We now jump into the penultimate edition of our eight-part NFL Draft recap series. The NFC South is a loaded division. Two teams are definitive championship contenders, but all four teams have their eyes on the playoffs. To get there, each team needed to make key additions in the NFL Draft, and these teams did just that.
Despite the praise that was just given, many fans would feel dissatisfied with that analysis. They want to know what letter grade every analyst gives their team’s draft. The letter grade system seems black and white, but in reality, it’s very grey. Your own bias of players and selections is unavoidable. If you think the team should have gone in a different direction, that will impact your grade of the selection. Even if the selection was a great fit, the person doing the “grading,” might miss that.
Therefore, the best way to grade a draft is to isolate how each player fits into the system they were selected to. Which player will succeed, despite being disliked by the draft media? Which player will fail, despite being a media darling for the majority of the draft process? Who had the deepest draft, who had the weakest draft, and what team was able to find their next superstar?
These are the winners, losers, and bold predictions from the 2020 NFL Draft classes of the NFC South.
The Selections: A.J. Terrell, Marlon Davidson, Matt Hennessy, Mykal Walker, Jaylinn Hawkins, Sterling Hofrichter
Atlanta is at an interesting crossroads. They still have the offensive firepower to be a “win now” team. However, their defense struggles to get to the passer and their secondary is much weaker than in past years. In order for the Falcons to make it back to the postseason, Atlanta’s first two selections will have to make immediate impacts.
Terrell is going to be the number one cornerback out of the gate, which is a tough ask. He struggled with Ja’Marr Chase in the National Championship and now has to play against Michael Thomas and Mike Evans twice a year. If he can improve his ability to mirror opposing receivers, Terrell can be the impact player in the secondary that Atlanta needs.
Marlon Davidson has to make a pass-rushing impact from the interior. The Falcons could not get to the passer in 2019. Davidson’s power is a great compliment to the agility that Grady Jarrett shows as a pass rusher. Even though Davidson will learn a new position, he will be asked to play with the experience of a five-year pro. That’s a lot for a rookie.
So while Davidson and Terrell might have gone to good system fits, they will have to grow up quickly for Atlanta’s defense to be successful in 2020.
Bold Prediction: Matt Hennessy Beats Out Alex Mack for the Starting Center Position in 2020
Hennessy was clearly selected to replace Mack at the end of the upcoming season. At 34 years old, Mack is entering the final stages of his NFL career. His age, combined with the salary that he is making, makes him an expendable piece for the Falcons moving forward.
However, what if Hennessy just takes Mack’s job right away? Hennessy has good footwork in pass protection, and his intelligence is a big help to the rest of the offensive line. He understands which guard to assist in pass protection, and he also does an excellent job of recognizing stunts.
The area of concern with Hennessy is his ability in the run game. Power is not the name of the game for Matt Hennessy, so he struggles to drive defenders backward at the point of attack. Alex Mack, on the other hand, is terrific in this area. He’s a mauler upfront. Mack strikes with power and precision, which allows him to win most reps in the run game.
Essentially this prediction boils down to the Falcons game plan for the 2020 season. If Atlanta is looking to run the ball, and play action off the run, Hennessy will probably serve as a backup. He will take the starting center job when Mack walks in free agency.
If Atlanta wants to go back to the aggressive passing attack that got them to the Super Bowl a few years ago, Hennessy could easily beat out Mack for the starting center position.
The Selections: Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, Jeremy Chinn, Troy Pride Jr., Kenny Robinson, Bravvion Roy, Stanley Thomas-Oliver III
Carolina went into the draft with the goal of addressing all three levels of their defense. In fact, every selection the Panthers made was on defense.
Derrick Brown over Isaiah Simmons in round one was debatable. However, Brown is no slouch. He plays with an immense amount of power and physicality. Brown’s hands are lightning quick, and they strike with precision. He’s a force in the run game and a better athlete than he is given credit for. Brown should have a lot of success playing alongside Kawann Short.
The second round selections for Carolina should have a significant impact as well. Yetur Gross-Matos went to a perfect situation. Gross-Matos wins with technique in his move-set, and the ability to stay disciplined up front. He’s not one of the elite “dip and bend edge rushers,” that many get attracted to. The good news is that Carolina already has that in Brian Burns. Gross-Matos will not have to change his game, which will allow him to compliment Burns nicely.
Jeremy Chinn was the big move in the backend of round two. The Panthers secondary is in shambles after losing key pieces this offseason. With safeties falling down the draft board, Carolina got aggressive and traded up to land an impact player. Chinn is similar in style to Isaiah Simmons. He’s a hybrid safety/linebacker who fits the modern-day game extremely well because of his athleticism. Chinn can play close to the line of scrimmage and make impact plays against the run. He also has the instincts and range necessary to play a traditional cover two safety position.
Overall, Carolina had a very strong draft. They added impact defensive players early, and depth players later on. However, there was one move that Carolina did not make, which will come back to haunt them.
Bold Prediction: Carolina Regrets Passing On Isaiah Simmons
Look, Derrick Brown is a really good player. For a nose tackle, he’s capable of playing a number of different techniques. Brown regularly beat double teams at Auburn, but he also showed the ability to eat space. He does have a complete game, and Brown will have a really good career in the NFL.
Having said that, he’s just not Isaiah Simmons. Simmons is a generational talent. He’s an explosive athlete with ridiculous range from sideline-to-sideline and has the ability to do a number of different things. Simmons can line up in the slot and play man coverage against receivers and tight ends. He can drop into the single high safety position and make impact plays from there. Simmons can even come off the edge and generate pressure.
There is just so much that Simmons brings to the table. Not only that, but Simmons was also a position of need for Carolina. It’s true that a player like Simmons is a position of need for everyone, but that’s a different story for a different day. So even though Brown should be good, Simmons will be exceptional. Thus why Carolina might regret passing on him.
New Orleans Saints
The Selections: Cesar Ruiz, Zack Baun, Adam Trautman, Tommy Stevens
New Orleans did not have many selections in 2020, but they made them count. Cesar Ruiz appeared to be a “best player available,” kind of selection until the Saints cut Larry Warford a few days ago. Now, Ruiz has an immediate impact along the Saints offensive line.
The Saints then traded up for Zack Baun, who went lower than many media pundits predicted. Baun’s best fit at the next level is as a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense, which is exactly where he wound up. His athleticism and intelligence should allow him to be successful as a pass rusher from the second level.
Lastly, the Saints selected a quality “move tight end,” in Adam Trautman. Trautman is not a blocker, but he can stretch the middle of the field in the passing game. He wins with size and athleticism at the catch point. His physical traits are also how he separates at the top of the stem. Drew Brees was incredibly successful when he had Jimmy Graham as his wingman in the red zone. Trautman can be a similar style player from day one.
Bold Prediction: Over 15 Percent of Adam Trautman’s Catches Next Year are Touchdowns
It’s hard to create a bold call for a draft class that is as straightforward as this one. Ruiz is going to be a quality right guard at the next level because of his intelligence in pass protection, as well as his ability to gain leverage at the point of attack.
Zack Baun was a risk/reward player when he was being mocked in the first round. At the top of round three, Baun became a value pick. The same went for Adam Trautman. When he was being mocked in the middle of round two, that felt aggressive. In the backend of round three, it’s a value selection. If neither player works out, it’s not as big of a deal.
Therefore, to create a bold call for such a straightforward draft, you have to go out on a limb. Trautman will be the necessary red zone complement to take some pressure off of Michael Thomas. Plus, Trautman is the kind of big body, an athletic tight end that Drew Brees has had success with in the past. It will take Trautman time to become acclimated with the Saints offense. However, his role in the red zone will be defined early in his rookie career.
If Trautman puts together a big-time rookie campaign in terms of touchdowns, it would not be surprising. When you factor in the likeliness of the prediction, five of Jimmy Graham’s 31 receptions during his rookie campaign were for scores. That’s over 15 percent. Trautman could easily do the same.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Selections: Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr., Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tyler Johnson, Khalil Davis, Chapelle Russell, Raymond Calais
If General Manager Jason Licht had turned his computer screen off and went on proverbial auto-draft for rounds three through seven, the Bucs draft still would have been one of the bests of 2020.
The one thing the Buccaneers had to grab in this draft was a starting right tackle. Somehow, Licht managed to grab one of the top four offensive tackles in the draft. Wirfs is an elite talent. He’s a ridiculous athlete with terrific footwork and the ability to punish defenders at the second level. No one expected one of the four stud tackles to make it out of the top 11, but one did, and Licht snatched him up.
Then the Bucs stole a chess piece in the secondary during round two. Antoine Winfield Jr. can play the nickel corner position, as well as the single high free safety spot and a cover two safety position. The one question about him was his athleticism, and Winfield Jr. answered that at the Combine. This is the kind of player that defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has been missing in this defense.
Even though the Buccaneers could have quit after the first two selections, Licht did make one late-round selection that should surprise.
Bold Prediction: Tyler Johnson Has Multiple 1,000 Yard Seasons as a Pro
Okay, so the 1,000-yard marker is not as impactful as it was in years past. Having said that, this prediction is still ridiculously bold for a fifth-round selection.
Johnson is a really good route runner, with the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. He gains leverage at the top of the stem through intelligence and short-area quickness. While he has some drops and he lacks the top-end speed necessary to do multiple things at the next level, Johnson can be a successful pro in the short-yardage areas.
To make him into a really strong player at the next level, Johnson will need intense coaching to perfect his craft as a route runner. If only he had a quarterback throwing him the ball during the early stages of his career that perfected how to use shifty slot receivers…
…you know, like Tom Brady.
The fact that Johnson will get to learn from Brady and an offensive mastermind like Head Coach Bruce Arians will be a huge leg up for him moving forward. On top of that, Johnson has no competition for the slot receiver job on the Bucs.
Even though the 1,000-yard call could be a stretch, Johnson should carve out a very successful career in the NFL because of the situation that he was put into.
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