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A look at first round needs for the NFC South

Other teams have needs, too.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the Falcons and their draft needs, and very little time talking about the other three teams in the division. That’s by design—we’re a Falcons site, and the Bucs, Panthers, and Saints are the enemy and must be crushed—but I thought we’d check in on the division anyway.

Here’s a look at where the other three teams in the NFC South might go, courtesy of our Mocking The Draft writers’ mock and our lovely and talented team sites.

Buccaneers: #19

The Bucs are an enigma of a team, but their draft needs aren’t that difficult to figure out.

Tampa Bay got closer to contention than they have in years in 2016, and they have a ton of young talent in the form of Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Noah Spence, and Vernon Hargreaves, among others. This is still the team that seems most likely to push Atlanta for the NFC South crown this season, but they’re far from a finished product, and they need to make the most of their picks after their boneheaded draft day trade (and second round selection) of Roberto Aguayo a year ago.

In The Mocking The Draft effort, Bucs Nation took TE David Njoku, which I would kind of hate. In a very strong tight end class (at least at the top), Njoku stands out because of his athleticism and potential, with comparisons to Aaron Hernandez for, y’know, good reasons. If Jameis Winston can’t realize his potential with a solid offensive line and guys like Evans, Njoku, and DeSean Jackson to throw to, he might never get there.

This is a team that could still use further help along the defensive front, even with a Chris Baker signing, and still needs to answer questions about a potentially weak corps of running backs. They’re getting close, though, and a tight end like Njoku would be another step in the right direction.

Panthers: #8

Somewhat opaque for a few reasons. The Panthers were a Super Bowl team just two seasons ago, but fell off badly in 2016 for a variety of reasons that included poor offensive line play, Cam Newton suffering an injury and having a down year, and a disastrous stretch for a young secondary, including Julio Jones’ 300 yard explosion.

The Panthers are not a bad team, however. They still have Newton, an aging but effective Jonathan Stewart, some intriguing young wide receivers, Greg Olsen, and a potent front seven.

Cat Scratch Reader is keeping tabs on mocks, which see the Panthers snagging players as diverse as RB Leonard Fournette, TE O.J. Howard (their pick in the Mocking The Draft mock), WR John Ross, DE Takkarist McKinley, and DE Derek Barnett. With young cornerbacks, a huge financial investment at left tackle, and the team’s offensive scuffles, I’m willing to bet Carolina comes away with a player like Fournette.

Simply put, this is a team that can’t continue to let Cam Newton operate with a mix of old and/or ineffective weapons, and running backs who are widely seen to be top ten worthy like Fournette don’t come around every year. Expect Carolina to prioritize offensive improvement, even if their needs along the defensive line run deeper than you’d think, as well.

Saints: #11, #32

The Saints are in a better draft position than anybody else in the division, thanks to their trade of Brandin Cooks to the Patriots. They have a pick that falls just a few after the Panthers and the last one in the first round, right after the Falcons hopefully steal away a once-in-a-generation player right in front of them. Combined with a free agency class that saw them throw a lot of bodies at positions of need, there’s a real opportunity to finally turn things around for a team that has gone 7-9 for three consecutive seasons.

So who are the Saints taking?

In the Mocking The Draft writers’ mock, Canal Street Chronicles wound up with DE Derek Barnett and TE Evan Engram, and I think that’s both a good and potentially accurate haul for them. Barnett would give the team an effective complement for Cameron Jordan, and along with Sheldon Rankins, give the team some young, very promising pieces along the defensive front. The team might as well swallow hard and admit Coby Fleener was a poor signing, and Engram could eventually take over as the team’s starter while he simply splits time with Fleener in the here and now. With Cooks gone to New England, the Saints genuinely are in need of more options in the passing game. Drew Brees, remember, is 38 years old and can’t possibly keep up his customary Hall of Fame-level play forever.

The big questions in New Orleans concern whether they have enough firepower on offense and enough talent, period, on defense to contend. This early haul helps answer those questions...unfortunately.

Who do you see the underclass of the NFC South taking?