By most measures the Atlanta Falcons had a great season last year. They finished the year with a record of 13-3 and took 1st place in the NFC South. Head coach Mike Smith starts his sixth season in Atlanta. He wasn't the only one to start with the team that year, that was the same time general manager Thomas Dimitroff came over from the front office of the New England Patriots. Those two have helped shape the Falcons and put them on the track; the one that took them to five consecutive winning seasons, a first for the franchise. A lot has been made of the staff Bill Belichick had when he was in Cleveland and everything those guys have done, I wonder if the same thing will happen with the staff he surrounded himself with while in New England. If it is, Dimitroff will certainly have his name mentioned as a very successful man to come from the Belichick tree. If the Falcons hope to stay on top of the division, and certainly if they hope to take the next step, the draft is where they have to be successful. Last years draft didn't go so well, this year they hope to fill holes they have.
Everyone who is even a fair weather Falcons fan knows the name John Abraham, problem is he doesn't play for Atlanta anymore. A lack of a pass rush was a big problem for the Falcons last season and they know the position needs and upgrade. Abraham is getting up there in age (35), and with salary cap issues the team couldn't afford to keep him around. They brought in Osi Umeniyora to help shore up the spot, but they definitely need to get a young guy in there and have him start learning.
It may be difficult to find an impact player at this position at the end of the first round, but it is an area of concern for the Falcons. The run defense was horrible last year, finishing 28th by giving up 4.8 yards per carry. It's difficult to be successful in the NFL with those type of numbers. When they're in their base defense, the Falcons hold up well against the run. But when opposing teams make them go to their nickel package, the Falcons can be gashed for big yards.
In particular, they need an offensive guard. The team was great throwing the ball last year, 6th overall throwing for 281.8 yards per game. However, what was once a vaunted running attack in Atlanta was a distant memory. In an effort to upgrade the running attack the team parted ways with Michael Turner and brought in Steven Jackson from the Rams. Jackson is a strong, powerful runner who is tough to bring down and consistently gets yards after contact. If they hope to be able to continue to block for Matt Ryan, and open up holes for their new running back, the offensive line is going to need an upgrade.
Even though the above mentioned positions are of great need, the Falcons have one other glaring hole on their roster...cornerback. Right now the team has Asante Samuel starting at one spot, but the other one is up for grabs. With the 30th overall pick in the draft the team would be fortunate to get a player like Robert Alford. A 5-11, 188 CB from SouthEastern Louisiana Alford knows how to play the game. He isn't the biggest corner in the draft, and is slightly smaller than what NFL scouts like to see, but that doesn't sum him up. He has very good instincts which allow him to be in great positions around the football. He works hard, always shows up and has no known off field issues that could hurt the team. He is a natural athlete who excels in man coverage and is projected to play well in a bump and run style in the NFL. Even though he came from a small school, he never backed down or shied away from any top tier competition. One concern may be his ability to shed blocks from bigger receivers and his ability to contain the outside on run plays. But if he becomes a good enough cover corner he can always use Deon Sanders' line "they don't pay me to make tackles." I doubt he'll ever get close to the level of Prime Time though. Falcons fans should feel confident on draft day knowing that the Falcons front office will succeed.