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NEEDS FILLED — The Falcons got faster and more productive at the linebacker position with the pick of Sean Weatherspoon 19th overall, then added depth along both lines with DT Corey Peters (Round 3) and OG Mike Johnson (Round 3). Later picks also addressed positions requiring depth, specifically fifth-rounders CB Dominique Franks and WR Kerry Meier.
NEEDS IGNORED — Atlanta didn’t add a pass-rushing defensive end to eventually replace veteran John Abraham and/or supplant failed 2007 first-rounder Jamaal Anderson. The fourth-round selection of C Joe Hawley may be too little, too late to address a real position of need.
BEST PICK — Franks was projected by some to go off the board in the second round; as a fifth-rounder he could provide real value. Overall, however, the best move was nabbing the athletic Weatherspoon; he’ll help the Atlanta defense in multiple ways.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY — Tough to find a spot where the Falcons didn’t do what they should have. It had to kill them to see C Maurkice Pouncey and pass rushers Derrick Morgan and Jason Pierre-Paul all go off the board in the four picks before they went on the clock, and their third-round selection (Peters) was enough of a value pick that they can’t be faulted for taking him over another area of need. Perhaps using a fourth or fifth on C Matt Tennant would have been prudent, but nit-picking Day Three selections is just quibbling.
FANTASY RAMIFICATIONS — Meier, the only “skill” position player the Falcons selected, will be battling for a roster spot and shouldn’t be expected to contribute significantly in the passing game as a rookie.
NEEDS FILLED — Despite not having a first-round pick the Panthers managed to snag what could be their long-term passing game nucleus in QB Jimmy Clausen and WRs Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards. Eric Norwood could be a nice surprise in providing the pass rush Carolina lost with the departure of Julius Peppers.
NEEDS IGNORED — The Panthers were expected to direct much of their draft attention to their defensive line, yet they ignored defensive tackles completely and didn’t draft a defensive end until the sixth round. However, that sixth-rounder, Greg Hardy, has all the pass-rushing skills to help replace Peppers — if he can overcome the injury and character concerns that bumped him to the third day of the draft.
BEST PICK — And you thought the Panthers were already winners with their addition-by-subtraction move with Jake Delhomme; standing pat at #48, Carolina didn’t even need to trade up to get a quarterback who could very well unseat Matt Moore as the starter by the time the regular season starts.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY — Carolina seemed to get value with each pick, so there was no glaring whiff on their draft board. However, another mortgage-the-future draft-day deal cost them next year’s second-round selection; the question will be whether Edwards turns out to be worth that price.
FANTASY RAMIFICATIONS — With all due respect to Moore, Clausen should see the field sooner rather than later — maybe not enough to be drafted in fantasy leagues, but perhaps as a late season pickup. The only dynasty league concern is that John Fox’s contract does not currently extend past this year. LaFell should replace Muhsin Muhammad opposite Steve Smith; if he lives up to Dwayne Bowe comparisons, he’ll be a fantasy contributor right away. Edwards is athletic and Gettis perhaps undervalued as a sixth-rounder, but while both aren’t exactly stymied on the depth chart they’ll need time to develop.
New Orleans Saints
NEEDS FILLED — The Super Bowl champs didn’t enter the draft with gaping holes, but they did manage to address some potential needs in second-rounder Charles Brown, a potential replacement for Jammal Brown at left tackle; an heir to tight end Jeremy Shockey in third-rounder Jimmy Graham; and defensive line depth in fourth round pick Al Woods.
NEEDS IGNORED — The Saints were expected to address the back half of their defense on draft day, but they made six picks without adding a linebacker or safety — though the selection of CB Patrick Robinson at the bottom of the first round could free them up to move Malcolm Jenkins from corner to safety.
BEST PICK — In a draft where two offensive tackles were among the top six picks, New Orleans got great value in Brown at the bottom of Round 2. The former tight end has the athleticism required of an NFL left tackle and would free up the Saints to let RFA Jammal Brown walk after the season.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY — With Scott Fujita gone to the Browns, the Saint could have tabbed playmaking linebacker Daryl Washington instead of Robinson... or maybe similarly talented Rennie Curran in Round Three.
FANTASY RAMIFICATIONS — Graham probably won’t unseat Shockey to start the season, but if Jeremy’s annual injury hits late enough in the year he could have an impact this season. Ultimately, Graham could be playing a Dallas Clark-like role in a productive offense and obviously warrants attention. If you’re in an extremely large dynasty league, go ahead and stash QB Sean Canfield on your roster; he’ll get to develop behind Drew Brees and under Sean Payton and three years down the road could wind up with a new team a la Matt Schaub or Charlie Whitehurst.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NEEDS FILLED — The Bucs didn’t just check off the boxes on their “needs” list, they blackened them in so hard it went through the paper. Tampa dramatically improved the interior of its defensive line with Gerald McCoy (Round 1) and Brian Price (Round 2), then turned their attention to wide receiver with Arrelious Benn in the second round and Mike Williams in the fourth. They also added secondary help in the third (CB Myron Lewis) and seventh (Cody Grimm) rounds and an athletic, speedy Cover-2 linebacker in seventh-rounder Dekoda Watson.
NEEDS IGNORED — The release of Arron Sears creates another opening in the offensive line rotation, one area Tampa Bay neglected on draft day. The Bucs also passed on the opportunity to upgrade their pass rush, at least until throwing a late seventh-round pick on DE Erik Lorig.
BEST PICK — While McCoy could be the next Sapp — and if he isn’t, Price very well could be — the nod here goes to Benn at #39. He’ll move immediately into the starting lineup and have every chance to become Josh Freeman’s career-long go-to guy.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY — You could maybe write the Bucs up for taking another defensive tackle (Price) in the second round with pass rushers like Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham still available, but that’s being incredibly nit-picky.
FANTASY RAMIFICATIONS — While the list of rookie receivers who have made a fantasy impact is short, it is largely populated by bigger targets — like the 6-1, 219-pound Benn or the 6-1, 221-pound Williams. One and perhaps both will be Opening Day starters, and while the Bucs upgraded their defense this still projects to be a team that will need to throw the ball to stay in games. Benn is the safer play, but if Williams can get his head screwed on straight he’s every bit as talented.