The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, and it's left a different NFC South in its wake. The paths that the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were all largely different, and they reflected the various goals of each organization.
It's been one of the more interesting offseasons in the division's recent history, which should make for a compelling 2020 football season, in the event that one does occur. We already know about the free-agent moves for each team, but let's take a closer look at how the NFC South has changed through the draft.
ATLANTA FALCONS (2019 Record: 7-9)
Key needs entering draft: CB, DL, LB
2020 draft picks:
The Falcons went into the 2020 NFL Draft knowing they needed to get better on the defensive side of the ball, and that was reflected in their draft approach. While some consider the A.J. Terrell pick a reach, he has the length, speed and zone skills the Falcons desire at cornerback. Marlon Davidson has the versatility to play inside and outside on the defensive line and will improve the pass rush. Despite playing center at Temple, Matt Hennessy will get an opportunity to win the starting left guard spot in Atlanta, which could help sure up the offensive line. Mykal Walker and Jaylinn Hawkins fit the mold of Falcons defenders, but they are more likely rotational pieces and key special teamers early in their career. Sterling Hofrichter will compete with Ryan Allen for the starting punter job, but he has great hangtime and was very productive at Syracuse.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (2019 record: 5-11)
Key needs entering the draft: DT, CB, LB
2020 draft picks:
- 1st round (No. 7) – DT Derrick Brown
- 2nd round (No. 38) – DE Yetur Gross-Matos
- 2nd round (No. 64) – S Jeremy Chinn
- 4th round (No. 113) – CB Troy Pride Jr.
- 5th round (No. 152) – S Kenny Robinson
- 6th round (No. 184) – DT Bravvion Roy
- 7th round (No. 221) – CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver III
Even more so than the Falcons, the Panthers zeroed in on one side of the ball, becoming the first team since the common draft era to use every draft pick on the defense. Carolina kicked things off by taking Derrick Brown, the top defensive tackle in this draft and a game-changer on the interior. Yetur Gross-Matos was projected to go in the first round, but he was there for the Panthers to nab in the second. Jeremy Chinn is a versatile defensive back who can play multiple spots for the defense, and he and Kenny Robinson will help sure up the back end of the secondary. Troy Pride Jr. and Stantley Thomas-Oliver III will give the Panthers more competition and depth at the cornerback spot, and Bravvion Roy will do the same at defensive tackle. For a team with a lot of holes on defense, the Panthers took a shotgun-scatter approach and added some quality players to build around.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (2019 record: 13-3)
Key needs entering the draft: WR, OG, LB
2020 draft picks:
- 1st round (No. 24) – C Cesar Ruiz
- 3rd round (No. 74) – LB Zack Baun
- 3rd round (No. 105) – TE Adam Trautman
- 7th round (No. 240) – QB Tommy Stevens
After several draft-weekend trades, the Saints ended up selecting only four guys. One of the top NFC teams over the past few seasons, New Orleans obviously valued quality over quantity in this draft. Cesar Ruiz was considered one of the top interior offensive linemen in this draft, and although it wasn't necessarily a need for the Saints, they felt it important to add depth and competition there. Zack Baun was largely projected to go in the first round, himself, and he was a terrific value add for the Saints in the third round. He fills a big need for New Orleans and has T.J. Watt-type versatility. Adam Trautman is another player who was projected to go fairly high, and there's a lot to like about the former Dayton tight end. He will give Drew Brees another weapon in the passing game and contribute as a blocker. Although listed at quarterback, Tommy Stevens is a pure athlete. He can run with the ball and even contribute as a receiver – sound familiar?
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2019 record: 7-9)
Key needs entering the draft: OT, RB, DT
2020 draft picks:
- 1st round (No. 13) – OT Tristan Wirfs
- 2nd round (No. 45) – S Antoine Winfield Jr.
- 3rd round (No. 76) – RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn
- 5th round (No. 161) – WR Tyler Johnson
- 6th round (No. 194) – DT Khalil Davis
- 7th round (No. 241) – LB Chapelle Russell
- 7th round (No. 245) – RB Raymond Calais
The Buccaneers had some of the biggest splashes this offseason with the addition of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. In the first round of the draft, Tampa Bay added Tristan Wirfs, one of the top tackle prospects, to provide extra protection for Brady. They then added one of the top playmakers in the draft in Antoine Winfield Jr, who is as polished a safety prospect as there is. Running back Ke'Shawn Vaugh and receiver Tyler Johnson will help provide extra offensive options for the Buccaneers, although neither are true impact players. In the final two rounds of the draft, the Buccaneers added more depth pieces on both sides of the ball. Tampa Bay started this draft off strong, and the selections of Wirfs and Winfield should go a very long way. In the span of one offseason, perhaps no team has undergone as much of a transformation at key positions as Tampa Bay.