With the NFL Draft approaching, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the needs of each club. Up next is the one with the No. 6 overall selection, the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have 10 choices total (with a pair of fourths and three sevenths), so they have some flexibility to make a deal if they need to.
Pass-rusher: Ordinarily we’d say “defensive end” or “linebacker,” but the Falcons aren’t willing to commit to being a 4-3 or a 3-4, so what difference does it make.
What they need is for someone to get after the quarterback with regularity, more than the Osi Umenyioras (a decent 7.5 sacks last year) of the world can provide. They were 29th in the league in sacks last year with 32, and if they can’t get more pressure up front, they’re going to continue to have to play track-meet football to keep up.
The need, coupled with their well-stated willingness to move up, is why they’re linked with players such as Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack. The need for an impact rusher is clear, after they spent the early part of free agency on bulk such as Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson for what looks like a three-man front.
If they don’t address it in the first round, they can’t wait too long. The need for pressure is glaring, and dipping into the second-round crop of players such as Dee Ford would be about as long as they could wait.
Offensive tackle: The Falcons need to be able to protect quarterback Matt Ryan to have a chance, following their offseason statement of intent about toughness.
That’s why they’re checking out the top tackles such as Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews, as both would add an element of nasty that the Falcons need.
Signing Jon Asamoah early in free agency gave them some flexibility in the middle, but they need another anchor on the edge, even if it means moving Sam Baker to right tackle. Baker’s locked in contractually, but he’s a player they could upgrade, especially if they go this direction with the No. 6 pick.
Otherwise, using a later pick on a player who can challenge for the right tackle job would be possible deeper in the draft, if they decide they can live with Baker on the left.
Safety: The Falcons cut former Pro Bowler Thomas Decoud (who drifted up the road to Carolina), and haven’t done much of significance to replace him.
They need playmaker in the middle of the field to pair with William Moore, preferably one with center field-type range.
The fact they tried to poach RFA Rafael Bush away from the Saints (who matched their offer sheet) indicates they feel the spot is unfilled, and adding some young legs in the back would better allow defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to play his style of defense.
Tight end: It’s hard to say they need to replace Tony Gonzalez, because you just don’t replace a player of his caliber with any draft pick, at least in this draft.
But they do need to diversify their passing game, beyond the progression of Levine Toilolo.
The Falcons are built to be a bit of a finesse team, so adding a quality tight end would help them in ways beyond complementary receivers to Julio Jones and Roddy White.