The Falcons failed to retain Swagger Vance, but Thomas Dimitroff has enough swagger to go around. - Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
With an offense poised to be one of the best in football next season, the Falcons will look to rejuvenate their defense in Mike Nolan's second year as defensive coordinator.
Peter Konz is the center of the future. Garrett Reynolds showed improvement and should be competing for playing time at right guard. Matt Ryan is still Matty Ice, only now he has a playoff win under his belt.
The defense, of course, is much less certain. Gone are aging starters John Abraham and Dunta Robinson, along with contributors Vance Walker and Lawrence Sidbury. Gone too could be Brent Grimes, arguably the team's best corner when healthy.
Round 1: LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Did I throw you for a loop? He's not a pass-rusher. Why would Atlanta take him in the first?
My thinking here was that the Falcons will not find themselves enamored with the pass-rushers left on the board when they pick at No. 30 overall. Sam Montgomery has a fair share of question marks, as does Alex Okafor. Margus Hunt, while insanely athletic, also disappeared completely at times during the 2012 season at SMU.
And of course we have heard the rumors that the Falcons are interested in free agent linebacker Karlos Dansby. That's a starting-caliber linebacker, which must mean that the position is a high priority for the front office.
Additionally, the possibility that the Falcons trade down into the early second round is a strong one. The late first round has historically been a haven for draft day trades, and I think it's about time we see Dimitroff follow in the footsteps of his mentor Bill Belichick and trade down. Brown should still be there.
And what Brown brings to the table has definitely piqued my interest.
Like Sean Weatherspoon, Brown displayed excellent skills in pass coverage at Kansas State and has shown fantastic instincts at the linebacker position. He is fast, flows well from sideline to sideline and takes great angles to the ball-carrier on a consistent basis.
Moreover, there's a good chance Atlanta won't have to worry about Brown off the field. He was named team captain twice for the Wildcats, has shown fantastic on-field discipline and has drawn praise for his pregame preparation and work ethic.
That sounds like a player Dimitroff would want, and there's a strong chance he could supplant either Akeem Dent or Stephen Nicholas in Atlanta's starting lineup immediately. We know the front seven needs improvement. Brown is a great start.
Round 2: OLB Chase Thomas, Stanford
Another linebacker, you say? Yes, but this one can get to the quarterback.
All offseason I've bought into the running belief that Mike Nolan will transition Atlanta's defense to a 3-4 scheme. Jonathan Massaquoi was a 3-4 outside linebacker at Troy. Kroy Biermann has shown the versatility to line up at that spot as well.
Now Atlanta adds another into the mix.
Thomas is not what you might consider an elite pass-rusher (it's difficult to find those in the second round), and he probably projects as a No. 2 pass rusher in the NFL, someone who would put up sack numbers similar to Ray Edwards' when he was in Minnesota.
He is a refined player with good technique, consistent and disciplined. He's got great instincts as well, and has the tendency to read the quarterback's eyes and get his hands up to knock down an outgoing pass. Pretty good in coverage.
Like Brown, he's not the biggest linebacker out there. He may struggle at times with some of the bigger offensive tackles he'll likely face. But for where the Falcons could be drafting him, I'd call Thomas a solid, solid pick.
Round 3: CB Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Whether or not Grimes comes back, the Falcons still need depth and youth at cornerback.
Taylor is another former captain who has been praised for his leadership and work ethic on and off the field. He's versatile, having lined up both on the outside and in the slot for the Broncos, and like both players taken before him he shows impressive instincts.
He's dealt with injuries in the past, nor is he the best tackler, which could lead him to fall into the third. Atlanta should be happy to snatch him up.
Round 4: TE Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
Atlanta's first offensive selection comes with the knowledge that it simply can't keep relying on the ageless Tony Gonzalez. Though he signed a two-year deal, it was mostly for cap purposes, meaning it's more likely he stays for just one more shot at a Superbowl.
With that in mind, the Falcons need a young tight end to learn from the future Hall of Famer, and Escobar fits the bill.
He's got the size (6'6, 254 pounds) and enough speed (unofficial 4.84 40-yard dash) to be a threat at the second level, and like Gonzalez he's a very consistent pass-catcher in the short game. Can also line up in the slot or on the outside, if needed.
He's not the best blocker and was a tad inconsistent for the small-school Aztecs, but he's a good value if still there in the fourth.
Round 4 (comp): NT Kwame Geathers, Georgia
If the Falcons are indeed headed for a 3-4, a space-clogging nose tackle is a must. Rather than spend a first-round pick on John Jenkins, why not use a comp pick on a nose tackle who is just as good if not better?
At 6'5 and 342 pounds, Geathers can fill that role perfectly. He's strong and aggressive, but his upside is limited and his stamina is sub-par, making him a likely candidate to be rotated in and out as he was at Georgia. Still, he's a good buy and a great run-stopper.
Round 5: WR Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington
Looking at Atlanta's depth chart, wide receiver is a weird mixture of elite talent (Roddy, Julio) and special teams role players (Kevin Cone, Drew Davis). Now that the Kerry Meier experiment has failed, I think we could see the Falcons target a similar player at a similar point in the draft.
Kaufman is widely considered underrated. He's got great size (6'4, 215 lbs.), good body control and some surprisingly precise route running abilities. He also set the FCS record for most receiving yards in a season (1850 yards). Perhaps finally Atlanta will find another Brian Finneran.
Round 6: OG Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech football is pretty funny to watch under Paul Johnson nowadays. Playing on such a team might cause you to be overlooked, and that's exactly what's happened to Uzzi.
He's been a consistent starter for the Yellow Jackets, the best run-blocker in their triple option attack, and he has the size and nastiness NFL teams look for. His pass protection abilities are naturally a huge question mark because of the scheme he plays in, but for a sixth round pick he's a nice, local option for the Falcons.
Round 7: DE/OLB Cornelius Washington, Georgia
Another Georgia player. Am I biased? Who isn't.
Washington had a great performance at the NFL Combine, running an official 4.55-sec 40-yard dash and repping the bench 36 times. He's versatile, has the potential to be a great special teams contributor, and if his junior year is any indication then he has room to improve.
Todd Grantham was never great at getting the best out of his players, anyways.
Round 7 (comp x3): Pick a name out of a hat
The Falcons have three seventh-round compensatory selections. I'd be lying if I told you I had any idea where the Falcons will go with these picks because they are so late in the draft.
Collin Klein? Sammy Baugh? This is mock drafting people, not science. Whoever sounds good is probably who the Falcons will draft.
That is, until Dimitroff pulls a fast one on everyone and takes Denard Robinson in the third. Hold your breath.