3 draft needs for the Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have to deal with what will potentially be the hangover to end all hangovers after coming so close to winning the Super Bowl, only to be thwarted by a Tom Brady-led New England resurgence for the ages las season. If they can get past the initial disappointment though, Atlanta are still one of the most talented teams in the NFL, and can get themselves back to the Super Bowl with just a few roster upgrades.
With Chris Chester’s retirement, Atlanta has an immediate need for a new starting right guard. They already own a more-than-solid offensive line, with three starters with a PFF grade of 84.5 or above in 2016. Still, having a big gap at right guard is an issue right now, but it is a position where the Falcons can go out and find a Day 1 starter.
Early-round target: Dan Feeney, Indiana
PFF’s lead draft analyst Steve Palazzolo had Feeney going to Atlanta in the second round of his most recent mock draft, and it’s not difficult to see why. Not only is he a great fit as someone who can step into their zone-running scheme and succeed from Day 1, but he is also an excellent pass-blocker, with just one total pressure allowed in four starts at right guard before kicking out to tackle late in 2016.
Mid- or late-round target: Fred Zerblis, Colorado State
This isn’t a great draft to find a guard to start straight away in a zone scheme late, but one potential option is Zerblis. One of our highest-graded interior offensive linemen in 2016, Zerblis has graded well as a run-blocker and in pass protection in all of the past three seasons. Allowing just three sacks, six hits and 18 hurries in that span, including just five hits and five hurries over the past two seasons.
Vic Beasley produced some impressive sack numbers, and improved his overall production from his rookie year, but you can really never have too many pass-rushers, and if the Falcons are to get themselves back to the Super Bowl and go one step further, boosting their pass-rush even more will be key. We saw the Falcons tire late against the Patriots, so adding volume as well as talent to their group of pass rushers will help keep them fresher for longer.
Early-round target: Tim Williams, Alabama
It’s difficult to figure out where Williams’ draft stock is right now but while he hasn’t exactly lit up the pre-draft process, there is no denying that he was incredibly productive on the field for Alabama. With an impressive blend of speed and power, he was far too much for pretty much every offensive tackle he faced in college, racking up 22 sacks, 19 hits, and 83 hurries on only 484 pass-rushing snaps over the past three seasons.
Mid- or late-round target: Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh
A favorite of senior analyst Mike Renner’s, Price has dominated in the ACC over the past two seasons, putting up some impressive numbers. Solid against the run, it’s as a pass-rusher where he has really stood out, racking up 27 sacks, 25 hits, and 68 hurries over the past two seasons, including an eye-popping 16 sacks in 2016.
Need: Defensive interior
The signing of Dontari Poe could prove to be a shrewd move for the Atlanta Falcons if they can get him back to the form we saw from him in his early days in Kansas City. That being said, they should look to have a contingency plan in place, or at least someone to help spell him, so that Poe doesn’t need to play the high number of snaps that he did for the Chiefs.
Early-round target: Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
Coming from an Alabama defense that might see six or more names called on day one of the NFL Draft, Dalvin Tomlinson is someone who is being somewhat overlooked. He was incredibly productive against the run, and finished the year with 23 of his 28 solo tackles resulting in a defensive stop. He was more productive as a pass rusher than he’s given credit for too, racking up 43 total pressures on 446 pass-rushing snaps in 2016.
Mid- or late-round target: Ryan Glasgow, Michigan
He might be undersized, but the production shown on the field by Glasgow more than makes up for the lack of size. Over the past three seasons he has stood out against the run, with 17 of his 19 solo tackles against the run resulting in a defensive stop in 2016. Like Tomlinson, he’s more productive as a pass-rusher than he’s given credit for, and improved significantly in this role in 2016, where his 12.0 pass-rushing productivity rating was fifth-best among all defensive tackles in the FBS (minimum 120 pass-rushing snaps).