Feb 26, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly speaks at a press conference during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE
Only two of the NFC South's four teams actually had draft picks last night. They achieved what I would charitably term mixed results.
The Falcons, you'll remember, traded their first rounder in exchange for Julio Jones a year ago. The Saints, meanwhile, swapped theirs out for disappointing rookie but still promising running back Mark Ingram. That left the Panthers and Buccaneers to do all the damage.
Like I said, mixed results. The Panthers stood pat and drafted a terrific tackler who may not have been the position fit they needed. The Buccaneers traded both up and down and got an overrated safety and an underrated running back.
Let's take a quick, closer look at what each of these teams ended up with.
The team traded down to the seventh pick to grab safety Mark Barron. Barron's a quality safety with classic thumping ability, but as the seventh pick in the draft he's a bit of a reach in my book. I don't think he significantly improves a Buccaneers pass defense that was as inconsistent as they come last year, but the Bucs had nothing at safety.
Given the need and the Bucs' very real tackling woes, Barron's a solid pick. I think he was a reach and I think he's overrated, but that doesn't preclude him from being a good player. He is a good player.
The second pick, meanwhile, saw the Bucs trade up to the 31st pick to get running back Doug Martin. Short at 5'9" but powerfully built and possessing all-around talent, Martin is instantly the team's best back and an upgrade for an anemic rushing attack. Martin is severely underrated in my book, and the Bucs knew they had to upgrade their ground game in case Josh Freeman & Friends flounder again.
On the other hand, I don't know that they needed to trade up to get him. We'll likely hear more about that soon.
It's tough to argue that the Buccaneers didn't make improvements here. With Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, Barron and Martin on board, they probably will be a hell of a lot tougher in 2012. I still don't think they're playoff bound.
The Panthers had a much quieter draft. With the ninth overall pick, they went hard for Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.
There's no question that Kuechly is the best tackler in the draft and a hell of a middle linebacker. The Panthers have gotten by for years with chronically injured players like Dan Morgan and Thomas Davis, so this was a legitimate need on those merits. If Davis happens to be healthy, Kuechly isn't quite as much of a value, but he's a great player. No ifs or buts about it.
Yet I'm still confused. The Panthers had major needs at receiver, along the offensive line, at defensive tackle and arguably in the secondary. Kuechly is incredibly talented, but it's fair to wonder if he's a true three-down player at the NFL level, and the Panthers don't lack for talent at linebacker when the stars align. When I say fair to wonder, I should note, it's based solely on my opinion of Kuechly. Many pundits and fans think he's stellar back there, and you'll probably want to trust them over me.
Time will tell with this one, but the Panthers did hedge their bets and potentially create a nightmare for NFC South running backs.
What do you think of these picks?