By Don Banks
April 20, 2005
NFC South Five-Year Draft Grades
Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were a playoff team last year, but not because they've been laying the ground work for success in April. Obviously they can't quibble with taking Michael Vick and Alge Crumpler 1-2 in 2001, and running back T.J. Duckett (1st, 2002) is decent in short-yardage. But they gave up a No. 1 in 2003 for disappointing free agent Peerless Price, 2002 third-rounder Will Overstreet didn't work out, and last year's second No. 1, Michael Jenkins, caught just seven passes.
Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have a solid connection rate dating to at least 2001. The trend continued last year when cornerback Chris Gamble (1st) and receiver Keary Colbert (2nd) contributed immediately. The 2003 draft brought offensive tackle Jordan Gross (1st), guard Bruce Nelson (2nd) and cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. (3rd), and 2002 delivered a superstar in defensive end Julius Peppers (1st) and a valuable running back in DeShaun Foster (2nd). And don't forget about defensive tackle Kris Jenkins (2nd) and No. 1-receiver Steve Smith (3rd) in 2001.
New Orleans
The confounding Saints can't break out of the middle of the pack in the NFC South, and their recent draft record is just as streaky as they are. Defensive ends Will Smith (1st, 2004) and Charles Grant (1st, 2002) had a very respectable 18 combined sacks last year, but their impact could be greater. Receiver Donte' Stallworth (1st, 2002) can look spectacular and mediocre in the same game, and defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan (1st, 2003) has done next to nothing. In 2000-01, the Saints got good value with their No. 1s, taking Darren Howard and Deuce McAllister.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have made two first-round picks in the past five years, and one of those, offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker (1st, 2001) has been a significant disappointment. Last year, receiver Michael Clayton turned into the team's go-to threat, leading the Bucs in receiving. But with only two starters produced in the past three years' 22 picks, the draft has not been the Bucs' forte. Selections like receiver Marquise Walker (3rd, 2002), running back Travis Stephens (4th, 2002), defensive end Dewayne White (2nd, 2003) and quarterback Chris Simms (3rd, 2003) have failed or made little impact.

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