Lets hope Thomas Dimitroff can put together one of his best drafts.
I have tried to remain optimistic throughout the offseason, but this team has broken my typically sunny expectations. However, weeks into free agency, I am struggling to determine this team's plan. I may be undervaluing the center position, but I felt the team's biggest roster holes were at defensive end, middle linebacker, strong safety, and wide receiver. Mohamed Sanu should be good, but his contract dictates that he is the second option and Justin Hardy has the slot locked down. The problem is this means Atlanta will not be adding anyone to that position early in the draft. Adrian Clayborn and Derrick Shelby may do fine rotating at end. The remaining spots have not been addressed.
Have they fixed those positions? The team has made slight improvements at two of them. They desperately need to address middle linebacker and safety, and hope they can bandaid over tight end, guard, weakside linebacker, and defensive tackle with some late round picks. That seems to be asking a lot.
The draft must fall in our favor.
I don't blame the Falcons as a whole for some of the things that have gone wrong this offseason. The state of Georgia is in a bit of flux regarding politics, we're asking players if they like men, etc. etc. We still managed to land a great center and an underappreciated defensive lineman. We at least signed *someone* at WR, even if it wasn't the guy we all wanted initially.
We still have a dire need at LB. I expect that to be addressed with our first pick. I've seen Hunter Henry mocked to us a couple times in round 2. If he's anything like his pro comparison Jason Witten, I think he'd be a fine second round pick. That said, I don't think anyone except the Falcons knows what we'll do with our first two picks. As long as we draft somebody in the front 7 with one of them, I think I'll be satisfied.
They've added talent, but hitting rounds 1-2 will be key to successful offseason.
With as many talented depth players Atlanta has added this offseason, they still have their work cut out for them as major holes still plague the roster. Down two picks, the Falcons must hit their first 2-3 selections if this team plans to have a legitimate shot at a playoff spot come December. Defensive end, guard, strong safety, and just about every linebacker spot has moderate to major question marks, and that's not a really fun place to be in.
While linebacker may be the most pressing need, I've been sort of underwhelmed with the prospects likely to be lingering on the board at 17. We can always hope for a trade back, but we can never bank on it, so for me to be convinced that this offseason was a true success, Atlanta will need to pick someone who plays on the line of scrimmage (preferably DE or OG) on Day 1. By doing so, they'll likely take BPA while also filling a major need.
Nail the draft, then fill out the depth this summer
For some reason, I'm not as down on the Falcons offseason as most of those around me. The Mack signing should do wonders for the offense. Even though we overpaid Sanu, I do think he can play 16 games and be an upgrade over what we had last year. I really like the Shelby signing and retaining Clayborn. Yes, there's still a big need to fix at strong safety and at two of the three linebacker positions, but it's not an insurmountable task.
With the upcoming draft, the Falcons should be able to address at least one of the positions of need, if not more. It's still likely that the team will go into minicamp with some holes on the roster - and they will not be the only team in the NFL to do so. So long as they are actively examining the roster for ways to improve - and I believe Dan Quinn has shown us that he'll do just that - I truly believe the Falcons will field an improved roster in 2016.
Addressing the need at right guard can still be accomplished
While the Falcons failed at filling two gaping holes at linebacker, they still have a great opportunity to sign a quality right guard. Chris Chester and Ted Larsen weren't exactly the ideal players that came to mind. With linemen such as Louis Vasquez and Geoff Schwartz still available, those are two proven guards. Both lineman do have their faults. Schwartz has missed 21 games over the past seasons. Vasquez did struggle last season in Denver. These are still two athletic guards that can flourish in the zone blocking scheme.
Vasquez and Schwartz are two guards that can be given one-year deals. It's clear that both players haven't commanded much of a market. Targeting an aging guard coming off shoulder surgery in Chester and a known liability in Larsen isn't a step in the right direction. With only five draft picks, the front office is going to struggle drafting starting-caliber linebackers, strong safety, and another edge rusher. If they can sign a veteran guard that can play on a level similar to Chester or even greater, that could give them their best offensive line since 2010.
Build for the future
I'm not going to suggest that the Falcons won't contend in 2016, because they can hang around in the NFC with a couple of quality pieces in addition to what they've already done. As I said recently, though, this is a team that probably won't truly be ready to punish opponents until 2017, so I'm looking for an offseason that makes the Falcons better in the here and now, and also the future.
Atlanta's going to have plenty of cap space next year, and they have Alex Mack, Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn, and Mohamed Sanu all set for this year and next. If they can add one or two cheap, effective free agents who will stick around for a couple of years (I'm looking at Brandon Boykin, for one), and get two long-term starters or more out of this draft class, I'll wind up feeling pretty good about this offseason. If they've somehow improved by two wins this year, of course, I'd be even happier.
The team has to hit on its draft picks.
Echoing what everyone else has said, the Falcons have to put together another solid draft. There are still holes that need to be addressed, namely at the linebacker and guard positions. Dan Quinn has preached the "fast and physical" mantra on defense, and while that hasn't come to be just yet, the draft presents an opportunity to make it so. Still, Atlanta did do a couple of nice things during free agency, filling a huge need at center with Alex Mack and upgrading the defensive line with Derrick Shelby.
Atlanta won't be able to upgrade every position this offseason, and with a brutal set of opponents coming up next season, it's hard to see this team competing in 2016. However, they can certainly put themselves in position to get back to the postseason in 2017.