2014 NFL Draft primer: Atlanta Falcons
The 2014 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, May 8, and every team will look to infuse youth and talent into their rosters. This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit.
PICK NO. 6: ATLANTA FALCONS
2013 record: 4-12
Key offseason acquisitions: KR Devin Hester, G Jon Asamoah, DT Paul Soliai, DE Tyson Jackson.
Key offseason departures: FS Thomas DeCoud, TE Tony Gonzalez, CB Asante Samuel, LB Stephen Nicholas, LB Omar Gaither.
Biggest holes: Linebacker, offensive tackle, defensive end, safety, tight end.
The Falcons may need to get acquainted with the war room phone come May 8.
They have glaring needs on the offensive line and in the front seven, but by the time they're on the clock the premier players at both areas of need -- Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews at tackle, Jadeveon Clowney at DE and Khalil Mack at OLB -- may be off the board. So it's possible the Falcons will need to trade up to fill either need. However, there's a decent chance that they can sit tight and hope for one of those four to fall to them.
The Falcons' pass rush had 32 sacks in 2013, tied for third-worst in the NFL. They also gave up 2,173 rushing yards, second-worst in the league. They could use someone who can both stop the run and rush the passer. Buffalo's Khalil Mack would be the ideal fit. He's a balanced linebacker who can do whatever the play requires. He can also force turnovers - his 16 career forced fumbles are an NCAA record.
The Falcons could use an improvement on the defensive line as well. Ex-Giant Osi Umenyiora is 32, and newcomers Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai are run-stoppers.
Clowney would be the guy if the Falcons wanted to go this route, but they will likely need to trade up with the Rams at No. 2 to get him. Clowney, a pass-rusher with 4.53 40 speed, had a down season stats-wise in 2013, registering just three sacks and 40 tackles (11 1/2 for loss). But the stats don't tell the whole story about how disruptive he can be. His game film shows the ability to impact a play even while facing double- or triple-teams. While Clowney doesn't have a say in where he winds up, he did tell ESPN.com in February, "I wish [the Falcons] could trade up for me."
There's also the offensive line. The Falcons rushed for a league-worst 1,247 yards in 2013. They also gave up 44 sacks, tied for 10th-worst in the NFL.
Matthews is the more balanced of the two offensive tackle prospects worth considering at No. 6. The son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews is not the strongest lineman on the board, but he makes up for it with his great technique and sound footwork in both the run game and the passing attack. He can play left tackle or right tackle equally well. More importantly, he's more likely to still be on the board when the Falcons make their pick.
As is the case with Clowney, the Falcons would probably need to trade up to take Robinson, but he immediately would help improve the running game. The Auburn tackle is a strong, punishing run blocker who can get to the second level with ease to take out linebackers and defensive backs. He still needs to work on his pass protection, but the Falcons could slot him in anywhere on the line and reap the rewards in the running game right away.
Possible Day 2/3 picks include Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas, Oregon State DE Scott Crichton, Boise State DE/OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Virginia OT Morgan Moses and Florida State safety Terrence Brooks.