I don’t claim to know exactly who the Falcons are going to come away with in the 2019 NFL Draft, nor whether they’ll trade up, down, or all around. What I do know is that they’ve set themselves up well to do what Dan Quinn loves more than anything in the world: Draft a bunch of defenders.
Atlanta’s offseason to this point was spent clearing cap space and starting spots on both sides of the ball, but their free agency to this point has been concentrated on offense. They added their traditional veteran blocking tight end, two starting-caliber guards, and a speedy backup running back with special teams value. Besides right tackle, a reserve at center, and wide receiver, that’s basically all they needed to do from a roster-building perspective to have this offense in great shape, and the draft will likely only bring a couple of those items home.
The defense is in dire need of that kind of attention, despite the Falcons hitting on Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and Desmond Trufant in the draft over the last half-decade plus, and despite young players like Takkarist McKinley, Isaiah Oliver, Deadrin Senat, Foye Oluokun and Damontae Kazee looking like potential key pieces for the next quality Falcons defense. Despite their very real and evident success in drafting talented defenders, this team has a shaky situation at defensive end, lacks compelling depth at defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback, and even safety, and has never been able to put the pieces together to make this a great defense. They’re not so far away if some of the players on the list above live up to their talent and potential, but a failure to add new talent will almost certainly lead to lackluster results again, even if everyone’s healthy.
The pressure is mounting. Dan Quinn has taken over the defensive coordinator gig as he tries to keep this staff and this team together, and the Falcons have proven over and over again over the last few seasons that a truly great offense alone is not enough to carry them to a Lombardi or even into the postseason. They’re excited about the talent on that side of the ball and the return of Dirk Koetter, but the defense simply cannot be lackluster again, or people are going to lose jobs and this team is going to need to start over to some degree. That’s why they’re putting their muscle behind the draft, historically a poor avenue for the team’s best defenders but easily the most productive one under Dan Quinn.
So as is always the case, this Falcons offseason is happening because of a plan. It’s a plan that will involve this Falcons team focusing most of its ammunition in the draft on the defense, whether they use all nine picks or swap some of them to move up in pursuit of talent, and filling most of their gaps on offense with their limited free agent dollars. This team is somewhat hamstrung by its cap space and there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to make all the upgrades they need to in order to hang in, even in an NFC that looks shakier on paper than last year, but it’s a way forward.
Given the team’s prior successes in the draft, and their ongoing failure to add difference-makers in free agency, it’s probably the only plan that really makes sense.