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During the free agency period, the Atlanta Falcons have stuck to the agenda of getting bigger on both lines. After being manhandled throughout 2013 on both sides, they invested all their value into the interior of their offensive line and defensive line. They’ve also all but confirmed that they are switching to a 3-4 scheme, with the signings of Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson.
With those signings, Atlanta has eliminated mostly all the needs on the line. They still have some work to do on the outside of both lines. Even though the draft remains to be the focal point for the front office, there is still work that can be done in free agency.
No. 3: Free Safety
Due to practically all of the safeties being off the market, I chose free safety over tight end. There are still some options out there, where they can sign a veteran to challenge Levine Toilolo for the starting role. Besides Chris Clemons, there aren’t any starting caliber safeties left out there. What is the point of signing someone like Major Wright, who was constantly out of position last season?
They might as well start fresh by taking a free safety in the second or third round. It was the right decision to cut Thomas DeCoud, as he had run his course in Atlanta. There was no upside in having him as a starter. His coverage awareness has declined while his tackling has become a severe liability. They need a cover safety to pair with one of the best in-box safeties in William Moore.
After drafting a tight end in the fourth round last year, why draft another tight end? It wouldn’t necessarily be a terrible idea, especially when you look at what New England did with their tight ends until one of them went insane. There are tight ends like Jermichael Finley, Owen Daniels, and Dustin Keller who are still on the market. If any of them can pass a physical (big if on Keller and Finley), then it’s worth taking the risk. It’s not like they’ll be that expensive. It would be more of an efficient way in handling the draft process by eliminating as many holes as possible.
I’d rather see the Falcons address free safety in the second or third round, before selecting a running back and linebacker in the latter rounds.
No. 2: Offensive Tackle
I’m not sure what side to choose from, due to Sam Baker’s contract. There have been rumors that he may move to the right side in the future. Regardless of his situation, the Falcons are in dire need of an upgrade at offensive tackle. They can’t go into the upcoming season, with the same rotation of lineman from last season. An upgrade will be needed, where it seems likely that it will be addressed in the draft. The crop of tackles in free agency have all been either re-signed or signed with other teams.
Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson have been linked with Atlanta, although it’s highly unlikely that Robinson falls to sixth. While the pass rush desperately needs an upgrade, you won’t hear most fans complain about drafting Matthews. Matt Ryan is one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league and has been the face of the franchise for years now. He was sacked 44 times last year, which is inexcusable for such a potent offense.
The reason why I placed offensive tackle below outside linebacker is more because of how dreadful the pass rush has been over the last seven years or so. We’ve seen how outstanding the pass rush has been for recent Super Bowl winners. Seattle, New York, and Green Bay all had 43 sacks or more in their championship seasons. A great pass rush can do wonders for your defense, which is why I value it slightly over offensive tackle. That being said, I’d have no issues if Atlanta selected someone like Matthews if Mack wasn’t available.
No. 1: Outside Linebacker
With the Falcons mostly settled in a 3-4 scheme, this obviously applies to adding a pass rusher. It feels like it has been an entirety, since they’ve had a consistent pass rush. I’ve said this repeatedly about having two quality pass rushers to have a consistent pass rush. As incredible as John Abraham was, he never had support and that shouldn’t be considered as a consistent pass rush.
The most logical choice at sixth would be Khalil Mack. Atlanta isn’t in a situation, where they are a piece or two away from being a serious contender. Therefore it’s highly unlikely that they would trade up for Jadeveon Clowney. Mack is a better fit in the 3-4-hybrid scheme, if you want to compare both players. They can’t afford to lose significant draft picks in their current state.
I’d like to see Atlanta bring in a veteran like Shaun Phillips to play opposite Mack in an attempt to form a competent pass rush. Osi Umenyiora’s days are likely numbered, which is good for both sides. There aren’t many players that work as hard as Kroy Biermann, but I’ve never considered him as a quality starter. They tried to place Biermann as the second pass rusher in 2010 and 2012, which were unsuccessful attempts. If they can add a veteran and Mack to solidify their outside linebacker slots, that could be one of the main pieces to making their defense respectable again.
Allen Strk is an Atlanta Falcons Team Journalist at Pro Football Spot. Follow him on twitter at @allen_strk