Well, NFL fans, we are down to less than two weeks before the NFL Draft kicks off, the three day stretch in which fans from San Diego to Buffalo all believe they’re respected general managers have put together the puzzle pieces that will lead the team to the promised land…or quite possibly set the franchise back for the next five years.
As important as this year’s draft is for teams in rebuilding mode like the Chargers or the Bills, this draft is just as important for the Atlanta Falcons, a team that brought in several talented players via free agency but still look a playmaker or two short of being able to successfully contend for a trip to the Super Bowl. Coming off a 13-3 regular season in which the Falcons made it all the way to the NFC Championship game before falling to the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta has had its fair share of success under head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, but have admittedly fallen short of their understandingly high expectations.
Because expectations are so high, Dimitroff and Co. will be looking at bringing in players that will be ready to make an impact immediately, something that the team has been successful in doing in recent years (See: Roddy White, Matt Ryan, & Sean Weatherspoon). Before we make predictions on which players will be sporting Falcons uniforms when it is all said and done, let’s take a look at which positions the Falcons will undoubtedly be targeting in the 2013 Draft:
1. Cornerback – Atlanta’s biggest hole going into the draft is at corner thanks to the exits of Dunta Robinson, who was released in March and subsequently signed with the Chiefs, and Brent Grimes, who opted to take more money to become a Miami Dolphin. Pass coverage was a noticeable weakness for the Falcons last season, so it is imperative that the team targets a corner who excels in locking down even the best receivers.
2. Defensive End – John Abraham has been the cornerstone coming off the end of the defensive line for the past seven seasons, so his release back in March leaves Atlanta in desperate need for another end. The addition of Osi Umenyiora definitely helps the team, but I would expect the team to look at adding another talented end to pair with Osi and split time with Kroy Biermann in 2013.
3. Middle Linebacker – The Lofa Tatupu project for 2012 failed before it even started when the former Seahawk’s pre-season injury led to his departure prior to the first game of the year, leaving the team to turn to second year player Akeem Dent, whose ability to start in the NFL has yet to be proven, and Mike Petersen, who at thirty-six had just as much as success as you would imagine any defensive player with fourteen years under his belt to have. The only proven linebacker Atlanta currently possesses is former first round pick Sean Weatherspoon, leaving the remaining two linebacker slots up in the air. I could see the team looking at bringing in either a middle or another outside linebacker to take over for veteran Stephen Nicholas, but from the outside looking in it seems like the mike position is more pressing.
4. Defensive Tackle – It’s time for the Falcons to make a tough admission: the decision to draft Peria Jerry in the first round with guys like Clay Matthews and LeSean McCoy still on the board has not paid off. Jerry has been injured for an exceedingly large amount of his time since coming to Atlanta from Ole Miss, and while the left defensive tackle position is set with Jonathan Babineaux, who has done a commendable job for the Falcons in his eight seasons with the team, Jerry’s position is clearly up for grabs. If the team finds a player that they think can find himself on the field more than Peria, they would be foolish not to bring him in.
5. Tight End – Although Tony Gonzalez’s return to the team led to a timely exhale from the entire Falcons’ fanbase, his flirtation with retirement revealed that the depth behind the future Hall of Famer is not exactly comforting. Sure, Chase Coffman from Missouri may be very talented and even had a great catch in the NFL Divisional game against the Seahawks, but that is not to say that Coffman has been designated as the heir apparent to Gonzo. This draft arguably has the most talent at the tight end position of any draft we have seen in quite some time thanks to players like Stanford’s Zach Ertz and Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert. The Falcons probably will not have the chance to draft either of these two players, but they very well could target a player like Rice’s Vance McDonald a little later on.
Projected Draft Results
Before we get into my projections for the Falcons’ 2013 draft, let’s first consider these two provisions:
1) I am truly terrible at predicting what happens in the NFL Draft, and it’s probably better than way (if I was 100% accurate, we would have selected Glenn Dorsey over Matty Ice and would have let Brian Brohm play behind the center).
2) Thomas Dimitroff has yet to go an NFL Draft without trading at least one of his picks, and with eleven total picks thanks to several compensatory selections, I would say it is a guarantee that the picks described below will not all belong to the Falcons when it comes time for them to be announced. Chances are that Atlanta sees a player they are interested in selecting and make a move up in a trade that sends some later picks away, and while this probably will not happen in the first round, I could definitely see it around the third or fourth.
And now for the moment you have all been waiting for. Here are my projections on how the Atlanta Falcons’ 2013 draft will look once it is all said and done:
Round #, Overall Pick #, Player, Position, School
1 30 – D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston – Hayden is ranked as the #25 overall draft prospect by Scouts Inc. and the Falcons desperately needs help at cornerback, so Hayden heading to Atlanta is definitely conceivable.
Other Possibilities: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State; Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia; Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
2 60 – Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU – Montgomery would provide solid pressure opposite Umenyiora (8 sacks his senior year), something that will be key if Atlanta’s defense is going to get to the quarterback again and again in 2013.
3 92 – Kiko Alonso, ILB, Oregon – Maybe not as talented as Te’o or LSU’s Rick Minter, Alonso is a solid linebacker, and although he has a questionable past off the field, his skills and maturation should make validate making him a third round pick.
4 127 – Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina – It’s hard to say at this point if Lattimore will even be around by the time Atlanta’s first fourth round selection comes up on the board (I would not be highly surprised to see him go early in the third round), but adding a talent like Lattimore to a backfield that already boasts Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Jason Snelling would definitely be a justifiable gamble considering his medical history.
4 133 – Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State – Sims may not be as good as Ertz or Eifert, but at 6’4”, 262 lbs, he would provide for another big target for Matt Ryan and would be given a year to learn under Tony Gonzalez. Sims’ blocking ability appears to be just as good if not better than Gonzalez’s, which is obviously a plus.
5 163 – Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois – Spence may be a little shorter than some of his fellow tackles at six foot tall, but with plenty of production while playing for the Fighting Illini along with notable durability (started the last 38 games for Illinois) makes him a desirable draft choice.
6 198 – Rod Sweeting, CB, Georgia Tech – The Falcons would be foolish to think just bringing in one cornerback will completely fix the depth problem that the team is currently faces. Enter Sweeting, who had 58 tackles with one interception for the Yellow Jackets in 2012. He may not be an immediate starter for the team, which are few and far between this late in the draft, but he could prove to be a Chris Owens-type player who is able to step in from time to time and player tight coverage.
7 236 – Braden Wilson, FB, Kansas State – Drafting a fullback is honestly a lot like selecting a special teams player because although they are crucial to the game, you do not necessarily want to draft one too early. The seventh round would be a great time to select a player like Wilson, who could fill a fullback slot that has been very unstable since the team parted ways from Pro Bowler Ovie Mughelli.
7 243 – Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State – Atlanta is not exactly in desperate need of a quarterback, but the departure of backup Luke McCown more than likely means that second year player Dominique Davis will be Ryan’s backup for 2013, leaving a hole at third string. This leaves open a spot for a player like Tuel, who shined at times in Mike Leach’s first year as Cougars head coach (threw for 2,088 yards with 8 TDs and 8 INTs). Tuel’s experience in a system focused on passing makes him an interesting prospect in a pass-heavy league, and even though he does not come with a ton of guarantees, he is at least worth a look.
7 244 – Craig Roh, DE, Michigan – Defensive end almost fits the same needs as cornerback for Atlanta, which makes taking a player like Roh late a definite possibility. At 6’5”, 270 lbs, Roh is big enough to still have plenty of power against offensive tackles but small enough to still have enough speed to make plays (Roh had four sacks for the Wolverines in 2012 and registered a 4.9 40 yard dash time).
7 249 – Keelan Johnson, S, Arizona State – It is never a bad idea to try and find a diamond in the rough to finish off your draft, which is exactly what a guy like Johnson could wind up being. A bit of an underachiever during his time with the Sun Devils, Johnson possesses good ball skills and has decent pass reading ability, making him a possible target to close out the draft.
Disagree with my predictions? Leave a comment and tell me who you think the Falcons should go after in the NFL Draft