With the bulk of free agency in the rear view mirror, the Falcons have managed to add a few contributors and shore up the depth at several positions of need. The team took care of one of the biggest question marks on the roster—guard—with the addition of Brandon Fusco. After moving on from Levine Toilolo, the team signed an affordable and competent blocking TE to replace him in Logan Paulsen. Defensive lineman Derrick Shelby was brought back on a more affordable deal, and the team added one of the best special teamers in the NFL in CB Justin Bethel.
Spotrac’s calculations now have the Falcons at right around $3.5M in cap space. This doesn’t include some of the savings that Atlanta will see from Toilolo’s post-June 1st cut, and also has some other numbers which may not be entirely accurate. However, it’s safe to say that the Falcons are likely to be pretty quiet in free agency going forward outside of a few veteran minimum signings.
With all that in mind, Atlanta still has a few notable holes on the roster. DT, namely, is perilously thin outside of the awesome Grady Jarrett and the versatile Jack Crawford. The defensive interior seems likely to get the “2013 treatment” of a double dip in the 2018 NFL Draft, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Falcons bring back someone like Ahtyba Rubin on another affordable contract.
Outside of defensive tackle, however, what is the Falcons’ second biggest draft need? I asked the fans on Twitter and learned the following:
Now that the first week of free agency has concluded, it seems clear that the Falcons' top draft need is DT. What do you think their SECOND BIGGEST draft need is, at this point?— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) March 23, 2018
Fans seem to feel pretty strongly that EDGE and WR are the top two remaining needs, with EDGE taking the top spot by a decent margin. TE is in a distant third, with LB bringing up the rear. Other depth needs that were brought up in the comments were G—which, while understandable, is unlikely to be addressed in this year’s draft—CB, S, and RB. All that aside, let’s take a brief look at Atlanta’s depth chart at the top four positions to get a closer look at their needs.
J’Terius Jones (Practice Squad)
Martin Ifedi (IR)
The Falcons are actually in fairly good shape at the top, with Beasley and McKinley a potentially very good pass rushing duo. They also have solid depth behind them with Brooks Reed a versatile option, and Derrick Shelby an excellent run defender. Jones and Ifedi both looked capable last preseason, and provide some developmental upside in training camp.
Atlanta doesn’t have a true #3 pass rusher, however, with the departure of Adrian Clayborn in free agency. Reed and Shelby are likely going to be gone after the 2018 season, as well. The Falcons could elect to draft Clayborn’s replacement early in the draft, perhaps on Day 2, or they could try to take a more developmental option later on.
Reggie Davis (Practice Squad)
Rannell Hall (Practice Squad)
Once considered the strongest position group on the roster, the Falcons have suffered some attrition in 2018 free agency. Obviously, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu form one of the best WR duos in the NFL—but what about the options behind them? WR3 Taylor Gabriel departed for more money in Chicago, and it’s unclear whether any of the remaining options can handle those responsibilities in 2019. Hardy’s ceiling looks like a dependable rotational WR4. Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis are pure developmental question marks that did show some potential in 2017.
The Falcons could certainly elect to target a WR3 candidate on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft, and we’ve already covered some options—like UCF’s Tre’Quan Smith and Washington’s Dante Pettis. Atlanta could also try to roll with their current options, instead adding a more developmental prospect later in the draft.
Alex Gray (Practice Squad)
The Falcons are relatively settled at TE after the signing of blocking option Logan Paulsen, Austin Hooper handling TE1 duties and Saubert’s role expected to increase in his sophomore season. Atlanta also has last year’s international practice squad player, Alex Gray, around to compete in camp. There has been some speculation, however, that the Falcons may want to adjust the offense to more 2TE sets. In that case, the team may be planning to carry 4 TEs into the season—which leaves room for the addition of another TE in the draft.
Unless the team is planning to move on from Saubert—or believes he simply isn’t ready yet—it’s hard to see Atlanta targeting a TE before Day 3. There are plenty of intriguing late round options, though, like Indiana’s Ian Thomas, Central Michigan’s Tyler Conklin, and UCF’s Jordan Akins.
A position that probably should be getting more attention from fans as a possible draft target, the Falcons are actually pretty thin at LB behind the young, dynamic duo of Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. Duke Riley had a lackluster rookie season, but will be expected to seize a more prominent role in his second year with the team. The Falcons should be confident in their starters, but there is literally no depth behind them.
This seems like an exceptionally likely place for the Falcons to draft a player early on Day 3. I’ve been pounding the table for Atlanta to go after UCF’s Shaquem Griffin if he’s still around in the fourth round, but there are several other intriguing options later on—Vanderbilt’s Oren Burks, Clemson’s Dorian O’Daniel, and Indiana’s Chris Covington immediately come to mind. It’s also pretty likely that the Falcons add a cheap veteran or UDFA to the mix after the draft.
After looking a little more closely at the depth of these four position groups, I’d rank them in this order:
But it’s not just about me! What do you think the second biggest positional need is for the Falcons heading into the 2018 NFL Draft? Vote and share your list of priorities in the comments below.
What is the Falcons’ second biggest draft need?
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