COMMENTARY | In the world of sports, "tank" is one of those rare four-letter words few dare to utter on live television. It may be taboo to speak about it, but teams certainly seem to engage in the practice every season.
It is just practical for a bad team to be as bad as possible to position themselves to select the best player they can in the draft. What exactly is the benefit of going 6-10 and getting stuck in the middle of the draft, instead of going 2-14 and possibly ending up with one of the first picks?
No professional athlete with any amount of personal pride is going to take the idea of tanking a season very well, but, for the Atlanta Falcons, their 2-7 record means the 2013 season is already lost and the only thing they should be concerned with is figuring out a way to make sure 2014 does not follow the same path.
Should the Falcons consider tanking the rest of the season to secure the best possible position on draft day?
High Draft Pick
The beauty of the Falcons getting a high draft pick would be the fact that they wouldn't need the No. 1 pick to get the player they would covet most. Since the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings are the likely teams that Atlanta will be contending with for the players at the top of the board, the Falcons should be the only one looking to take someone other than a quarterback.
Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel will be some of the top names teams are looking at to fill their vacant QB jobs this offseason. With Matt Ryan already a premiere quarterback in the NFL (during most seasons), the Falcons would be able to draft their guy uncontested, or even potentially horde more picks by trading and moving further down the board.
Players to Target
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney would have been everyone's can't-miss No. 1 pick a year ago, but with the age restrictions being what they are in college football, South Carolina's premiere pass rusher was forced to come back to school for one more sham of a season.
Although he has all of the physical gifts in the world, his dedication to football is suddenly coming up to some scrutiny based on his appeared unwillingness to even get on the field this season. It's hard to blame the guy sitting on a lottery ticket for not wanting to go out and risk injury just months before he can cash it in, but it does leave teams open to wonder just how dedicated he will be.
For the Falcons, Clowney would immediately step in and help a defensive line on which no player is on pace for double-digit sacks this season.
Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Lewan will be an interesting case study when the draft rolls around next year. With the bullying situation going on with the Miami Dolphins and Richie Incognito, how much will teams be weary of drafting a player who has had more than his share of controversy?
The Big Ten decided against banning Lewan in early November for his actions against the Michigan State Spartans when he grabbed and violently twisted the facemask of safety Isaiah Lewis. Writer Jason Whitlock had some harsh words for Lewan in a column he wrote for ESPN.
Whitlock wrote, "He's [Lewan] resorted to cheap shots and bullying because he failed to adequately prepare to have a dominant senior season. He's coasting," Whitlock went on to say. "He turned down NFL millions last April to return for his senior season. You can see the entitlement and arrogance every time he lines up.
Whether Whitlock has a point of not, the fact remains that Lewan will likely be the top-rated offensive lineman in the draft, and the Falcons could desperately use one. Atlanta has the No. 29-ranked rushing attack in football, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry this season.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Tony Gonzalez decided to stave off retirement for one more season to come back and try to finally reach the Super Bowl with the Falcons in 2013. At 2-7, it does not seem like that is going to happen. Unless Atlanta can convince Gonzalez to suit up again in 2014, they are going to be a team without a tight end.
Eric Ebron is currently the highest-rated tight end on CBS Sports' 2014 Draft Board, but he isn't projected to go until late in the first round. Atlanta could package their high draft pick acquire more picks later in the draft to move down the board and get into position to take Ebron.
The 2014 draft promises to be a great one for teams looking for a tight end. Aside from Ebron, Texas Tech's Jace Amaro, and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins are both expected to go within the first 40 picks. Atlanta will have no shortage of options to help fill Gonzalez's shoes.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Falcons since they first started playing games inside the Georgia Dome. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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