The good news is that the 2014 NFL Draft, delayed by the NFL in a successful attempt to force us all to endure extra weeks of mock drafts and smokescreens and wild rumors, is very nearly here. We're just two days away from finding out what Atlanta will actually do with the sixth overall pick. It's exhilarating.
We've broken down Atlanta's draft needs endlessly, it seems, and we generally agree that they have many needs to fill. How would you rank their needs heading into the draft?
1. Pass Rush
There's going to be some disagreement here, and it's understandable. This team was built to be an offensive powerhouse, particularly through the air, and as Matt Ryan goes, so goes the team, and Ryan got demolished behind the joke of an offensive line the Falcons fielded last season.
However, the Falcons haven't had an effective pass rush at all in recent memory, and with the benefit of a high pick and a handful of potential impact pass rushers available early--but not a ton of depth in this draft at that position--it makes sense for Atlanta to address this need early as opposed to jumping for Greg Robinson or Jake Matthews at the top of the draft.
2. Free Safety
The Falcons cut Thomas DeCoud, leaving them Zeke Motta--who's coming off of a late season neck injury--Kemal Ishmael, who played very limited snaps last season, and Dwight Lowery, who hasn't played for an extended period of time and is somewhat of an unknown. While adding an effective pass rusher would immediately elevate the play of the defense, the pass rush needs to be paired with an effective secondary to be at its best.
3. Offensive Line
Whether the thought of Sam Baker, Peter Konz, and Lamar Holmes being integrally involved in protecting Matt Ryan next season strikes fear deep into our hearts or not, I think it's pretty likely that's what the Falcons will be working with heading into the season. There will be some effective offensive tackles available beyond the second round, and they'll have the chance to compete with Holmes, Mike Johnson, and Gabe Carimi for the starting right tackle spot. Considering Baker's contract, I don't see any way, barring injury, that he's not the starting left tackle. Justin Blalock was the team's most effective lineman last season, and I'd pencil in Jon Asamoah for the starting right guard spot, so I think the interior line is pretty set. I'd put this need nearly on par with free safety, but I do think free safety is slightly more pressing because of the moves made along the line in the offseason.
Depending on what the team does to address the pass rush early, and considering the return of Kroy Biermann, outside linebacker may not be much of a focus, but inside linebacker is a real concern at this point. There's not much depth inside or outside at this position, either.
5. Defensive Tackle
The Falcons have one true nose tackle on the roster in Paul Soliai, and they need a backup for rotation in the 3-4.
Atlanta has no fullback on the roster after releasing Bradie Ewing, so that's a vacancy that needs to be filled.
7. Running Back
With Jason Snelling's retirement and the coaching staff's inexplicable aversion to letting Antone Smith do much, running back is a position the team needs to think about at this point.
8. Tight End
It's not the most pressing need, but with just Levine Toilolo and Bear Pascoe on the roster, and considering that the Falcons generally carry three tight ends, this may be something they address in the later rounds.
9. Strong Safety
Atlanta is set with a starter, and Willy Mo is always ready, but they could always address this position for depth.
The only reason quarterback is this high on the list is because I'm not certain Atlanta is in love with any of their backup options at this point. If the Falcons take a quarterback in the draft, it will be a late round guy to compete for the backup spot, and it will definitely not be Johnny Manziel.
11. Wide Receiver
This isn't really a need at all, with Roddy White and Julio Jones both expected to be healthy to start the season, and Harry Douglas and Devin Hester on the roster as well, although it might be nice to address some depth in the late rounds.
Atlanta did well with their cornerback picks last season. Desmond Trufant had an incredibly impressive rookie season, and Robert Alford developed nicely. Robert McClain has performed well in the nickel, and the team added Javier Arenas via free agency. This isn't a need at all, really.
13. Long Snapper
Matt Bryant forever.
Definitely not a need. Matt Bosher is great.
How would you rank the Falcons' needs going into the draft?