The college football regular season has wrapped up and the conference championship games begin this weekend. Here's one player from each game that would make a great addition to the Falcons next season.
AAC: #19 Houston vs #22 Temple (12pm ET, ABC)
Temple LB Tyler Matakevich
Simply put, the Falcons need a major infusion of talent at the linebacker position in 2016. Paul Worrilow has struggled tremendously this season and Justin Durant fizzled out after a strong start to the season. Despite winning AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors, Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich is a name flying under the radar to causal watchers of college football.
Matakevich is a playmaker who helped lead Temple to one of their better seasons in recent memory. Temple's defense ranked top 20 nationally this season with impressive showings against Penn State, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame. Matakevich isn't the most athletically gifted linebacker out there, but his instincts, effort, and tenacity allowed him to consistently make impactful defensive plays throughout the season.
SEC: #2 Alabama vs #18 Florida (4pm ET, CBS)
Alabama LB Reggie Ragland
Yes, another linebacker. Reggie Ragland is projected to go much higher than Matakevich and for good reason. Ragland has been an absolute stalwart in the middle of Alabama's talented front seven that has routinely shut down opposing offenses.
Many people will look at Ragland's imposing figure (6'2", 252) and assume that he's only a run stopper, but the senior linebacker has shown impressive athleticism. He can play the run sideline to sideline and has shown a nice ability to cover tight ends (which the Falcons desperately need). This comparison may come across as lazy, but Ragland does compare favorably to former Alabama linebacker and current Patriots star Dont'a Hightower. Ragland is an enforcer on the field; one Dan Quinn and Co. could easily fall in love with through the draft process.
Pac-12: #7 Stanford vs #20 USC (7:45pm ET, ESPN/WatchESPN)
Stanford G Josh Garnett
Another position that's in dire need of an upgrade is the left guard spot. Since being traded for during the preseason, Andy Levitre has largely been a disappointment for the Falcons. Since the game against the Tennessee Titans, Levitre has been exposed on a common basis.
Garnett has been a tenacious blocker for the Cardinal. Stanford's offense runs a lot of the same concepts that Kyle Shanahan's implemented into the Falcons zone blocking scheme. Atlanta's offensive line started out the season hot dominating the opposition, but has played more to their actual talent level as of late. Bringing in legitimate talent on the offensive line would help the offense as they try to play more consistent football in 2016.
Big Ten: #4 Iowa vs #5 Michigan State (8pm ET, FOX)
Michigan State WR Aaron Burbridge
While Matt Ryan has struggled in key moments this season, Atlanta isn't exactly surrounding him with premium receiver talent (outside of Julio Jones, of course). Leonard Hankerson has been a nice surprise as a cheap free agent acquisition, but with his injuries and drops it'd be a bit of surprise if Atlanta commits to him long term. Roddy White isn't the player he used to be and Nick Williams is Nick Williams. A legitimate number two across from Julio is sorely needed.
Aaron Burbridge has excelled in his first season as Michigan State's number one option on offense. He has solid size (6'1", 208) and a knack for producing breathtaking plays. When Hankerson is absent, the offense has been stagnant with an inability to threaten defenses vertically. Burbridge would be a nice athletic complement for Julio Jones and it would allow Justin Hardy to slide to a slot role where he'd be suited best.
ACC: #1 Clemson vs #10 North Carolina (8pm ET, ABC/WatchESPN)
UNC QB Marqise Williams
Atlanta doesn't have the draft capital to spend on a quarterback, but a undrafted free agent with solid upside could be a developmental option for the Falcons. Based on his play last season, Marqise Williams probably wouldn't be seen as an NFL-caliber player. However, he's improved his play dramatically this season, leading North Carolina to an 11-1 record regular season in Larry Fedora's uptempo read option offense.
Matt Ryan is going to be the quarterback of this team for the foreseeable future, but bringing in a quarterback to learn behind him can't hurt. Williams would be a nice undrafted free agent option, as he has intriguing enough tools to invest in and may be a starting quarterback in the NFL if he develops nicely.