Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Dream scenario/Plan B.
Dream scenario: It’s no secret the Falcons are looking for a pass-rusher because John Abraham is getting older and the team has no other defenders who can consistently pressure quarterbacks. This is a draft deep in defensive ends, but there probably will be a run on them from the mid-teens into the mid-20s. If someone like Georgia’s Justin Houston or Clemson’s Da'Quan Bowers somehow fell to No. 27, the Falcons would be elated.
Plan B: Atlanta might have a better shot at getting a pass-rusher in free agency, and the Falcons showed last season with cornerback Dunta Robinson that they aren’t afraid to target a need and spend a pile of money. If the pass-rusher isn’t there, the Falcons could switch gears and go with a receiver such as Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin or Maryland’s Torrey Smith. Also, don’t completely rule out an offensive tackle. This franchise is built around quarterback Matt Ryan, and Sam Baker still hasn’t shown he’s the answer at left tackle.
Dream scenario: All indications are the Panthers are going to shoot for the moon and draft Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with the top overall pick. Although they are aware of the downside, the Panthers realize Newton’s upside could make him the type of quarterback that comes along once a decade or so. When you’re coming off a 2-14 season and trying to catch up to the rest of the NFC South by actually installing a passing game into your offense, you need to have a quarterback.
Plan B: There haven’t been any phone calls from other teams offering trades. But you never know what might happen in the days and hours leading into the draft. The chances of getting a willing trading partner are slim with the uncertainty of the lockout, but general manager Marty Hurney probably would listen to any offers. He's without a second-round pick because he traded it last season to draft Armanti Edwards. If someone were willing to help Hurney add some extra picks, he might be willing to drop down a few spots and Georgia receiver A.J. Green probably would be the alternative target. But that still would leave the Panthers with a hole at quarterback and they’d have to go out and get one in a trade or free agency as soon as the lockout ends.
Dream scenario: If one of the defensive ends, perhaps Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, Bowers, California’s Cameron Jordan or Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, is sitting there, the Saints would be able to fill what appears to be their biggest need. Will Smith is solid on one side, but he’s getting up in years and the Saints don’t have another strong pass-rusher. Might be time to go ahead and get one.
Plan B: Defensive tackle and outside linebacker also seem to be possibilities and UCLA’s Akeem Ayers could fit nicely with Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle in the linebacker corps. But the Saints aren’t a team that fixates on filling immediate needs in the draft because they often do that in free agency. If Alabama running back Mark Ingram is available, the Saints could view him as a carbon copy of a young Deuce McAllister.
Dream scenario: They’d have their pick of pass-rushers, including Bowers, Houston and Kerrigan. Any of them would fit very nicely and it would be another big building block in a defensive line foundation that was started last year when the team used its first two draft picks on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. Although the Bucs use the 4-3 as their base defense, that doesn’t mean they’re locked in on guys who fit the prototype of 4-3 defensive ends. Raheem Morris is a defense-minded coach and he is flexible. If there’s a strong pass-rusher available, the Bucs almost certainly will grab him.
Plan B: If a pass-rushing defensive end isn’t there, the Bucs might have to get creative. They didn’t have a playmaker in their front seven last season and that put undue pressure on the secondary. Geno Hayes and Quincy Black didn’t fully emerge as explosive outside linebackers last season and the Bucs could look at someone like Ayers to help improve the front seven.