The 2022 off-season for the NFC South found a way to be eventful even with minimal actual moves happening. With the return of Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers solidified themselves as the betting favorite in the division. That news has done nothing to stop the New Orleans Saints and their aggressive approach to team-building. While they may not win the division, the Saints are still pushing for a seat at the table after barely missing the playoffs last season. While both the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers are in re-build mode, somehow, in different ways. Let’s see how these situations played out as we hand out draft grades for the NFC South.
2022 NFL Draft Grades: NFC South
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: B+
Coming into the draft, the core needs for the Bucs to address were the defensive tackle and offensive guard positions. They didn’t have many. They were a couple of plays away from advancing past the eventual Super Bowl champion, Los Angeles Rams. But with the band essentially coming back for one last run with Brady, Tampa Bay was in the market looking for those missing pieces to give Brady his eighth.
The Bucs did just that with their first two picks. Logan Hall is a potential steal that will come in and compete for the starting position, especially with Ndamukong Suh’s future in question. Hall’s versatility and strength will give Bowles a fun chess piece to work with for years to come. After trading up with the Buffalo Bills, they took their guy Luke Goedeke from Central Michigan. An athletic tight-end-turned-offensive-lineman that will be able to compete for the left guard position early.
The Buccaneers 33rd overall pick, Logan Hall. pic.twitter.com/vHuOGo8B7q
— JC Cornell (@CornellNFL) April 29, 2022
With their most pressing needs met, the Bucs acquired some good depth pieces to develop into the future. Rachaad White will serve in the Ronald Jones role, while Cade Otton could have a chance to play in year one, especially if Rob Gronkowski does not return for 2022. They also had a little fun in the fourth, passing on the dubbed “Punt God” for Jake Camarda. Camarda is a great punter who can flip the field for the Bucs when their offense stalls.
McCollum is a big, physical corner that needs refinement in his technique. Kieft and Anthony are both projects that could contribute later on.
The Bucs were in prime position to be patient and let the draft come to them. They definitely got better but did they really have to? With Brady back in the saddle, Tampa Bay shored up some loose ends for one last championship run.
New Orleans Saints: B
The New Orleans Saints continue to shock the league with their, let us call it, unique approach to team-building. There were questions about whether the Saints’ aggressive moves preceding the draft were indicative of a new quarterback. Instead, the Saints stood by their plan of taking a top-end receiver and new tackle to keep Jameis Winston upright. Unfortunately, as far as this exercise goes, it led to one of the worst draft grades in the NFC South.
Chris Olave was deemed the best route-runner in this draft cycle. And there are plenty of references that back up that claim. Trevor Penning is a nasty offensive tackle that embodies the city of New Orleans. Gritty, bruising, and doesn’t apologize for stepping on your toes while walking by.
— Brenden Ertle (@BrendenErtle) April 29, 2022
With the 49th pick, there was a bit of controversy with their choice of cornerback. However, Alontae Taylor is talented. He is a versatile secondary piece that needs the right situation to flourish.
On day three, the Saints stayed true to their physical approach and got the ‘Jackson twins’ D’Marco and Jordan to solidify their front seven.
While the move up to get Olave made it hard for the Saints to get more depth at some positions, the Saints had a good draft. New Orleans came out of this draft with its most pressing needs met. No more. No less.
Atlanta Falcons: A-
With the trade of Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons have an entirely new outlook on building their team. There were needs throughout this team. At one point in this cycle, the only position they didn’t need was at the tight end. Even with this, Atlanta had to make sure that they made the most of their value and did not reach for any players based upon need.
They started their 2022 draft campaign with an above-the-rim guy in Drake London. That decision was littered with controversy. With players such as Jermaine Johnson still on the board, it was baffling for the Falcons to take yet another first-round pass-catcher. London is a scheme fit for Arthur Smith and gives this offense that was already quite tall even more height.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) May 2, 2022
The Falcons traded up to get one of the potential steals in the second round with Arnold Ebiketie. Then followed that up with an intriguing prospect in Troy Andersen. His athleticism and versatility, on both sides of the ball apparently, make him a fun piece to build around.
With the quarterbacks dropping farther than most media pundits’ projections, the Falcons decided to stop Desmond Ridder’s fall in the third round. Ridder fits seamlessly into Arthur Smith’s offense with his athleticism and ability to make things happen outside of the pocket. Atlanta then used day three to double-dip at the edge position with DeAngelo Malone. Added a bell-cow running back in Tyler Allgeier and a guy to block for him in Justin Shaffer. John FitzPatrick is a perfect blocking tight end to replace Lee Smith’s departure.
Atlanta decided to hit the reset button for this year, and they still have a ways to go. But all things considered, this was a helpful first step.
Carolina Panthers: A
Last but not least is the Carolina Panthers. On paper, this seems to be one of the best draft grades in the NFC South. But boy, did they need it. Matt Rhule may have one of the hottest seats in the league right now. This draft had to be as close to perfect as the Carolina brass could make it. As far as building their roster? I believe the Panthers did just that.
Starting with Ikem Okwonu, the nasty offensive tackle from NC State is always ready for pancakes. He is known for his nature to not only bowl over defenders but finishes them into the turf.
Panthers OT Ickey Ekwonu shows off his wheels here. Stick around for the end of the play, you’ll like it.
— John Ellis (@1PantherPlace) April 29, 2022
After some maneuvering, the Panthers traded up for what could be their answer to the quarterback position. Corral, his strong arm, and his toughness were projected to be a mid-to-late second-round pick. The value makes this pick even more worthwhile while addressing the most crucial need an NFL team can have.
Brandon Smith and Amare Barno are both in the same boat where they have elite athletic traits that will have to be molded by good coaching. With the coaching staff and watching players like Shaq Thompson and Brian Burns, the two day-three prospects will have plenty of resources to improve their game.
Cade Mays is an intriguing prospect that could help on their offensive line if he can outlast his injury concerns. Kalon Barnes may be one of the fastest corners in this draft. After playing for Rhule when he coached at Baylor, it should be an easy transition for the former track star.
Matt Rhule is on his last leg here in Carolina and needs one great year to prove that he can coach the Panthers for the long term.
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