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Draft Preview: NFC South

All eyes will be on the Atlanta Falcons this Thursday to see what they will do with the fourth overall pick as the 2021 NFL Draft gets underway in Cleveland.

The Falcons, who finished bottom of the NFC South with a 4-12 record in 2020, are first up from the division.

There has been plenty of speculation on what the Falcons might do in round one, with many talented quarterback prospects possibly being available when the Falcons enter the draft fray. Will the Falcons choose a quarterback to compete with Matt Ryan for the upcoming season?

Ryan, who turns 36 in May, is contracted to the Falcons till 2023. It would be an intriguing contest in Atlanta if the 2016 MVP would have to battle it out with a first-round pick, especially against the calibre of a Justin Fields out Ohio State or a Trey Lance from North Dakota State if selected.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, and San Francisco 49ers are ahead of the Falcons in the first round, with all three expected to pick up quarterbacks. The Jaguars will almost certainly select Trevor Lawrence as the first overall draft pick with Zach Wilson heading to New York at two. If the 49ers take Fields at three, that could leave the Falcons with Lance, or perhaps even Mac Jones out of Alabama Crimson Tide. The Falcon’s decision on whether to choose a quarterback could depend on the 49ers’ pick.

The Falcons’ offense is already loaded with serious artillery such as wide receivers Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones. Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot, both in their first year as head coach and general manager respectively, will have a decision to make whether to add competition for Ryan.

Instead of competing with Ryan for the starting position, drafting a quarterback to go under Ryan’s wing and learn from the stalwart to eventually takeover would be a pragmatic decision for the Falcons.

Kyle Pitts is another exciting prospect the Falcons might be tempted to choose in their initial selection. The towering tight end comes out of the Florida Gators after a hugely impressive 2020, which saw Pitts pick up the John Mackey Award for best tight end. It would be a logical decision to go with Pitts, who would certainly complement the offense.

The Falcons have the most picks in the division with nine followed by the Saints with eight picks while the Panthers and Buccaneers both have seven each.

The Carolina Panthers come in at number eight. A significant offseason already for head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer, the Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the Jets, who will most likely replace Teddy Bridgewater as Carolina’s starting quarterback.

The Panthers have spoken about possibly moving back and trading the eight pick depending on how the first seven selections develop, with teams willing to trade up with them to select a quarterback, leaving the Panthers with further picks in future drafts to help build a side for contention.

In New Orleans, it will be the first draft for the Saints without Drew Brees conducting matters at quarterback since 2006. Coming in at 28, the Saints are, however, well covered at quarterback after the future hall-of-famer announced his retirement in March. Jameis Winston showed in pockets last season why he is the player to take over the reins after Brees. Sean Payton’s charges are hugely formidable in offense with Michael Thomas at wide receiver, Alvin Kamara at running back, and Taysom Hill doing a little bit of everything as a utility option, which would include stepping in for Winston. The Saints might look to complement their formidable offense with another wide receiver.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the reigning Super Bowl champion, of course, make up the final pick in the first round. There was some shrewd business done in the offseason by the Bucs as Chris Godwin was franchised as well as re-signing Rob Gronkowski, Ndamakong Suh and Leonard Fournette as well as others to help defend their crown for the 2021 season. It will be fascinating to see what transpires with the current champions with the final pick of the first round, perhaps adding another quarterback.

Nothing is guaranteed until teams announce their selection and the players receive the annual Commissioner’s hug - welcoming them to the NFL. Expect twists and turns along the way, trade ups and trade downs, and plenty of drama right up until the end.

Will the Falcons get a quarterback to challenge Matt Ryan? Will the Carolina Panthers trade back? What will the Saints do at number 28? Who will the Bucs add at 32?

As can be expected with the NFC South, an intriguing affair awaits in Cleveland this Thursday.


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