NFC South mock draft

The ESPN.com Blog Network’s mock draft is out and the entire thing is posted over on the AFC South Blog.

But let’s take a look at just the NFC South picks here. I got to play general manager for each of the four NFC South teams as we worked our way through this draft late last week.

Let’s make it clear that I wasn’t picking the guy I happened to like best. I was relying on what I’ve been seeing and hearing over the last couple of months, especially over the last couple of weeks, to try to project what I think each team will do. It was easy to make the No. 1 overall pick for the Carolina Panthers because no one stood in my way.

I didn’t have the same luxury when picking for the Buccaneers, Saints and Falcons because a lot depended on what happened with the choices in front of me.

Here’s who I took for each team and my analysis of the pick.

1. Carolina: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn.

Analysis: The Panthers are aware of upside and downside with Newton. But a team that has to compete in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman for the foreseeable future realizes it has to get a franchise quarterback to compete in the NFC South. Time to take the big leap on Newton.

20. Tampa Bay: Justin Houston, DE, Georgia.

Analysis: The Buccaneers have a huge need for a pass-rusher. Houston's the best on the board. Time for the Stylez G. White (4.5 sacks last season) era to end.

24. New Orleans: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa.

Analysis: The Saints don't need an immediate star. But he can be the heir apparent to Will Smith and contribute in a defensive-end rotation for a year or two before becoming the main piece of this defensive line.

27. Atlanta: Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh.

Analysis: The Falcons would really love to get a pass-rushing defensive end, but the board is pretty empty. They can fill that need whenever free agency starts. For now, they'll switch things up and look for an "explosive" player on offense. Baldwin is a huge receiver and could be the perfect complement to Roddy White.