Sitting at 4-8, the Falcons don’t have much to play for at this point in the 2018 season. They’ve been downright bad in several of their last games, and it’s just not much fun to talk about bad football over and over again. Instead, let’s focus on something a lot more enjoyable: the 2019 NFL Draft.
If the season ended today, the Falcons would come away with the 6th pick. Depending on how the final four games unfold, Atlanta could finish anywhere from top-5 to top-20. I’m personally partial to losing out and netting a potential blue-chip player (Ed Oliver, anyone?), but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
No matter what, however, the Falcons have some real holes to fill on both sides of the ball. My question to you today is, what is the Falcons’ biggest draft need?
Keep in mind, the biggest need isn’t necessarily the position that Atlanta should draft with their first round pick. It’s simply the most pressing need or biggest liability. Four positions immediately come to mind: edge defender, defensive tackle, offensive guard, and offensive tackle. I think cases could be made for any of them, but let’s take a closer look at where the Falcons stand with each position.
Players under contract in 2019: Takkarist McKinley, Brooks Reed, Vic Beasley
Free agents in 2019: Derrick Shelby, Bruce Irvin, Steven Means
The position with the most obvious need, EDGE is practically a wasteland for the Falcons in 2019—especially with Vic Beasley a near lock to be cut. Takk has shown flashes of ability as a #2 pass rusher, but he can’t do it alone. Brooks Reed is purely a rotational player at this point, though he’s a solid fourth guy that can play the run and the pass.
As far as impending free agents, the Falcons could decide to bring back Bruce Irvin—although he’s yet to show much with the team—as a veteran third rusher. Shelby’s injury history and price tag likely mean that he’s headed elsewhere. Means could return on a cheap deal to compete in camp, as he’s a decent depth option. Regardless, the Falcons almost certainly need to invest an early pick (or substantial amount of money) in an EDGE to play across from Takk.
Players under contract in 2019: Jack Crawford, Deadrin Senat, Justin Zimmer
Free agents in 2019: Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain
At the beginning of 2018, I think many of us believed that DT was the biggest question mark on the roster. Now, however, it feels a little different. Jack Crawford—whose first year with the Falcons was cut short due to injury—has looked like a very capable nickel package pass rusher. The rookie Deadrin Senat has been a force against the run and has held his own as a pass rusher. Justin Zimmer, who was recently elevated from the practice squad, was a preseason standout with phenomenal athletic talent.
The Falcons have two impending free agents in Grady Jarrett and Terrell McClain, and they couldn’t be more different. Jarrett is in line for a huge contract extension this offseason, and he’s more than earned it. McClain, however, has been a big disappointment—he’s been average at best and has generally looked like a ghost on the field. With Jarrett, Crawford, and Senat looking like locks to make the roster, that really only leaves room for 1-2 additions. The Falcons could certainly benefit from adding someone like Ed Oliver or Quinnen Williams to the rotation, but how big is the need?
Players under contract in 2019: Brandon Fusco, Wes Schweitzer
Free agents in 2019: Andy Levitre, Ben Garland, Zane Beadles
A position that we all felt good—or at least comfortable—about heading into 2018, guard has become a massive liability for the Falcons after the injuries to Levitre and Fusco. Fusco was having an up-and-down start to his career in Atlanta prior to his season-ending injury, but he’s almost certainly going to be the RG in 2019. Schweitzer looked solid filling in for Levitre early, but after losing Fusco he’s begun to struggle more.
Levitre was very good during his tenure in Atlanta, but he’s now ended two back-to-back seasons on IR. At age 33, he’s likely headed for retirement unless he’s willing to sign a very reasonable contract in 2019 (for reference, he made $7.8M in 2018). Garland is a versatile backup, but he’s been victimized repeatedly filling in for Fusco at RG. Beadles was a late addition to the roster who got an opportunity to start against Baltimore, and looked similarly hopeless at RG. With slim pickings in free agency, a case could easily be made for the Falcons to invest an early pick into a high-quality guard.
Players under contract in 2019: Jake Matthews, Ryan Schraeder, Matt Gono
Free agents in 2019: Ty Sambrailo
Another surprising addition to the needs list. In a season where Jake Matthews has looked like one of the better LTs in the NFL, RT Ryan Schraeder has fallen off a cliff. Schraeder has been a stalwart on the right side for several years, but he’s never been the same since a concussion, and it now looks like his athletic ability may be slipping. The Falcons outbid several other teams to sign Matt Gono as a UDFA, and they’ve stashed him as a gameday inactive all season. Perhaps they have something there, but it’s hard to count on.
The only free agent they have is Ty Sambrailo, who is not particularly good but has manned the swing tackle role for the Falcons for the past two seasons. Even with Schraeder struggling, Sambrailo hasn’t been given much of an opportunity to start, which means that he’s not a better option at this point. It’s not exactly easy for the Falcons to move on from Schraeder’s contract in 2019 (he carries about $3.8M in dead cap), but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to draft his eventual replacement at some point.
What is the biggest need?
The Falcons clearly have big needs at all four of those positions—and probably others too, like LB, CB, S, and maybe even WR—but which need is the biggest? Vote in the poll below, and share your thoughts and some of your favorite draft prospects in the comments.
What is the biggest 2019 draft need for the Falcons?
This poll is closed