Can the Atlanta Falcons Fill Some Holes With the Draft?

By Michael Collins

The other day, I took a look at one direction the Atlanta Falcons might go with the 2012 NFL draft, by picking the best available players on the board regardless of position.  Now we’ll explore another draft strategy.  Given the picks that Atlanta has, is it possible to fill some needed holes in specific positions?  The odds say no, but anything is possible.

Should the Falcons try to go in this direction, they will need to not only be very diligent in their research and analysis, but they will need a bit of luck on their side as well.  Two things are on the Falcons side should this strategy be employed.  At several of the positions the Falcons have needs – defensive back, offensive tackle, center – this is a very deep draft.  There aren’t a lot of names that jump out as huge plug-in impact guys, but the level of talent is high all the way down the list for those positions.  The other thing the Falcons have in their favor is already having serviceable-to-very good veterans already playing at those positions.  While improvement can (and should) be made, it’s not like there is a sense of having nobody to play those positions should a draft pick not work out.

The first, and most glaring, need for Atlanta is on the offensive line.  A left tackle to protect quarterback Matt Ryan‘s blindside and to keep defensive ends off balance in play-action sets, and a right guard to dig in and push back defensive linemen on the run game, both need to be found.  Atlanta’s failings in short yardage cost them more than once in 2011, and as heavily as the Falcons rely on the run game, those two positions are crucial.  The center position also needs to be addressed, as this will most likely be veteran Todd McClure‘s last year with Atlanta, if not in the NFL.  If a talented young center could be drafted and spend a year being mentored by McClure, Atlanta would be in excellent shape at that position.

The next area that needs to be addressed is in the defensive secondary.  The Falcons have two major problems there.  First, the talent they have at starting cornerback – Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes – are above average, but not exceptional.  Second, they are nowhere near deep enough at corner to be able to sustain through any lengthy injuries to either of the starters.  Dominique Franks and Christopher Owens both showed some improvement last season as backup and nickle corners, but neither of them can really play at a high enough level to replace a starter for any length of time.  The identical problem exists at the safety position, where once you get past starters Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, there’s just not much there.  Unfortunately  the prospective draft class at safety isn’t very deep, so the Falcons may be forced to go with what they have.

The Falcons could also look for some help at defensive end in this draft, but not at the expense of any of the above mentioned positions if they are truly trying to fill needs.  John Abraham and Ray Edwards will have that position locked up well for the 2012 season, so it’s more likely they will look to next year’s draft to find a replacement for one or both.

Without a first round pick, and having to wait until the 23rd pick of the second round, most of the big names at these positions will be long gone by the time Atlanta gets to pick.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t bargains to be found.   So if the Falcons look to plug holes, and shoot for specific needs, the draft board might look something like this:

2nd Round: 23rd pick (55 overall) – Kelechi Osemele, OT: Iowa State – or – Brandon Brooks, OG: Miami (Ohio)

3rd Round: 21st pick (84 overall) – Trevin Wade, CB: Arizona – or – Ben Jones, C: Georgia

5th Round: 22nd pick (157 overall) – Lucas Nix, OG: Pittsburgh – or – Keith Tandy, CB: West Virginia

6th Round: 22nd pick (192 overall) – D.J. Campbell, FS: California – or – Eddie Pleasant, SS: Oregon

7th Round: 22nd pick (229 overall) – Lamar Holmes, OT: Southern Miss – or – Terrence Frederick, CB: Texas A&M

7th Round: 42nd pick (249 overall, compensatory) – Dustin Waldron, OT: Portland State – or – Isaiah Frey, CB: Nevada

With any of those picks it would be easy to find an upside, but also just as easy to poke some serious holes in their game.  Without a first round or fourth round pick, Atlanta’s best strategy for this years draft might be going for the best players available, and not concerning themselves with plugging specific holes.

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