It’s time for us to really earnestly start thinking about the draft, given that we are hurtling toward it at frightening speeds. The NFL has a plan to keep things going from April 23-25, which means the Falcons have to line up their draft needs and nail this thing if they want to keep the current regime in place and make it into the playoffs in 2020.
With that in mind, what’s the biggest need? I turned to our staff to get their answers, which varied.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m not the biggest best player available guy in the world. If you truly live and die by that, you’re liable to take a third top-flight receiver when your defense is crumbling, or take a running back in the first round when the position has never been less valuable in the NFL.
That said, there’s a time and a place for it with a little context, and that time and place is today. The Falcons have opened up holes on all three levels of their defense by cutting Desmond Trufant, letting De’Vondre Campbell walk, and parting ways with Adrian Clayborn and Jack Crawford. If they get an elite interior presence like Javon Kinlaw, another long-term strong option at defensive end like K’Lavon Chiasson, a big-time athlete at linebacker like Kenneth Murray, or a top-flight cornerback like C.J. Henderson or Kristian Fulton, they’ll be a stronger defense for it. Whoever the most talented player on the board is when they pick on that side of the ball, they should get them, and they should bend their remaining free agent dollars toward addressing those needs with the best players who fit in their limited budgets.
Get that defense right and this team just might flourish. —Dave Choate
There is really no wrong answer here. The Falcons desperately need another defensive end, defensive tackle, corner, and safety, but right now it looks like they need another starter at linebacker. Foyesade Oluokun should be penciled in as a nickel linebacker, Deion Jones is playing every defensive snap. The remaining linebackers look like special teamers. From a pure numbers perspective, the Falcons need another linebacker just to trot out a defense.
Will they draft a linebacker in the first round? I would guess not, but the Falcons have recently shown interest in first-round linebackers, including Rashaan Evans in the 2018 draft. If the right one falls into Dan Quinn’s lap, I see it happening. But when considering value, they should probably add a linebacker in later rounds. —Matt Chambers
I’m still a bit salty about the team cutting veteran CB Desmond Trufant, but I get that tough decisions have to be made when your salary cap space literally starts with the negative sign. However, as optimistic as I may be about the long-term potential for both Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield, neither of them has demonstrated that they can be the top guy on the outside just yet. While Blidi Wreh-Wilson is a good veteran to have in the locker room, the team shouldn’t rely on him as a year long starter either.
While I would prefer the team wait until the second round to find another corner, it’s entirely possible they’ll spend that first round pick on this position. In fact, after the team signed Dante Fowler, more and more mock drafts have pointed to the team doing exactly that. I won’t rule anything out at this point, including signing another veteran to shore up the position. - David Walker
I guess this is because of my deep desire to have a wave of reliable pass rushers on the team. I’m a true believer that a defense is only as good as it’s front seven, regardless how many quality defensive backs the team possesses. Signing former Ram Dante Fowler is a step in the right direction for a team that was largely inconsistent in getting after the quarterback last season. But more is needed. While they will need improvements from younger linemen already on the roster, the team will be in dire need of taking a difference maker on the defensive line to aid Fowler and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. - Eric Robinson
The Falcons parted ways with long-time corner Desmond Trufant, leaving that spot on the roster as a mix of promising youngsters — none of whom inspire confidence as a top corner. It’s a need that will be addressed in the draft, and with the Falcons’ free agent moves, seems increasingly likely as the position they roll with in the first round.
Following the departure of Desmond Trufant, Atlanta’s cornerback corps are absolutely paper thin. Isaiah Oliver has shown some promise as he looks for the game to finally click for him in year three. Meanwhile, Kendall Sheffield’s best position sees him matching up in the slot while Damontae Kazee is a much better safety than he is a corner. With Jordan Miller, who’s still very unproven, set to serve a four-game suspension to start the season, Blidi Wreh-Wilson is currently set to be Atlanta’s Week 1 starter opposite Oliver.
The Falcons currently have one of the shallowest CB groups in the NFL. I’m not saying I would prioritize a CB in round 1 of the draft no matter what (if Javon Kinlaw is there at 16 you pull the trigger on him), but you better grab a CB on day two if you don’t take one in the first. - Adnan Ikic