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2016 NFL Draft: What we know and don't know about the Falcons' plans

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There's a lot of mystery this year with the Falcons' draft plans.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, we knew the Falcons were going to draft a pass rusher. The year before that, they were almost certainly locked on to either a pass rusher or a tackle. This year...well, we're less sure.

Part of that is a function of the team selecting in the middle of the first round instead of top ten, and part of it is baked into this draft class, which doesn't appear to feature a tremendous amount of separation between first and second round picks at many of the positions the team appears to covet. The Falcons, for their part, have done a nice job of keeping their plans under wraps thus far, which leaves us to guess based on the team's glaring roster holes, random statements, and draft visits and workouts.

Here's a guide to what we do and do not know.

What We Know

  • The first round selection is likely to be a pass rusher, linebacker, safety, or offensive lineman, which narrows things down somewhat. The Falcons aren't likely to go truly BPA with their selection.
  • The team has shown heavy interest in Darron Lee, Reggie Ragland, Leonard Floyd, Su'a Cravens, and even Myles Jack, who would all be options in the first round at #17 if they make it there. Cravens would probably be a more likely target if the Falcons traded down, but don't sleep on him going a little earlier than anticipated. It's worth noting that three of those guys are, of course, linebackers.
  • Speed and physicality are two of the buzzwords out of Flowery Branch, so it's logical to focus on players who offer a considerable amount of one or the other, or (ideally) both. That's why Lee, Floyd, and Ragland stand out, albeit for different reasons.
  • The team plans to "get creative" with their limited picks, which doesn't tell us much about what they're going to actually do, but does strongly indicate that they'll consider moving around a bit to pick up selections at some point.
  • The Falcons have absolutely massive holes at linebacker, (arguably) strong safety, and right guard. You should fully expect to see all three positions addressed in this class, and a pass rusher at any position is a strong possibility.
  • Arthur Blank expects to get three starters out of this draft class, though he wasn't specific about when they would be starters. Given the owner's desire to win in the here and now with a new stadium opening next year, you shouldn't expect the Falcons to burn a second round pick on a player like Ra'Shede Hageman or Jalen Collins who needs a couple of seasons of...seasoning...before they're ready to go.

What We Don't Know

  • Who will be the picks, even in the first round. Duh.
  • Whether the Falcons are considering trading out of #17. In past years, we would be wondering whether they might move up, but given the dearth of picks and the team's needs, this year I'm actually wondering if they're going to move back and try to pick up more selections.
  • What the team truly prizes when we're talking about speed versus physicality. Darron Lee versus Reggie Ragland is a fairly binary choice, for example, between a truly special athlete who has some work to do as a football player and a truly special football player who doesn't have the same kind of athleticism.
  • Does the team feel they have a larger pass rushing need on the interior of the defensive line, or on the edge? A very good pass rusher like Sheldon Rankins could be an option at #17 if they're prizing the interior or they're not overly picky about where that pass rush is coming from, but we're gotten no real indication about where their priorities lie here.
  • What the Falcons think of this draft class. I've seen some analysts call this one of the strongest safety classes in recent memory, while others have slagged it for a lack of top-flight players and depth. What I'm suggesting is that this is a fairly deep but not necessarily strong class, and we don't know whether the Falcons share that opinion or not. That will directly influence their plans, their possible trades, and whether they value the best player available at a position that isn't as necessary simply because they might think, say, the safety class is weak.

Share your thoughts in the comments.