of America's working force
OK, so most of us will never see a check from Uncle Sam. At least we have the NFL's annual draft to drown our sorrows -- the time and place where months of CIA-like investigations and probes into college kids' lives finally come to fruition.
In the age of free agency and the salary cap, draft picks have become the everlasting hope of every general manager. With a mere three weeks to go before Draft Day '03, teams will spend countless hours formulating their ever-important value boards, define their team needs and send out smokescreens in order to help mask their intentions.
Our job is to clear through such smoke and prevent what the great GM George Young dubbed "paralysis by over-analysis." The following is the first of eight installments that break down team needs and possible strategies as we prepare for the 2003 NFL Draft. Here's a look at the NFC South:
Panthers head coach John Fox sat and seethed last year as he was second guessed, sometimes publicly, in all four corners of the country for selecting a pass rusher who supposedly had no heart. Well, Julius Peppers must have made it to Oz somewhere between April and September as he became the terror Fox knew he would be when he tabbed him with last year's No. 2 overall selection. Carolina improved dramatically last year under Fox, but must have another solid couple of days in late April to improve in the fall.
Needs: Starting OT, OG, C, QB, WR, TE, backup LB, starting CB, eventual starter at DT slot.
"Right now I'd say in general we will be focusing on offense," said Fox of his team's draft strategy (albeit one that he admits will likely change considerably over the next three weeks). "We need offense in general, we need a wideout, tight end, offensive tackle, quarterback. While we'd like to go offense early, if there is a standout on defense we would take him. Defensively, we need a corner, a defensive tackle, safety and I'd like to add depth at linebacker."
Carolina will take a look at Marshall QB Byron Leftwich's workout next week, a workout that Fox says he plans to personally attend. It's assumed that Leftwich would have to completely dazzle Fox for Carolina to draft him with that pick.
More likely options with the first pick include Utah tackle Jordan Gross, a corner such as Washington State's Marcus Trufant or a receiver such as Miami's Andre Johnson falling to their slot. By drafting Trufant or another first-round corner, Fox may be able to run the more complex defenses he held back from using last year.
If Kentucky defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson was somehow still on the board, Carolina would have to seriously consider him as well. In a defensive tackle, the team receives a nice boost to a strong young line with one old link, defensive tackle Brentston Buckner. He is in the last year of his deal and isn't getting any younger.
When Sunday ends and Mr. Irrelevant has found his relevance: "We would definitely look at a trade to get some more picks," said Fox. "There are a bunch of teams that have already expressed interest in getting out of their slots so there could be some action.
"Ideally if you told me that we will come out of the draft with a starting corner, a wideout, a quarterback, a tight end, a good offensive tackle, a backup linebacker and a few wild cards at safety I'd be thrilled. Last year our first three picks would have started if (running back DeShaun) Foster had not gotten hurt. I have a super wish list this year just like I did last year and we got both of our guys, Peppers and Foster. Hopefully we can duplicate that."
New Orleans Saints
This will be the first draft headed by underrated general manager Mickey Loomis and personnel man Rick Mueller, the brother of the man Loomis replaced. Thanks to a pair of win-win trades pulled off last year, this is a great draft to be in charge of. The Saints have two first-round picks (thanks to Ricky Williams' spectacular showing in Miami), one second and two third-rounders (thanks to Willie Roaf's solid year in Kansas City). Basically, Loomis and Mueller need to get plenty of rest on April 25.
Needs: CB, S, TE, LB, OL, DT, WR.
The Saints' war room should be bustling on day one of the draft. Why? The team's draft philosophy is a fan's delight.
"The philosophy of every team that I've been with and every GM I worked for has been to be aggressive," said Loomis. "The teams I have been with made a lot of trades. I don't see that changing. We'll be open-minded about moving up and open-minded about moving back. We'll be aggressive if the right opportunities arise. If not, we are completely happy with where we pick."
When the smoke clears Jim Haslett and Loomis' needs are pretty well-defined: Priority numero uno is a top-notch cornerback. Unless they work a deal to move into the top three they probably will not get Kansas State's Terence Newman, touted by many as a better corner than last year's elite youngsters Quentin Jammer and Philip Buchanan. If Trufant is available at Carolina's pick, Fox has already informed them he would move down with them for the right deal. The Cowboys and Bears would also be willing to move out of the top five.
They let safety Sammy Knight and linebacker Charlie Clemons flee via free agency and would like to solidify both areas. The Saints have been trying to swing a trade for New England's Tebucky Jones, a deal that may get done closer to the start of the draft or during the selection process itself. If not, they will go after a safety.
Their big defensive tackles, Grady Jackson and Norman Hand, let their weight get a little, well, shall we say, unchained last year and both faded late. A stud defensive tackle prospect would not be out of the question.
When Sunday ends and Mr. Irrelevant has found his relevance: "We would like to get a corner and improve our speed on defense," said one Saints official. "We don't have any glaring holes on offense but we have put a priority on getting a tight end. That's our highest priority on offense. After the first round, we'll get into the mode of taking the best available guys irrespective of the positions they play."
Day 1 is the perfect type of afternoon for head coach Dan Reeves -- he'll have plenty of time to work on his scratch golf game. They essentially used their first-rounder to satisfy the team's most glaring need -- a stud wideout for Michael Vick to play ball with. They traded the pick for wideout Peerless Price. They also traded their third-rounder last year in order to move up in the fourth round in 2002 and draft guard Martin Bibla. So if they are to fortify their secondary they will have to do so with a No. 2 pick and day two's selections.
Needs: CB, S, FB, OLB.
Despite the signing of cornerbacks Tyrone Williams and Tod McBride from Green Bay and corner Kevin Mathis and safety Corey Hall, the Falcons are intent on upgrading their secondary.
"We're still looking for depth at corners," said Atlanta vice president of football operations Ron Hill. "With Keion Carpenter's neck injury safety is still a concern too. It's a pretty good draft for corners and while there aren't a lot of safeties who should go early you can find some depth.
"We've been very active in free agency and we feel pretty good. We're looking more on defense than offense."
When Sunday ends and Mr. Irrelevant has found his relevance: "We'll come out with another corner, a safety and some more depth at linebacker. We'll pick up a guy here or there to add depth," said Hill. "We lost Bob Christian so we'll be looking to add depth at fullback. Running back we are set and we have five guys at wide receiver who can play for anybody. We went to the second round of the playoffs last year and added Price and MarTay Jenkins so we increased our speed twofold. Still, there are quality receivers in this draft so if there's somebody in round four we'll look at that."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
"With the 32nd pick of the first round, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have selected ... head coach Jon Gruden for the second consecutive year." Tampa has no first-rounder thanks to the trade that brought Gruden back to Florida. It isn't until 63 other players have been chosen that GM Rich McKay gets to take a player that Gruden begrudges.
Needs: OL, OL, OL, OL, OL, FS, LB, RB, P.
Offensive line coach Bill Muir had a better season last year than most of the players in this league. To mold the line he had to work with into Super Bowl winners was nothing short of remarkable. But for goodness sakes, don't make him have to do that again. SportsLine.com has learned that Muir's former coaching protÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©gÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â©, Jumbo Elliott, visited the team Wednesday with the possibility of signing him to replace the retiring Lomas Brown. If signed, Elliott would act as a part-time player and coach, which is exactly what Muir and the Bucs can use.
If there are two guys who can mold a second- or third-rounder into a bona fide starter it's Muir with the help of Elliott. The Bucs can get good o-line value at No. 64 or 97 (their position in the third round).
When Sunday ends and Mr. Irrelevance has found his relevance: The line will have a potential starter and a backup with starter potential. On defense they need to upgrade their safety slot, search for a man for John Lynch to groom and come away with another linebacker and pass-rushing defensive end. In addition, if there is a running back in the middle rounds who can be a starter in their system and push Michael Pittman the Bucs would be happy enough to hold another parade.
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