In a pre-game intro to the draft, The Bird Cage takes a look at the Falcons biggest needs after the first wave of free agency and what direction the Birds might be headed. After keeping most of the core together and adding a few free agents, here’s a look at the Falcons biggest question marks as the draft approaches:
It begins and ends with left tackle. Yes, there’s some concern at safety, defensive tackle, tight end, and several other positions, but the biggest worry is left tackle. Specifically, the failure so far to at least add competition to the mix of Will Svitek and Sam Baker.
Right guard has at least 3 players competing for the spot in Mike Johnson, Andrew Jackson, and Vince Manuwai. Center appears to be in good shape with future Ring of Honor candidate Todd McClure battling promising Joe Hawley. Perhaps adding a left tackle for competition / development in the 2nd round has been the plan all along. Relying on Svitek and Baker alone with only new coaching is too risky for most fans. Right now, taking a left tackle has to be at the top of most likely to be taken with the Falcons first pick in the second round.
One could argue that this position is a bigger question mark than left tackle since it is a truly unknown. At least Will Svitek has proven capable at LT. Although Lofa Tatupu was a proven Pro Bowler times three, that was before major injury and a long while since playing, especially in a 16 game season.
Of course the biggest unknown is Akeem Dent. The surprise 3rd round pick gets his big chance to take over for Curtis Lofton. He played for an extremely poor defensive coordinator for his first 3 years and was caught in a transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 as a senior. UGA players also have a knack of being underdeveloped and turning out well in the NFL. One thing is for sure: Tatupu and Dent have their work cut out for them to replace Lofton’s production, at least in terms of tackling.
Even though this a huge question mark for 2012, they have their players in place and won’t be looking to the draft for help.
This one is gaining momentum with fans recently. It makes a ton of sense. Currently, the Falcons basically only have a starting free safety that has under-produced the last two years and a very talented, but injury prone strong safety. Shann Schillinger is penciled in the depth chart as a backup for now, but will be in a heavy fight to make the roster. The Falcons chose not to keep James Sanders, at least for now.
This would be a smart pick for several reasons. It would provide immediate competition and insurance for both safety positions. New DC Mike Nolan also reportedly runs sets of 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 and places a high emphasis on safeties who can cover and hit. It’s been a long while since the Falcons added talent in the secondary.
This one’s right up near the top as well, especially considering last year’s experience. The battle should be a good one between former 3rd round pick Mike Johnson, last year’s 7th round pick Andrew Jackson, and newly signed free agent Vince Manuwai. Some include Garrett Reynolds in that battle, but haven’t they already tried that experiment to poor results? After Harvey Dahl left in free agency, the position was a human turnstile with Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson (before injury), and Sam Baker all getting starts and subsequently losing the job. It got so bad that they had to bring in Joe Hawley to finish the season, when he had seemingly been drafted to be Todd McClure’s heir at center.
Initially, some(author included) thought taking the best available guard would be a good way to go to shore up the offensive line, infuse talent, and get really good value. As it stands right now, that appears to be very unlikely since there will already be a 3 or 4 way battle for the right guard spot as it stands right now.
Like safety, this position has been gaining steam among fans recently as well. Believe it or not, DL stalwart Jonathan Babineaux will be turning 31 this October. The position has been stabilized somewhat with the improved play and potential of Corey Peters, but this is definitely a position that could use some talent as well. Vance Walker is an excellent rotational DT and Peria Jerry is still seeking for a breakout year after being sidelined with injuries since his rookie season.
With Babineaux’s increasing age and the position being one of the thinnest on the team, this would make a lot of sense as well when the draft rolls around. As Dimitroff proved with Corey Peters, you can get great value in the 3rd rounds with defensive tackles. Due to the thin nature of the defensive tackle spot and Babineaux’s age, defensive tackle is starting to look like a very strong candidate for the draft.
This has been the top candidate for the Falcons to take in the draft for quite some time now. In 2009, it was Brandon Pettigrew who many thought would don red and black. Then the trade for Tony Gonzalez killed that. In 2010, some even thought that the Falcons would look to draft Gonzalez’s replacement and shock the world to take Jermaine Gresham. Most fans thought surely that Dimitroff would have to select an heir apparent last year and still not a TE card was pulled.
It’s hard to believe that Dimitroff will elect to pass on tight end for yet another year. He found a good #2 tight end in Michael Palmer through the undrafted free agent route, but you don’t find many excellent tight ends without spending a draft pick on them. However, recent drafts have shown that you can get great value and starting caliber tight ends in the later rounds. The Patriots got Rob Gronkowski in the 2nd round and Aaron Hernandez in the 4th round in the same draft. The Saints took Jimmy Graham in the 3rd round and he has redefined the role of a tight end.
This finally appears the year when Dimitroff will take a tight end pretty high. While not the deepest TE class in history, there are some intriguing prospects that could be had in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. With the news of Tony Gonzalez retiring after this season, it seems like almost a lock that tight end will be taken pretty early. Of course we’ve all come to assume the opposite with Thomas Dimitroff led drafts.
This is a very tricky one. The Falcons could elect to go ahead and draft a cornerback to add to their potential-laden group they already have and perhaps be ready to groom a possible replacement should the contract talks with Brent Grimes go south. However, with the Falcons applying the franchise tag to Brent Grimes, this appears, at least on paper, to be one of the more talented positions on the team. Grimes is coming back for at least one more year and surely Dunta Robinson should benefit from a more aggressive and proven defensive coordinator. Many were comfortable with Dominique Franks taking over if Grimes were to leave and that adds even more depth to the cornerback corps. Chris Owens may find a rebirth with Mike Nolan as DC and Darrin Walls showed major flashes of potential as a rookie.
Although you can never have enough quality cornerbacks, this position seems to a year away from high priority or until the contract talks with Grimes are resolved. Either way, the cornerback groups seems to have as much potential as any position.
The top three are set in stone for years to come and that makes many fans very happy. Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Harry Douglas have the potential to be one of the best wide receiver corps in the entire NFL. Dirk Koetter should be licking his chops to make defenses defend all of these options at one time, unlike another coordinator who shall remain nameless.
For the first time in awhile, the final two spots for wide receiver (#4 and #5) are wide open. This is definitely Kerry Meier’s best chance to not only make the roster but get involved in the gameplan. Meier the player has never been questioned, but his first two years in the pros have been marred by injury. Many think that Kevin Cone and / or Drew Davis are ready to make the jump from practice squad to active roster the same way Eric Weems did.
The Falcons surely won’t use a high pick on a wide receiver and may even elect to pick up several WR prospects that go undrafted.
One of the hottest names to appear on many Falcons draft boards is DE Vinny Curry out of Marshall. As it currently stands, defensive end appears to be one of the lowest priorities for this draft. The Birds are locked in with John Abraham, Ray Edwards, and Kroy Biermann for at least a few more years financially.
Also, many are hoping for big things from Lawrence Sidbury with Nolan taking over as DC and having a knack for maximizing speed rushers (Elvis Dumervil, Cameron Wake). Cliff Matthews showed some excellent flashes as a rookie in limited time in preseason. Unless Nolan decides to move Biermann and / or Sidbury to rush OLB, it seems that defensive end doesn’t appear to be high on the list as the draft approaches.
Much like defensive end, running back seems to be pretty much etched in stone for the 2012 season. The Falcons have Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, and potentially Antone Smith as the 4 running backs ready to go. Hopefully, a bigger carry split is in order this year for Turner giving way to Rodgers and Snelling more. When the Falcons brought back Snelling, that basically ended any speculation of going running back in this draft.
The Falcons do need to add more speed to the backfield, but it seems that Antone Smith will get every opportunity to be that guy. Some thought Turner may get traded or cut and the same goes for Ovie Mughelli at fullback. Others thought that Snelling could take over at fullback, thus paving the way for more speed to be added. None of that has happened and there’s no indication it will. We may be having a different conversation a year from now, but running back appears low on the priority list.
1) What’s the Falcons biggest needs heading to the draft?
2) Should Birds go LT with first pick?
3) Comfortable with only a Svitek v. Baker battle?
4) Can Dent / Tatupu fill Lofton’s void?
5) Would taking a safety be the best route?
6) OK with a Johnson v. Jackson v. Manuwai battle for RG?
7) Can Falcons pass on tight end for another draft?
8.) Should cornerback, defensive end, or running back be a higher priority?