What Falcons’ NFC South rivals did in 2023 NFL draft

The NFC South might be the NFL’s only true wide-open division. The reigning champion Buccaneers went just 8-9 and quarterback Tom Brady retired. The Falcons, Saints and Panthers went 7-10. Each of the four teams, following busy offseasons, can justify having playoff aspirations ahead of the 2023 season.

“Our expectation every year is to go out there. … (Control) things you can control to get into the postseason, win your division,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “You can get in there other ways, the wild card, but that will be our expectation. You are talking about sustaining success. Let’s get in the playoffs every year and get in the dance, try to make a run. I would think that’s what every other team is trying to do.

“If you can just win your division, you are certainly going to get in. We certainly put everything we had into it last year. We came up short. … But every year, that’s what you’re trying to do.”

Here’s how the Falcons’ NFC South rivals fared in this weekend’s draft:

Carolina Panthers

Round 1, pick 1 Quarterback Bryce Young, Alabama

Round 2, pick 39 Receiver Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss

Round 3, pick 80 Edge rusher DJ Johnson, Oregon

Round 4, pick 114 Guard Chandler Zavala, NC State

Round 5, pick 145 Safety Jammie Robinson, Florida State

The only pick that truly matters here is No. 1. The Panthers traded a haul to the Bears, jumping from No. 9 to the first pick for a quarterback. They settled on Young, the Heisman Trophy who has every quality a team would want besides size (5-foot-10, 204 pounds by combine measurements). After shuffling through quarterbacks in recent seasons, Carolina hopes it’s found its signal caller for the next decade-plus. The Panthers got Young help with Mingo in the second. It’s somewhat a surprise Robinson fell to the fifth after he’d generated some buzz during the pre-draft process.

New Orleans Saints

Round 1, pick 29 Defensive lineman Brian Bresee, Clemson

Round 2, pick 40 Edge rusher Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame

Round 3, pick 71 Running back Kendre Miller, TCU

Round 4, pick 103 Offensive tackle Nick Saldiveri, Old Dominion

Round 4, pick 127 Quarterback Jake Haener, Fresno State

Round 5, Pick 146 Safety Jordan Howden, Minnesota

Round 6, Pick 195 Receiver A.T. Perry, Wake Forest

New Orleans’ first selection arrived via the coach Sean Payton trade with Denver. The Saints spent it on Bresee, a former top recruit who dealt with injuries and was inconsistent in college. Production wasn’t a question with Foskey, who had 20.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Miller could be a factor early with Alvin Kamara potentially facing a suspension. The Haener selection was the second Fresno State quarterback the Saints added this offseason after signing Derek Carr, who they hope provides stability at quarterback for the first time since Drew Brees’ retirement. New Orleans also traded tight end Adam Trautman to Denver, reuniting him with Payton.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Round 1, pick 19 Defensive lineman Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh

Round 2, pick 48 Guard Cody Mauch, North Dakota State

Round 3, pick 82 Edge rusher YaYa Diaby, Louisville

Round 5, pick 153 Linebacker SirVocea Dennis, Pittsburgh

Round 5, pick 171 Tight end Payne Durham, Purdue

Round 6, pick 181 Defensive back Josh Hayes, Kansas State

Round 6, pick 191 Receiver Trey Palmer, WR, Nebraska

Round 6, Pick 196 Edge rusher Jose Ramirez, Eastern Michigan

The Buccaneers passed on Will Levis, Hendon Hooker and the rest of the quarterbacks available to them, moving forward with their competition between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask. Their first pick was Kancey, an undersized-but-uber-athletic defensive lineman who slots next the monstrous Vita Vea. Mauch is the type of offensive lineman they covet with his physicality and demeanor. Diaby and Durham are Atlanta area products who could earn playing time. It wasn’t a flashy draft, but the Bucs prioritized getting faster, especially defensively. The team will be significantly younger than recent seasons during its win-now window with Brady.

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