Peter Elliott’s 2015 NFC South Draft Recap
From Commissioner Roger Goodell getting booed from the first step he took onstage at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University to Mr. Irrelevant Gerald Christian getting handed his jersey, the 2015 NFL Draft was a very exciting time for players, teams, and fans alike.
To many, including me, the Draft is one of the most lively and important events in the entire calendar year of football, so I decided to give a division full of teams that needed a good draft, the NFC South all draft grades.
By: Peter Elliott – Lead NFL, MLB, and NCAA writer – @PelliottSports
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Grade: B+
Buccaneers General Manager Jason Licht has been waiting a long time for Roger Goodell to announce that his club would be on the clock. After a disastrous 2-14 2014 campaign and a slow offseason, Licht spent countless hours preparing for the Draft, (his first with Tampa Bay) contemplating who he wants to be the next face of his franchise. Well, Licht drafted the next face of his franchise, Florida State Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. While Winston wasn’t in Chicago to hear his name called, grab his new cap and jersey, Winston certainly enjoyed the phone call he received from his new employer with his family at home. The question is, can he transition from Florida State in Tallahassee to the Bucs in Tampa Bay? Winston definitely doesn’t lack competitiveness, as he led Florida State to a National Championship in the 2013-2014 season, nor does he lack the NFL size he’ll need facing defenses.
What Winston lacks in maturity and on-the-field decisions, Winston makes up for in arm mechanics and the ability to throw the ball, as he threw for a combined 7,964 yards in his two years in college.
Winston can continue to throw like he did before the Draft, as he has both the 6’5” Mike Evans the Bucs picked up in last year’s draft, and the veteran pass-catcher Vincent Jackson who has racked up a career 8,364 receiving yards.
The bulky 6’4” 231 pound signal-caller primarily throws the football, but Winston can also run, as evidenced by his 4.97 40-yard dash time at the 2015 NFL Combine.
I can go on about the pros and cons of Winston, as can many others, but we’ll just have to see if Jason Licht was right about his decision.
By drafting who many expected he would, Licht has indicated he has moved on from the failed experiment made by the Bucs former GM Mark Dominik of QB Josh McCown and is moving away from North Carolina State QB Mike Glennon, a product of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Licht also made other decisions, specifically adding to his shaky Offensive Line, a group of men who will have to protect Licht’s new investment, by drafting Offensive Tackle Donovan Smith, a 6’6” 338 pounder who played 33 games in his three years at Penn State.
Licht also drafted another piece of his O-line, Division III standout Ali Marpet. Marpet turned some heads at the Senior Bowl and at the Combine, but the only concern is that he wasn’t exactly competing against Division I or NFL talent.
Carolina Panthers – Grade: C+
Shaq Thompson is a mystery.
The Carolina Panthers first round draft pick is nothing if not a freak athlete, but why was it a surprise he was taken at number 25 by the Panthers?
Thompson can be an ace on Special Teams, serve as a Running Back if needed, help out at other Linebacker positions, and even play Safety.
The reason why so many were surprised, was because Outside Linebacker, (Thompson’s position) wasn’t a necessity for Coach Ron Rivera’s team, as they already have Thomas Davis to fill that spot. Though Davis hasn’t been playing well at weakside Linebacker, the Panthers could have easily used their first rounder on another position they needed, such as picking Florida Offensive Tackle, D.J. Humphries, (who went a pick before the Panthers at number 24) or even on a Running Back like Boise State’s Jay Ajayi or Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, both valuable Running Backs available at the 25th pick.
A combination of Quarterback Cam Newton, who ran for 539 yards last year, and a workhorse back other than Jonathan Stewart would create a wonderful situation in Carolina.
The other player GM David Gettleman chose in the first two rounds was Michigan wideout Devin Funchess.It was pretty obvious Carolina would take a Wide Receiver/Tight End to possibly accompany last years first rounder Kelvin Benjamin, but Funchess was one of many possible selections I thought could be picked.
The 20 year-old can catch the ball well, as he has hauled in 126 passes accounting for 1,715 yards he collected in his three years playing college football. Funchess, like Shaq Thompson, is very versatile and can play both Wide Receiver and Tight End.The 6’5” pass-catcher ran a 4.47 and 4.53 second 40-yard-dash at his pro day.
It was definitely a surprising draft year for the Panthers.
Atlanta Falcons – Grade: A-
With their first three picks in the Draft, the Atlanta Falcons have chosen three completely different players, but all three of them can impact new coach Dan Quinn’s squad.
With the Falcons first pick, they selected Vic Beasley, a powerful and prominent edge-rusher from Clemson.Beasley can, and has played both Outside Linebacker, and Defensive End, but is better suited to play Linebacker in the NFL, because of how tall and thin he is. Immediately Beasley will definitely help the Falcons defense become better than they were last year, one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
The Falcons also selected cornerback Jalen Collins in the second round, to secure Atlanta’s insecure secondary.The 6’1” defender only played ten games while at LSU, but the Falcons and other teams could tell Collins was ready to see NFL offenses.
In the past, Collins has failed three drug tests, something NFL teams took into account, but didn’t significantly hurt his draft stock. Collins is also a speedster, running a 4.48 40-yard-dash at the Combine.That speed also will aid his transition and help him become one of the better players on Atlanta’s secondary.
Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has definitely drafted a core group of young players, all with talent that can help make the Falcons threats in the NFC South.
Another player Dimitroff selected was Running Back Tevin Coleman of Indiana University. Coleman is a workhorse back who averaged 170 yards per game last season. Coleman also ran for an impressive 3,219 yards in his three years at Indiana.The Falcons are definitely luckily to grab Coleman, a rare type of player.
Probably the only two things Jalen Collins and Tevin Coleman have in common is that both their favorite team is the Falcons and they share a passion for the game of football, something Vic Beasley also possess.
2015 was not a bad draft class for the re-grouping Falcons.
New Orleans Saints – Grade: B-
The New Orleans Saints had five picks in the first three rounds, and GM Mickey Loomis used them all on great talent.
With their first selection, they chose Andrus Peat, a highly touted Offensive Tackle from Stanford, who has long expanding arms that are essential for an Offensive Lineman. Peat also has NFL Offensive Lineman size, good for a team that will likely throw Peat in the mix immediately. I had Peat as the third best Offensive Lineman coming into the draft, and he was the third lineman selected.
The first round pick the Saints got from the Jimmy Graham trade was used on Linebacker Stephone Anthony, from Clemson University. Anthony played well with the Tigers, leading the team with 90 tackles. The 22 year-old was a first-team All-ACC and Butkus Award semifinalist, and was also invited to the Senior Bowl. I had some other Inside Linebackers higher on my big board, like TCU’s Paul Dawson, and Miami’s Denzel Perryman that the Saints could have selected over Anthony, but I guess GM Mickey Loomis liked what he saw. When Anthony is being blocked, he plays poorly and has trouble reading the play-action pass, but the Saints need a tough Inside Linebacker, and Anthony can do some damage.
The Saints third selction at 44th overall saw them select another linebacker, Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha. At 6’2” and 253 pounds, Kikaha led the nation in sacks last year and excels in his ability to get back into a play, and use his hands. Many raised concerns over the ACL injury he suffered 2011, but he seems to be recovering well.
The Saints had six other picks after this one, but the highlights were Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson, who will become the backup to star Drew Brees, and cornerback P.J. Williams of Florida State. The players were only three picks apart, drafted in the third round. They possess talent and the ability to be long-term starters. Grayson has great field vision, and can thrive in the pocket. Though Williams’ off-the-field DUI charge in April may raise concerns.
This division won a combined 22 games, so each team, especially the 2-and-14 Buccaneers, needed a good draft. I thought each team made strong choices, and they all signed some quality undrafted free agents.
Peter Elliott writes about the NFL, MLB, and NCAA for Talking Baws. You can follow him on Twitter @PelliottSports and email him at [email protected]