With the NFL combine kicking off, let’s take a look at several of the potential story lines involving the NFC South during the draft-preparation event:
Double dipping again? Last year, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik used his first two picks on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. The year before that he used his first two picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. In that same draft, Dominik also took two receivers almost in succession, with Arrelious Benn coming in the second round and Mike Williams in the fourth. If there’s a position where I can see Dominik doubling up this year, it’s cornerback. It’s unclear what the future holds for Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib.
Sitting it out: The Saints and Falcons don’t have first-round picks. But their scouts and coaches should be paying close attention to all the top prospects. You never know who might fall out of the first round, like Bowers did last year. More importantly, there’s no guarantee the Saints or Falcons stay out of the first round. They both have aggressive front offices and both are in a win-now mode. I can see either one trading back up into the first round.
Flip a coin: That literally is what it will come down to in deciding who gets the No. 8 pick and who gets the No. 9 pick between Carolina and Miami. The coin flip will be held Friday in Indianapolis. Carolina general manager Marty Hurney is an extremely superstitious guy and I’m guessing he’s carrying some sort of coin that he thinks is lucky. By the way, Hurney is so superstitious that he’s hoping for the No. 8 pick for another reason besides the fact it’s one spot higher than No. 9. In the 2003 draft, the Vikings failed to turn in their pick on time. The Panthers wound up jumping ahead of them and taking offensive tackle Jordan Gross. He’s had a pretty nice career, so Hurney probably is hoping for a repeat.
In need of a hit: Like coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff is under a bit of pressure if the Falcons don’t advance deep into the playoffs next season. Owner Arthur Blank has said simply making the playoffs isn’t good enough. He wants to contend for the Super Bowl. Dimitroff has had mixed success with his first-round picks. Ryan and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon have worked out pretty well and Julio Jones looks like he can be an elite player. But defensive tackle Peria Jerry and offensive tackle Sam Baker have had their careers stall. Dimitroff is going to be busy in free agency, but he needs to pull a starter somewhere out of this draft and it would be especially nice if that guy was a defensive end or a left offensive tackle.
In need of a pass rush: The problem with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnulo’s scheme is that the Saints don’t have the personnel to run it effectively yet. Spagnuolo likes to generate almost all his pressure from the front four. Outside of veteran defensive end Will Smith, the Saints don’t have any real pass-rush threats on the line. The Saints almost certainly will address that in the draft.