I'm going to be bringing you mock drafts throughout the offseason, because I enjoy mock drafts, you enjoy mock drafts (or mocking mock drafts, and it sometimes presents us with intriguing scenarios to think about. This year, we've seen a consensus for this team, and it's not a consensus I'd quibble with.
See if you can guess what that consensus is after perusing these mocks.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
There is obviously some risk in taking Smith, who is rehabbing a serious knee injury, but the payoff could be huge. Before the injury he was a top-10 talent. For the Falcons, he's a three-down player and a big improvement at linebacker.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama
Continuing to strengthen the middle of the defense should be a constant priority for the Falcons this offseason. Drafting Ragland in Round 1 would start things off with a big impact.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio
He's a fast, rangy linebacker with rare cover skills that Atlanta sorely needs from their linebackers. Lee is a disciplined linebacker playing his run fits first and attacking the ball in a smooth yet violent manner.
As you can see, everyone expects the Falcons to draft defense, and I include myself in that group. A remarkable number of those drafting believe the pick will be a linebacker, with the rest predicting pass rushers like Clemson's Shaq Lawson, Clemson's Kevin Dodd, or Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence. Given that the team currently has one of the least talented linebacker corps in the NFL and certainly one of its weakest pass rushes, and given the relative strength of the class for those two needs, it has a feel of inevitability.
We can debate best player available as a philosophy, if you like, but I'm fully on board with the team making a pick at one of these two spots. You can certainly argue for guard or center or even wide receiver on the offensive side of the ball, but the class lines up well for the defensive side of the football. After another season where the Falcons made little more than small strides as a unit, it's a priority yet again, and no one here is going to complain about pass rushers in back-to-back years if it means the Falcons actually have a pass rush by 2017.
It may not make for the most exciting mock drafts, but it'll likely mirror reality when the Falcons pick in the first round this April. Who do you think the Falcons pick?