Atlanta Falcons: Building the Definitive 2012 NFL Draft Blueprint
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The Atlanta Falcons went "all-in" to get Julio Jones in last year's draft. As a consequence, they are without their first- and fourth-round picks this year. If that didn't sting enough, the team once again failed to win a playoff game and seem to be no closer to their long-term goals than they were at the end of year one (2008) for GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith.
With key pieces like DE John Abraham and LB Curtis Lofton entering free agency, the Falcons need to pull a rabbit out of a hat to make the kind of improvements needed just to tread water.
Round 2, No. 55
Plan A: Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska - The Falcons should keep their fingers crossed that this first-round talent falls to their second-round pick because of a torn pectoral muscle suffered during the season. Not only is Abraham hitting free agency, but starter quality rotational DE Kroy Biermann is gone too.
Plan B: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State - Sanders had a rough Senior Bowl week, but he is a high-floor prospect who should be able compete to start at left tackle right away. If the Falcons can't fill a hole at a high value position like left tackle or defensive end in the second round, they should trade down to get extra picks.
Round 3, No. 85
Plan A: Matt McCants, OT, UAB - If they don't get a left tackle in the second round or free agency, McCants might be the best target because he has the rare frame and athleticism combination to be a long-term starter at the position in the NFL.
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Plan B: Cam Johnson, DE/OLB, Virginia - Even if the Falcons draft Crick and retain Biermann (they won't pay Abraham what he wants), the team will need more DE depth and pass-rush prowess, not to mention another hedge against underachieving free-agent DE Ray Edwards.
Round 5: No. 149
Plan A: Robert Turbin, RB, Utah State - The Falcons struck gold at RB in the fifth round last year, and fans should keep their fingers crossed that a back like Turbin is available there this year. With a body and running style in the Marion Barber/Marshawn Lynch mold, Turbin would be the perfect long-term complement to Jacquizz Rodgers.
Plan B: Quentin Saulsberry, C, Mississippi State - Even if the Falcons retain starting center Todd McClure, he's nearing the end of his career. Saulsberry is versatile enough to compete at right guard in the meantime.
Round 6: No. 182
Plan A: Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan - Koger was not used that much as a receiver because the Wolverine offense revolved around Denard Robinson, but he can be groomed as a solid two-way replacement for Tony Gonzalez during his final season.
Plan B: Eric Page, WR, Toledo - Page is a poor man's Wes Welker, which is the kind of player the team will need if Harry Douglas leaves in free agency.
Round 7: No. 213
Plan A: William Vlachos, C, Alabama - He's not a flashy or overpowering pivot, but Vlachos is a grinder who would stick around and eventually compete to start at center.
Plan B: Chase Ford, TE, Miami (Fla.) - Ford is a natural long-limbed pass-catcher who can work on his blocking during his redshirt year as Tony Gonzalez's understudy.
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