NFL Draft 2012: 5 Biggest Needs for the Atlanta Falcons in 2012

Justin JanssenCorrespondent IIIApril 1, 2012

NFL Draft 2012: 5 Biggest Needs for the Atlanta Falcons in 2012

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    The blockbuster draft-day trade last year when the Atlanta Falcons acquired wide receiver Julio Jones solidified the wide receiver position.

    However, the trade came at a steep price. The Falcons lost their first and fourth round draft picks this year. Revamping the team with elite young talent will be tougher than ever with the lack of high picks. 

    The roster still has glaring holes, despite the team making the playoffs three of the past season.

    Atlanta's offensive line was exposed in the postseason defeats. Future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez is aging. Punt and kick returner Eric Weems left in free agency. The Falcons have failed to maintain a presence along the defensive front. 

    The Falcons hope to address all of these issues in the offseason, and the draft is one way to do so. 

Offensive Tackle

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    One common theme from the three playoff loses in the Mike Smith/Thomas Dimitroff era: The Falcons couldn't run the ball when they had to.

    In Michael Turner's three postseason games with Atlanta, he has 43 carries for 122 yards, an anemic 2.84 yards per carry. 

    When the situation entailed a 4th-and-short, the Falcons couldn't deliver the necessary yardage. In the first-round playoff loss to the Giants, Matt Ryan was stuffed twice on quarterback sneaks on 4th-and-inches. 

    The underlying problem is the blocking hasn't been adequate. The Falcons forgot that they're not going anywhere without the men up front.

    In particular, the tackles need upgrades to solidify the edges. By all accounts, left tackle Sam Baker, a 2008 first-round draft pick, has been a bust. Baker was benched in a game last season due to poor performance.

Tight End

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    Tony Gonzalez's days in the NFL are numbered. Every year he keeps hinting and hinting that he is closer to retirement. 

    2012 might be it for one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game—if he keeps his word

    Last year was the year of the tight end. From Rob Gronkowski, to Jimmy Graham, and Vernon Davis, tight ends last season caught passes at unprecedented rates.

    If the Falcons are going to keep up with the rest of the NFL in the future, they're going to need a tight end once Gonzalez finally decides to hang up his cleats. 

Center

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    The Atlanta Falcons re-signed center Todd McClure to a one-year deal in the offseason. 

    Which means they need to find his heir apparent. McClure's had a solid career, spanning from 1999 to the present, all with Atlanta.

    The Falcons may make 2010 draft pick center/guard Joe Hawley the future center, but it would be wise to give him some competition when that day comes. 

Defensive Tackle

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    The production from the four Atlanta Falcons defensive tackles was putrid last season.

    The numbers from Corey Peters, Jonathon Babineaux, Vance Walker, and Peria Jerry in 2011 (combined): 75 tackles, six sacks, eight tackles for loss. 

    Jerry, a first-round pick in 2009, is close to becoming labeled a bust, if he hasn't been already. Jerry missed most of the 2009 season with knee injuries and was not productive on the field in the two seasons since. 

    The Falcons could use an upgrade at the defensive tackle position in the draft. 

Punt/Kick Returner

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    The Atlanta Falcons lost punt/kick returner Eric Weems in free agency to Chicago

    Weems, a 2010 Pro Bowl selection, was the Falcons primary returner in each of the past three seasons. 

    But now, the Falcons returner job is wide open with a couple players, such as CB Dominique Franks, in the mix for the job. 

    Weems actually went undrafted. There are plenty of players coming out of college that have returned kicks before. Why not go out and get one?