The draft is right around the corner, and Roger Goodell confirmed last week that it would go on as planned on April 23rd through the 25th. There are still some quality free agents on the market, and I’m hopeful the Falcons can add at least one more worthwhile body on the defensive side of the ball. But for the most part, we know what Atlanta must address heading into what is a pivotal draft for the Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff era.
Following the somewhat puzzling decision to move on from Desmond Trufant — the team’s #1 corner for the last five-plus years — and the signing of Dante Fowler Jr. to sure up the pass rush, the Falcons most glaring need is at cornerback. They are now in a division that features Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Not to mention, the receiving cores in the NFC South are loaded. The Bucs possess what might be the best tandem in the NFL in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. The Panthers just added Robby Anderson to complement D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, and the Saints signed Emmanuel Sanders to pair with Michael Thomas.
I’m not sure what the Falcons plan to do with Damontae Kazee. He’s a better safety than he is a corner, but looking at the depth chart, it seems like they have no choice but to make him play corner again. Even with Kazee in the mix, this group doesn’t inspire confidence. Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver played well once Raheem Morris took over the secondary, but that cannot be all the Falcons rely on to defend the receiving cores mentioned above. Atlanta has to take a corner in the first two rounds that can make an impact Week 1.
#2 Edge Rusher
Even with the signing of Dante Fowler, edge rusher needs to be addressed early in this draft. In a pass-happy NFL, it’s essential to have a rotation of players that can get after the quarterback. Takk McKinley and Dante Fowler could make a formidable duo, and I expect the Falcons to add an Adrian Clayborn type player in free agency before the season starts, but that isn’t enough. This has been a hole in Atlanta for too long, and it’s about time they took the necessary steps to fix it. On top of that, it doesn’t look like the Falcons are going to pick up McKinley’s fifth-year option — a decision that has to be made by May — making this even more of a priority for the future of the organization.
#3 Offensive Guard
The offensive guard position isn’t being talked about enough among Falcons fans. James Carpenter and Jamon Brown were awful last season, causing me to almost put this at #2 on the list. With the addition of Gurley, the Falcons have the opportunity to be an unbelievable offense. I believe Chris Lindstrom will be a stud as long as he’s healthy, and Kaleb McGary’s rookie campaign was promising. Alex Mack and Jake Matthews are the stalwarts, which shouldn’t change in 2020. But one chink in the armor can ruin all of that, and the Falcons have a considerable one at left guard. If they addressed this in the second round, I’d be thrilled.
I do have faith in Foye Oluokun filling the void that is left now that De’Vondre Campbell is in Arizona. I also think the Falcons could choose to utilize Keanu Neal more at linebacker since he’s coming off back-to-back major lower-body injuries and will probably have lost a step when he returns. Atlanta might add another body at a reasonable cost before free agency is over as well. Still, this should be one of the priorities in the draft. It doesn’t have to be in the first or second round, but eventually, they need to add someone who can contribute relatively quickly to this group.
#5 Interior Defensive Line
Hypothetically, if the Falcons didn’t choose to go with an edge rusher early in the draft, I wouldn’t mind if they paired Grady Jarrett with another impact player on the interior. That would make life so much easier for the likes of Fowler and McKinley, and so much more difficult for opposing offenses. Davison and Jarrett are a decent combo, but if the Falcons were able to snag Javon Kinlaw with their first-round pick, they would be fools to pass up that opportunity. I’m not sure that’s likely, but at some point in this draft they should pick up another defensive tackle.
#6 Running Back
Even though the Falcons inked Todd Gurley to a one-year deal, he’s not a long-term solution, and frankly, there are none of those on the current roster. Atlanta should be able to get by just fine this season with a combination of Gurley, Brian Hill, Ito Smith, and Qadree Ollison, but they need to add someone to the mix they feel can take the reins down the line.