The Falcons head into this draft with legitimate holes dotting the roster, even if you're particularly bullish on some of their in-house options. With the first round kicking off this evening, I thought we'd take a fresh look at those needs, rank the top five and then see how many the team elects to address with their eight selections over the next three days.
Let's break it down.
#1: Pass Rusher
Duh. We wrote up the team's needs back on January 2nd, and I see no reason to change this despite the signings of players like Adrian Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield, who will certainly help.
Simply put, the Falcons need a great pass rusher to make life easier up front, to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and to give opposing offenses someone to scheme for. It's still the no-brainer pick at #1, even if it winds up being an interior pass rusher and not an edge player.
#2: Free safety
This one became a more urgent need when the Falcons let Dwight Lowery walk into free agency and re-signed Charles Godfrey. It's entirely possible that Godfrey will be a decent starting option for a year in this defense, but the team doesn't have a lot of prospects beyond 2015 and they certainly don't have a strong contingency plan if Godfrey falters or gets injured, particularly if Dezmen Southward really is being moved to cornerback full-time.
Drafting a top shelf safety with coverage chops would help immensely, particularly for the kind of defense Dan Quinn likes to run.
#3: Left guard
There's simply no one at the position today that inspires a ton of confidence in fans. I'm bullish on James Stone making the move, Mike Person, Harland Gunn and Jared Smith can compete and perhaps even Peter Konz will sneak his way in to the battle, but right now, this guard spot projects to be a legitimate trouble area for the line.
The Falcons can remedy that to some extent by spending an early pick on a promising rookie, or they can roll with their in-house options and see what they get. We'll need to see a lot more out of the guys mentioned above if they got the latter route.
#4: Running back
I like Devonta Freeman and expect him to be the team's lead back in 2015. Antone Smith is a devastating weapon when used properly. Ronnie Wingo and Jerome Smith have some promise.
For all that, this position is quite thin at the moment. An injury or slow start from Freeman would leave the Falcons without a lot of options available to soak up carries, which is why drafting a young back makes so much sense. Ideally, this team would have a power complement to Freeman and Smith by the end of the day Saturday.
On paper, this doesn't seem like a huge need, but look more closely and you'll see what I'm getting at here.
Right now, the Falcons have the truly excellent Desmond Trufant, a promising young cornerback in Robert Alford, a maybe decent nickel corner in Phillip Adams and Ricardo Allen, who has genuine talent but may not be thrust into a major role in 2015. The Falcons could use another corner who is comfortable in press coverage to shore up the unit and give it more depth and talent. Right now, they're an injury away from picking through the free agent scrap heap, which rarely works well at corner.
The Falcons have the numbers at linebacker, but still need top-shelf talent that they simply do not currently have. A speedy slot receiver would help the offense immensely, as would a quality pass catching tight end. Ryan Schraeder is someone I like quite a bit, but the Falcons may not be entirely comfortable handing him the starting job at right tackle.
What would you rank as the top team needs heading into the 2015 NFL Draft?