NFC South Draft Needs: Which Quarterback Will the Buccaneers Choose?

Which rookie will be throwing to Mike Evans? Can the Saints fix their defense? What do the Falcons and Panthers need to address?

The NFC South was not a very good division last year.

In fact, the division as a whole finished second to last just ahead of the AFC South in cumulative divisional nERD. Our nERD metric tells us the number of points you'd expect a team to win by on a neutral field against a league-average opponent. And, the NFC South had an average nERD of -2.94 -- meaning each team in the division would have be an expected three-point underdog against a league-average team.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom. The Panthers -- despite a record of 7-8-1 and finishing 16th in nERD -- won the division and won a home playoff game against the Ryan Lindley-led Arizona Cardinals. However, as indicated by their league average nERD, the Panthers still have holes to fill.

The Falcons and Saints finished 20th and 21st respectively based on nERD, and while New Orleans has moved some major pieces in and out of The Big Easy via free agency, Atlanta has stayed relatively quiet this offseason. Still, both will look to make the most out of their upcoming top-15 selections.

And then there are the Tampa bay Buccaneers. They were the second-worst team in the NFL in 2014 according to our nERD metric effectively "earning" their number one overall selection in this year's draft. Alas, on a team with so many needs, will they take a quarterback to pair with breakout wide receiver Mike Evans?

Let's get to it.

Atlanta Falcons

Biggest Need: Defensive End, Linebacker

Atlanta desperately needs to boost and give some firepower to their defensive line. The Falcons finished second to last with Oakland in total sacks, getting the quarterback to the ground a paltry 22 times last season. Further evidenced by finishing 30th in our Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) ranking, which adjusts defensive play for strength of schedule, the Dirty Birds have some major holes on defense to fill.

Ultimately, the Falcons probably want to find someone to come off of the edge at their LEO position to hurry the quarterback in new head coach Dan Quinn's 4-3 "under" scheme. Every organization is looking for a premier edge rusher, and luckily for the Falcons, there are two or three top candidates that could still be on the board when they are on the clock at eighth overall.

Potential Picks: OLB/DE Vic Beasley (Clemson), OLB/DE Dante Fowler (Florida)

Carolina Panthers

Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle

Quarterback Cam Newton needs better protection from his offensive line. According to Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate for offensive line's, the Panthers had the league's 27th highest adjusted sack rate at 9.1%. The league average was 6.6%.

The Panthers also ranked just 24th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play (-0.04) in 2014, further suggesting a boost to the offensive line would be beneficial.

Carolina did attempt to bolster their offensive line this offseason with the acquisitions of Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin. But both of those offensive tackles are probably coming in on a try-out basis with the team, with Oher signing a two-year deal and Martin being claimed off of waivers.

That means the team is still desperately in need of a left tackle and may look in that direction at 25th overall.

Potential Picks: OT Andrus Peat (Stanford), OT Ereck Flowers (Miami)

New Orleans Saints

Biggest Need: Linebacker

The Saints had the worst defense in the NFL in 2014.

New Orleans finished last in Adjusted Defensive NEP, allowing 153.37 points above expectation, and Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, allowing 0.11 points above expectation on each carry. Plus, they ended the season 29th in Adjusted Defensive Pass NEP per play (0.18). That's pretty putrid.

The Saints' struggles translated into traditional stats, as well, and they gave up the league's second most yards per rush attempt (4.8) in 2014. The defense needs help at all levels, but the linebacker position is the most glaring need on their roster.

Fortunately, New Orleans has two first-round picks, their 13th selection and the 31st overall selection (from Seattle), which means they have plenty of available draft capital to shore up a defense that was gashed for 2.48 points per drive last season.

Potential Picks: OLB Bud Dupree (Kentucky), ILB Eric Kendricks (UCLA)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Biggest Need: Quarterback

Hypothetically, you could list quarterback as a need for about five to eight teams every single year.

According to our data, the Buccaneers are certainly atop the list of teams that need to improve their quarterback play dramatically in 2015, as second-year man Mike Glennon and veteran Josh McCown finished 31st and 35th respectively in Passing NEP per drop back among 37 qualified signal-callers last season.

If the Buccaneers do draft a quarterback at number one overall, whomever they select will land in a fairly advantageous spot in terms of wide receiver talent. The aforementioned Mike Evans finished 17th in Reception NEP per target last year despite shoddy quarterback play.

Ultimately, the Buccaneers' decision will come down to Florida State's Jameis Winston or Oregon's Marcus Mariota. As our own Dan Pizutta mentioned, whoever drafts Winston is going to have to overlook his high interception rate and focus on his positive on-field attributes.

While Mariota didn't have as many directly transferable NFL snaps as Winston did, he did post an insane 11.5 adjusted yards per attempt in his Oregon career which was good enough for the sixth best adjusted yards per attempt in NCAA history.

Potential Picks: QB Jameis Winston (Florida State), QB Marcus Mariota (Oregon)