Defense focus of NFC South draft strategy

Stats & Information gets you ready for the NFL Draft at the end of the month with a look at the biggest need for each team. Today, we take a look at the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons

Need: Pass-rushing defensive lineman

The Falcons sent four or fewer pass rushers at the seventh-highest rate in the league (76.8 percent), but ranked 20th in the NFL with a sack every 20.7 dropbacks. Defensive end John Abraham led the team with 9.5 sacks when Atlanta rushed four or fewer. No teammate had more than three, including Ray Edwards, who signed a five-year, $30 million deal last offseason but had only 3.5 sacks.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: No first-round pick

McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: No first-round pick

Carolina Panthers

Need: Run-stuffing defensive lineman

The left side of the Panthers’ defense was terrible defending the run. Not only were the 2.5 yards after contact allowed per rush to the right the worst in the NFL, but the Panthers were the only team to allow over 500 rushing yards before contact to the right side (870 yards total). In addition, Carolina ranked last in yards per rush (6.4) and first downs (41) to the right side.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis

New Orleans Saints

Need: Defensive backs

Only the Green Bay Packers allowed more 30-yard pass plays inside the numbers last season than the Saints. New Orleans had the second-worst touchdown-interception differential in the NFL against throws over the middle.

Saints Pass Defense, 2011 Season
On Throws Inside the Numbers

New Orleans revamped their linebacking corps, bringing in David Hawthorne, Chris Chamberlain and Curtis Lofton in free agency. Help in the secondary is a necessary next-step for the Saints, especially after losing Tracy Porter to the Denver Broncos.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: No first-round pick

McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: No first-round pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Need: Cover corner

The Buccaneers allowed 494 points last season (30.9 PPG), tied for the second-most in the last 10 years. The Bucs have to address a questionable group of defensive backs, even with Ronde Barber returning.

Bucs Pass Defense, 2011 Season
On Throws Over 20 Air Yards

The Bucs secondary wasn’t helped by a mediocre linebacking corps - no team had fewer impact plays (sacks + interceptions + passes defended) by linebackers than Tampa Bay. However, the Buccaneers were horrible defending passes downfield, and must improve to contend in a division that features Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.

Kiper’s 1st-Round Prediction: Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

McShay’s 1st-Round Prediction: Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

This division-by-division look at the NFL Draft will resume Monday with the AFC South.