When you come right down to it, the Falcons desperately need a safety, pass rushers, inside linebackers, at least one tight end and a tackle. Those are the glaring holes on the 2014 Atlanta Falcons roster as it stands today, and failure to hit those positions will probably result in some small-scale revolts, at minimum.
Nonetheless, the Falcons can't afford to go purely by this year's needs, nor are they likely to. While it might be tempting after a down season to go all-in on 2014, that isn't going to secure you much job security unless you win the Super Bowl this year, an outcome I can't say any of us should consider a lock at this point.
So the Falcons have to think ahead. The prevailing thought that the Falcons should focus purely on the lines is, and I mean this fondly, short-sighted. They have ten draft picks in this class, arguably no true 3-4 inside linebackers on the roster, two aging receiving options, a 30-plus-year-old running back and an unsettled set of defensive tackles. If they're not in love with Robert McClain, they only have two young, trustworthy cornerbacks. Oh, and their kicker will be 39 years old at the end of May.
As fans in an age where the news cycle spin like a centrifuge, we have become accustomed to thinking in blocks of time, which the NFL prefers. However few or myriad their faults are, Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli, Lionel Vital and the coaching staff have to recognize that using each draft to patch that year's holes to the exclusion of building for the future will result in joblessness sooner than later. That means you can't punt running back and wide receiver entirely, for instance, because you can't be certain that Steven Jackson, Roddy White and Harry Douglas have multiple highly-productive years ahead. The same is true of guard, where Justin Blalock promises will continue to be expensive but not any younger through 2016.
With that in mind, I've taken the liberty of assembling a handful of positions that the Falcons should mull this offseason, before they become more dire needs.
This is a position with a lot of bodies, but real questions. Steven Jackson is older and coming off an injury-marred 2013. Antone Smith is nearly 30 and has never carried the load in any meaningful capacity, Jason Snelling is gone and Josh Vaughan doesn't appear to be a serious option to soak up carries. That leaves Jacquizz Rodgers, who is young and valuable when it comes to pass-catching and pass protection, but isn't a consistently dynamic runner. In short, there's no guarantee there's even a halfway reliable featured option in this group after 2014, and that's even if you're willing to go the committee route.
The Falcons could wait until next year and try to capitalize on one of the better running back classes in the last few years, but the 2014 class runs deep with players like Charles Sims, who have well-rounded skill sets and likely won't cost you a first or second round pick. You're not guaranteed a starter, of course, but adding a back with upside is a good eye of turning your eye to the future while hedging against a poor year from S-Jax.
Our good friend Aaron Freeman at FalcFans has been making a case for a receiver for months now. His argument boils down to this: Roddy White is likely entering his decline phase, Harry Douglas is getting older and isn't (in Aaron's view, at least) a truly reliable option, and after that it's UDFAs all the way down. This is an underrated receiver class where you may be able to get an intriguing player as late as the fourth or fifth rounds, so why not go for it?
This logic has been growing on me. The Falcons should make it a priority to keep Julio Jones around forever and I would hope they'll aim to have Roddy finish his career in Atlanta, but the position could fast become a question mark. This is a team that needs to add talent to tight end, but if they're planning to de-emphasize the position, adding a receiver helps pick up some of the slack from Tony Gonzalez's departure while hopefully adding a player who could start down the line.
The Falcons did themselves a favor by locking up Jon Asamoah for a while, giving them a young, capable right guard for the next few seasons. It's less clear they have left guard resolved beyond 2014.
The first option is simply to re-work Justin Blalock's contract to keep him around longer and mitigate his $7-plus million cap hits over the next three seasons. That assumes Blalock would be willing to do so, which isn't a lock by any stretch of the imagination. If you're looking at Blalock as a 2014 and maybe 2015 starter, then a cap casualty, where do you go?
You look in the draft. Finding late round gems on the line hasn't necessarily been a strong suit for this regime, but you need to keep trying. Looking at a guard in the fifth or later—Mike Byers over at Cover 32 has been suggesting Chris Watt out of Notre Dame—would give the Falcons someone to groom if Blalock breaks down or they simply want to move on. You could try a conversion project with one of the players you already have, but adding depth the position just isn't a bad idea.
This one ought to set off some howling, but the logic is easy to follow. The Falcons may have their starters locked down for a while with Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, but they've sent strong signals that they don't necessarily trust Robert McClain over the long haul, and behind him there's just a couple of veterans who either appear to be past their primes or just haven't delivered on their promise. It's not a bad idea for shoring up the back end in the short term, but ideally you go three deep with capable, young players.
If McClain really isn't in the organization's plans, you could see them explore cornerback. The Falcons run a ton of nickel sets and need three quality cornerbacks to sustain that, so don't be surprised to see them invest a pick in what would be a fallback plan at worst.
Which future needs do you have an eye on in the 2014 NFL Draft?