Ah, 2017 season, we barely knew ye. After a disappointing end to the Falcons’ playoff run, we at least receive some clarity on where the Falcons stand heading into 2018. They’re a talented roster plagued by some coaching issues but not many glaring weaknesses. The defense took a huge step forward followed by the offense taking a huge step back. This team was competitive and even won a playoff game on the road, but they weren’t quite Super Bowl-caliber in their current iteration.
We now know that the Falcons will be picking 26th in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the Falcons’ most pressing positional needs this offseason (unfortunately, offensive coordinator is not a draft-able position).
With Dontari Poe and hybrid player Adrian Clayborn almost certainly leaving the Falcons in free agency, the need for a young, athletic talent on the interior to pair with Grady Jarrett approaches the top of the list. The Falcons could go in a lot of different directions here—do they prefer to target a dual-threat interior monster early in the draft, or a more specialized player later on?
There are several very intriguing options with Atlanta’s first round pick. Christian Wilkins from Clemson, Da’Ron Payne from Alabama, Maurice Hurst from Michigan, and Vita Vea from Washington are all good players. At 26th overall, it’s likely that at least one of these players will be available. How these prospects perform at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine will likely help in determining which is the best fit for the Falcons.
The Falcons have, slowly but surely, been investing resources into the guard position. However, with the potential for Andy Levitre leaving—his $8M cap hit in 2018 is simply too much, and the Falcons don’t have much leverage in asking him to take a pay cut—and the solid but unspectacular play of Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland, the time to invest a Day 2 pick into the position may be coming.
We don’t really know what we have in last year’s 4th-round pick, Sean Harlow, and I think it’s likely that we see improvement from Schweitzer in 2018. But adding another talented interior offensive lineman into the mix can only help things, and better depth is never a bad thing. All I know is that the duo of Garland and Schweitzer absolutely cannot cut it against premier NFL defensive lines, and that’s the type of opposition they’ll face in the playoffs.
The Falcons could use some better depth at CB, and if the right player materializes, they could try to find an upgrade at nickel too. Brian Poole is a great tackler and a solid player in coverage, but he’s simply not as reliable in man coverage as the rest of the secondary. It’s possible the Falcons could try to convert Poole to a sort of hybrid safety role, playing in big nickel and dime situations.
Regardless of what the Falcons elect to do with Poole, the team should absolutely move to upgrade what is arguably the weakest link in the secondary—if the opportunity presents itself. Even if that player doesn’t start right away, shoring up the CB depth is never a bad idea. You can never have too many talented CBs—remember when both Trufant and Poole went down in a game? I’d much rather trot out a promising rookie than C.J. Goodwin or Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
I say “offensive weapons” because on a team like the Falcons--who don’t have many pressing needs—they could easily take a “best weapon available” strategy in the mid-to-late rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. WR3 is a potential area of need with Taylor Gabriel almost certainly leaving (thanks Sark for having no idea how to utilize him). Talent could be added at RB with Tevin Coleman likely getting starter money elsewhere in 2019. TE is also a possibility with Hooper not necessarily seizing the starting role and Saubert MIA in 2017.
I believe the Falcons should add another RB in the middle rounds due to the absolutely stacked draft class. If the right players are there at the right spots, it would be great to add more talent to the WR and TE corps as well. It’s nice to have flexibility going into the draft, which could allow the Falcons to pick and choose the best values at any offensive skill position. Having someone that could return kicks, too, could allow the team to move on from Andre Roberts—who had a middling season in 2017.
This one is lower on the list now, but could be higher depending on the decisions that the Falcons make with their veterans. Brooks Reed has a $5.4M cap hit. Derrick Shelby has a $5.75M cap hit. Adrian Clayborn is a free agent and will likely demand more than Atlanta can pay. Outside of those three, Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley are the only two true edge defenders left on the roster.
Reed has been a solid rotational piece, and Shelby has been one of the Falcons’ best run defenders on the outside. But both are, arguably, overpaid for their level of contribution to the defense. If the Falcons elect to move on from one or both of them, and can’t bring back Clayborn, the need for depth at EDGE becomes a higher priority. Finding a young player that can help out in the rotation at an affordable draft price would be ideal heading into 2018.
What positions do you think the Falcons should prioritize in the 2018 NFL Draft? Any particular players that you have your eyes on?