2017 NFL Draft Grades: NFC South

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The NFC South is home to last season’s runner-up Atlanta Falcons, who are capable of taking another swing at the Lombardi Trophy. The up-and-coming Tampa Bay Buccaneers are poised to have a breakthrough season, while the Carolina Panthers may finally be over their Super Bowl hangover and ready to get back into the class of NFL elite.  And let’s not forget about Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints; As long as he’s their quarterback, they always have a chance.

Here’s a look at how each team fared in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  A

Draft class:

O.J. Howard | TE | Alabama (1.19)
Justin Evans | S | Texas A&M (2.50)
Chris Goodwin | WR | Penn State (3.84)
Kendell Beckwith | LB | LSU (3.107)
Jeremy McNichols | RB | Boise State (5.162)
Steve Tu’Ikolovatu | DT | USC (7.223)

Analysis:  The Buccaneers draft could do no wrong after O.J. Howard in the first round. On talent alone, Howard was one of the five best players in the class. He slipped to No. 19 and will make at least a dozen teams pay for it for many, many years.  He’s an instant weapon for third-year quarterback Jameis Winston in the passing game and is a quality player in the run game too.  He’s a candidate to win rookie of the year.  Justin Evans was considered a bit of a reach in round two, but he has good range and should be at least a competent starter in the NFL.  Chris Goodwin adds another explosive weapon for Winston, who now with Mike Evans, Howard and Goodwin is an early candidate for fantasy football superstardom.  Linebacker Kendell Beckwith and running back Jeremy McNichols were both good value selections.  Tampa Bay hit a home run with this class.

RELATED:  2017 NFL Draft Grades:  NFC North

New Orleans Saints:  A-

Draft class:

Marshon Lattimore | CB | Ohio State (1.11)
Ryan Ramczyk | OT | Wisconsin (1.32)
Marcus Williams | S | Utah (2.42)
Alvin Kamara | RB | Tennessee (3.67)
Alex Anzalone | ILB | Florida (3.76)
Trey Hendrickson | DE | Florida Atlantic (3.103)
Al-Quadin Muhammad | DE | Miami (6.196)

Analysis:  In order to combat the upward trending Buccaneers offense, the dynamic passing attack of the Atlanta Falcons, and the always dangerous Cam Newton, the New Orleans Saints had to add more talent to their secondary. They did just that with the selection of Marshon Lattimore, who is one of the most naturally gifted cover guys I’ve studied in recent years. He’s effortless. Assuming he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a special player.  Ryan Ramczyk was the top offensive tackle on some boards. Getting him at No. 32 was a steal.  Alvin Kamara will add juice to a running game that already has Mark Ingram and newly signed Adrian Peterson. Alex Anzalone is an instinctive linebacker who shined at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. He has major injury red flags. Trey Hendrickson will give the pass rush a big boost, but he’ll find the path to the quarterback a lot more difficult than he did in Conference USA.

Atlanta Falcons:  C+

Draft class:

Takkarist McKinley | OLB | UCLA (1.26)
Duke Riley | ILB | LSU (3.75)
Sean Harlow | OT | Oregon State (4.136)
Damontae Kazee | CB | San Diego State (5.149)
Brian Hill | RB | Wyoming (5.156)
Eric Saubert | TE | Drake (5.174)

Analysis:  The Falcons are coming off the worst loss in NFL history. Their crushing defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 51 was about as bad as it can get.  It’ll be interesting to see how they start the 2017 season; Super Bowl losers tend to have a hangover the following year.  Takkarist McKinley will bring toughness to their defense this year, but I think he’s a tad overrated as an athlete and may not have the kind of production expected from a first-rounder.  Duke Riley was a nice pick in Round 3 and he could have a similar impact as Deion Jones, who Atlanta plucked from LSU’s defense in 2016.  Brian Hill is an underrated running back who may be the most balanced runner on the Falcons’ roster, but his path to carries is blocked by Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.  Damontae Kazee has a nose for the ball, proven by his 15 interceptions since 2015.

RELATED:  2017 NFL Draft Grades: NFC East

Carolina Panthers:  B+

Draft class:

Christian McCaffrey | RB | Stanford (1.08)
Curtis Samuel | WR | Ohio State (2.40)
Taylor Moton | OT | Western Michigan (2.64)
Daeshon Hall | DE | Texas A&M (3.77)
Corn Elder | CB | Miami (5.152)
Alexander Armah | DE | West Georgia (6.192)
Harrison Butker | K | Georgia Tech (7.233)

Analysis:  The Carolina Panthers hit for the cycle during the first two days of the 2017 NFL Draft.  First-round pick Christian McCaffrey will be the kind of dynamic running back Cam Newton has been lacking during his time with the Panthers.  McCaffrey’s ability to run between the tackles is extremely underrated, and his talent as a home-run hitter and elite receiver out of the backfield has been well-documented.  He’s going to be freakishly productive.  Curtis Samuel will have the same kind of impact as a slot receiver.  Newton finally has a mismatch outside of Greg Olsen in the short and intermediate passing game.  Samuel brings electrifying field-flipping ability with the ball in his hands.  Taylor Moton is a starting-quality tackle who should fight for first-team reps this season.  Daeshon Hall played second fiddle to Myles Garrett at Texas A&M, but he’s got some twitch and will be a productive NFL pass rusher.