Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer
With draft night only a day away, I want to turn our attention from our Atlanta Falcons and towards their rivals. What have the rest of the Falcons’ division foes been up to this offseason? What draft strategies may be employed by the Buccaneers, Saints, & Panthers? Here’s a few thoughts on the interdivision rivals as well as the landscape within the division as I see it.
cover32 Exclusive: Part 2 of the Raiders’ interview with Las Vegas Mayor, Carolyn Goodman
NFL Draft Prospect Spotlight: Exclusive one-on-one interview with Eastern Illinois WR prospect, Isaiah Nelson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I’m not sure how focused the Bucs will be on the 2017 draft. They will be busy getting thier makeup done and 8×10 glossy headshots printed off. Appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks will be a major challenge right off the bat for the Bucs and head coach Dirk Koetter. Koetter faces the difficulty in keeping the team focused and being sure they have adequate preparation time. Head coaches traditionally despise the cameras and the loss of privacy that comes with agreeing to participate in a behind the scenes training camp documentary. Koetter & Bucs’ defensive coordinator Mike Smith, both experienced Hard Knocks when with the Falcons, so maybe they will have a better handle on things the second time around.
One thing I can tell you, the Bucs will not select a field goal kicker in the second round. Or will they (Aguayo is on the hotseat)?
The Bucs have played the role of many experts “sleeper team” during the past two seasons once they drafted their franchise quarterback Jameis Winston. Once again, they’ll be a trendy playoff pick, and, I believe, are the Falcons biggest competition within the division.
While they can’t sink any more big money into their offensive line, right tackle remains a big weakness that they should address. Also, safety Chris Conti is average at best. Unless a major offensive weapon like running back Dalvin Cook is still on the board at pick nineteen, expect them to try and fill one of those spots.
New Orleans Saints
Big news that recently broke involves the signing of Adrian Peterson AKA AD. I’m not sure I buy the impact that some say Peterson will bring to the Saints. He was on the market for quite some time and visited with teams much closer to championship caliber, yet signed for below market value. Yikes.
The league’s mindset has changed very much in recent years on aging running backs, especially over thirty. Peterson is freakishly talented, but how much does he have left in the tank? Mark Ingram is a solid pass catching running back that makes perfect sense in the “pass first” offense lead by Drew Brees. For some reason, Saints’ head coach Sean Payton doesn’t want to utilize Ingram’s abilities, so it’s likely that he’ll rely on an aging Peterson to continue to defy nature (which is extremely unlikely).
My bigger question is how will the Saints continue to work salary cap magic? I’m no expert, but general manager Mickey Loomis and Payton have no extra room to spend, even before counting rookie contracts that will be on the books following the draft. Drew Brees is aging and the front office is trying to create a “one last ride scenario”, but that seems to be their all too familiar battle cry for the past few seasons. Defense is the biggest need for the Saints come draft day, since they chose to go with a patchwork fix at linebacker this offseason.
At the end of March, it was announced that Cam Newton underwent shoulder surgery for partially torn rotator cuff. I’m not sure why there was a delay in not having the procedure right away, but that delay may come back to haunt the Panthers. Newton’s play was less than stellar in 2016, and a shortened offseason program with a shorter training camp might not do the Panthers any favors on offense. Newton is not a prototypical NFL quarterback, relying heavily on his running ability, so it’ll be interesting to see how he recovers.
A healthy Luke Kuechly is also a necessity for Carolina. Kuechly is the straw that stirs the drink as they say. He is the leader of the Panther defense. But outside of him and fellow first round linebacker Shaq Thompson, the defense is getting long in the tooth.
Rumors heading into draft night surrounding the Panthers continue to focus on getting Newton more help, specifically at running back. Running backs Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Cook have all been mocked to the Panthers at the eighth pick. But don’t be surprised to see them take Alabama tight end O.J. Howard or one of the many defensive linemen.
As downtown Philadelphia gears up for draft night, the Falcons division opponents are going to keep trying to give the current NFC Champs a run for their money.