Bucs, Panthers making use of rookies

It’s way too early for any final conclusions. But the early indications are that the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the best 2012 draft classes in the NFC South.

The fine folks at ESPN Stats & Information have put together a list of how many offensive and defensive snaps (special-teams players weren’t available) each team’s rookie class has played so far. The numbers couldn’t vary much more than they do from one end of the division to the other.

On pure numbers, you’d have to say the Panthers won the draft. They have gotten 982 snaps out of their draft class. Only seven teams have gotten more snaps out of their rookies. More than half of those (516) have come from first-round linebacker Luke Kuechly and second-round guard Amini Silatolu. But the Panthers have gotten 115 snaps from fourth-round defensive lineman Frank Alexander and 315 from fifth-round cornerback Josh Norman. Silatolu has been adequate, but Kuechly hasn’t quite hit his stride yet. As far as Alexander and Norman, it’s good and bad that they’re playing so much. What does it say about Carolina’s defensive line that a fourth-round pick can play so much so early? I know the Panthers wanted Norman to win the starting cornerback job, but opponents quietly have been pointing out why he lasted until the fifth round.

Carolina’s got a slight edge on quantity, but, so far, I’d say Tampa Bay is getting the most out of this draft. The Bucs are No. 11 in the league with 908 rookie snaps. All of them have come from the top three picks -- safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Lavonte David. Each member of that trio has started since the beginning of the season and all three have done some good things.

The New Orleans Saints had only five draft picks and rookie Nick Toon is spending his rookie season on injured reserve. So the expectations weren’t high for this class, but the New Orleans rookies are playing more than expected. The Saints are No. 22 at 446 snaps, with all of them coming from third-round defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and fifth-round defensive back Corey White. I think Hicks has come on faster than expected, but most of White’s playing time has been due to injuries.

Now, here’s what might the most amazing part of this whole list from an NFC South perspective. The Atlanta Falcons have gotten only 26 snaps out of their draft class. That’s No. 31 in the NFL (San Francisco’s rookies haven’t played any offensive or defensive snaps).

The Falcons are fond of saying that second-year receiver Julio Jones is part of this year’s draft class and that’s a valid point. But logic coming into the season would have said the Falcons would be getting a little more out of their rookies. Heck, I know a lot of readers out there thought third-round pick Lamar Holmes was going to win the starting job at left tackle. Guess what? Holmes has yet to play a down on offense.

The only two Atlanta rookies to play have been second-round guard Peter Konz (19 snaps) and seventh-round defensive tackle Travian Robertson (seven snaps).