BY LANCE N. POIRRIER
The 2013 Falcons have been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises this season, and not in a good way. Atlanta’s defense has been dismal with no pass rush amongst other glaring needs on the defense. Matt Ryan has lost nearly his entire supporting cast through the season and he unfortunately doesn’t have the same effect on “no names” that Tom Brady or Peyton Manning does, Ryan needs his play makers available every game for the team to be successful.
Since letting the aging John Abraham go this offseason the Falcons’ pass rush has gone nearly extinct. The Falcons are on track to have the third overall pick in 2014, with which they would love to add South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney who is one of the most exciting and dominating DE prospects since Julius Peppers. Other names to look at past the first round are Missouri’s Kony Ealy, Stanford’s Trent Murphy, or North Carolina’s Kareem Martin. Don’t be shocked if the Falcons double dip on defensive ends in the top four rounds of the draft, they need tons of help.
Tackle is less of an issue for the Falcons, but any pass rush assistance would be an immediate help to their sad defense. Pass rushers who might interest the Falcons early in the draft could be Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman or Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan, but if the Falcons wanted to wait until a bit later they may consider Florida’s Dominique Easley or Purdue’s Bruce Gaston.
NFL legend Tony Gonzalez is calling it quits after the 2014 season and it’s a shame his great career is ending on such a sour note. TE is going to become a major need for the Falcons once Gonzalez departs. The Falcons will have a higher pick to start each round, and they may consider Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins or Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz. An intriguing prospect who could help the Falcons is Oregon’s Colt Lyerla, who cut the bottom out of his draft stock by unexpectedly leaving the program midseason. There are also some later round picks that could bring potential and depth to Atlanta in Colorado State’s Crockett Gilmore or Indiana’s Ted Bolser.
The Falcons released Michael Turner early this off-season to make cap room and make a run at veteran Steven Jackson, but he’s been sadly disappointing and too often injured. Should Mike Smith retain his head coaching job into 2014, the Falcons will be looking for a powerful back to plug into their offense and regain their rushing attack. Some players who might interest the Dirty Birds are Florida State’s James Wilder, Jr., Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, or Alabama State’s Isaiah Crowell.
The Falcons have had to strip away their once-dominant offensive line over the past few seasons due to cap issues, and their current lack of depth has shown that they were ill-prepared for the scenario. The Falcons desperately need a powerful right tackle to help sustain their run game, and Miami’s Seantrel Henderson who’s a monster of a man with great potential to become a road-grading RT in the NFL. They may also consider North Carolina’s James Hurst, who would be an instant upgrade at RT with potential to move to LT when the time comes for Sam Baker to exit Atlanta. The Falcons also need help along the interior of the offensive line, where they could consider the versatile guard/tackle from Stanford, David Yankey. Baylor OG Cyril Richardson, who entered the season as the top-rated interior offensive linemen in this class, carries great potential and would be a solid second round pick should he last that far.