In part one of two, the Atlanta Falcons improve in the trenches with this best case draft scenario.
Well, the moment is almost here. In just two weeks’ time, Falcons Nation will know exactly who the next crop to join the #Brotherhood will be via the NFL Draft.
Save for Dontari Poe, free agency delivered very little in the way of impact newcomers to the roster. But if recent history is any indication, Falcons’ brass reserved those additions for this month’s draft.
While picking near the bottom of each round makes life a bit more challenging for Dimitroff, Quinn and the rest of the front office, this pool offers the kind of depth that makes another draft class like last year’s a reality.
With very few holes left to fill, the Falcons can go in a variety of different directions. One might advocate taking the best player available at each juncture. Others will hope the Birds fill the remaining needs they do have such as pass rusher, guard, and tight end.
I, on the other hand, seek to strike a happy medium when acting as the Falcons’ armchair GM. The following draft strategy, if utilized, presents the best case scenario for our beloved Dirty Birds.
Round 1, Pick 31: Edge Rusher
Vic Beasley needs a partner-in-crime. In fact, the Falcons have lacked a true 1-2 punch off the edge since Patrick Kerney and Brady Smith in the early 2000s. And even that’s pushing it.
If the Falcons are to get their hands on a legitimate sack artist, the first round is the time to do it. Former third round picks Justin Houston and Danielle Hunter are the exception rather than the norm.
The list of potential pass rushers available at pick 31 include Takk McKinley, TJ Watt, Derek Rivers, Carl Lawson, Charles Harris and Jordan Willis. These players represent edge rushers 4-9 (in varying order) on most draft boards.
While each would make for a great addition to the Falcons, I tend to lean toward McKinley, Watt or Lawson. All three provide a strong edge presence that translates to early success in their NFL careers. I’d also throw Willis into this mix, but I’m not entirely convinced his otherworldly combine performance shows up consistently on the field.
Round 2, Pick 63: Defensive Tackle
I labored through this decision quite a bit. Ultimately, I went with defensive tackle rather than guard.
Poe, Ra’Shede Hageman, Courtney Upshaw, and Adrian Clayborn are only under contract through the 2017 season. With the exception of Poe, those other three players were all on the roster last year, yet defensive tackle was arguably the Falcons’ biggest weakness.
I, for one, am not going to sit back and say that Poe will rectify that by himself. And even if he does, there’s no guarantee he re-signs with the Falcons in 2018.
Acquiring an impact DT ensures the Falcons maintain the status quo regardless of who departs in free agency. While this may not be a great interior DL class, I believe the sweet spot for the top talent being taken is the second round.
That means players such as Caleb Brantley, Chris Wormley, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Larry Ogunjobi will be long gone when the Falcons are making their third selection. Atlanta can do no wrong with any of them, as all four provide positional flexibility in Quinn’s 4-3 under defense.
Round 3, Pick 95: Guard
As I alluded to earlier, guard was edged out by a hair to defensive tackle. The Falcons are seeking to replace the retired Chris Chester at right guard heading into the 2017 season.
The truth of the matter is Chester was an average starting guard in the NFL. Therefore, replacing him with a mid-round prospect or one of the in-house options currently on the roster should not be consequential to the Falcons’ overall success.
Quality guard prospects abound in this range for the Falcons. Pat Elflein, Ethan Pocic, and Danny Isidora top the list of ideal fits. If positional versatility is what Atlanta is after, Elflein or Pocic would be the team’s preference here.
With pass rusher, defensive tackle, and right guard addressed in the first three rounds, the Falcons can look to the remaining rounds to supplement their depth chart. Stay tuned for part two where I answer how the team accomplishes that.