The Atlanta Falcons are coming off a season of optimism. The 2008 year marked a new beginning for the Falcons...a new general manager and coaching staff helped everyone forget about past tribulations by guiding the team to a winning record and playoff berth.
What we saw of the Falcons was a potent offense and middle of the road defense at best. With the Falcons looking setup on offense with all the starters returning it looks like they will go heavily on defense in the draft. The only position on offense that may need an upgrade is at tight end.
The tight-end position isn't used much in Mike Mularkey's system, but more pass-catching talent could help out Matt Ryan.
After discussing the positions of need I will give predictions on who the Falcons may draft and why. Many mock drafts have the Falcons taking TE Brandon Pettigrew in the first round. This probably won't happen as the Falcons have lost five starters from an already porous defense.
Also, free-agent tight end L.J. Smith is visiting the Falcons today. The Falcons haven't been active at all in free agency thus far, so look for them to sign Smith.
The positions of most need in the draft are at LB (possibly two depending on acquisitions in free agency), S, DT, CB, and DE. Some factors that will influence the picks in the draft are how well CB Von Hutchins and DT Trey Lewis come back from injuries.
Also another factor will be the ability of some players like S Thomas DeCoud and LB Stephen Nicholas to be able to step in and start. Another thing that may happen is DE Jamaal Anderson being moved to DT. Anything from us on this is speculation, but bet that the Falcons have analyzed these things tremendously.
Right now there are questions of worry that maybe GM Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons are being too lax in free agency. With so many holes to fill, and those holes being starters, could it be the Falcons are putting too much stock in the draft?
It seems they either were interested in players who were franchised or don't think enough talent is available to warrant expensive free agent acquisitions. Last year the staff did a remarkable job in the players they drafted.
The draft was definitely the best in years and one could argue it may have been the best ever. Contributions from those drafted players were numerous and the full effect has not been witnessed as of yet.
The Falcons being passive in free agency does bring some worry to mind. How can the team expect to draft five starters? Isn't that putting a lot of faith in the drafting ability of the staff?
Also, drafted players don't always pan out and there is also the unforeseen injuries that can occur. Has the team purged too much veteran presence and leadership? We will found out in the upcoming season.
Last year we saw weak play from the linebacker position. Rookie LB Curtis Lofton looks to be a keeper but Brooking and Boley definitely played below expectations. The result was the secondary, especially the safeties making a lot of tackles.
One question is can Stephen Nicholas come in and start for the Falcons this year? It would seem the Falcons think so since they let two starting linebackers go. However, if Nicholas is good enough to start why didn't he get more playing time last year?
Surely the team isn't expecting to draft and start two rookie linebackers...especially since Curtis Lofton will only be headed into his second year? Depending on if the team picks up a linebacker in free agency the linebacker is a position of great need for the Falcons. Definitely look for two or maybe three linebackers to be drafted.
Another area of need as witnessed in the playoff loss to Arizona is the strong safety position. Lawyer Milloy played well last year but his age showed greatly near the end of the season. His inability to chase down the not so fast Anquan Boldin in the playoff game showed that Milloy has lost a step or two.
The Falcons want to upgrade the position with a safety who can hit, cover, and has some speed. Team representatives took a close look at safeties and corners at the combine. Look for the team to draft a replacement early in the draft.
Obviously the team doesn't see backup S Thomas DeCoud as a suitable replacement.
The DT position is in need especially since Grady Jackson just recently signed with Detroit. One unknown here is how much faith the team puts in the return of DT Trey Lewis.
He will return but will he be the same player he was before? If he is then this isn't as great of a need as it may seem. Moving Jamaal Anderson to DT could also add depth so look for the team to possibly draft a combination type LB/DE player before they do DT.
The corner position will be strengthened by the return of injured Von Hutchins and David Irons. Also, Brent Grimes started last year until Dominique Foxworth stepped in. Grimes is scrappy but undersized...look for the team to upgrade here but maybe in a later round.
Last but certainly not least is the defensive end position. The return of reserve Chauncey Davis will help but can he start? The reserves Kroy Biermann and Davis both played well when called upon last season. Both out-shined disappointing starter Jamaal Anderson.
Anderson will have to show something in training camp and if he is left at DE may lose his job to Davis or a drafted player. The rumor is the Falcons want to try him at DT...either way he will have to show something in camp or risk losing his starting job or possibly being cut.
The defensive line is a position of great need for the Falcons. Other than John Abraham the Falcons did not put much pressure on the quarterback. The defensive scheme of the Falcons is to put pressure without the blitz so it is imperative that the defensive line get upgraded.
Look for the Falcons to bolster the defensive line on day one of the draft.
Hopefully the Falcons will get more involved in free agency soon and that may make forecasting what they do in the draft easier. Until then here's a mock draft with reasons why they may draft these players.
With the 24th pick in the draft the Atlanta Falcons select...DE/LB Larry English, Northern Illinois. The Falcons like a guy who can play multiple positions and there are a few guys who fit the bill (Aaron Maybin, Clint Sintim).
Other possibilities: LB Clay Matthews, LB Brian Cushing. The projections show a lot of linebackers going in the first round. There are almost no safeties projected to go in round one and very few defensive tackles and corners.
Look for the Falcons to go LB here since they can get quality players at other positions later in the draft and LB is a great need.
With the 55th pick in the draft the Atlanta Falcons select....S Rashad Johnson, Alabama. The Falcons have needs at DT, DE, and LB but the greatest need is at safety. With a lot of bodies at DT and the possibility that Chauncey Davis could become the starter at DE the Falcons could address safety here.
Especially since they chose LB in the first round and there will be a run on safeties in the second round.
DT Dorell Scott, Clemson. Atlanta has a need at DT and may choose to address it here. Other possibilities would be another LB or DE.
DE Tim Jamison, Michigan. The Falcons need depth at DE. They also may look for more linebacker help (maybe Tyrone McKenzie OLB S. FL).
Two selections here: CB Joe Burnett, Central Florida and Zach Follett OLB California. Both players could be gone by this time but look for the team to look for magic at LB a second time around (Michael Boley).
Rounds Six and Seven
Don't know if the Falcons have a pick here or not due to the trade with Denver for Foxworth last year. Was supposed to be a seventh but could go higher due to playing time. Falcons probably go back to one of the need positions here to add depth. Could also look for OL depth here as well.