The Atlanta Falcons have had a disastrous 2013 season, and the situation only got worse on Sunday, as the team lost 34-10 to the Carolina Panthers to drop their record to 2-6 on the season.
A run to the playoffs looks nearly impossible at this point (only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals have made the playoffs after starting 2-6), which means that it is time to revive a Falcons’ tradition that most thought that Thomas Dimitroff, Mike Smith, and Matt Ryan had killed: looking forward to the upcoming NFL Draft while the season is still going on.
If the season were to end today, the Falcons would possess the fifth pick in the draft, leaving the team in play for the best college prospects available. With so many options to choose from, let’s take a look at five players that may ultimately be wearing a Falcons jersey come 2014:
1) Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M – In case anyone has missed some of the Falcons’ games this season, the biggest problem for the team–aside from injuries–has been extremely poor play by the offensive line. The line has done nothing to open up lanes for Steven Jackson or any of the other running backs (the team ranks last in the league with 64 yards per game) or protect franchise quarterback Matt Ryan, who has been hurried 100 times through eight games.
The struggles of this unit honestly should not be much of a surprise considering the fact that guys that the team started three weeks ago against the Jets included, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer D. Orlando Ledbetter “…tackle Lamar Holmes (a draft pick who can’t play, which is something neither Smith nor general manager Thomas Dimitroff will acknowledge); left guard Justin Blalock (the best player on the line but, unfortunately, not a take-charge, leader type, which the group desperately needs); center Peter Konz (who has not been the physical upgrade from Todd McClure that the team had hoped and obviously lacks McClure’s experience and intelligence); right guard Garrett Reynolds (not an NFL-caliber starter); and tackle Jeremy Trueblood (who was cut before the season by Washington).”
With all this in mind, it is clear that Atlanta should be looking to add a piece to this weak line. Enter Matthews, a 6’5”, 305 lb. tackle that has had to take on the task of protecting Johnny Football. The Aggies’ offensive line has done a fairly good job despite no longer having Luke Joeckel, who the Jaguars took with the #2 pick last season, and a good bit of the credit for that has to go to the senior from Missouri City, Texas.
2) Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina – The common belief that Clowney would undoubtedly be the first pick in the upcoming draft has died down a bit, which is perfect for a Falcons’ team that certainly will not post a record worse than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although he has not posted incredible hits game after game this season, Clowney has definitely had his share of good games, including an impressive outing against Tennessee stud tackle Antonio Richardson in the Gamecocks’ 34-31 loss in Knoxville. Clowney may not be around by the time the Atlanta Falcons are on the clock, but if he is, it would be a no-brainer to bring him in and align him opposite of Osi Umenyiora on a defensive line that has not exactly tripped the light fantastic in 2013.
3) Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama – It seems like at this point any offensive lineman could be in play for the Falcons, which leads us to Kouandjio. A 6’6”, 310 lb. junior, Kouandjio has had the job of protecting senior quarterback AJ McCarron and opening up holes for Crimson Tide running back TJ Yeldon, and the results have been very impressive, as Nick Saban’s squad sits at 8-0 and boasts the 11th highest scoring offense, the 26th best rushing offense, and rank 11th in sacks allowed. It is unclear at this point if Kouandjio is poised to grab his third championship ring in three seasons, but what is clear is that he has scouts across the league keying in on him.
4) Anthony Barr, DE/OLB, UCLA – Barr is part of the reason why Clowney’s name has been losing steam so far this season. A converted running back, Barr has set the PAC-12 on fire so far this season, leading UCLA in tackles for loss (13), sacks (6), and forced fumbles (4) through eight games. Barr is poised to be an All-PAC 12 player and in the running for an All-American nod, and odds are he will be highly coveted by the Falcons brass once April 2014 rolls around.
5) Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor – Noticing a pattern here? With the offensive line being snapped, crackled, and popped any given Sunday, Atlanta could turn to Richardson, who has gotten the job done for a Bears’ offense that is on the verge of breaking a significant amount of records thanks to an offense that is averaging 63.9 yards per game and is threatening to win their conference for the first time since they shared the Southwest Conference title back in 1994. The Falcons must focus on finding men to protect its signal caller, which means they must go after guys like the 6’5”, 340 lb. Richardson.