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    NFC South 2022 NFL Draft Preview: Team needs, top draft targets, prospects to watch, and more

    Our NFC South NFL Draft preview covers team needs and potential prospect solutions for the Bucs, Saints, Panthers, and Falcons.

    While much of the talent during the NFL’s free agency period went to the AFC, not every NFC team struggled to retain its best players. While the NFC South looked primed to be the worst division in the NFL after Tom Brady’s initial retirement, things have changed drastically. Ahead of the NFL Draft, we explore team needs and draft prospects that make sense for the NFC South in this preview.

    NFC South 2022 NFL Draft Preview

    The Buccaneers returned most of their championship-caliber roster. New Orleans started the offseason in more debt than the United States and somehow kept its roster intact without having to cut a single player. Carolina improved their team on paper, while the Falcons traded away Matt Ryan.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 18)
    $3.9 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-27, 2-60, 3-91, 4-133, 7-248, 7-261

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers still reign supreme in the NFC South and most likely in the NFC, according to DraftKings Sportsbook (+350). After Brady’s return, they were able to get deals done with both Ryan Jensen and Chris Godwin, which helped limit the holes on offense. They also re-signed cornerback Carlton Davis, getting him for just $15 million per season.

    Now, the only massive need for the Buccaneers is at left guard. After losing Alex Cappa in free agency, Tampa Bay traded for Shaq Mason. The team could also use an interior defender to pair with Vita Vea. It’s not necessarily a deep class, so their best chance to find a contributor will probably come at pick Nos. 27 and 60.

    The Buccaneers don’t have a ton of draft capital, but they still have three top-100 draft picks. Depending on the positions they choose to address with those three selections, they could find three instant contributors. However, they could also keep an eye on the future.

    In Round 1, Tampa Bay probably looks to fill their gaping hole at left guard. Although it’s no certainty, one of Zion Johnson or Kenyon Green is expected to make it to the Bucs’ pick. If not, one of Perrion Winfrey or Devonte Wyatt should be available. The only potential wild card will be if a quarterback they adore is still on the board at 27. That’s the only curveball that seems realistic.

    New Orleans Saints: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 18)
    $20.8 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-16, 1-19, 2-49, 3-98, 4-120, 5-161, 6-194

    It never fails. The New Orleans Saints always find a way to skate by the “cap hell” they’ve consistently created for themselves. Mickey Loomis is a salary cap wizard. They’ve moved nearly $90 million this offseason from the red to the green and traded with Philadelphia to pick up an extra first-round pick for 2022.

    In other words, the Saints are never boring in the offseason.

    After losing Terron Armstead in free agency, they’re in desperate need of help at left tackle. Their team needs don’t end there, though. The Saints also need a high-level receiving talent and could be in the market for one of the top quarterbacks, especially if they don’t go early. They have the capital to make a move up.

    Charles Cross could be an option, but there’s a good chance he’s gone by the time New Orleans picks. Yet, it’s not crazy to think the Saints could move up if he makes it to a certain point. Jameson Williams, Chris Olave, Drake London, and Treylon Burks could all be options at wide receiver.

    Atlanta Falcons: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 18)
    $2.5 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-8, 2-43, 2-58, 3-74, 3-82, 4-114, 5-151, 6-190, 6-213

    The Atlanta Falcons perished so the Atlanta Braves could flourish. That’s the only explanation for the heartbreak Falcons fans must go through yearly. After making a solid move to acquire Casey Hayward Jr. in free agency, the Falcons appeared to be on the right track toward rebuilding a diminishing roster.

    Trading Matt Ryan put the team in full-on rebuild mode. One look at the roster will tell you their 7-9 season in 2021 was a mirage. Their -146 point differential was fifth-worst in the NFL. Atlanta has holes at pass rusher, linebacker, and safety on defense. Offensively, their line is a wreck, and the receiving corps is full of John Does. Additionally, the Falcons have no hope for the future at quarterback.

    There aren’t many prospects at the top that we should cross off the board for Atlanta. With five picks in the top 82, they could do some damage to their needs on the roster.

    Maybe they would take a swing on Malik Willis in Round 1, but given how poor the roster appears to be, they could also be forecasting what looks like a superior 2023 crop of QBs. Any of the top defensive players could be options as well.

    When we look at the strength of the draft compared to their needs, maybe Atlanta opts to go with a cornerback in Round 1 and an EDGE in Round 2, given the depth of the class. They could potentially find some value on interior blockers with pick 58 or even at 74.

    Carolina Panthers: Team needs, draft targets, salary cap, and prospects to watch

    Cap Space (as of April 18)
    $30 million

    2022 NFL Draft Picks
    1-6, 4-137, 5-144, 5-149, 6-199, 7-242

    The Carolina Panthers defense is young and exciting. Their offense… well… isn’t. Sam Darnold may be “young,” but he isn’t the Panthers’ future at quarterback. At least, nothing he has shown up to now in his career suggests that he is. That’s why there are rumors about Baker Mayfield and Kenny Pickett being options for Carolina.

    Mayfield would be an awful idea. Although Carolina has the money to spend $36 million between he and Darnold, why would they commit draft capital and money for an unproven commodity when they could draft a quarterback and carry that money over for some of their young defensive stars instead?

    Carolina needs a left tackle more than anything. Signing Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett helps fill desperate holes on the offensive line. Additionally, Carolina will most likely part ways with Robby Anderson after the season given his contract. That makes wide receiver a sneaky need for them, too.

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