Every year the draft comes and goes with analysts and draftniks alike rushing to put a letter grade on each teams draft, despite the overwhelming fact that it will take years to determine their level of success. Instead of attempting to predict the future, the goal is to analyze various aspects of each divisions draft class. Focusing on which players are in the most advantageous positions and which players could be looking at early struggles. Next up, the NFC South:
Top Contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year
Mike Glennon – QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers #73 Overall
Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano used the 73rd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to send a message to quarterback Josh Freeman, shape up or ship out. While Mike Glennon is clearly behind Freeman on the depth chart, he has a strong chance at seeing the field this season while at the helm of one of the NFL’s emerging offenses. The 6’7 Glennon dealt with consistency issues while at North Carolina State but has as much throwing talent, if not more, than any other 2013 prospect. A strong running game featuring 2nd year pro Doug Martin could help ease Glennon into the offense, while Tampa’s talented receiving corps does some damage downfield. In a division that went defense heavy, Glennon and Atlanta 3rd string tight end Levine Toilolo are the only offensive rookies capable of making much noise in the NFC South.
Top Contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year
Kenny Vaccaro – S, New Orleans Saints #15 Overall
New Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan prefers versatile safeties in his aggressive 3-4 scheme, and former Texas Longhorn Kenny Vaccaro certainly fits the bill. Vaccaro is a very smooth athlete who can make plays in both coverage and run support, he’s a proto-type free safety in terms of size, range, and athleticism. His arrival could push former 2009 1st round pick Malcolm Jenkins back to cornerback, and even if a starting job is not earned Vaccaro will get plenty of reps as the rotational 3rd safety behind Jenkins and Roman Harper. With an assortment of blitz packages in Ryan’s arsenal, the opportunistic Vaccaro should see plenty of opportunities to get this hands on the football.
Best Schematic Fit
Star Lotulelei – DT, Carolina Panthers #14 Overall
The Carolina Panthers new general manager Dave Gettleman knew that in order to maximize the production of 2012 Defensive Rookie of the Year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, he had to add some size and talent at defensive tackle to keep him clean. Gettleman hit on both with the powerful and versatile Star Lotulelei, a 6’2 and 320 lb. nose tackle out of Utah. Deceptively athletic and very tough to move at the point of attack, Lotulelei and fellow 2013 draftee Kawann Short will join incumbent starter Sione Fua in the Panthers improved defensive tackle rotation. With a trio of talented defensive ends Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, and Frank Alexander, the Panthers front 4 is now among the leagues youngest and most intriguing groups. The Panthers had better hope their front 4 can control the trenches and put heat on opposing quarterbacks in order to make life easier for one of the leagues worst secondaries.
Desmond Trufant – CB, Atlanta Falcons #22 Overall
Desmond Trufant will be entering training camp as the right cornerback starting opposite of veteran Asante Samuel. The feisty and aggressive Trufant has great feet and exceptional quickness, he also plays with supreme confidence and has a short memory. Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith will be giving Trufant the “trial by fire” treatment as the Super Bowl contending Falcons will be facing off against quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Cam Newton twice, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III with Trufant matching up against some of the most talented receivers in the league considering that Samuel does not shadow opposing #1 wide receivers, only playing the left side.. The Falcons can not afford for Trufant to come along slowly, every game matters in the deep and competitive NFC and the Falcons will be looking to once again claim home field advantage.
Under the Radar Impact Player
Levine Toilolo – TE, Atlanta Falcons #133 Overall
Levine Toilolo has a long way to go before he is considered an option as the heir to Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta. In the meantime, the 6’8 and athletic Toilolo should make for a very difficult red zone match up for opposing defensive coordinators, while getting plenty of looks in the Falcons pass heavy attack. With so much defensive emphasis placed on quarterback Matt Ryan, Gonzalez, and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White in the passing game, Toilolo should be left one on one with a linebacker or a safety in most cases. Advantage Falcons.
Biggest Reach and Highest Bust Potential
Terron Armstead – OT, New Orleans Saints #75 Overall
Terron Armstead has gone from an intriguing mid round pick from small school Arkansas Pine-Bluff to the likely opening day starter at left tackle for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense. The talented but raw tackle leveraged a strong Shrine game into an appearance at the Senior Bowl, after a dynamite combine performace his stock sky rocketed and landed him in New Orleans on the draft’s second day. Armstead will battle the disappointing Charles Brown and former Rams bust Jason Smith for the left tackle job, but would be better off red-shirting his rookie season.
Best 2nd Round Pick
Kawann Short – DT, Carolina Panthers #44 Overall
Kawann Short was the 2nd defensive tackle the Panthers added on draft weekend, but when motivated is one of the most disruptive players in the class. Great size and fantastic quickness, Short is a great fit as a 3 technique inside the Panthers 4-3 defense. He will provide an excellent interior rush presence next to the mammoth Star Lotulelei. Short fell out of round 1 due to concerns about his effort and consistency at Purdue, but surrounding him with high character effort guys like Jon Beason, Luke Kuechly, and Charles Johnson should keep him focused and motivated. The Panthers interior pass rush was in dire need of a playmaker and Short will be counted on to improve it.
Best 3rd Round Pick
John Jenkins – NT, New Orleans Saints #82 Overall
While his size(6’4, 355 lbs.) is imposing, the scariest part about John Jenkins game is that he was athletic enough to play 5 technique in Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. Despite the unusual quickness, Jenkins will line up at nose for the Saints and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and should be in line for a large role early in the process. Jenkins will battle Broderick Bunkley for reps at nose tackle but should ultimately form a timeshare with the former Eagle and Bronco. Eventually, Jenkins should be an excellent fit in the middle of an active and athletic New Orleans front featuring rising players Cameron Jordan, Martez Wilson, and Junior Galette. The inside linebacker trio of Jonathan Vilma, Curtis Lofton, and David Hawthorne should also have a much easier time roaming sideline to sideline and staying clear of offensive lineman with the gigantic former Bulldog tying up blockers. If Jenkins can keep his weight in check and his effort level high, the Saints will have stolen their defensive centerpiece of the future.
Best 4th Round Pick
William Gholston – DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers #126 Overall
Despite solid numbers from Gholston, the former prized recruit ended his Spartans career somewhat of a disappointment. At 6’6, 280 lbs and very athletic, Gholston never became a consistent pass rushing threat in East Lansing. Instead, he developed into one of the more versatile strong side defensive ends in the country and even offers some unique interior rush ability in passing situations. With Da’Quan Bowers, Adrian Clayborn, and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim ahead of him on the depth chart, Gholston will have to work his way into the rotation. But remember, all 3 of those players have struggled with injuries and consistency in their brief NFL careers so Gholston may be pressed into a more prominent role earlier than most are expecting.
Best 5th Round Pick
Stansly Maponga – DE, Atlanta Falcons #153 Overall
March foot surgery has put the 2013 season into question for Maponga, while he is expected to be healthy enough to participate a few weeks into training camp his impact may not be felt until 2014. Maponga’s surgery was for a foot injury which plagued him his entire junior season and led to disappointing results after Maponga entered 2012 in the spotlight after finishing his sophomore season with 13.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks. A short, compact, and powerful edge rusher, Maponga has an excellent motor and terrific closing instincts. He should factor into the discussion as a pass rush specialist as soon as his health permits.
Best 6th Round Pick
Kenjon Barner – RB, Carolina Panthers #182 Overall
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman referred to Barner as a “little scatback”, when discussing the playmaking abilities of the 5’9, 196 lb former Oregon Duck and that is precisely the role he has in mind for him. Already comfortable in a spread offense similar to many of the formations run with Cam Newton at quarterback, Barner should be able to quickly find a role on passing downs. On paper Carolina has a crowded backfield at the moment, but DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both carrying big cap numbers while under performing make both backs prime candidates for the continued salary cap purge of former general manager Marty Hurney’s frivolous spending. Barner is unlikely to ever develop into a feature back, but has the skills to eventually be a key component of the Panther’s offense.
Best 7th Round Pick
Sean Renfree – QB, Atlanta Falcons #249 Overall
After studying for 3 years under quarterback guru David Cutcliffe, Duke Blue Devil Sean Renfree is one of the more NFL ready and technically sound quarterbacks in the 2013 class. He will battle with Dominique Davis for the back up job behind Matt Ryan and should lock up the job long term as soon as he recovers from the December pectoral injury which torpedoed his draft stock. Undoubtedly stuck behind Matt Ryan, Renfree does have starting potential and with a strong pre-season or two could eventually become a strong trade chip to a quarterback needy team. The Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Schaub(who was of similar talent and playing style to Renfree as a prospect) back in 2004 and eventually traded him in 2007 for multiple picks. Without looking too far ahead, Renfree is a very nice developmental back up to the durable Ryan.
UDFA Most Likely to Earn a Roster Spot
Robert Lester – S, Carolina Panthers
Robert Lester had a very productive career at Alabama and was a starter on 2 National Championship defenses under head coach Nick Saban. Capable of making plays in both coverage and run support, the versatile Lester’s draft weekend free fall was due to a lack of elite tools along with inconsistent play. The 6’1 220 lber looks to claim the starting strong safety position opposite free safety Charles Godfrey, and has already been receiving first teams reps in mini camps and OTA’s.