LAST SEASON Rush Offense - 87.3 ypg (29th)
Pass Offense - 281.8 ypg (6th)
Total Offense - 369.1 ypg (8th)
Scoring Offense - 26.2 ppg (7th)
Rush Defense - 123.2 ypg (21st)
Pass Defense - 242.2 ypg (23rd)
Total Defense - 365.6 ypg (24th)
Scoring Defense - 18.7 ppg (5th)
MOST PRESSING NEEDS Offense: Tight end, running back and tackle
Defense: Pass rusher and linebacker
Matt Ryan is one of the NFL's top 10 quarterbacks and hasn't missed a start in five years in Atlanta. But his backup Luke McCown is an unrestricted free agent. Dominique Davis was the third quarterback last year and won the coaching staff over with his preseason play, but the team may be better served bringing McCown back, whether he's No. 2 or No. 3. Then the team can let Davis continue to develop, with or without being Ryan's direct backup.
RUNNING BACK The Draft Board
4th round Marcus Lattimore, S. Carolina (5-11, 221) 5th round Kerwynn Williams, Utah St. (5-8, 195)
Denard Robinson, Michigan (5-11, 193) 6th round Knile Davis, Arkansas (5-10, 227)
Chris Thompson, Florida St. (5-7, 192)
Theo Riddick, Notre Dame (5-10, 201)
Heading into the 2012 season, the second of Jacquizz Rodgers' career, the coaching staff fell in love with the pint-sized back. Now that Turner has been released as a cap casualty, Rodgers is No. 1 on the depth chart. Most people don't believe Rodgers can handle the load, but trust me, he can handle an 18- to 20-carry load almost better than Turner. That said, the team has a full complement of draft picks and on Day 3 it should focus on a back with the ability to put pressure on defenses.
Though every team has distinct needs, the Falcons can take a calculated risk on a guy coming off his second ACL tear. If Marcus Lattimore needs more time to rehab, Rodgers can carry the load and allow the former Gamecock star more time to strengthen his knee. If he's 100 percent ready, the Falcons have found a first-round talent on Day 3. Denard Robinson and Theo Riddick are two more interesting options given their ability to play slot receiver in certain sets.
WIDE RECEIVER The Draft Board
7th round T.J. Moe, Missouri (5-11, 204)
Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas comprise one of the best receiving trios in the league. As such, receiver isn't a distinct priority, but the team may target a reliable slot receiver. That includes guys like Denard Robinson and Theo Riddick, noted above as running backs that could play in the slot if necessary.
T.J. Moe had a subpar 2012 season due to quarterback issues and increased competition, but he has glue sticks for hands and is strong after the catch. As noted above, Robinson and Riddick can play some slot receiver when needed and are two versatile chess pieces for offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
TIGHT END The Draft Board
2nd round Vance McDonald, Rice (6-3, 267) 3rd round Jordan Reed, Florida (6-2, 236) 4th round Gavin Escobar, SDSU (6-5, 254) 5th round Chris Gragg, Arkansas (6-3, 244)
Just when it appeared that future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez was ready to head off into the twilight, he decided he may not be fully ready. It now seems as if the legendary pass catcher may be ready to sign on for more. He's an unrestricted free agent, but if he wants to come back, there's no way GM Thomas Dimitroff wouldn't re-sign him. That said, the team should use this draft to look for his replacement, even if it means that the two play alongside one another for a year or two. Dimitroff worked under New England's Bill Belichick for years, so if a two tight end game plan can work for New England, maybe it can work in Atlanta. The Falcons have more needs in the draft on the defensive side of the ball so don't expect a first-round selection on a tight end. However, this class has a ton of depth in the middle rounds, so they'll find one to their liking.
Atlanta wants to find pressure players, not just tight end placeholders. Dimitroff sought Julio Jones a couple of years ago because of the pressure Jones put on defenses. As a tight end/h-back, Vance McDonald does just that, if he's 100 percent healthy. Nagging injuries set him back a bit early in the 2012 season, but when he returned he was running jet sweeps out of the gun, catching balls down the seam and doing a solid job as a run blocker. Jordan Reed is a former quarterback who understands the game and stretches the field.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Draft Board
2nd round T Terron Armstead, Ark.-P.B. (6-5, 306)
T Menelik Watson, Florida St. (6-5, 310) 3rd round G/T Brian Winters, Kent St. (6-4, 320)
G/T Justin Pugh, Syracuse (6-4, 307)
G Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6-4, 312) 4th round T David Quessenberry, SJSU (6-5, 302) 5th round G J.C Tretter, Cornell (6-4, 307) 6th round G Eric Herman, Ohio (6-4, 320)
Atlanta has put a premium on the offensive line in previous drafts. Dimitroff drafted Peter Konz last year and he started at guard. He could move over to center if the team can't or doesn't re-sign longtime starter Todd McClure. G Garrett Reynolds re-signed after missing half of the season with an injury. Still, the biggest issue is what happens with LT Sam Baker. The former USC star had a strong season but he's had back problems since he's been in the league. The good news is that many around the league think he's a guard and won't offer him LT money. That could keep him in Atlanta. The Falcons prepared for such a moment last year when they drafted developmental tackle Lamar Holmes, but the jury is still out on him.
Terron Armstead is perhaps the best athlete in this offensive line class, but like Holmes, he's a bit of a project. He has a lot more upside than Holmes though and could evolve into a solid NFL left tackle in the future. Menelik Watson oozes athleticism, but he may end up being just a right tackle. Brian Winters is more guard than tackle, but has versatility and power.
DEFENSIVE LINE The Draft Board
1st round DE Damontre Moore, TAMU (6-3, 250)
DE Alex Okafor, Texas (6-5, 264)
DE Sam Montgomery, LSU (6-3. 262) 3rd round DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida St. (6-2, 251)
DE Corey Lemonier, Auburn (6-3, 255) 4th round DE Lavar Edwards, LSU (6-4, 277)
DE John Abraham was released, along with Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson, in a triple cap-casualty bloodletting earlier this month. Considering the fact that Abraham accounted for nearly 30 percent of the team's sack numbers, there's trouble in River City. DE Kroy Biermann was second on the team with four sacks. The team does have money to spend in free agency and it should target the best pass rusher it can afford. DE Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi were drafted in 2011 and 2012, respectively, to provide depth, not become starters on a potential Super Bowl contender. As such, expect the Falcons to target a true pass-rush edge threat in this draft.
Damontre Moore has had as bad an offseason as anyone not named Manti Te'o, but his loss could be Atlanta's gain. Moore followed up a terrible combine performance with an injury-laden Pro Day. His stock is plummeting, but he's got some of the best pass-rush film in the country. Atlanta would get a gift if Moore is available at No. 30. Alex Okafor has extraordinary short-area burst, but he gets stymied a bit too much by average linemen. When Sam Montgomery's motor is revved up, he's a complete player on the edge. When it isn't, well, his name ends up on the LSU strength coach's wall of shame.
LINEBACKER The Draft Board
5th round ILB/OLB A.J. Klein, Iowa St. (6-1, 250) 6th round ILB Vince Williams, Florida St. (6-1, 245) 7th round ILB/OLB Jake Knott, Iowa St. (6-2, 243)
OLB Mike Taylor, Wisconsin (6-1, 234)
The linebacking corps may not need an immediate starter, but it could use some depth in the later rounds of the draft. Sean Weatherspoon is emerging as one of the best outside linebackers in the NFC. Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent return after finishing first and sixth on the team in tackles, respectively. Mike Peterson is an unrestricted free agent, so if he doesn't come back, the depth takes a hit.
A.J. Klein has tremendous football instincts and can make plays all over the field. He can play any of the three linebacker positions in a 4-3, while Vince Williams is more of a Mike linebacker. The former Florida State inside linebacker doesn't explode sideline to sideline, but he'll plug gaps from tackle to tackle. Mike Taylor has had injury issues, but will contribute immediately on special teams.
SECONDARY The Draft Board
2nd round CB Jordan Poyer, Oregon St. (6-0, 191)
CB Logan Ryan, Rutgers (5-11, 191) 3rd round CB Darius Slay, Mississippi St. (6-0, 192) 4th round CB B.W Webb, William & Mary (5-10, 184) 5th round CB Rod Sweeting, Ga. Tech (5-11, 189)
CB Sanders Commings, Georgia (6-0, 216)
If the Falcons re-sign CB Brent Grimes and he plays like it's 2011, the Falcons secondary will be one of the best in the NFC. Those are two big ifs, but plausible nonetheless. If Grimes decides to depart Atlanta, then the Falcons are in trouble. It's imperative they find cornerbacks this offseason, whether in free agency or in the draft.
Jordan Poyer is reminiscent of Grimes in that he's a playmaker. Whether it's in man or zone, Poyer has a nose for the football and drives on it to turn opposing quarterbacks over. Logan Ryan is a wiry cover man who doesn't have overwhelming speed, but he's smooth in coverage and will attack ball carriers in run support. Sanders Commings is a big corner that ran a 4.41 at the combine, but he didn't play up to that speed at Georgia. Regardless, his speed is intriguing for a team that has to face the Saints, Panthers and Bucs twice a year.
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