April is officially upon us, and that means the 2012 NFL draft is just a few weeks away.
Teams will be looking to find sure-fire picks throughout the draft, and possibly none more so than the Atlanta Falcons.
After keeping mostly quiet during free agency, Atlanta has many holes to fill and just six picks in this year’s draft to address them.
The Falcons’ first pick won’t come until the second round, and speculations are flying about what prospects they have their eyes set on for the 55th overall selection.
One player who surely has his own list of prospects in mind is Matt Ryan. After a disappointing 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants last January, Atlanta’s franchise quarterback can use all the help he can get on offense.
Let’s take a look at five players Ryan might like the Falcons to draft with their opening selection.
When Matt Ryan was drafted third overall in the 2008 draft, the Falcons traded up for Sam Baker that same year with hopes he would be the blind-side protector to the team’s franchise quarterback.
While Ryan has lived up to expectations, Baker has not. Will Svitek stepped in at left tackle after a combination of poor play and injury kept Baker on the sidelines, but he doesn’t look to be the long-term answer at the position.
Bobby Massie, on the other hand, might be. At 6’6” 316 pounds, the junior out of Mississippi has prototypical size with long arms and big hands to be a starting tackle in the NFL. Massie is a developmental player who won’t be a starter from day one, but could very well turn out to be the cornerstone left tackle Atlanta has been waiting for.
Atlanta is bringing back long-time starter Todd McClure on a one-year deal, but might want to bring in another center to challenge Joe Hawley for the future starting position.
And who better a challenger than Philip Blake.
The 6’3” 320-pound lineman is battle-tested, having started all 38 games in his three-year career at Baylor, and shot up draft boards after an impressive showing at the Senior Bowl.
Blake has only two years of experience at center and scouts say his technique needs great improvement, but learning from new offensive line coach Pat Hill might have him starting for the Falcons in a few seasons.
At 30 years old Michael Turner isn’t getting any younger, and will need a replacement sooner or later.
If the Falcons have any doubts about the future of their running game with Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers, they could rest assured with the addition of Doug Martin.
A two-year starter for Boise State, the 5’9” 220-pound Martin has all the signs to be a three-down back in the NFL with the quickness to take the ball outside and the power to run it between the tackles.
The former Bronco showed impressive receiving skills at the NFL Scouting Combine and would be a prime target out of the backfield for Ryan with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter looking to bring the screen pass attack to Atlanta.
Receiving tight ends are becoming more and more prominent in the NFL with the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham taking center stage on offense.
Orson Charles could be that guy for Ryan and the Falcons.
A junior out of Georgia, Charles is a raw prospect who fits into the hybrid category with the speed and pass-catching skills to take on opposing secondaries, yet the strength to block on the line.
At 6’3” 240 pounds, Charles may never be a true in-line tight end, but there’s no denying he’s a dynamic player with big-time potential, and that may be enough for the Falcons to take a chance on him.
While a receiver would be a surprise this early in the draft, Matt Ryan certainly wouldn’t object.
The Falcons already have a future star at the position in Julio Jones, but Roddy White is nearing the twilight of his career and there isn’t much depth after slot receiver Harry Douglas.
If Atlanta were to draft Rueben Randle, there’s no doubt he would be the front-runner for the No. 4 spot.
Randle made great use of his reliable hands and 6'4" 210-pound frame to finish last season as LSU's leading receiver, catching 53 passes for 917 yards and eight touchdowns.
With the looks of an ideal possession receiver at the next level, Randle would prove to be a welcome complement to Atlanta’s explosive receiving corps.