2015 Draft Needs: NFC South
The 2015 NFL draft is finally at hand and here at PFF we are more prepared for it than we’ve ever been. In tallying a full season of FBS data we’ve been able to present you with tons of info at our College Football Focus home page on the soon-to-be NFL rookies that will soon be appearing at training camps across the league.
Armed with this information we’re suggesting viable targets at key positions of need for all the teams, here for the NFC South:
Early Round Target: Shane Ray, Missouri
Failure to pressure the opposing quarterbacks was one of the many downfalls the Falcons had last season. Players like Adrian Clayborn are not the solution to their edge defending woes. Shane Ray could provide the necessary explosiveness, especially from the LEO position. His pass rushing grade was the second highest in the class.
Early Round Target: Damarious Randall, Arizona State
New Falcons head coach Dan Quinn looks to transition the defense to the Cover-1/3 heavy scheme he ran while in Seattle. Strong safety William Moore is a good fit for the scheme but his penchant for injury is a concern. Randall possesses both speed and physicality at the free safety position. His seven passes defensed this season was second-most among safeties.
Early Round Target: Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
Matt Ryan was one of the most pressured quarterbacks last season, something that needs to be shored up in the upcoming draft. Kouandjio might not wow with his abilities but was a consistent player at a top school who regularly faced top talent. Last season he only allowed pressure on 1.2% of his pass blocks (third among guards) and gave up zero sacks.
Early Round Target: Andrus Peat, Stanford
The Panthers offensive line needs to make life easier for Cam Newton–as a unit they allowed the fourth-most quarterback hurries. Especially weak at the tackle position, they should look to draft Peat. He’s a good run blocker although not as strong at the second-level. Peat only allowed pressure on 97.5% of his pass blocks, fifth-best for tackles.
Early Round Target: Preston Smith, Mississippi State
While Charles Johnson is the anchor on the interior defensive line, the Panthers need to complement him with an edge defender to lighten the load. Smith is a consistent player and also has the ability to move inside in passing situations. Last season, Smith had the eighth-best Run Stop Percentage (7.8%) for 4-3 ends.
Early Round Target: Tony Lippett, Michigan State
Kelvin Benjamin put up numbers as the Panthers number one receiver last year, but he was forced into the role because of the dearth of talent surrounding him. While he may not be the best of route runners, Lippett is sure-handed dropping only two passes last year. Lippett could be had in a middle round and immediately be their No. 2 receiver.
New Orleans Saints
Early Round Target: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
The Saints are known for their offensive perimeter weapons but the departures of Graham and Stills leaves a sizeable void. In a receiver-flush draft, they could be looking at a player like Strong who can make plays at the catch point. Strong led the class with a 4.06 YPRR from the slot.
Early Round Target: Carl Davis, Iowa
Teams can never have too many interior defenders to pressure the likes of a Matt Ryan off their spot. Davis can bring versatility being able to play the 1- or 3-tech. He has all the tools—it just needs to be put together by the right staff. Davis applied quarterback pressure on 12.3% of his pass rushes, second-best for 3-4 ends.
Early Round Target: Nick O’Leary, Florida State
With two third-round picks, New Orleans can again add to both sides of their team. The Saints need to fill the tight end-playmaking spot but there isn’t anyone worthy of their higher draft picks. O’Leary has great hands and could be had after the first wave of tight ends. He only had one drop in 49 catchable balls last season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Early Round Target: Jameis Winston, Florida State
Head coach Lovie Smith inherited quarterback Mike Glennon and with the first overall pick for 2015, his staff will surely want to pick “their guy”. The frontrunner is quarterback Jameis Winston but he does come with a few caveats. The divide between his 2013 and 2014 performance certainly warrants some hesitation, but some of that could be attributed to the departure of Kelvin Benjamin. However, there is little question that he indeed has talent–Winston completed 56 passes under pressure, 10 more than any other QB.
Early Round Target: Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA
The Bucs need an edge defender to complement their interior superstar Gerald McCoy. Odighizuwa would fit well in the cover-2 scheme utilizing his athleticism and power. Even though he played a lot of 4/5 technique at UCLA last season, Odighizuwa was extremely productive with the third-most run stops for 3-4 ends (24).
Early Round Target: Anthony Harris, Virginia
Along with middle linebacker, the safeties are just as key in the Cover-2 scheme. The overall playmaking at the safety position really dropped off at the end of Smith’s tenure in Chicago. Harris would be a good target for the Bucs in the third round as he is good both in coverage and space. Even with 12 missed tackles against the run last year, he still had 19 run stops, tied for fourth-most for safeties.