The Atlanta Falcons were a mess in 2013. They were supposed to contend for a Super Bowl a year after reaching the NFC title game, but instead got swallowed up by a series of injuries. Steven Jackson was supposed to be a huge acquisition for the offensive backfield, but he was hurt for half the year.
Ditto for Roddy White and Julio Jones. Add in some shaky pass protection and an inconsistent defense, and the Falcons not so surprisingly sunk to a pitiful 4-12 mark.
But there’s hope. Indeed, Atlanta still boasts one of the NFL’s elite offenses when at full strength, which they surely will be at come week one of 2014. However, Matt Ryan could be protected better, the pass rush could be improved and a few others holes could be plugged.
Let’s take a closer look at the top Atlanta Falcons draft needs as we inch closer to the 2014 NFL Draft:
Offensive needs: OT, TE, RB
If Mike Johnson can stay healthy, Atlanta will only real need one stud offensive tackle, although that’s no lock so grabbing a second tackle later in the draft wouldn’t be a bad idea. They need a flat out stud early if they can get it, though, which could have them taking either Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews at 6th overall.
Tight end is a pretty big need with Tony Gonzalez retiring, so obviously the Falcons will want to get some help. They won’t reach in round one, but they should definitely consider adding someone in round two, where guys like Troy Niklas and Austin Seferian-Jenkins should be available. An even better idea would be to wait until the middle rounds, though, where Oregon product Colt Lyerla would be had at amazing value.
Steven Jackson is nearing the end and Jacquizz Rodgers isn’t a feature back. Atlanta might want to spend a 2-3 round pick here in case S-Jax disappoints again, while it’s a pick that should be able to pay off as early as 2015. Tre Mason and Da’Keem Carey are two athletic, versatile backs that fit what they like to do and one of them will probably slide far enough to get good value.
Defensive needs: DE, S, LB
Atlanta really needs help in the pass rush. Signing Tyson Jackson isn’t enough, so they’ll be in play to a degree for the likes of Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack. They’ll have to trade up to land one of them, though, which could put UCLA’s Anthony Barr on the map with the 6th overall pick. That might be a reach, though, and with the Falcons likely using that pick on a stud offensive tackle instead, they’d then look at a pass rusher in the second or third round. Guys like Trent Murphy and Christian Jones are potential third round candidates, but if Dee Ford slides out of round one, he might be the guy they track down.
The Falcons have had some inconsistency at the back of their defense. It’s not entirely on the secondary, as the pass rush has been meh, but they could use some extra talent here. Landing a safety with some upside in the middle rounds would be a good move. Sticking in the secondary, they could use some depth at corner, too.
Linebacker is their last main need, but it’s another pure depth move. They’ve had injuries the past couple of years and when guys go down they really struggle to cover with the next guy up. Look for them to grab at least one linebacker who has the ability to cover and play multiple spots.