Atlanta Falcons: Top Needs & Fits for the 2014 Draft
The fact that the Atlanta Falcons hold the sixth overall selection in the NFL draft isn't the kicker; the quality of depth at every position of need is. Already possessing a franchise quarterback, two premier receivers, a good linebacker corps and a future star at corner, the Falcons have plenty of talent already in the fold.
They will undoubtedly focus on strengthening both lines of scrimmage through the draft and free agency. Atlanta can easily come away with impact players on both sides of the ball, and trading back with QB-thirsty teams would pilot the process.
With the combination of Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli and Lionel Vital at the helm, expect Atlanta to maximize its potential in the draft as all three have areas of expertise (defensive backs, linemen and running backs, respectively) that will serve the Falcons well, in terms of need.
The talent is plentiful and so are the Falcons resources. Let's take a look at the top needs and fits for the Falcons in the 2014 draft.
Safety: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix
Safety Thomas DeCoud might possibly be the worst player on the defense. The Falcons need a physical playmaker who can be left alone on an island to cover tight ends and receivers. None of that describes DeCoud in any shape, form or fashion.
In fact, DeCoud may be the opposite of what the Falcons need in their aggressive multi-scheme approach. DeCoud is not a physical tackler. He's as slow as it gets and takes bad angles in pursuit.
University of Alabama safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is exactly the kind of safety that could take the Falcons defense to the next level. He's a player that takes excellent angles in pursuit and will separate receivers and ball-carriers from their respective senses upon impact.
At 6'1", 208 pounds, Clinton-Dix has the size to play either safety spot in an aggressive defense like the one Atlanta trots out. He has the range to defend deep and also has the instincts to impact the run defense.
Talent-wise, he's a major upgrade over the veteran DeCoud. He may go in the middle or late portion of the first round, so if Atlanta were to trade back and accumulate an extra pick, it has the opportunity to add two immediate impact players in the first round.
Adding multiple impact players through the draft and free agency is what will assist in the Falcons' rapid turnaround. The Falcons should think long and hard about bringing in a hybrid safety like Clinton-Dix to clean things up on the back end.
Other Options: Lamarcus Joyner (Florida State)
At 5'8", 190 pounds, Joyner is not the most intimidating physical presence, but once he separates your soul from your carcass you will reconsider that notion. Joyner would be a perfect free safety for the Falcons. He's played mostly corner, but can blitz (six sacks) and tackle with the best of them. He has all the prerequisite skills to play safety in an aggressive scheme like the Falcons'.
Left Tackle: Best Fit, Jake Matthews
It's hard to pinpoint exactly the biggest need on the Falcons offensive line, mostly because the unit is virtually horrible as a whole. While there are a couple of salvageable pieces (e.g. interior linemen Justin Blalock and Joe Hawley), the left tackle remains an enigma—despite Sam Baker receiving a six-year, $41.1 million contract ($14.25 million guaranteed) just last season!
While Baker has had some very good years, along with some horrendous ones, adding in a young tackle could fix the Falcons offensive line woes. A potential franchise player like Texas A&M's Jake Matthews (6'5", 305 lbs) would be just what the doctor ordered.
Matthews is a mean and nasty player that will remind fans of former linemen Todd McClure, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo in terms of disposition. Matthews is a good athlete that can excel in any scheme. But if he's allowed to perform in a man-blocking scheme it will make use of his key attributes.
His presence would hopefully ignite Baker to reach back in the past and pull off one of his on-year performances. A line with Matthews at left tackle and Baker at right tackle might instantly be an upgrade over the atrocity that was trotted out last season.
Matthews will first lend his hand in the Falcons porous run game, but will eventually be one of the top pass protectors as well.
Other Options: Taylor Lewan (Michigan)
At one point in time Lewan (6'8", 308 lbs) seemed to be a lock for one of the first few picks. Now it seems as though he could be had in the middle of the first round. Franchise left tackles don't grow on trees so chances are he will still be a top pick.
Right Tackle: Best Fit, Greg Robinson
Before it's all said and done, Auburn University's Greg Robinson may eventually become valued over Matthews. His hype may eventually only be superseded by his size (6'5", 320 lbs)! Robinson dominated in a spread-option scheme that showcased his superior run-blocking prowess.
For the Falcons, who are looking to crank up the run game, Robinson would be an ideal fit as he can seemingly play about four spots on the line. He only has two seasons of starting experience and could play the right tackle while Baker works out the kinks on the other side.
His skills have rarely been tested as a pass-blocker as Auburn's scheme doesn't call for it on a consistent basis. But judging by his size, power, agility and athleticism he may be just as great in that aspect once he gains experience.
Robinson would be afforded the opportunity to learn from newly acquired offensive line coach Mike Tice who has a similarly nasty disposition as Matthews and Robinson. Owner Arthur Blank has called for the Falcons to get tougher in the trenches; selecting Robinson would be a major step in that direction.
Other Options: Cyrus Kouandjio (Alabama)
Kouandjio is a monster. His talent and demeanor are exactly what the Falcons need moving forward. Kouandjio would also be a good fit at guard.
Defensive End: Best Fit, Jadeveon Clowney
The consensus best player in the draft is University of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. At 6'6", 274 pounds, Clowney may very well be the best athlete at the position...ever—or at least according to virtually every media outlet in existence.
He's a unique blend of size, speed, agility, power and instincts. He's been a star since his junior year of high school, and he has never ceased to amaze along the way. That is until this past season.
After accumulating 21 sacks in his first two seasons, Clowney only managed three in his final one. When you take into account that he once had 4.5 in one game (against Clemson his sophomore year), his lack of production becomes even more puzzling.
While sacks aren't everything, as Clowney is very effective against the run, they are what teams seek from elite ends.
In Clowney's defense, his hype undoubtedly went to epic proportions due to the hit he put on a University of Michigan running back in the Outback Bowl, as seen here on Saturdaydownsouth.com. What people failed to realize is that he was virtually shutdown in that game by left tackle Taylor Lewan.
After the highlight of the hit was played ad nauseum, the media dubbed Clowney a once-in-a-generation prospect, and he was subsequently featured on every show and magazine possible. It was impossible for him to live up to that type of hype.
And when you consider players like Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers) and Von Miller (Denver Broncos), who have rewritten the record books in their first few seasons in the NFL, calling Clowney a once-in-a-generation player seems a bit silly.
But with that said he's perfect for Atlanta.
The city is driven by stars and getting one at a primary position of need will be worth its weight in gold. While there are other players who fit the scheme better (e.g. UCLA's Anthony Barr and Buffalo's Khalil Mack), Clowney may be worth tailoring the scheme to fit his needs.
But ignoring the lack of production, among other things, is something the pundits shouldn't do, although they undoubtedly will as players are drafted on potential—and Clowney has loads of it.
Other Options: Adrian Hubbard (Alabama)
Hubbard is a tweener that has played outside linebacker in a 3-4-based alignment. He has the athleticism to put his hand in the dirt or operate in space as he did with the Crimson Tide.
Ouside Linebacker: Best Fit, Anthony Barr
If you're drafting on potential, why not go with a player who not only has room for improvement, but has the production to back it up? UCLA's Anthony Barr is a versatile edge-rusher that is a scheme-specific fit.
He played outside linebacker in an odd-front alignment which would be his position in the Falcons defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan inherited a 4-3-based outfit and has ran a multi-scheme attack out of it.
Acquiring Barr would give him a presence on the edge that he could send into coverage when necessary. Clowney is a hand-in-the-dirt end that should be used sparingly in coverage; Barr is a hybrid that will eventually be just as effective in zone drops as well as organic pressure.
Barr is every bit the athlete Clowney is but has yet to receive the hype. Once the combine is over we should expect his value to skyrocket as well. Barr is coached by former Falcons head coach Jim Mora, but we shouldn't hold that against him (zing!).
Barr is raw in his technique as he hasn't established a vast array of go-to moves, yet. But when you take into consideration he just completed his second season as a defensive player, and still generated 10 sacks, you can see why many scouts are salivating at his potential.
Barr might not come with the hype of Clowney, but he's been described as "special" (as taken from the LA Times)—and that's exactly what the Falcons need to add to their roster.
Other Options: Michael Sam (Missouri)
Sam is another tweener that would be an ideal fit in a multi-scheme approach. He led the SEC with 11.5 sacks.
Lead Back: Best Fit, Lache Seastrunk
Even when Atlanta does revamp its offensive line, it's debatable on if it has the talent to take advantage of it. Incumbent starter Steven Jackson is old (31), and has a ton of mileage on the odometer (2,553 carries). Backups Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers are pretty much "J.A.G.'s (just another guy)."
For the Falcons to take their offensive output to the next level, they need back who can not only tote the mail, but can flip the field on any given play. Baylor University's Lache Seastrunk fits that description perfectly.
Seastrunk has the kind of frame (5'10, 210 lbs) and burst (4.36 40-yard dash time according to CBS' Bruce Feldman) that's similar to Kansas City Chief's star Jamaal Charles. After transferring from the University of Oregon, Seastrunk subsequently put on a show in virtually every game he appeared in.
Seastrunk has the size to power through arm tackles, the agility to dislocate ankles with fakes and the speed to break wind (wait, that didn't sound right). His legs are like tree trunks, but don't take away from his ability to change direction.
Adding Seastrunk to the Falcons offensive arsenal almost wouldn't be fair to opponents. The Falcons already have an explosive passing attack and possessing a run game of the same ilk would be spectacular.
Seastrunk would provide that.
Other Options: Carlos Hyde (Ohio State)
When you're a 6-foot, 242-pound monster who averaged 7.3 yards per carry for a season you deserve serious consideration. Hyde might end up being what the Falcons thought they were getting in Jackson.
Rotational Back: Best Fit, Bishop Sankey
University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey is an intriguing prospect. He's not as explosive as Seastrunk but he's more explosive than the Falcons current trio. He will move the chains and break off long runs, and will be the consistent linchpin that would take the run game to the next level.
At 5'10", 203 pounds, Sankey has the frame to add some bulk, but could work in concert in the Falcons rotation immediately. Sankey has a propensity for bouncing runs outside, which would actually work with the muddy waters the line creates in the interior.
Sankey's agility and quickness will aid him in achieving explosive plays, but his vision will be the aspect that initially sets it all up. Sankey, at times, will remind you of the Philadelphia Eagles' LeSean McCoy with how he operates in space.
Atlanta needs a back that can make something out of nothing. Sankey's that guy.
Other Options: Tre Mason (Auburn)
Mason would look very nice in a Falcons uniform. He's powerful and explosive with uncanny vision. It'll be interesting to see how Mason measures out at the NFL Scouting Combine. He's listed at 5'10", 205 pounds by many media services.
After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin returns home to cover his hometown team in 2014. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.
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