Draft Needs - NFC South (04/27/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
NFL Team Needs – NFC South edition

The NFL Draft, which begins on April 30, is fast approaching. Every team hopes to use their picks to fill a position of need. In the days leading up to the draft we will evaluate each team's biggest needs, greatest strengths and the best case scenario for the draft.

To objectively answer many questions related to the NFL including how to rank individual units and at exactly which positions teams can and should improve, we assign impact scores for every current NFL starter.

The impact score is a grade on a 0-10 scale based on a player's expected overall positive contribution at their current ages and relative to position. In the score, a seven or above can generally outperform a replacement player in the NFL at his position; an eight or above can be expected to start and a player with a rating over nine is a unique, standout player who stars.

NFC South – click for NFC East, AFC East, NFC North, AFC North

Carolina Panthers

Top needs: Offensive Tackle, Offensive Guard, Defensive End

Greatest Strength: Defensive Front Seven

The front seven is the strength of the two time defending NFC South defense. Luke Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, led the NFL in tackles in 2014, the second time in his three pro seasons, and is the star of Carolina's defense. Kuechly's impact score is 9.2 out of 10, he is the highest rated inside linebacker in the league. With a top three overall defense the Panthers will look to return to the playoffs for a franchise record third straight year.

Best Case Scenario:

Cam Newton may be one of the best quarterbacks in the league but the same cannot be said for his offensive line. The guys paid to block for Carolina's young quarterback are the worst unit in the NFC South and rank 29th overall in the NFL. The Panthers signed Jonathan Martin and Michael Oher in free agency to compete for starting jobs but the team will need to turn to the draft to find real answers to their offensive line woes.

New Orleans Saints

Top needs: Corner, Safety, Defensive Line

Greatest Strength: Quarterback

In a disappointing year for the Saints, Drew Brees still starred. The Pro Bowl quarterback led the league in passing (4,952 yards) for the third time in four seasons. Brees impact score is 9.3 out of 10, one of just four quarterbacks with an impact score of 9.0 or higher.

Best Case Scenario:

New Orleans' defense allowed 251.2 passing yards per game (25th in NFL), 132.8 rushing yards per game (29th in NFL) and 26.5 point per game (28th in NFL). The Saints defense ranked 28th and 32nd in defensive passing and rushing efficiency. Nola's defense needs help at every level and with five top-80 draft picks the defense can be rebuilt on the fly.

Atlanta Falcons

Top needs: Defensive Line, Safety, Offensive Line

Greatest Strength: Strength of Schedule

Atlanta's offense ranks 24th overall, its defense is the worst in the league. After back-to-back losing seasons the Falcons are starting over with a new coaching staff. It is grim in Hot'Lanta but there is a silver lining. Based on 2014 records, the Falcons have the easiest schedule in football. Only four games will be against opponents that finished 2014 with a winning record. Woohoo for parity in the NFL!

Best Case Scenario:

The Falcons recorded 22 sacks last season, the second-fewest in the NFL. Atlanta will likely target a pass-rusher with the eighth overall pick. It would then be logical for new Head Coach Dan Quinn to complement his new pass rush with an improved secondary. Atlanta allowed the most passing yards in 2014.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Top needs: Quarterback, Defensive Line, Linebacker

Greatest Strength: Offensive Line

It is all relative but the offensive line, which is just average, is the best unit in Tampa. Four of the five starters on the line grade out as adequate. For a team that managed just two wins a season ago, that is inspiring.

Best Case Scenario:

Tampa Bay is drafting a quarterback. All indications are that the Buccaneers have tabbed Jameis Winston as their quarterback of the future. It's common for an organization that drafts a signal caller in the first round to follow that move by adding to their offensive line but the Buccos would be better served focusing on the defense after securing a franchise quarterback.

NFC South Unit Rankings

Team Offense Defense Skill O-line D-line Front 7 Secondary
Carolina Panthers 17 3 11 29 10 3 7
New Orleans Saints 6 30 13 7 24 23 32
Atlanta Falcons 24 32 18 25 20 30 25
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23 28 27 15 23 27 27