BIRDLAND – Tony Gonzalez is not going to play forever.
This offseason he let the team know that he plans to return for the final year of his contract.
Either way, the Falcons have to do something. They have to plan for the future. They have to get a tight end on board and they’ve been heavily scouting the position this offseason.
With the 27th pick, the Falcons will have a chance to address their needs at defensive end, tight end, cornerback and wide receiver.
But when Miami cornerback Brandon Harris is selected 26th by Baltimore, the Falcons will shift over to offense.
They could go with Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward or Georgia defensive end Justin Houston. But they know Miami defensive end Allen Bailey will still be available when they pick in the second around.
However, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll pick a wide receiver in the first round because there will be talented receivers in the second, third and fourth rounds. East Carolina wide receiver Dwayne Harris could be the team’s third round target.
Under this scenario, the Falcons will pull Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph’s name off their draft board in the first round.
Rudolph, who’s 6-foot-6 1/8 and 259 pounds, is widely considered the top tight end in the draft.
Some in Ohio want to check his decision-making for selecting Notre Dame over Ohio State. But he’s a Cincinnati kid and the Queen City is a longtime hotbed for Notre Dame, going back to the Gerry Faust days.
Now, Rudolph does have some health issues with his right hamstring. The Falcons will have that checked out.
Some other issues are starting to take shape as the draft gets closer.
Clemson defensive Da’Quan Bowers is slipping on most boards. He’ll likely fall out of the top 10 because teams are mixed on if he needs knee surgery. He’s dropping, but not far enough to get into the Falcons’ striking range.
LAST POLL RESULTS: Should the Falcons take Cameron Heyward if he slips to the 27th pick in the draft?
Total Voters: 1,038
PROJECTED 2011 ATLANTA FALCONS DRAFT PICKS
First Round: 27 – Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame
Second Round: 59 – Allen Bailey, DE, Miami
Third Round: 91 – Dwayne Harris, WR, East Carolina
Fourth Round: 124 – Akeem Dent, LB, Georgia
Fifth Round: 158 – Bilal Powell, RB, Louisville
Sixth Round: 192 – Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware
Seventh Round: 209 – Ricardo Lockette, WR, Fort Valley State. 228 – D.J. Smith, LB, Appalachian State. 229 – Byron Maxwell, CB, Clemson.
1. Carolina: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn. The Panthers arrive at the conclusion that Jimmy Clausen is not their future franchise quarterback.
2. Denver: Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama. He’s a prototype defensive tackle. He should anchor the interior of the Broncos’ defense for years to come.
3. Buffalo: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M. After whiffing on Aaron Maybin with the 11th pick in 2009, Chan Gailey gets a legitimate defender. They will be tempted to go with Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but will elect to get one of the developmental quarterbacks in the second round.
4. Cincinnati: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia. They can put and end to the T.O. and Chad Johnson madness. Perhaps this pick will be enough to encourage Carson Palmer out of selling his house.
5. Arizona: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri. Coach Ken Whisenhunt gets him a quarterback for an early Christmas present.
6. Cleveland: Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. The Browns have to surround quarterback Colt McCoy with some weapons.
7. San Francisco: Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU. He could take over as the 49ers’ press cornerback.
8. Tennessee: Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn. Friend of the blog Tracy Rocker is Tennessee’s new defensive line coach. He coached Fairley at Auburn.
9. Dallas: Tyron Smith, T, Southern California. I think this is a reach for the Cowboys, by my folks in Dallas say this is how the Cowboys are leaning. He would help a line that must improve.
10. Washington: Cam Jordan, DE, California. Steve Jordan, his father, was a six-time Pro Bowler at tight end for the Vikings. He benefits from Bowers slipping.
11. Houston: Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska. The Texans have to do something with their secondary.
12. Minnesota: Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: The Vikings have to make a move at quarterback and they decide to roll
the dice on Mallett’s big arm. Former Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave might be the perfect person to handle this free spirit.
13. Detroit: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. The Lions decide to get some value. Once considered the top pick in the draft, Bowers’ stock is sliding because of a knee injury and poor Pro Day performance.
14. St. Louis: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri. Smith could develop into a force in head coach Steve Spagnuolo’s system.
15. Miami: Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama: The Dolphins look to improve their rushing attack. Ricky Williams isn’t getting any younger and Ronnie Brown will need some help.
16. Jacksonville: Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina. The Jaguars picked up Tyson Aluau last season and get a bookend for their 4-3 defense.
17. New England: Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College. The Patriots elect to get some protection for Tom Brady, who’s not getting any younger.
18. San Diego: J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. The former Badger who spent time in the programs at Western Michigan and Minnesota gets the best break in the draft. He gets to start his career in sunny San Diego after bumping around the upper Midwest and its bitter winters for the last few years.
19. New York Giants: Nate Solder, OT, Colorado. The Giants elect to bring in some offensive line help.
20. Tampa Bay: Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue. The Bucs drafted defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price last season. This year they try to get some help at defensive end.
21. Kansas City: Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Projects as a right tackle in the NFL. He played left tackle for the Badgers. He claimed at the combine that he was the best tackle in the draft.
22. Indianapolis: Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois. The Colts elect to get a disruptive force for the middle of their defense. He was a wrestler in high school.
23. Philadelphia: Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado. He is rugged with his hands in press coverage. He is a tall corner at 6-2 3/8. He has some character issues, but the Eagles believe he could flourish in the right environment.
24. New Orleans: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa. “Clayborn’s stock has dropped to a certain extent because of that arm situation,” ESPN draft analyst Kiper said. “He’s dropped to the late first round.”
25. Seattle: Jake Locker, QB, Washington. He will get a chance to sit and watch Matt Hasselbeck for a year or two. Locker is athletic, but needs to work on his accuracy.
26. Baltimore: Brandon Harris, CB, Miami. He was a three-year starter for the Hurricanes. The Falcons held a private workout for him in Miami.
27. Atlanta: Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame. The Falcons elect to get Matt Ryan some help for the future. If the lockout ends and Tony Gonzalez comes back, then Rudolph can learn under the future hall of famer.
28. New England: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State. He’s a perfect scheme-fit for the Patriots 3-4.
29. Chicago: Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State. The Bears look to improve their offensive line play with this pick. Sherrod is athletic and could anchor the left side for the next decade.
30. New York Jets: Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia. The Jets are counting on Houston developing into a big-play artist.
31. Pittsburgh: Mike Pouncey, C, Florida. The twins get reunited in the Steel City.
32. Green Bay: Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech. He’s a hard-charging runner, who’ll fit in the offense nicely.
Brooks Reed, DE, Arizona
Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
Akeem Ayers , LB, UCLA
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland
Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor
Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
Rahim Moore, S, UCLA
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog