NFC South scores well in 5-year draft study

CSNBayArea.com’s Matt Maiocco took a look at the last five years and ranked all 32 teams on how they’ve fared in the draft.

The NFC South did very well in this evaluation with three teams landing in the top 10. The New Orleans Saints were No. 2 (behind only Green Bay), the Atlanta Falcons were No. 5 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came in at No. 10.

The Carolina Panthers came in at No. 24 and I think things might have been skewed by last year’s 2-14 record. But we’ll come back to the Panthers in a bit.

Let’s start with the Saints and, by coincidence, this survey’s window opens with the 2006 draft. Say what you want about Reggie Bush, who was taken at No. 2 overall, but I don’t think it’s fair to label him a bust because the Saints are happy with what they’ve gotten out of him. They think they’ll still get more good things out of him and that’s why it looks like they’ll find a way to keep him. But 2006 also brought guard Jahri Evans and receiver Marques Colston in later rounds. Those two represent why New Orleans is near the top of this list. The Saints have been pretty good at hitting on first-round picks (Malcolm Jenkins and Sedrick Ellis pop to mind), but they’ve been great at finding impact players in the middle and late rounds.

Atlanta’s had 42 picks in the last five years and 26 of them are still with the team. That’s not a bad number, since general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith have been responsible for only three of those drafts. They hit a home run when they got quarterback Matt Ryan in their first draft and most of the other picks from that draft have worked out nicely, although the jury is still out on left tackle Sam Baker. The thing that often gets overlooked is the Falcons also got defensive quarterback Curtis Lofton in that same 2008 draft and he’s been a very steady force at middle linebacker. The Falcons have landed some other solid picks like safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore outside of the first round. The jury still is out on defensive tackle Peria Jerry, the first-round pick in 2009 because his career was disrupted by a knee injury.

Tampa Bay’s five-year draft record is somewhat difficult to fully sort out because Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik took over for Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen in 2009. Gruden and Allen had some big hits with guys like Davin Joseph, but some extreme misses (Gaines Adams and Dexter Jackson). Things are still playing out for Dominik and Morris and their draft classes, but I’ve got no problem putting the Bucs in the top 10 and that comes for one simple reason. Tampa Bay landed its franchise quarterback in 2009 when the Bucs took Josh Freeman. There’s an old saying that you’ve won half the battle if you get a franchise quarterback. I think there’s some truth in that and the Bucs are going to win a lot of games, mainly because of Freeman, over the next decade or so.

Now, let’s go back to Carolina. I think the Panthers have drafted a lot better than people give them credit for over this five-year span. They got Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil in the second round and have been solid with first-round picks like Jon Beason, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Former coach John Fox was pouting last season and that may have held some of 2010’s rookies back. But I’ve got a hunch you’re going to see a lot more of guys like Armanti Edwards, Brandon LaFell and David Gettis going forward.