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2015 NFL Draft – NFC South Draft Grades

The NFC South is still wide open, and the NFL Draft could have changed the dynamic of the division.

Pat Donovan



Carolina Panthers

Panthers’ selections:

Round 1 – Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington

Round 2 – Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan

Round 4 – Daryl Williams, G, Oklahoma

Round 5 – David Mayo, LB, Texas State

Round 5 – Cameron Artis-Payne

Pick Value Grade Day 1 – C

Washington’s Shaq Thompson is an explosive defender, but many NFL teams seemed to be torn on whether or not to play him at safety or at linebacker. At just 6-feet-tall, and 228-pounds, Thompson is an undersized linebacker who was a bit of a reach with the 25th pick in the draft.

Thompson’s physical ability may have those of us who have questioned this pick eating our words, as he’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays playing next to great Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. If Thompson can show he won’t get swallowed up by NFL blockers, he’s got the speed and ability to become a major part of the Panthers defense.

Pick Value Grade Day 2 – C

Carolina only had one second day pick, and they used it to draft another big possession receiver in Devin Funchess. Funchess is a quality player, but it was a surprise the Panthers didn’t try to find a receiver with more speed.

Carolina will be tough to defend with Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin, but they could have really used a guy who can take the top off of a defense. Funchess is slow enough that there was some question if he might play tight end, and the Panthers just don’t have a burner who will strike fear in their opponents. Like Thompson before him, Funchess has an opportunity to prove he’s worthy of the selection, but it once again felt like they could have used the pick more wisely.

Pick Value Grade Day 3 – B+

Day-3 was the Panthers best day of the draft, as they selected players who could be long-term answers in rounds where you usually don’t find that kind of player.

Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne should be able to step in at running back and provide depth and spell Jonathan Stewart immediately, and Oklahoma guard Daryl Williams is the kind of big horse that teams like Carolina love to run behind. The Panthers selected their best players early in the draft, but they experienced their best value on Day-3.

Overall Grade – C

Atlanta Falcons

Falcons’ selections

Round 1 – Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson

Round 2 – Jalen Collins, CB, LSU

Round 3 – Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

Round 4 – Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina

Round 5 – Grady Jarrett, NT, Clemson

Round 5 – Jake Rodgers, OT, Eastern Washington

Round 5 – Akeem King, DB, San Jose State

Pick Value Grade Day 1 – B+

A 4-3 team like the Atlanta Falcons would probably prefer that Vic Beasley were a little bigger and stronger, but Beasley was one of the most explosive edge pass rushers in the draft, and fills a huge need for a Falcons team that had very little success getting to the quarterback.

There’s a good chance that Beasley starts his career as a situational pass rusher, as it’s likely NFL lineman will push him around in the run game, but he’s still a player who could develop into a pro-bowl defensive end.

Pick Value Grade Day 2 – A+

When you can pick up two players who might start for you in year-1 on the second day of the draft, you’ve done about as well as you can do, and that’s exactly what Atlanta did.

Many had LSU corner Jalen Collins pegged as a first-round pick, but he slid into the second, and Atlanta got themselves a steal. Collins probably has as much upside as Michigan State corner Trae Waynes, who went 11th-overall to the Minnesota Vikings, but Collins only started 10 games at LSU. Collins should be able to step in and compete right away for the Falcons and new head coach Dan Quinn.

The Falcons landed another potential starter in round-3 when they selected Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. The super-speedy Indiana back will push second-year back Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith for Carries immediately.

Pick Value Grade Day 3 – B

Day-3 started with Atlanta drafting yet another player who could make an impact in 2015 when they drafted nose tackle Grady Jarrett out of Clemson to team up with Beasley again, but it ended with a couple of guys who may not make the roster in round-7. The Falcons are talented enough that seventh-round selections will have to work hard to make their team, but they’re a team that had some definite holes to fill, and did a great job of filling them in the first five rounds of the draft.

Overall Grade – A

 New Orleans Saints

Saints’ selections

Round 1 – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Round 1 – Stephone Anthony, ILB, Clemson

Round 2 – Hau’oli Kikaha, OLB, Washington

Round 3 – Garrett Grayson, QB, Colorado State

Round 3 – P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State

Round 5 – Davis Tull, OLB, Tennessee-Chattanooga

Round 5 – Tyeler Davison, DT, Fresno State

Round 5 – Damian Swann, CB, Georgia

Round 7 – Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri


Pick Value Grade Day 1 – B-

The New Orleans Saints have enough holes that they need some rookies to come in and contribute right away, and it’s unclear if they came away with many, despite having two first-round selections.

For a guy who’s 6-foot-7 and 313-pounds, Stanford’s Andrus Peat looks a little lanky, and there has to be concerns that NFL defensive ends are going to be able to drive this young man right back into his quarterback. There’s a lot of talk about Peat’s upside, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him struggle early.

The Saints spent their second first-round selection on Clemson inside linebacker Stephone Anthony, which had many scratching their heads. Anthony is expected to start right away for New Orleans, but his production in college wasn’t as impressive as his combine, and there were much more productive players available at the position. It’s really difficult to like what the Saints did in Round-1.

Pick Value Grade Day 2 – C

The Saints second-round pick, linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha is my favorite of their draft. Kikaha is a high-motor guy who will add great energy to a struggling defense, and will find his way to the quarterback. I’m as confident that Kikaha will contribute as I am either of the first-round guys.

New Orleans’ other two Day-2 picks weren’t quite as exciting. P.J. Williams will add depth to a defensive backfield that needs it, but Garrett Grayson won’t help the Saints in 2015 at all. It is certainly getting close to the time to start thinking about Drew Brees’ eventual replacement, but is Grayson really that guy?

Unless the Saints believe their championship window with Brees has closed, this pick is puzzling. The Saints operate like a team that can’t decide if they’re rebuilding or chasing a title, and that will probably leave them right around where they’ve been, mediocre. At the end of the day, New Orleans had two first-round picks and two third-round picks. They should have done much better than they did with those selections.

Pick Value Grade Day 3 – C+

The Saints continued their trend of underwhelming drafting on Day-3, selecting special teams contributors and players who will need to develop before playing a major role.

Tyeler Davison of Fresno State could develop into a contributor on the defensive side of the ball, and the Saints will probably find a role out of the backfield for Marcus Murphy, but much like the rest of this draft for New Orleans, there isn’t a pick that jumps out at you as a great one.

Overall Grade – C+

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers’ selections

Round 1 – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Round 2 – Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State

Round 2 – Ali Marpet, G, Hobart & William Smith

Round 4 –Kwon Alexander, OLB, LSU

Round 5 – Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

Round 6 – Kaelin Clay, WR, Utah

Round 7 – Joey Iosefa, FB, Hawaii

Pick Value Grade Day 1 – A+

For the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jameis Winston is a perfect fit. Very few NFL franchises have had less success, and less success at finding a quarterback, than the Buccaneers.

Suddenly Tampa Bay has a charismatic, signal caller who’s ready to lead. Winston showed off those leadership skills when the quarterback arrived for minicamp before any of the Buccaneer rookies, and then stood outside the facility welcoming in all of his new teammates. It was a small gesture, but another sign of the kind of comradery this player was able to build with so many of his teammates at Florida State, and is already working towards building with his new Buccaneer teammates.

A lot of NFL clubs made themselves better in the NFL Draft, but it would be very difficult to think of a better fit than Jameis and the Buccaneers.

Pick Value Grade Day 2 – B+

As poorly as the Buccaneers quarterbacks preformed in 2014, the biggest area of weakness for Tampa Bay was across the offensive line, where a lack of talent, and poor play calling often had the offense looking pathetic.

Tampa Bay knew that if they were going to draft a quarterback to rebuild around, they had to get him some help on the offensive line, and the Bucs did that twice in Round-2, selecting Penn State’s Donovan Smith, and one of the better stories of the NFL Draft, Division III Hobart’s Ali Marpet.

Marpet is a big, strong athlete with great feet, who the Buccaneers are planning on moving to guard. Marpet flew up draft boards after opening eyes at the Senior Bowl, and blowing people away at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Many believe Smith is a prototypical right tackle, but the Buccaneers are going to give him a chance to prove he can play on the left side as he did at Penn State. Smith may have been a first-round guy had he chose to return to Penn State for his final year of eligibility, but the 6-foot-6, 338-pound tackle decided to enter the draft, and helped his stock by pushing guys around at the Senior Bowl.

Pick Value Grade Day 3 – A

Day-3 is what sealed this as a potentially great draft for the Buccaneers. While fourth-round pick Kwon Alexander will likely be a special teams contributor, the Buccaneers drafted players that could have a major impact in 2015 in each of their final three rounds.

Tampa Bay selected a pair of receivers in rounds five and six, and each of them has a shot to be a big time contributor this season.

Sixth-round selection Kaelin Clay probably won’t get many chances on offense, but could be the teams’ return specialist when the season begins, and general manager Jason Licht says he’ll have a shot to earn the job as the punt returner and kick-off returner.

In the fifth, the Bucs selected Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell, and Bell has a shot to steal the slot job right away. Bell was a captain at Nebraska, and is a competitor with soft hands, and was a great value in Round-5.

Tampa Bay’s seventh-round selection, Hawaii’s Joey Iosefa will have an opportunity to battle incumbent Jorvorskie Lane for the starting fullback position.

Overall Grade A+


Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.

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