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2014 NFL Draft: The Falcons Positional Road Map

The draft is mere weeks away, and it's not a question of what the Falcons will do, but in what order.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

We're mere weeks away from the 2014 NFL Draft, which comes as a giant relief to those of us who have overdosed on draft speculation since January. Because we're in the stretch run, it's time to try to make sense of what the Atlanta Falcons will do and how this draft will unfold.

The obvious caveat first: No one knows. You're talking about 32 NFL front offices, each with vastly different priorities, plans and intelligence levels, all trying to nail down the players they like best. Aside from a few top picks and a few teams living up to their reputations—the Raiders draft speed, the Bengals take chances on the troubled—it's an incredibly messy and unpredictable process. I can't tell you exactly what the Falcons will do at #6, because it's dependent on so many other variables.

What I can do is give you a map for this draft, one that sketches out the positions the Falcons will target. In 2014 more so than ever before, this team has been transparent about its intentions, if not through words than through actions. They signed a guard but didn't directly address right tackle, they took great pains to attempt to improve the run defense but didn't touch the pass rush, they signaled an intent to use more 3-4 looks but didn't acquire any players who are truly natural fits as inside linebackers, and so forth. Each of these moves in a vacuum doesn't mean anything, but as part of a larger plan after a 4-12 season, they mean everything.

The Falcons, in this draft, will acquire players at the following positions and roles:

  • Tackle
  • Tight end
  • Pass rusher, likely a hybrid who can play OLB in a 3-4 front
  • Running back
  • Safety
  • Inside linebacker

The players they acquire at those positions may represent curveballs, or they might choose to mix in some truly surprising picks. By the time the dust settles on this draft, though, I'd be stunned to see the Falcons pass on any of those positions. They've left themselves little choice but to get them.

The map of the offseason, then, is this: Acquire the pieces for a 3-4 front and add toughness and run-stopping ability up front. Address the single most glaring hole on the offensive line with a very good guard. Add dynamism at returner to try to give the offense better field position, recognizing you've lost a Hall of Fame weapon. Shore up the secondary with several veterans who could be useful depth, with the hope that one of them steps up and offers starting-caliber snaps. Then add young talent to mortar over every other hole, counting on new coaches, strong veteran influences and better injury luck to return you to contention.

We won't know how successful this course is for a while now, and there's no doubt it has the potential to backfire if the draft goes poorly. If you want to know what the Falcons are trying to build and how the draft will go, though, this is a guess I feel pretty confident in.

Your thoughts?