2011 NFL Draft Needs: NFC South

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton talks to his players as they play the Carolina Panthers in the first half at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on November 7, 2010. UPI/Nell Redmond .

No. 1 Carolina Panthers
Team Needs: DT, QB, TE, CB, G, WR
I feel like I say this every year about the team with the top pick, but when you have the No. 1 pick in the draft, you don’t have just one need – you have several. With how poorly Jimmy Clausen played in his first year, quarterback is the most obvious choice for the Panthers at No. 1. But if the new coaching staff feels like he’ll make strides (uh, really big strides) in his second year, then I wouldn’t rule out Nick Fairley at No. 1. The team has had a steady rotation at the defensive tackle spot but they need to find more disruptive players and Fairley certainly fits the bill. If the Panthers manage to trade out of the top spot (which is unlikely), they could move down and target someone like Patrick Peterson seeing as how Richard Marshall may not be back next year and Captain Munnerlyn is better suited for the nickel. But unless they can trade out of the top spot, the Panthers won’t be filling their need at cornerback, tight end, guard or receiver in the first round.
First Round Possibilities: Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Cam Newton (Auburn), Nick Fairley (Auburn), Jake Locker (Washington), Patrick Peterson (LSU).

No. 20 Tampa Bay Bucs
Team Needs: DE, CB, OT, LB
The one glaring need for the Bucs is pass rush. Stylz G. White is the team’s best pass-rusher, but he’s not consistent and he’s a free agent so the Bucs may let him walk. Tim Crowder is a free agent as well and seeing as how he was exposed as a starter last year, he may only be brought back in a rotation next year. With how deep the talent pool is at defensive end, the Bucs may choose to wait and grab a pass rusher later in the draft. If that’s the case, they may target a cornerback or linebacker with their top pick, seeing as how Barrett Ruud and Ronde Barber are free agents.
First Round Possibilities: Akeem Ayers (UCLA), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), Brandon Harris (Miami), Jimmy Smith (Colorado), Aaron Williams (Texas).

No. 24 New Orleans Saints
Team Needs: DE, LB, RB, DT
Alex Brown is a solid run defender but like most teams, the Saints need to add another pass-rusher. Outside linebacker is also a concern, as both Danny Clark and Scott Shanle are free agents and the team might feel as though they can upgrade one of those OLB positions in the first round. But they have some nice young options in Marvin Mitchell, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Jonathan Casillas, so they may choose to wait. Staying on the defensive side of the ball, the Saints run defense was abused at times lat year and while Remi Ayodele is a serviceable starter, the team needs to get a better run-defender alongside Sedrick Ellis in the starting lineup. Offensively, with the future of both Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas in doubt, don’t rule out the Saints taking a running back in the first round. Sean Payton’s passing attack gets most of the recognition but when they won the Super Bowl two years ago, it was because their offense had balance. Don’t forget how important Thomas was in the playoffs that year.
First Round Possibilities: Akeem Ayers (UCLA), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), Mark Ingram (Alabama), Corey Liuget (Illinois), Cam Heyward (Ohio State).

No. 27 Atlanta Falcons
Team Needs: DE, WR, CB, OL, TE
The Packers exposed several glaring weaknesses in the playoffs last year that the Falcons must address this offseason. The first is the need for another edge rusher. John Abraham proved last year that he’s still a capable playmaker but he’ll be 33 in May and the Falcons need to find his eventual replacement. More was expected out of Kroy Biermann last year and even if the coaching staff gives former fourth round pick Lawrence Sidbury more opportunities to play next season, the Falcons still need to address the defensive end position at some point in the draft. Another area that the Packers exposed was at nickel back. Chris Owens was routinely targeted and burned by Aaron Rodgers and while the Falcons are set at their starting corner positions thanks to Dunta Robinson and Pro Bowl alternate Brent Grimes, GM Thomas Dimitroff must find a suitable nickel option. (He’s whiffed in the draft the past couple of years with the selections of Owens and Chevis Jackson.) Offensively, Roddy White is a true No. 1 in every sense but this team needs to find a No. 2 that can stretch the field. Michael Jenkins is a terrific blocker and usually produces one huge catch every couple of games, but he can’t stretch a defense. Harry Douglass is a burner from the slot position, but he struggled last year coming back from knee surgery (he missed all of 2009) and his hands are inconsistent. If one of the many defensive ends don’t fall to the Falcons at No. 27, don’t be surprised if they target someone like Maryland’s Torrey Smith or Boise State’s Titus Young and pair him up with White in the passing game. Depending on the new CBA, the Falcons may have three of their five starting offensive linemen become free agents. So if they don’t re-sign Tyson Clabo or have given up on Sam Baker as a starter at tackle, the Falcons could target their offensive line in the first round as well.
First Round Possibilities: Adrian Clayborn (Iowa), J.J. Watt (Wisconsin), Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), Cam Heyward (Ohio State), Titus Young (Boise State), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Derrek Sherrod (Mississippi State), Anthony Costanzo (Boston College), Aldon Smith (Missouri), Allen Bailey (Miami).

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