The Falcons have already used this year’s first-round draft pick and fourth-round draft pick, trading them to Cleveland to move up and select Julio Jones last year. So both this year’s draft and last year’s draft will be judged largely on whether Jones becomes an All-Pro receiver for the Falcons. But with the picks the Falcons have left, they’ll attempt to add depth at a few key positions.
Offensive tackle: Protecting Matt Ryan is a must, and if the Falcons can use their second-round pick on a left tackle who’s an upgrade over Sam Baker, they’d gladly do it. The problem is that’s a pretty big “if”: Left tackles who are capable of being solid starters as rookies are usually gone by No. 55, which is the Falcons’ first pick. It’s more likely that the Falcons will draft a player they think has the potential to eventually become a starting left tackle than that they’ll get a starter right away. Mitchell Schwartz, who started all 51 games in his four-year college career at Cal would be an option in the second round if the Falcons are hoping to have someone who might start from Day One. Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State is a second-round option if the Falcons are looking to develop a prospect who could eventually become a starter.
Defensive line: Pass-rushing defensive ends are always useful, and they’re particularly useful in Atlanta, where last year’s team leader in sacks, John Abraham, is about to turn 34 and starting to slow down. But the Falcons would also love to get a big defensive tackle, so just about any good defensive lineman who’s still on the board could intrigue them in the second or third round.
Tight end: Tony Gonzalez is still going strong, but at age 36 he won’t be around forever. If the Falcons see a tight end they like available in the middle rounds, they’ll snap him up. They’re reportedly interested in Louisiana-Lafayette’s LaDarius Green and Cincinnati’s Adrien Robinson, both of whom could spend a year or two as apprentices to Gonzalez and eventually serve as his replacement in the starting lineup.
Kick returner: Special teams were already an iffy spot for the Falcons, and then they lost their punt and kickoff return man, Eric Weems, to the Bears in free agency. A player who can compete for Weems’ old return job would be a nice addition on the second or third day of the draft.
Heading into last year’s draft, Atlanta thought it was one big-play threat away from the Super Bowl, and the Falcons moved aggressively to acquire that big-play threat in Jones. Unfortunately, he turned out not to be enough. This year they’ll try to add more firepower through the draft, with less ammunition.