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2024 NFL Draft Wish List: NFC South

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The NFC South was probably the least exciting division in football last year, but it’s definitely on the rise. Tampa Bay is coming off an NFC Divisional Round appearance and managed to retain their key free agents. And, of course, the Atlanta Falcons made the splash of free agency when they signed Kirk Cousins to a massive deal.

What should the Bucs, Falcons, Saints and Panthers be looking to do during the NFL Draft? Let’s take a closer look.

(Check out the NFL Draft Wish List series: AFC EastNFC EastAFC NorthNFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC West)

2024 NFL Draft Wish List: NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • First pick: 1st round, 26th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 1
  • Total selections: 7

This draft could have been a lot more interesting for Tampa Bay if their offseason went a bit differently. However, the team re-signed Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans and Lavonte David, all of whom could have gone elsewhere. Still, this team has multiple positions to address with their seven current selections.

Let’s start with the interior offensive line. I’m sure they would absolutely love it if center Jackson Powers-Johnson fell to 26th overall, especially since he also has experience at right guard. And if he somehow makes it to them, the Bucs would likely sprint the card up to the podium. Tampa Bay hasn’t really been able to replace Ryan Jensen since his retirement and while Robert Hainsey has been solid at center, he is also set to hit free agency following the 2024-25 campaign. And staying with the interior offensive line, keep an eye on Christian Haynes with Tampa Bay’s second-round selection (57th overall).

The Bucs will also take a long look at the linebacker position, especially with David at the age of 34 and on just a one-year deal. I’m not sure we see a linebacker drafted in the first round this year, but if anyone is, it’ll be Payton Wilson from NC State. He is an older prospect (24 when the season starts) but has size, length and athleticism. Still, it seems more likely the Bucs address the interior offensive line or defensive line at 26th overall. There is a chance someone like Laiatu Latu falls to them due to medical reasons. Latu had a neck injury back in 2020 that legitimately could have ended his football career. But the talent and upside is not at all in question. Latu has an array of pass rush moves, paired with terrific explosiveness.

Finally, the Bucs could try to add more to the running back room. Sean Tucker was signed as an undrafted free agent last year, and the Bucs re-signed Chase Edmonds this offseason. And while Rachaad White had a very good fantasy football season, he wasn’t the most efficient on a pure rush basis. In fact, White averaged -0.41 rushing yards over expected per attempt, the sixth-lowest mark among qualified running backs.

Atlanta Falcons

  • First pick: 1st round, 8th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 1
  • Total selections: 8

It has been a fun offseason for the Falcons, who now don’t have to even worry about drafting a quarterback in April’s draft. Kirk Cousins is now at the helm, which has elevated the expectations of not just this offense, but the entire team. The chalk for Atlanta at eighth overall has been edge, and specifically, Alabama’s Dallas Turner. In 2023, the Falcons’ defense improved, especially against the run, but still struggled to get after the quarterback. They posted the league’s eighth-lowest adjusted sack rate (6.8%) and clearly need more help in that department. Turner added some power to his game and has long arms to disrupt offensive linemen. Perhaps Atlanta likes Jared Verse more, who has great athleticism and an explosive first step. But unless they go all-in on offense and add Rome Odunze to their improved receiver room (which I honestly wouldn’t hate), it seems likely the Falcons improve their pass rush in Round 1.

Atlanta also has a second and two third-rounders in this draft, allowing them to add to this defense. I expect them to draft a corner with one of those picks, especially since their new defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake is a former defensive backs coach. The Falcons have a strong CB1 in A.J. Terrell, but behind him, we are looking at sophomore Clark Phillips (who I actually love), Antonio Hamilton, Kevin King and Natrone Brooks. Last year, Atlanta deployed man coverage at the highest rate in the league (40%) but we don’t know what their defense will look like in 2024. If the Falcons plan on playing man coverage again, perhaps Kamari Lassiter or T.J. Tampa could be on their radar. But if there is a pivot to more zone coverage, Ennis Rakestraw or Mike Sainristil might make more sense.

New Orleans Saints

  • First pick: 1st round, 14th overall
  • Total first-rounders: 1
  • Total selections: 9

New Orleans has nine selections in this draft, though seven of them come 150th overall and later. At 14th overall, offensive tackle is the likely target for the Saints, especially with Ryan Ramczyk suffering a setback with his knee injury. But on top of that, Trevor Penning has had an awful start to his NFL career. I’d honestly be pretty surprised if one of Taliese Fuaga, Troy Fautanu or Olumuyiwa Fashanu weren’t on the Saints by the end of the first round. For me, the real question is what do the Saints do with their second-round selection? If I had to guess, it would be a wide receiver or a defensive lineman. With Michael Thomas released, the Saints currently have Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed and A.T. Perry leading their receiver room. At 45th overall, wideouts such as Roman Wilson, Xavier Legette, Ricky Pearsall and Keon Coleman should be available to the Saints.

Carolina Panthers

  • First pick: 2nd round, 33rd overall
  • Total first-rounders: 0
  • Total selections: 7

After trading for Bryce Young, the Panthers don’t have a first-rounder in this year’s draft, though they do have a pair of high second-round picks. Simply put, the draft should be about putting Young in the best possible situation to find success in his sophomore season. They got off to a good start this offseason, hiring Dave Canales, trading for Diontae Johnson and signing guards Robert Hunt and Damien Lewis. But the Panthers need more. According to FTN Data, Young averaged 1.63 yards of separation per pass attempt last year, the fourth-worst mark among quarterbacks. So if I’m Carolina, I go out and try drafting Troy Franklin or Ladd McConkey at 33rd overall, both of whom give the Panthers speed and strong release packages off the line of scrimmage.

Player Team Average Separation Per Attempt
Bailey Zappe NE 1.30
Desmond Ridder ATL 1.30
Zach Wilson NYJ 1.59
Bryce Young CAR 1.60
Jalen Hurts PHI 1.60

I also expect the Panthers to continue to add to the offensive line throughout the draft, while also addressing both the cornerback and tight end positions. The Panthers haven’t had a difference-making tight end since Greg Olsen and while it is unlikely they draft someone that even flirts with Olsen’s talent and production, they should still keep taking shots. Perhaps Ja’Tavion Sanders is still there in the third round (65th overall). Sanders won’t offer much in terms of blocking, but Carolina has veteran tight ends to do that. What Sanders will do, however, is stretch the field and make plays with his size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and athleticism (4.69 40-yard dash). He has very strong change of direction in the open field, especially for his size. Finally, don’t be surprised if Carolina drafts a running back later on in the draft. Miles Sanders was a disappointment last year, ultimately losing his job to Chuba Hubbard. And although he received a healthy contract last offseason, the Panthers do have an out following the 2024-25 campaign. Keep an eye on players like Braelon Allen or MarShawn Lloyd in the later rounds.

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