By Sarah Woodall
This past year, the Atlanta Falcons made some pretty big strides. The Falcons went 8-0 for the first time in franchise history, finished with a 13-3 regular season record, and won a playoff game for the first time with Matt Ryan under-center and under Mike Smith’s reign as head coach. The recent changes in Smith’s coaching staff also had a big impact. Dirk Koetter’s offensive schemes allowed Matt Ryan to unleash his abilities at quarterback and revealed how dangerous the receiving trio of Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez could be. In addition, Mike Nolan basically reinvented the defense, which helped Atlanta realize their full potential, even when cornerback Brent Grimes was sidelined for the season with an Achilles injury. Obviously, the Falcons have the offensive weapons. Each year, Matt Ryan has shown he is the biggest piece to the puzzle for Atlanta as an elite quarterback, and his receiving core consisting of Jones and White have emerged as one of the best in the NFL. With the recent announcement of tight end Gonzalez’s decision to hang up the jersey and Michael Turner’s possibility of being cut, should the Falcons spend their draft picks in this year’s NFL Draft on a young tight end and running back? The answer should be no.
Drafting a new breed of offensive weapons should be the least of the Falcons’ worries right now. Just look at their defensive numbers from this past season: According to espn.com, the Falcons were ranked 21st against the run, and 23rd for pass defense. Both numbers look pretty dismal, but the one aspect of their defense that needs the most help, is in the pass rush. The Falcons only recorded 29 sacks for the regular season. Sure they managed to win a playoff game, but it was still evident throughout the postseason there was a piece still missing, especially with the fact they blew two big leads for both playoff games and faced two quarterbacks who could escape pressure to extend plays with their feet. The Falcons can’t afford to “hang on” in the post season if they want to win a Super Bowl.
The Falcons are not getting any younger, especially for John Abraham, their biggest threat in the pass rush. Other players on the current roster over 30 include Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel. Grimes is also flirting with 30 at 29-years-old. If he stays healthy, Abraham, 34, maybe has two more solid seasons ahead of him, so replacing him should be a must. The Falcons will have the 30th pick, and there are plenty of good young defensive players in the upcoming draft this April. According to Sports Illustrated writer Don Banks, Alex Okafor from Texas could be an option. Another option could be 6-foot-5, 260 pound LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, and to foxsports.com Peter Schrager, he should be a solid pick if he is still available. Also according to a Bleacher Report mock draft, other possible picks include Oregon DE Dion Jordan and Purdue DT Kawann Short.
With a playoff win under their belts, The Falcons are one step closer to a Super Bowl. Ryan already has the weapons in his arsenal, but in the event they do decide to bring in a tight end or running back, it should be through free agency. The defense needs to be their number one priority in the off-season. Once they address this need, they will be well on their way for another historic season.