The first day of the 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, leaving us with 32 new NFL players and plenty of reasonably tempered Atlanta Falcons fans.
That’s partially in jest, with Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn throwing the fan base its annual surprise in not trading up/passing on LSU pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and taking Clemson cornerback and Atlanta native A.J. Terrell.
The move is going to be discussed ad nauseam for the next few months, but it might wind up being one of the smarter draft picks the team has made in the first round since taking Keanu Neal in 2016.
It gets a ready, potential-laden starter for a major position of need in place, doesn’t see the team leverage any future draft capital and gives them plenty of flexibility to make important picks Friday night. You may not be elated about it, but the best draft picks sometimes delay their gratification. Were any of us over the moon about that 2016 class at first?
The other rogues in the NFC South gallery also made picks. Three very good football players made their way into the division, though one was a little surprising, one saw a team pass on a potentially-generational talent and one saw a move-up for a great talent. Let’s see what they are.
Carolina Panthers - Pick 7 - DT Derrick Brown
The Panthers went with an obvious need on its roster, defensive tackle, with the selection of Derrick Brown out of Auburn. His actual NFL effectiveness is up for debate, but few would argue he’ll at least be a quality starter in the NFL. Matt Rhule prioritized size over speed, with the team, perhaps unwisely, passing on Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons. This is a very Carolina pick, as they’ve always loved defensive tackles, so Rhule’s arrival hasn’t changed everything.
Brown is going to likely be a cornerstone for that defensive line, and he’s got his vocal fans who love him on and off the field. But Simmons could’ve been the heir apparent to Luke Kuechly in terms of having an elite defender roaming the middle of the field.
It’s to the Falcons and the rest of the NFC South’s immense relief that Simmons won’t be around twice a year. We’ll see how much we dread seeing Brown coming toward Matt Ryan.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Pick 13 - T Tristan Wirfs
The Bucs swapped its next-door pick with the San Francisco 49ers to end the run on the highly-regarded tackle class with Wirfs, who should plug in on the right side. Tampa Bay has, to some, kicked open a championship window by signing former Patriots QB Tom Brady and trading for Rob Gronkowski, and adding great protection only heightens that fervor.
Wirfs is a really good football player with a high ceiling, and it’s dismaying to see, after years of offensive line malpractice, the Buccaneers actually make a wise pick up front.
The Brady experiment will either be a huge boost for Tampa or just not fulfill itself like some feel it might, and one could argue that it’s the Tampa defense that holds more promise. It’s good for everyone else the Bucs didn’t continue to add to that defensive line.
We’ll see how clears throat Tompa Bay goes, but it’ll be harder to get to Brady with Wirfs in the mix, make no mistake about it.
New Orleans Saints - Pick 24 - C/G Cesar Ruiz
This was a strange selection. Ruiz, by all accounts, is a really good offensive lineman. The Saints have a largely complete roster, but they just used a first-round pick on a guy that may not play this season.
After giving Andrus Peat a gigantic contract and drafting center Erik McCoy last year, the Saints add another highly-touted center to the mix. You could slide him in at guard on Day 1 and call it a day, or you could give him the center job and move McCoy to guard.
But what about Larry Warford? He’s only going to be 29 when the season (hopefully) starts, and now either heads to the trade block or sits on the bench as probably the best reserve offensive lineman in football. Maybe Ruiz doesn’t play on day one and waits out the remaining year of Warford’s deal.
It’s a forward-thinking move for the dreaded ‘Aints, completely pushing against the idea that this is probably Drew Brees’ last hurrah and the year to take picks that can do something now. If Brees plays in 2021, it makes more sense to keep the OL going, but why not push the chips in now by addressing a chronic defensive need, or adding more weapons for Brees and his fading arm?
So those are the picks. While the Bucs unquestionably did a nice job, the Panthers may have passed on a truly great football player and the Saints might’ve not made the best decision for 2020.
Nobody knows how any of this really goes until a few years delayed, of course, so we’ll see the effectiveness of the NFC South’s 2020 first-round class on Sundays in the years to come. As always, we don’t really wish for any success, at least not against us.