Commentary

Kiper's Offseason Audits: NFC South

Mel breaks down the offseasons and needs of each NFC South team

Originally Published: June 30, 2010
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN.com
Getty ImagesWhile Sean Weatherspoon should be in the lineup from Day 1, Jimmy Clausen will likely wait.

The draft is obviously the focal point of the NFL offseason for me, but it certainly doesn't end there. The picks are only half of the equation. How they fit is where the draft is really made. And part of that has to factor in the personnel that teams have added around them.

So with the draft clearly in mind, let's do a quick summer audit on the situations of the teams in the NFC South. So far I've done the the AFC West, the NFC West and the AFC South. (You can find all the pieces together in one place by going here.) What I'll do is hit three things:

1. A crucial influx, such as an impact player or position group.
2. A question mark that still lingers.
3. If the team had a chance to pick anyone from the 2011 draft class right now to address a hole, who it would be. (Whether a team has an early pick in next year's draft isn't the issue -- it's just a hypothetical involving top college talent and current needs.)

So call it a checkup and a look-ahead wrapped together -- part deep projection, part current need.


NFC South

Atlanta Falcons

Crucial influx: Atlanta is a team where you can't simply say, "That right there -- that's the move that will change everything." Instead, you have to take a more incremental approach. I'll start with the draft, where the Falcons got the solid-but-unspectacular Sean Weatherspoon, a guy who will be the new Keith Brooking, not necessarily in terms of the style of play, but in the steadiness he should bring. Weatherspoon is a tackling machine and can be the centerpiece of a linebacking corps. But it's not just this year's draft the Falcons should be excited about. They should get back a healthy Peria Jerry, who had one tackle last year before an injury took away his season. With the addition of Dunta Robinson at corner  assuming Jerry makes an impact -- you're looking at a defense that adds solid players on each level. For a team that was ranked 21st in total defense last season, that could provide a jolt. And don't forget the health issue elsewhere. Both Matt Ryan (I've heard that turf toe was a major problem for him even in the games he played, and not just some annoyance) and Michael Turner should be back to 100 percent. Remember, Harry Douglas was also gone last year. This team was more decimated than some realize, when you consider he and Jerry never even got to contribute.

The question mark: In terms of the draft, Atlanta didn't do anything to upgrade depth at pass-rushing positions -- the Falcons were 26th in the league in sacks. But that's not an indictment of them; they just didn't have the picks. I also think they could have used an edge linebacker. Neither pick is flashy, but grabbing a pair of solid guards in Rounds 3 and 4 adds depth, particularly in helping get the running game back to where it was in 2008. (You just hope Turner's load is a little less than it was in '08.)

Next April's pick, now: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa.
Clayborn would be a solid fit as a pass-rusher in the Falcons' 4-3 and is a high-energy guy.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst