Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Fill the Falcons' Biggest Needs

Al BruceContributor IDecember 10, 2013

Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Fill the Falcons' Biggest Needs

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    The Atlanta Falcons' offseason is about to begin a lot earlier than they expected, but that doesn't mean the team has any excuse to be unprepared for the task.

    Through 13 games, we've learned that this team needs to inject more talent into its lines on both sides of the ball and that Atlanta's lack of overall depth is a key issue facing the team moving forward.

    With some major offseason decisions rapidly approaching for Atlanta, let's take a quick preview of some of the notable potential free agents and eligible draft prospects (whether they've declared or not) that could be available for Atlanta this offseason at the positions where Atlanta needs help the most.

    As is to be expected, we'll focus most of our attention on the trenches.

     

    ALL CONTRACT INFORMATION IS VIA SPOTRAC.COM

Offensive Tackle

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    Potential 2014 Free Agents:

    Brandon Albert (Chiefs), Eugene Monroe (Ravens), Breno Giacomini (Seahawks), Anthony Collins (Bengals), Charles Brown (Saints), Zach Strief (Saints)

     

    Notable 2014 Eligible Draft Prospects:

    Jake Matthews (Texas A&M), Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama), Taylor Lewan (Michigan), James Hurst (North Carolina), Cameron Erving (Florida State), La'el Collins (LSU), Greg Robinson (Auburn) and Antonio Richardson (Tennessee)

     

    Analysis:

    The right tackle spot has been an issue for the Falcons all season and left tackle Sam Baker wasn't off to a great start before he went down with season-ending knee surgery. The jury is still out on young players like Ryan Schraeder and Terren Jones at the moment.

    Even with Baker and a more experienced Lamar Holmes slated to return in 2014, Atlanta needs to add another starting-caliber tackle to this roster to compete for snaps and solidify the team's depth chart.

    Given the amount of money the team has invested in Matt Ryan, Atlanta would be acting reasonably if it took a player like Jake Matthews with its first-round pick. He'd be an upgrade over Baker or Holmes, and the odd man out of whoever remains from that trio would be a strong top backup at either tackle spot.

    If Atlanta chooses to go a different direction with its top pick, it may still be able to snag a quality tackle at the top of the second or third round given the depth in this class.

    The free-agent market could offer a few reliable veteran options, including either of the Saints' tackles who may have to be let go in order to accommodate star tight end Jimmy Graham.

Offensive Guard

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    Potential 2014 Free Agents:

    Jon Asamoah (Chiefs), Willie Colon (Jets), Zane Beadles (Broncos), Kevin Boothe (Giants), Matt Slauson (Bears)

     

    Notable Eligible 2014 Draft Prospects:

    Cyril Richardson (Baylor), David Yankey (Stanford), Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State), Zack Martin (Notre Dame), Anthony Steen (Alabama)

     

    Analysis:

    Right guard has been a revolving door for the Falcons since Harvey Dahl left in free agency after the 2010 season. Garrett Reynolds proved to be ineffective as a full-time starter this year, and Peter Konz is still inconsistent. The Falcons need a mauler to anchor their run game and instill some toughness and physicality into this group.

    If Atlanta opts to go to the free-agent market, Chiefs guard Jon Asamoah may be the top talent available, but Jets guard Willie Colon is probably the best example of the kind of attitude the Falcons need on the inside of their line.

    As for the draft prospects, Atlanta-area high school product David Yankey out of Stanford and Baylor's Cyril Richardson would both be nice upgrades.

Defensive End

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    Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

    Potential 2014 Free Agents:

    Lamarr Houston (Raiders), Jared Allen (Vikings), Michael Johnson (Bengals), Greg Hardy (Panthers), Justin Tuck (Giants), Michael Bennett (Seahawks)

     

    Notable 2014 Eligible Draft Prospects:

    Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina), OLB/DE Anthony Barr (UCLA), OLB/DE Khalil Mack (Buffalo), Vic Beasley (Clemson), Michael Sam (Missouri), Kony Ealy (Missouri), Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), Trent Murphy (Stanford), Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech), Jackson Jeffcoat (Texas)

     

    Analysis:

    If Atlanta wants to compete for championship again in 2014, it must finally find a realistic solution to its pass-rush woes along the defensive front four. It's looking like the team made a mistake when it chose to release John Abraham after last season, but Abraham still needed more help generating pressure when he was in Atlanta.

    Jadeveon Clowney is an elite-level prospect and could impact Atlanta's defense the same way Julio Jones has impacted the offense. Clowney alone wouldn't be enough, though. In order to generate consistent pressure, the Falcons need a legitimate four-man rotation at defensive end and defensive tackle. Moreover, the team may still play itself out of position to draft Clowney over these last three weeks.

    If Atlanta chooses to address its pass rush with one of its first two picks of the draft, Anthony Barr, Khalil Mack and both Missouri defensive ends represent viable draft alternatives if Clowney is off the board.

    Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy would merit a generous offer from the Falcons if Carolina allowed him to hit the market, but if that doesn't happen keep an eye on versatile Raiders defensive lineman Lamarr Houston.

Defensive Tackle

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    Potential 2014 Free Agents:

    Henry Melton (Bears), Linval Joseph (Giants) Vance Walker (Raiders), Paul Soliai (Dolphins), Lamarr Houston (Raiders)

     

    Notable 2014 Eligible Draft Prospects:

    Louis Nix (Notre Dame), Timmy Jernigan (Florida State), Anthony Johnson (LSU), Dominique Easley (Florida), Kelcy Quarles (South Carolina), Will Sutton (Arizona State), Ra'Shede Hageman (Minnesota)

     

    Analysis:

    Atlanta's top three defensive tackles are scheduled to be free agents this offseason, so this position could be in for the kind of makeover that Atlanta's cornerback position got last offseason.

    As we mentioned in the last slide, the Falcons should aim to have a legitimate four-man rotation at both defensive tackle and defensive end similar to the one Marvin Lewis' Bengals have in Cincinnati.

    If the Falcons re-sign Corey Peters, adding a big-bodied veteran like Linval Joseph to team with him would make a lot of sense.

    In addition, Atlanta could look to add a player like South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles or Florida State's Timothy Jernigan in the draft in order to improve the pass rush from the inside.

Tight End

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    Potential 2014 Free Agents:

    Jimmy Graham (Saints), Dennis Pitta (Ravens), Jeff Cumberland (Jets), Scott Chandler (Bills), Andrew Quarless (Packers), Brandon Pettigrew (Lions)

     

    Notable 2014 Eligible Draft Prospects:

    Jace Amaro (Texas Tech), Eric Ebron (North Carolina), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington), Arthur Lynch (Georgia)

     

    Analysis:

    Since Tony Gonzalez is almost certainly preparing to play the last three games of his NFL career, the Falcons will have move on from his tenure in Atlanta this offseason.

    Yes, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham's contract is up after this year, and yes, New Orleans has a good bit of money tied up in its cap. With that said, don't be shocked if Graham never actually hits the market. After Drew Brees and Sean Payton, he's next-most-important person to that franchise and the team will probably release whoever needs to be released (like the Falcons did for Matt Ryan) in order to fit his next deal under the cap.

     The more realistic option for Atlanta would likely involve signing a mid-level player like Andrew Quarless or Jeff Cumberland to pair with rising second-year tight end Levine Toilolo, or spending a mid-round draft pick on a player like UGA's Arthur Lynch.