Atlanta gave us a clue into its offseason plans after deciding against making its customary splash in free agency this year.
Yet, with needs at just about every position and just six current picks to address them, Atlanta’s draft strategy remains far from clear, as many unresolved storylines remain:
- Is the team looking to trade up in the draft? If not, who are they looking to take with their opening pick?
- Where will Atlanta draft Tony Gonzalez’s replacement?
- Will the Falcons choose to address the safety, running back, and wide receiver positions in the draft—and if so, when?
We’ll be covering all of these questions and more in this draft tracker, so be sure to check back often for all the latest Falcons draft news, rumors and storylines.
Update (4/25): Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Falcons have traded a 7th round pick to the Eagles for CB Asante Samuel. The Falcons have re-structured his deal to be a 3 year, $18.5 million dollar contract.
Update (4/24): Finally, something more than mere speculation. According to Fox Sports insider Jay Glazer, the Atlanta Falcons are in trade talks with the Philadelphia Eagles for cornerback Asante Samuel. ESPN's Adam Schefter says he could be traded for as low as a sixth-round draft pick.
Update (4/19): Well, as it turns out a trade up may indeed be a realistic possibility. "We have dialed in on certain players at a number of positions that we would consider moving up for, if in fact it presented itself," said Dimitroff at his pre-draft press conference on April 19.
You may have noticed Melvin Ingram’s name on the list of players Atlanta has brought in for a visit.
You may also have noticed he is projected to be drafted as high as the top ten, despite the fact the Falcons are without such a pick this year let alone a first-round selection.
Might this be a sign the Falcons are looking to trade up in the draft?
My answer: Don’t count on it.
While the possibility still exists, it just looks as though Atlanta is keeping all its options open. After trading five picks to move up 21 spots for the sixth pick and Julio Jones in 2011, it would be even more expensive to jump from the 55th selection to 10th overall in this year’s draft. And with just six picks currently at its disposal, Atlanta simply doesn’t have the fodder to make such a move.
Of course, that might change if the team decided to trade away, say, franchise-tagged cornerback Brent Grimes to move up in the draft. Grimes could be trade bait considering he has yet to re-sign with the team. However, it wouldn’t be Dimitroff’s style to trade a proven veteran—and arguably the team’s best pass defender—for an untested rookie defensive end, or any other prospect for that matter.
As for the others on the list with first-round projections, Atlanta is most likely just preparing in case one or two of those prospects slips into the second round.
Update (4/19): If the Falcons see one of their top-ranked prospects begin to slip in the draft, they may very well move up a few spots to get him. If not, expect Atlanta to stay put at the 55th spot and focus on finding depth players throughout this year’s draft.
Atlanta has been taking a look at prospects throughout the nation in preparation for the 2012 NFL Draft.
Here is a list of pro days the Falcons have reportedly attended (and possible players they were looking at) courtesy of falcfans.com:
Wisconsin (C Peter Konz, OG Kevin Zeitler)
Fresno State (WR Devon Wylie)
Tennessee (Chattanooga) (QB B.J. Coleman)
East Carolina (QB Dominique Davis)
Southern Mississipi (QB Austin Davis, WR Ryan Balentine)
Alabama (DE/LB Courtney Upshaw, DB Dre Kirkpatrick, TE Brad Smelley)
Brigham Young (OT Matt Reynolds, DT Hebron Fangupo, S Travis Uale)
Georgia Southern (CB Laron Scott)
South Carolina (DE Melvin Ingram)
James Madison (S Vidal Nelson)
Louisiana-Lafayette (TE Kevin Doty)
Portland State (DT Myles Wade)
Temple (RB Bernard Pierce, WR Rod Streater, DE Adrian Robinson, G Derek Dennis)
Virginia (DE Cam Johnson)
Florida State (T Andrew Datko)
Penn State (G Johnnie Troutman, RB Stephfon Green)
William & Mary (TE Alex Gottlieb, LB Jake Trantin)
Michigan State (TE Garrett Celek)
Marshall (DE Vinny Curry)
California (OG Rishaw Johnson, WR Thomas Mayo, OT Mitchell Schwartz)
Massachusetts (TE/FB Emil Igwenagu, WR Jesse Julmiste, OG Josh Samuda)
Florida International (WR T.Y. Hilton)
Furman (CB Ryan Steed)
Mississippi (OT Bobby Massie)
Ohio State (OT Mike Adams, LB Andrew Sweat)
Oklahoma State (WR Justin Blackmon, OT Levy Adcock, WR Josh Cooper)
Purdue (LB Joe Holland, OT Dennis Kelly)
Colorado (RB Rodney Stewart)
Miami (WR Aldarius Johnson, WR LaRon Byrd, S Jojo Nicolas, DE Olivier Vernon)
Washington (RB Chris Polk, G Senio Kelemete, WR Jermaine Kearse, CB Quinton Richardson)
Auburn (OT Brad Mosley)
UCLA (WR Nelson Rosario, S Tony Dye)
Buffalo (WR Marcus Rivers)
Georgia Tech (WR Stephen Hill)
Georgia (TE Orson Charles, CB Brandon Boykin)
Missouri (TE Michael Egnew, DT Dominique Hamilton, DE/LB Jacquies Smith)
Cincinnati (RB Isaiah Pead, DT Derek Wolfe)
With such an exhaustive list, Atlanta should have a very detailed draft board compiled. Expect the pro day results to play a big part in the Falcons' late-round decisions.
While we can only speculate as to what players Atlanta had its eyes on at pro days, we get a much better look into the team's draft plans when it comes to private workouts and visits.
Here's a look at ProFootballTalk.com's list of prospects who have reportedly visited the Falcons facility and/or worked out for the team, along with their respective draft projections:
* denotes player worked out only.
+ denote player worked out and visited the team facility.
*Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina (top-ten consideration)
David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech (late first-round consideration)
*Andre Branch, DE, Clemson (late first-round consideration)
*Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson (late first-round consideration)
Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State
+Trumaine Johnson, DB, Montana
Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California
*Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt
Josh Chapman, DT, Alabama
Jayron Hosley, CB, Virginia Tech
Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
*Ben Jones, C, Georgia
*Ladarius Green, TE, Louisiana- Lafayette
Fourth Round and Beyond
Donald Stephenson, OT, Oklahoma
Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati
Tim Fugger, DE, Vanderbilt
Gino Gradkowski, G/C, Delaware
Dennis Kelly, OT, Purdue
*Kourtnei Brown, DE, Clemson
+Tavon Wilson, S, Illinois
Update (4/19): Steven Baker, OT, East Carolina
Don’t be surprised if one of the top-projected players on this list ends up donning Falcon red and black come draft day: since Thomas Dimitroff became Atlanta’s general manager in 2008, the team has invited all seven of its first and second-round draft picks for a pre-draft visit.
After trading away this year’s first-round pick in a blockbuster trade for Julio Jones last year, the Falcons’ opening selection currently stands at 55th overall in the 2012 draft.
Here are the latest expert predictions for the Falcons' first pick:
Update (4/19) ESPN’s Mel Kiper: Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State
The 6'6", 333-pound lineman is projected to convert from the tackle to the guard position in the NFL. He missed some time last year due to an ankle injury.
Previous pick: Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
ESPN’s Todd McShay: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall
“I just love the way he plays. He fires off the ball low; he gets good leverage; he has a quick first step,” says McShay.
Scouts believe the 6’3”, 264-pounder has the versatility to play either outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or a defensive end in a 4-3, giving him great appeal with new the defensive coordinator bringing in a multiple defense to Atlanta.
NFL.Com’s Charley Casserly: Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State
“Help is needed on the offensive line,” says Casserly in his latest mock draft. A towering prospect at 6’6”, 320 pounds, the former Seminole is a long-armed, athletic tackle with the ability to play either side.
I'm no expert myself, but I'd like to see the Falcons taking Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson if he falls to their first pick. The 6'2", 314-pound senior would provide a much needed boost to last year's 19th-ranked pass rush.
Considering the team’s decision to remain relatively quiet in free agency, despite its struggling offensive line and lackluster pass rush, there’s great speculation the Atlanta Falcons will be looking to select linemen on both sides of the ball in the 2012 NFL Draft.
But which one will the Falcons choose to address with their opening pick?
Pro Football Weekly Draft Analyst Nolan Nawrocki has his money on the offensive line.
“I think they’ve got to…figure out what they want to be on that line,” he tells Falcons beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter. “I think they really have to solidify what they really want to become. They’d like to get bigger and establish the ground game. I think that’s where Mike Smith would like to go.”
Ledbetter mentions the Falcons had veteran linemen Demetress Bell, Jake Scott, and Adam Snyder visit the team in March, providing more reason to believe the team is looking to address the position.
And with more than half of the prospects on the team's visit-list being linemen, signs are pointing towards the team drafting heavy, early this year.
Look for the Falcons to pick the best available lineman—be it offensive or defensive—with their first pick in the draft.
Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said earlier this year that the upcoming season will most likely be his last, and there’s great speculation Atlanta will draft a tight end this year after mostly neglecting the position in recent years.
Where that pick will come in the draft, however, remains unresolved.
Coby Fleener is unquestionably the top-ranked tight end in the 2012 draft class, and is expected to be long-gone by the time the Falcons are on the clock with the 55th pick.
Considering it is believed by many that there is a great drop-off in talent at the position outside of the first round, that leaves Atlanta in somewhat of a bind: Does the team reach for a tight end early and leave its areas of immediate need for the later rounds? Or will the Falcons address its biggest weaknesses first and find a lesser-talented tight end towards the end of the draft?
Expect the Falcons to bypass the position until the final day of the draft: Atlanta has reportedly brought in just two tight ends for visits (Ladarius Green and Adrien Robinson), both of which have mid-to-late-round draft projections.
With Thomas Decoud and William Moore locked in as starters for the upcoming season, safety isn’t one of Atlanta’s most pressing issues in the 2012 draft.
But with backup safety James Sanders having left the team, and Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan looking for a player to fit his "big nickel" scheme, it’s certainly on the list.
Williams spurned Atlanta however, choosing to sign with the Washington Redskins instead. If the Falcons don’t find a defensive back in free agency, that might leave them to turn to the draft to find their man.
And it would appear the Falcons may do so as early as their opening pick: Three of the four defensive backs on Atlanta's visit list, Trumaine Johnson, Casey Hayward and Jayron Hosley, all have second-round grades.
If Trumaine Johnson falls to Atlanta’s first selection and has a much higher rating than the next best available lineman on Atlanta’s draft board, he very well may be the pick at 55th overall. If not, look for the team to take a defensive back towards the end of the draft.
Michael Turner isn’t getting any younger and perhaps has the most mileage of any running back in the NFL today.
If the Falcons have any doubts about Jason Snelling or Jacquizz Rodgers’ ability to take over the feature-back role in the near future, they could decide to bring another running back to camp.
Yet with just six picks in the draft, whether that running back comes to camp this year remains to be seen.
Atlanta has shown it is taking that route into consideration after bringing former Virginia Tech standout David Wilson in for a visit. But if he’s available at the Falcons’ opening selection, would Wilson really be worth the precious pick?
While Turner’s time as a starting back may be reaching its end sooner rather than later, the Falcons may have too many other pressing issues to realistically take a chance on Wilson early, let alone spending a pick on a running back later in the draft.
Atlanta’s best option now may be to keep Turner until his contract runs out in 2014, and wait until next year to begin looking for his replacement either through the draft or in free agency.
With all the talk surrounding the Falcons’ weaknesses in the trenches, wide receiver has become somewhat of a forgotten area of need.
When taking a closer look, however, the position should be near the forefront of the team’s plans.
While the Falcons are set for 2012 with at the top with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas, the rest of the receiving corps is far from starter-quality. Former 2010 fifth-round pick Kerry Meier and two 2011 undrafted free agents in Kevin Cone and Drew Davis round out the depth chart. All three have yet to catch a pass in their professional career.
With new Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter bringing a vertical passing attack to Atlanta, the team will need to bring in a receiver that can become a viable fourth option at the position for quarterback Matt Ryan in 2012. And with Roddy White soon entering the twilight of his career, the best case scenario would be for that prospect to take on a bigger role in a season or two.
Look for the Falcons to select an explosive wide receiver in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Preferably, they find a player who could also return punts and kicks with Pro Bowl returner Eric Weems having left the team for Chicago this offseason.