By: Collyn Foster
(Round 1, Pick 26) WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama- The Falcons stood pat at the bottom of the first round and the best wide receiver in the class just happened to fall to them. They had a few different positions to address during the draft and weren’t in dire need of another skill position player, but they couldn’t pass on the the chance to pair Alabama alum Julio Jones and Ridley together with an MVP quarterback.
(Round 2, Pick 26) CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado- One of the weakest positions on this very good roster was the secondary, and adding Oliver will hopefully bring new life and a spark to the defense. Oliver also brings a return element to special teams that was lost this offseason with Taylor Gabriel. Oliver will immediately make an impact on the secondary.
(Round 3, Pick 26) DT Deadrin Senat, South Florida- After losing Dontari Poe this offseason to free agency, the Falcons were in need of some size in the middle of the defense. After seeing a number of their top targets in the draft go before their pick in the 3rd round they were left with Senat. I believe his athleticism and strength will help him have an immediate impact in the middle of this front line.
(Round 4, Pick 26) RB Ito Smith, Southern Mississippi- The Falcons decide to dip their hand into this deep running back class and take a highly productive prospect in Smith. He may not see a lot of action this season sitting behind Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, but Coleman is entering the final year of his contract and there’s no guarantee he will be with the team in 2019. Smith figures to take the role of Coleman after his inevitable departure. Good depth and value pick here.
(Round 6, Pick 20) WR Russell Gage, LSU- Continuing to add to their receiver depth, the Falcons come away with a former cornerback turned receiver. Gage flourished on special teams during his time at LSU and his small frame and athleticism makes him a possible candidate to replace Taylor Gabriel, who walked in free agency.
(Round 6, Pick 26) LB Foyesade Oluokun, Yale- Atlanta seems to love great athletes on the defense. Later in the draft, teams will often take fliers on athletes that more often than not just become special teams bodies. Oluokun is just that, as he ran a blazing 4.48 forty and benched 225 lbs 18 times. He is a very athletic prospect that will no doubt add to special teams, and could potentially add his playmaking abilities on the defense as well.
Summary of Draft: Coming into the draft, the Falcons did not have a ton of holes to fill across the roster. Not only did they fill those holes, but they made themselves better as a team for the future too. I loved the Ridley pick in the first round, because now they have a top 3 wide receiver on one side and an electric, blazing fast route runner on the other side to complement and pull coverage away. Also, Isaiah Oliver was an absolute steal in the second round. I thought they might take him in the first but having him there in the second turned out to be a great pick. Overall, I believe that Atlanta filled some holes and also got players for the future to continue their bill of success for the next few seasons.
Final Draft Grade: A-
1. (Round 1, Pick 24) WR DJ Moore, Maryland- The Panthers kicked off their draft by selecting one of the best all-around wide receivers in the class. They decided to pass up on Alabama product Calvin Ridley which surprised me, but adding Moore is not a bad alternative. Moore will come in and immediately upgrade this receiving corps with a big, quick presence for Cam Newton. Long time Panther Steve Smith chimed in after the selection and said, “They have never been able to replace me…until now.” This is a significant comment coming from a future Hall of Famer, and I agree with him. Moore is going to do great things with this young unit.
2. (Round 2, Pick 23) CB Donte Jackson, LSU- Ever since they lost Josh Norman to free agency a few years back, the Panthers have been unable to truly replace him. Although Jackson may not be a Norman replacement, he will be looked at as a building block for the future. Jackson is not the most physical corner, but he has the speed and length to keep up with almost any receiver in the league.
3. (Round 3, Pick 21) CB Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee- Doubling up on secondary early in the draft was a good call after addressing their offense in the first round for two years in a row. Gaulden is a bigger, more physical corner that will be a great complement to Jackson. During his time at Tennessee he was productive and one of the best players on the defense. I am okay with them doubling up on secondary, but the 3rd may be a little high for Gaulden.
4. (Round 4, Pick 1) TE Ian Thomas, Indiana- Although he just signed a two year contract extension, Greg Olsen is not getting any younger. Thomas is going to make a great addition to this already stacked offense. He is a bit raw, with only one year of starting experience under his belt, but he showed flashes of promising tape during his time at Indiana. He will also have the chance to learn and grow under Olsen, which will hopefully expedite his development.
5. (Round 4, Pick 36) OLB Marquis Haynes, Maryland- Outside of the secondary, one of the weaker spots on the Panthers roster was their pass rush, and they traded up back into the 4th to grab Haynes. Haynes figures to be a part of a rotation that includes future hall of famer Julius Peppers and will help fortify their pass rush of the future.
6. (Round 5, Pick 24) LB Jermaine Carter Jr.- They add another linebacker to an already stacked unit later on and for good reason. The linebackers they have now are top flight talent, but have struggled to stay on the field. All pros Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly have had their own fair share of missed time, and to add insult to injury, Davis is suspended for the first 4 games of this next season, so adding depth is a good idea, just in case.
7. (Round 7, Pick 16) LB Andre Smith, North Carolina- Continuing to add to their depth at the linebacker position late in this draft, they take a flier on a guy with high upside but missed almost all of 2017 with a knee injury. Like I stated for the previous pick, this move is for depth at a linebacker position that is very important to the function of this defense. If something were to happen to any of the starters, Smith might have a chance to see the field, but until them, expect him to see some time on special teams.
8. (Round 7, Pick 24) DL Kendrick Norton, Miami- There seems to be a reoccurring theme in the Panthers draft, depth. The Panthers have a solid starting 4 man rotation that expects to see the majority of the snaps, but like the linebackers taken earlier, if something were to happen to anyone, he might see some extended time.
Summary of Draft: The Panthers’ draft had its ups and downs and reaches and steals all together in one. Addressing the skills positions on offense was a top priority of the Panthers and they got a lot of talent in the picks they used. Ian Thomas and DJ Moore are going to be very good contributors in this offense, and will grow alongside franchise QB Cam Newton. Although I like the thought of them doubling up on corner back, they left a lot of cornerback talent on the board. Not only that, but I would’ve liked to see them go after a mid-round running back to compliment Christian McCaffrey. I know McCaffrey is a nightmare out of the backfield but he is a better weapon when he can be spelled by a bruiser.
Final Draft Grade: B-
New Orleans Saints
1. (Round 1, Pick 14) DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA- The Saints had one of the many surprise picks in the first round. They traded their first round pick this year and a first round pick next year to move up and take Davenport. This aggressive move was one that has major boom or bust potential. Davenport has the physical tools and athleticism to become one of the better pass rushers in the league, but he also has a lot of work to do technically and completing his game.
2. (Round 3, Pick 27) WR Tre’Quan Smith, Central Florida- They add more depth to their already good receiving corps. Smith has good size and very impressive athleticism. With Brandon Coleman, Michael Thomas and newly acquired Cameron Meredith on the team, Smith may find it hard to get PT early on. I see this pick as a future pick when one or more of these top guys decides to move on and they will have Smith waiting in the wings to replace. Maybe a bit early for a future pick, but with Drew Brees throwing the ball, anything can happen.
3. (Round 4, Pick 27) OT Rick Leonard, Florida State- This pick was a another developmental selection, that in the future may pay big dividends. Leonard is a massive human, standing at 6’7” and weighing in at 311lbs. Leonard can sit behind this already stacked o-line and learn and develop into a future road grading guard in the future.
4. (Round 5, Pick 27) S Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin- After the loss of Kenny Vaccaro in free agency, the Saints look to add more depth to their secondary. Jamerson was the MVP of the East-West shrine game and was one of the most versatile players on a very good Wisconsin defense. Jamerson has experience at corner as well as safety, so playing either role will be easy for this Big Ten product.
5. (Round 6, Pick 15) CB Kamrin Moore, Boston College- The Saints double up on secondary late in this years draft after getting their top tier guy, Marshon Lattimore, last year. The way the Saints are building their secondary is exactly how I would, go out and get top flight talents to lead, and compliment them with later round prospects and free agents. This Saints secondary is looking versatile and formidable going into the 2018 season.
6. (Round 6, Pick 27) RB Boston Scott. Louisiana Tech- This is a pure depth pick for the Saints, who already have one of the, if not the best running back duos in the league. Scott is a small, but powerful back who will not likely see a lot of the field on offense his rookie season. Just like the Falcons pick with Ito Smith, Scott is a candidate to possibly fill Mark Ingram’s role when his contract is up after this season.
7. (Round 7, Pick 27) C Will Clapp, LSU- You can never have enough offensive linemen. O-line is one of the most unheralded and underappreciated positions in football, but has one of the biggest impacts. Clapp is a 3 year starter at LSU and can come in and provide competition for all three interior line positions. The Saints now have 2 versitile offensive linemen that can plug and play multiple positions in the event of an injury. This late in the draft, adding a value like Clapp should be applauded.
Summary of Draft: I was not the biggest fan of the Saints draft this year, and that took me by surprise because of how much I liked their draft last year. This year they traded 2 first round picks for a project edge rusher who has the physical tools but still needs a lot of work. The Saints were the only team that gave up 2 first round picks to trade up in the first round, granted both of those picks are going to be later in the first, but still first round picks none the less. They addressed a couple different areas of weakness and continued to add depth on both sides of the ball. This draft to me was a risky/average draft that didn’t shock me and I was overall unimpressed with their selections.
Final Draft Grade: C+
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1. (Round 1, Pick 12) DT Vita Vea, Washington- This pick was an ok pick in my book, but was not the best that it could’ve been. Vea is a massive, athletic mauler who will no doubt eat up space in the middle of the field. The Bucs upgraded their d-line this offseason adding Vinny Curry and Jason Pierre-Paul, so adding Vea to this line is no doubt going to make them a formidable front, but with the likes of Derwin James still on the board, this wasn’t the best possible pick for them.
2. (Round 2, Pick 6) RB Ronald Jones II, USC- The Bucs have not had a formidable run game in years, since the Muscle Hamster himself Doug Martin. Jones was a very good runner during his time at USC, and showcased his speed and agility very well. If he can become a receiving threat out of the backfield and be productive on the ground, this offense might finally be able to live to expectations.
3. (Round 2, Pick 21) CB MJ Stewart, North Carolina- One of the biggest needs of the draft for the Bucs was to upgrade their secondary. They helped it here with this selection, adding someone to the secondary to help out aging Brent Grimes and up and coming Vernon Hargreaves. This is a little later than I had hoped they’d address the secondary, but it is a good start.
4. (Round 2, Pick 31) CB Carlton Davis, Auburn- Doubling up on corners here is a good move and locking down their future secondary is even better. Davis is a big physical corner who is a great compliment to newly acquired corner MJ Stewart and Hargreaves. This pick, in my opinion, is better than the previous pick. I believe he will be a great fit in this secondary, and will bring consistency to the defense.
5. (Round 3, Pick 30) OT Alex Cappa, Humboldt State- This pick was a developmental selection for their offensive line. Cappa is a physical athlete who dominated the opposition at the Senior Bowl and is a mauler on the inside. I like this pick, it is not an overly aggressive shot on a player, who if pans out, could be the future starting guard in front of your franchise quarterback and new running back.
6. (Round 4, Pick 17) S Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh- The Bucs continue to add to their secondary early in the draft. Whitehead is a athletic over the top safety who can run and cover from the deep safety position. Although it may not be of much significance, but he also the cousin of Darrelle Revis.
7. (Round 5, Pick 7) WR Justin Watson, Pennsylvania- Adding weapons around Jameis is another one of the tasks on the list for the Bucs during the draft. They added a bigger body and deep threat from the Ivy League. Watson is a sure handed guy who should add another skill position guy for Jameis Winston.
8. (Round 6, Pick 28) LB Jack Cichy, Wisconsin- The strength of this Bucs team, not just defense, may be their linebacking core. This group includes pro bowlers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David, and Kendall Beckwith that showed flashes of potential last season. With this pick the Bucs add an instinctive, physical player who has struggled to stay on the field at times. If it weren’t for the injuries, Cichy would be a lot higher draft pick, but the Bucs snagged him in the 6th round, and if he can stay healthy, he can be a very productive member of this already stout group of linebackers.
Summary of Draft: This draft for the Buccaneers was a solid all around draft, they addressed a number of needs and filled a couple of holes on both sides of the ball. They made some questionable decisions early in the draft, passing on players like Derwin James in the first and Isaiah Oliver in the second. They left a lot of talent on the board, but also made some very impactful selections. I like the way they decided to approach the draft and not only fill holes in the roster, but also lock down a few positions such as, d-line, corner, and running back. Overall this draft was a good step in the right direction for a team that has struggled in recent years.
Final Draft Grade: B+