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NFC South Goes Defense-Heavy in 2016 NFL Draft

A quick glance around NFL rosters shows the NFC South boasts a high number of skill position players. Each team in the division has a franchise quarterback; talented wide receivers, tight ends and running backs are dotted throughout all four depth charts, as well.

This talent is evident on the stat sheet: In 2015, every NFC South offense finished in the top 11 in yards per game, two were in the top 10 in scoring and two were in the top 10 in passing yards. So it should be no surprise that the Falcons, Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers focused on defense at last month's draft.

Atlanta bolstered its secondary and front seven, adding safety Keanu Neal and linebackers Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell. Carolina tabbed defensive tackle Vernon Butler at No. 30 overall and followed that up by taking three cornerbacks.

New Orleans used two of its first three picks on defense—DT Sheldon Rankins and S Vonn Bell—and drafted intriguing defensive end David Onyemata in the fourth round.  Tampa Bay used its pair of top 40 choices on CB Vernon Hargreaves and DE Noah Spence, then acquired CB Ryan Smith and LB Devante Bond in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively.

As Scott Smith of pointed out, no division used a higher percentage of picks on defense than the NFC South. All of those four used its first round selections on D, and in the top two rounds, 14 of 25 of the division's choices were on defensive prospects.

"When we kicked this off over the last few months, we were really focused on trying to ramp up this defense and really trying to have a presence on this defense, both a physical presence and a versatile presence in both the run and the pass game," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said following the 2016 draft. "And that was a very important part of our approach to how we were going to add to this defense."

It'll be interesting to see how these moves pan out. Aside from Drew Brees, who's now 37, the division's starting QBs will be leading their respective teams for a long time. And they'll be joined by the likes of Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen, Brandin Cooks, Doug Martin, etc.

Based on how the draft went, NFC South front offices agree that a strong defense will be needed to overcome their biggest rivals.

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