April 27, 2011; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers first round draft picks Doug Martin and Mark Barron are introduced during a press conference at One Buc Place. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

NFL Draft 2012: NFC South First-Round Draft Grades

With the first round of the 2012 NFL draft finished, we were definitely treated to some excitement on Thursday night.

The NFC South entered the first round with only two teams drafting, the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Atlanta traded their first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns last year for the rights to draft Julio Jones while the New Orleans Saints traded their pick to the New England Patriots for Mark Ingram.

With both the Panthers and Buccaneers drafting in the first ten picks, the NFC South’s night was done pretty early.  We’ll take a look and grade each of the picks of the NFC South’s first round.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Mark Barron, S, Alabama (Seventh Pick)

Tampa Bay traded their fifth pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars and drafted Barron.  With Morris Claiborne and Matt Kalil off the board, the Buccaneers must have felt like Barron was the best player available that filled a hole on their roster.

While Barron is certainly talented, he wasn’t expected to come off the board until the middle of the first round.  With players like Luke Kuechly and Stephon Gilmore on the board, it felt like Tampa Bay reached for this pick a little.

Still, Barron should be able to step in from day one and provide an upgrade against the run and rushing the quarterback.  He’ll need to improve in pass coverage, but if he can do that, he could turn into one of the better overall safeties in the league.

Final Grade: B

Apr 27, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers first round draft pick Luke Kuechly talks with the media during a press conference at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Carolina Panthers – Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College (Ninth Pick)

At first, I was quite dumbfounded with this pick.  The Panthers already have one of the best inside linebackers in the league with Jon Beason.  Why would they need another one?

However, the more I thought about this pick, the more I liked it.  With Kuechly on the roster, and NFL-ready, the Panthers can move Beason to weak-side linebacker and have one of the best linebacker duos in the entire league.  Both Kuechly and Beason are complete linebackers who excel in nearly every category of the game.

Playing in a division with tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Kellen Winslow and Tony Gonzalez, the Panthers need some linebackers who can drop back into coverage.  Both Beason and Kuechly can do that, and they’ll give Carolin quite the dynamic combination at linebacker for the foreseeable future.

Final Grade: A-

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Doug Martin, RB, Boise State (Thirty-First Pick)

Tampa Bay jumped back into the first round and addressed one of their biggest needs at running back with Martin from Boise State.

Personally, I love this pick.  Not only does Martin provide an instant boost to Tampa Bay’s offense, he also fills a huge need that the Buccaneers had at running back.  Sure, LeGarrette Blount is a fine back, but he is rather limited in what he can bring to an offense.

A player like Martin is capable of not only being successful as a runner, but also as a receiver and blocker.  While he isn’t “elite” in any aspect of his game, he has a solid all-around game that Tampa Bay will surely love.

Final Grade: A

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