Buccaneers won draft in NFC South with three potential starters

Tight end O.J. Howard was higher on many teams' draft boards but slipped to the Bucs at 19. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

ESPN's NFC South reporters weigh in on which team in the division helped itself the most in the draft. Each team’s draft class is below the reporter’s analysis.

David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: While I like the two playmakers the Panthers added with their first two picks -- Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel -- my nod goes to Tampa Bay. Getting tight end O.J. Howard at No. 19 was a steal. He was on Carolina's short list at No. 8 and arguably one of the top five impact players in the draft. Put him in that offense with the addition of free agent wide receiver DeSean Jackson and quarterback Jameis Winston can't help but take a step forward. I also like third-round pick Kendell Beckwith, the inside linebacker out of LSU. He should be an upgrade in the run defense. Safety Justin Evans, the team's second-round pick out of Texas A&M, will add physicality to the secondary. The Bucs got three players who could start right away, which I can't say about the Panthers or other South teams.

Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: The Bucs are the draft winners in the division. Howard will make an immediate impact as a red zone target for Winston and help to improve a ground game that fell from fifth to 24th in 2016. Evans should help a defense that gave up 96 explosive pass plays last year, the most in the league, and 41 explosive run plays (tied for fifth). They addressed depth at wide receiver, selecting Chris Godwin in the third round, and they got extra insurance for Doug Martin by drafting a highly versatile running back in Jeremy McNichols. One weakness is that they're thin at offensive tackle.

Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: On paper, Tampa Bay looks like it helped itself the most on both sides, but the Falcons certainly did enough to keep themselves atop the division race for at least another season. The Falcons, who boasted the league's top-scoring offense a year ago, made sure to address defense first in the draft with the additions of first-round pick Takkarist McKinley and third-round pick Duke Riley. Both players bring even more speed to the lineup, with McKinley being a relentless pass-rusher off the edge and Riley a guy who swarms the field at linebacker. The combination of NFL sacks leader Vic Beasley Jr. and McKinley could be devastating, provided McKinley fully recovers from March shoulder surgery. And the linebacker trio of Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and Riley looks like three-quarters of a 4x100 relay team. Throw in ball-hawking defensive back Damontae Kazee in the fifth round and you're talking about a defense that vastly improved to keep pace with the offensive upgrades made by Tampa Bay and Carolina.

Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Saints. I don't want to give them too much credit for having six picks in the first three rounds, because they had to pay a stiff price for that haul (trading away Brandin Cooks and a 2018 second-rounder). But this choice came down to New Orleans and Tampa Bay for me because they got two of the best value picks in Round 1 in the entire NFL (CB Marshon Lattimore to the Saints at No. 11 and Howard to the Bucs at No. 19). And I give my edge to the Saints because I think they got good value with where they selected each of their first four picks (Lattimore, OT Ryan Ramczyk at No. 32, S Marcus Williams at No. 42 and one of their favorite picks at No. 67 -- pass-catching RB Alvin Kamara). So they were understandably excited by the end of the weekend.