Kiper's Summer Audits: NFC South

Will Carolina's defense be vastly improved in 2012?

Originally Published: July 27, 2012
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Luke Kuechly and Sean McDermottDavid T. Foster III/Getty ImagesLuke Kuechly should be able to help out right away for the Carolina Panthers.

Every summer, with the NFL draft and free agency in the rearview mirror, I take a look at each team. What did it accomplish in terms of added personnel? How did its draft fill holes? What voids remain? Let's jump around the league, addressing three things for each team:

Help added: What the team has done this offseason to improve its prospects. Given my greatest area of expertise, I put a particular emphasis on the draft.
Questions that remain: A look at what voids must be filled.
Next year's help now: With an eye toward next year's draft class, which player of 2013 could seemingly help the team in 2012? This is meant to be hypothetical, a quick look at prospects to keep an eye on.

Here is the version for the NFC South:


Atlanta Falcons

Help added: When the Atlanta Falcons landed Mike Nolan to be their defensive coordinator, the initial question became about scheme. Atlanta was in a base 4-3 last season, and Nolan is more tied to the 3-4. Would he make a change? Of course, the question was asked while overlooking the fact that Nolan has run both schemes throughout his career, and successfully. Atlanta, it was decided quickly, would stay with the scheme. Good thing, because the Falcons really didn't have the personnel to make the switch, and a pretty quiet offseason in terms of personnel additions doesn't change that. The pass rush, a group that got to QBs at a rate good for just 26th in the NFL last season, remains essentially intact (and the addition of Lofa Tatupu has been nixed by his injury). Nolan must hope John Abraham has tread on the tires at 34, and that Ray Edwards plays like he did in Minnesota to get a deal here. But the biggest addition on defense is Nolan. He'll need to work some magic with the pass rush.

The addition of Asante Samuel helps a middle-of-the pack secondary in a division where you simply have to maintain depth at corner, but the draft was pretty nondescript in terms of early impact. After trading up for Julio Jones last year, Atlanta didn't have a pick until No. 55 overall, where they got the best center in the draft on my board, Peter Konz. But Konz may need to move to guard to see time.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Football analyst