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Draft Decisions

Draft Decisions: NFC South

by Josh Norris
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

How does a draft writer spend the first weeks after the big event? I’m not sure, but I have decided to watch every press conference for every team after each day of the draft, so you don’t have to. The goal is to pick up tendencies, tells and specific reasoning for selections. Sometimes the coaches and general managers have a role in mind, and as I’ve learned, too often they do not.


NFL franchises are honest in two ways: with their wallets and with their draft picks.


As you can see, the notes are very rough. This is not transcribing, more so noting the important points involved in an entire thought.

Atlanta Falcons

Speaking: Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff

1 (26). WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama - Looking at five different positions… Ridley is another firepower weapon on offense. He will mix in very well… A number of guys were in play at the end of round one… Locked in on defensive tackle or wide receiver… Ridley is a special talent… versatile receiver who and play inside and outside. Fast, agile with stop start ability. Play-making type. Explosive… Only a few have outside to inside ability. He’s ready to contribute right away… “We were looking for a guy who could really fly with Julio and Sanu”... On drops: In our mind, he far outweighed that in his ability to do what we wanted him to do and everything else I had mentioned… Separation, separation, separation. Violently changing directions… Asked Julio about Ridley as well as Sarkisian… Not a surprise he was available. Run on interior OL forced it. Falcons are well connected to Alabama (Saban and staff)... Personality wise Ridley is upbeat, firing, and he’s ready to compete at all levels… Tracked Ridley for a while. He was near the top of the board… Substantial consideration in moving up, but ultimately liked 3 or 4 players that would drop to them… His pro day workout was very impressive.   

2 (58). CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado - Speed and length. We talk about those two things a lot… Because of 33-inch arms he can play outside, inside and guard big guys… Has punt return experience in his background… We think Oliver had some of the best ball skills in the draft, hands down. Athleticism shows up in fluidity. Ability to “stop” is important… His belief and understanding in his athleticism allows him to be extremely confident when attacking the ball.

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3 (90). DT Deadrin Senat, USF - Very excited. Going to play him at nose tackle. Put him right into the mix… Has really good quickness for a big guy. Strong. Square. Toughness. Effort… Played almost head up on the center in his college system, likely means he has a better get off than indicated in that alignment… We think he’s an active inside guy and can push the pocket. Stands for the right things.

4 (126). RB Ito Smith, Southern Miss - We’ve added athleticism and speed. General theme of the entire draft… Stop-start running back, really good run skills. Catches the ball well. Has return skills… A number of these players are going to have a significant role on special teams. Makes up 20% of a game. Made a real effort to add to that… Moot point that he didn’t go to the Combine… Runs with urgency. Very good hands… Our system is about pressing one hole then making one explosive cut… This is not Tevin Coleman insurance, more about Terron Ward leaving… Wasn’t about size, wanted best player at that position on the board…


2018 sixth-round pick (194)


2018 seventh-round pick (244)

2018 seventh-round pick (256)

6 (194). WR Russell Gage, LSU - Honed in on Gage for multiple rounds… WR/Special Team aficionado, or Special Team/WR aficionado… Played corner and receiver… Will be on every special teams. Real competitor through and through. Special teams sets the tone for competitiveness… Gage + Justin Bethel can be a force for special teams… Important move for the team.

6 (200). LB Foye Oluokun, Yale - Can run. Athletic. Versatility to play more positions besides inside linebacker… Another player with a significant role on special teams…

Carolina Panthers

Speaking: Marty Hurney and Ron Rivera

1 (24). WR D.J. Moore, Maryland - Speed. Good play strength. Excellent run after the catch. He’s a weapon. Said we wanted to add speed and weapons… Group of prospects available at the pick, didn’t expect Moore to be on the board… “Draft started for us at pick 18 or 19”... Why Moore over Ridley: He’s 210 pounds, excellent run after the catch, a little bigger, still very explosive, both are excellent receivers and it was very close. Athleticism tipped it and his run after catch is elite… Offers really good value as a special teamer as a returner… Has play strength. Very high bar to compare him to Steve Smith. But that’s great praise from Smith… Can play all three of the wide receiver positions. We have found ways to play our number one picks. Will have an opportunity. Coach Turner is excited… Positive responses by coaches around the league after the pick… Played with four different quarterbacks. Mindset and attitude stayed the same despite those challenges… Turns into a running back with the ball in his hands… Discussed the “group” of players at 24 for six of the last seven mornings, the morning of the draft they did not need to… See him as a Z and the F (slot). Can regurgitate info on offense immediately… Moore had an “extremely, extremely” good workout… Cam texted HC/GM after the pick “Thank you” and was constantly needling them throughout the process. Cam had comments on all the offensive guys (receivers and offensive linemen).  

2 (55). CB Donte Jackson, LSU - It’s about creating competition. Young guys on the roster and have to step up and compete… Can play outside, so that position flexibility is important… Might be matchups based. Bradberry takes big receiver, Jackson takes fast or smaller ones… Really happy to get him at 55… Josh Norman brought swagger to the position. Think we are getting back to that. I expect the competition to be heated… Last minute of the Auburn game he made six plays on the ball. Cover corner… Mixing skill sets at corner. We are getting faster, something Hurney was high on early in the process… Have to match up with other NFC South teams (Atlanta, Tampa Bay and New Orleans). What we are seeing as a trend across the league... To get into the playoffs you have to win your division…

3 (85). S Rashaan Gaulden, Tennessee - Can come down and match up with tight ends… Football player. Scout referred to him as a swiss army knife. Will come down and hit. Physical player. Offers position flexibility… “Very good football player” Will play safety despite playing in the slot most of the time at Tennessee… Game speed is better than timed speed. Sudden. He plays fast… Swagger is something you look for in defensive backs. Play with attitude.


2018 fourth-round pick (101)

2018 fifth-round pick (147)


2018 third-round pick (88)

4 (101). TE Ian Thomas, Indiana - Interior offensive linemen flew off the board quickly. Board didn’t fall right for the position… Can be a complete tight end. Has a lot of potential. Needs experience and is a work in progress, but has all the tools… We think he can block, catch the ball extremely well and can get downfield… Goal was to add speed to skill positions… Can contribute right away, but the upside is even higher… Got a couple calls for the offer. One texted to trade up for Ian Thomas. Knew in the morning Ian would be the pick… Football is really important to him… When experience hits his skill set… Scouts look for skill sets. Coaches determine if skill sets fit what they want to do… Norv wants to use two tight ends. Both on the roster can get vertical and stretch the field.


2018 fourth-round pick (136)


2018 fifth-round pick (147)

2018 sixth-round pick (197)

4 (136). EDGE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss - Flat out speed off the edge. Can get to the quarterback. Good enough to trade up for… Will play defensive end. Joker position, athleticism to drop into a zone at times. Situational pass rusher. Talked about with Sean McDermott and Steve Wilks… Will come in at his current weight. Greatest attribute is his speed of the snap… Some things he can do versatility wise that we feel really good about… Compares very favorably to Mario Addison… We wanted an explosive guy with some juice.

5 (161). LB Jermaine Carter, Maryland - Can play inside linebacker, possibly WILL as well. High motor. Physical. Very good football player… Played in a defense that was “ok”. Plays with great leverage. Works to shed quickly. Defeats blocker and locates the ball, rather than keeping eyes focused on the backfield…

7 (234). LB Andre Smith, UNC

7 (242). DL Kendrick Norton, Miami

New Orleans Saints

Speaking: Sean Payton Day 1, Mickey Loomis Day 2, Sean Payton Day 3


2018 first-round pick (14)


2018 first-round pick (27)

2018 fifth-round pick (147)

2019 first-round pick

1 (14). EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA - A guy we targeted and spent quite a bit of time with. Unsure when you would be selected in round one… Like every year we discussed what players we would be willing to move up for… Fits a must position. Right defensive end spot…. Compensation was fair. You’re constantly looking at the charts. This one was next year. This was pick 27, have to look to next year as well and where that pick might fall. We’re hopefully talking about a late round pick. This happened last year with Alvin Kamara… Conversations start in the days leading up to the draft. Identify who is considering moving.… Transition from standing to down or vice versa is not a problem… Senior Bowl was very important. Was once piece of the evaluation. Played 5-technique, we view him as a pressure player… Really sharp guy. Driven. Focused… One of the targets of the offseason was adding a pressure player, either inside or outside… League has premium positions: pass rushers, corners, quarterbacks and tackles. Generally have to draft those players… Fits the prototype. Coaches are anxious to work with players like that. We are teachers… Moving inside is not their initial vision… Type of person that after you spend 5 to 10 minutes with him, “it’s on to the film”. He’s a quick study... In reference to quarterbacks “I don’t know if we had anyone graded like Patrick Mahomes last year”... History tells us guys with size stay healthier… Sometimes they like a player at a certain height and weight. Then someone in the room will ask “how many in the last 20 years have been this tall” You have to pay attention to that, because if only two have been that figure, then you’re going against numbers. There are certainly exceptions. But that’s just part of it. Davenport happens to be “prototype”. If we take a smaller corner, then we question “okay who is covering Julio? Mike Evans”... It was going to be too high to get Bradley Chubb. We have conviction with Davenport. Also liked Tremaine Edmunds… Started looking at trade ups at 10-11-12

3 (91). WR Tre’Quan Smith, UCF - Good size, decent speed. Smart player, tough and really productive… Important for our receivers to be good blockers… A guy dropping or being taken too early is a creation of the media based on the media’s expectations… Not impacted by Cam Meredith coming off injury. Player we liked a lot at that spot… Talked about moving up again, but player we liked went off the board… Had a high grade on him from scouts early on… Will find out where they play him. See what he does best, either on the outside or inside… Had a high grade on him

4 (127). T Rick Leonard, FSU - Physicalness about him because he started on defense. Potential because of that as well… Will play in a jumbo role. Can compete for the backup tackle… Performances got better as the season went on… Value pick, stood above the rest. Grit and toughness…

5 (164). S Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin - Vision is outside corner. Tested out well. Quick twitch and sudden… Has nickel and safety in his repertoire… Put him through a private workout… Special teams value… Versatile DBs are among the highest rate of making the roster as later picks

6 (189). CB Kamrin Moore, Boston College - Put him through a private workout… Was in consideration when they selected Jamerson… Special teams value

6 (201). RB Boston Scott, Louisiana Tech - Worked him out as a punt returner. Finding a role for them is the goal. Put him through a private workout… Pretty good runner as well as catch the ball out of the backfield

7 (245). C Will Clapp, LSU - Has played a lot of games at a high level of competition. Outstanding football IQ. Vision for him is at center.

Tampa Bay Bucs

Speaking: Dirk Koetter and Jason Licht, in separate press conferences


2018 first-round pick (12)

2018 second-round pick (53)

2018 second-round pick (55)


2018 first-round pick (7)

2018 seventh-round pick (255)

1 (12). DL Vita Vea, Washington - Extremely powerful. Spoke with him at the Combine, brought him in for a visit… He loves football. Family man. Had him high on the board… Win-win to pick up two second round picks and still get Vea… College coach said Vea is the type of guy you want your daughter to marry… We have to get better on defense either way, whether get out of the quarterback or covering… The toughest teams we play are the ones who can overpower us upfront and keep their defensive line fresh. We are hoping to do that… To see his athleticism at 340 pounds. We do comparables. Haloti Ngata is a pretty good comparison… Very early in the process identified Vea as someone who could help… Freakish athleticism. Great kid. Resilient. We like people who have overcome something… You can never have enough defensive linemen. Look at Philly. We’ve tried to do that for the last few years, might have it now… When you’re going after a quarterback, you have to pay enough to get there. Intel made us think he would be there… We’ve overhauled the defensive line group. Thought that was a necessity… On his visit we asked “what is the most important thing a defensive lineman can do?” Vea answered “kick the crap out of the guy in front of me” I like that about him. Told a story about taking a group from Washington to French Polynesia. No internet, no television, so they joined lifters in a field. Vea goes and picks up a large rock, and the locals gave him looks because only one other person in 10 years had the strength to lift up that rock. Excalibur of sorts… Can play the 1, 3 or 5. Taking on double teams frees someone up… Koetter and Washington coach are very good friends. Probably wouldn’t have been as high on him without those extremely positive conversations

2 (38). RB Ronald Jones, USC - Real explosive runner. Faster than the times are out there. Ran a 10.3 100 meter in high school… Makes plays with his speed. Makes plays on contact. Violent runner. Playmaker… Very tough. Our kind of guy… Fortunately we have Peyton Barber too. Have a good compliment to begin with and we will see how it goes… This was a good draft class for backs… All the top running backs had a ton of carries in this class. All over 6 yards per carry… They didn’t throw to him a lot. That was a trend across this draft class, except for one or two comparisons… Koetter rarely looks or makes comparisons for players

2 (53). CB MJ Stewart, UNC - We like him at nickel and we like him at corner. Will focus on those, not safety… Tough. Instinctive… Love the person, that’s why he was the pick over other corners. Our kind of guy…  Feels like you’re talking to a 10 year veteran… Hargreaves has played some nickel, but we wanted a guy who has played a lot of nickel. Brought him in for a visit…


2018 second-round pick (63)

2018 fourth-round pick (117)


2018 second-round pick (55)

2 (63). CB Carlton Davis, Auburn - Outside corner who can press. Tough to find press corners who can run… We love his confidence and competitiveness… Felt comfortable dropping back to acquire another pick and still get Davis… Timed him faster than 4.53. We use our own times… Went from being thin at corner to having eight on the roster… Wanted one for the slot and one physical guy outside.. Koetter believes there were just three corners over 6-feet-tall. Studied him against big receivers. Needed someone for that. Get physical with them


2018 third-round pick (94)


2018 fourth-round pick (102)

2018 sixth-round pick (180)

3 (94). OL Alex Cappa, Humboldt State - Trades allowed them to make five picks in the top 94. Licht believes he’s never been a part of a draft like that… I love that dude. Words like “bouncer” were used when discussing him during the process. Will compete at guard. Will train him to play all five spots… Area scout had to drive through Redwood trees to get to the school… Tough to compare him to Ali Marpet… Started taking action when another offensive lineman went off the board before him.

4 (117). S Jordan Whitehead, Pitt - Went to the defensive coaches and said “none of you should be unhappy right now” in a joking manner… Football means everything to guys from his area… Gym rat. Film junkie. Tough. Plays like he loves it.

5 (144). WR Justin Watson, Penn - We talked about him a lot during the process. How he’s wired is exactly how you want him. Blue collar. Inspirational brother. Invites the owners in before the draft to tell them the plan. Told them Watson was one of his favorite sleepers in the draft


2018 sixth-round pick (202)


S J.J. Wilcox

2019 seventh-round pick

6 (202). LB Jack Cichy, Wisconsin - We feel good about the value. Feel good about the injury… Alpha personality. Doesn’t take BS from anybody… Went through scenarios of how they would fill roster with original picks (1 and 3), extra picks made them feel so much better. Quarterback could turn out to be very good, and it might be viewed as a bargain for Buffalo.

Josh Norris

Josh Norris is an NFL Draft Analyst for NBC Sports Edge and contributed to the Rams scouting department during training camp of 2010 and the 2011 NFL Draft. He can be found on Twitter .