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Reviewing the top remaining needs for the Atlanta Falcons

We’re weeks away from the draft, so it’s time for a refresher.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We are, somehow, just a handful of weeks away from the 2018 NFL Draft. That means the months of speculation and scouting reports and mock drafts will be rendered largely irrelevant in a matter of 72 hours, and I am very much here for that.

In the meantime, though, it’s a good time to take stock of this team’s current needs. Because they signed Brandon Fusco to be their starting right guard and have re-stocked depth at a handful of key positions, the picture here is different than it was in, say, early March. With that in mind, let’s look at the top five holes on the roster that still need to be filled,

#1: Defensive Tackle

Current Players: Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, Taniela Tupou, Joel Ivey, Derrick Shelby*

This is the slam dunk choice. Besides fullback, a position that plays at most 40% or so of the offensive snaps, it’s the only place on the roster where the Falcons have a shaky starting situation. Grady Jarrett is one of the game’s elite young defensive tackles, but Jack Crawford is a high-end rotational player coming off a major injury, and Tupou and Ivey are practice squad players with unknown upside. Shelby can play on the interior in a pinch, and you could probably cobble together a rotation out of Crawford, Shelby and Tupou if you had to. It would be a significant downgrade from Dontari Poe, however, and the Falcons can’t really afford that.

Getting at least one rookie with upside who can step into at least 25-30 snaps per game and play at a reasonably high level is crucial, and ideally the Falcons would land a first round talent who can offer some kind of immediate impact, turning Crawford into a third down option when the team needs more pass rushing juice. Failing to get that player would leave a major hole on the interior that could impact the rest of the defense.

#2: Fullback

Current Players: N/A

I sort of hesitated to put fullback this high, because the position’s importance to the offense can be overblown. That said, a good fullback helps out the run game and can be very useful in pass protection, and the Falcons currently have zero players under contract who would appear capable of playing the position. Thus, it is in fact a major need.

Derrick Coleman was a significant downgrade from Patrick DiMarco in 2017, so ideally the Falcons would be able to get a road-grading lead blocker for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman this year, though free agency has already been thinned out. The Falcons will either need to grab a top-flight UDFA or sign one of the better remaining options, like former Saint and Viking Zach Line.

#3: Wide Receiver

Current Players: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis

The dropoff from Julio Jones to Mohamed Sanu is massive, which is not really a slight to Sanu. The dropoff from Sanu to the rest of the depth chart also looks pretty huge, though we’ve never seen Hardy in a full-time role and we’ve hardly seen Hall or Davis at all. It’s possible that at least one of those guys is actually very good and will step up and make a major impact in 2018, but that’s a real gamble.

After letting Taylor Gabriel walk in free agency, the Falcons pretty clearly need to add talent to this depth chart, even if it’s just a late round speedster with some upside.

#4: Linebacker

Current Players: Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael

This is a pretty strong group, potentially, but it’s not a particularly deep one. Debo is an elite player, Campbell is very good, and Riley has loads of upside, while Ishmael is a multi-position thumper as a backup. The team could use another young talent to groom, given that Campbell is not a lock to get a second contract and Ishmael is a year-to-year option at this point. An injury right now would expose the Falcons to playing Ish a lot, and while I’m very fond of the guy, I don’t particularly want him having to cover tight ends for the majority of a game.

#5: Safety

Current Players: Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, Quincy Mauger, Marcelis Branch

This is a relatively minor need, all told, but the Falcons do not have a lot of major needs outside of the four above. You could mention edge rusher, but Brooks Reed is a fine third option for this year, or perhaps guard, but the Falcons have starters and reasonable depth. Swing tackle would be the other need of note, if you’re inclined to think the Falcons will sour on Ty Sambrailo and Austin Pasztor.

So that leaves safety, where the Falcons have three capable players and no obvious fourth option. Mauger is coming off an injury and we literally have no idea whether Branch will be any good, while the Falcons have been linked to a few intriguing athletes at the safety position who are expected to go late on the third day. Expect them to address the need with a (very little) bit of draft capital at the end of the month.

What are your top needs?