The Falcons have clinched the NFC South and are about five weeks away from starting what they hope will be a long playoff run, but that does not mean that Thomas Dimitroff and his scouting staff are not already hard at work preparing for April's draft. Here's my best estimate on how a seven-round draft would play out for the Falcons based on what we know about this team today.
How many times have you heard a television analyst talk about the Falcons struggling with pressure up the middle as you watched a Falcons game this year?
Enter Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, who has played left tackle, guard, and center during his career with the Crimson Tide.
If you watched Saturday's SEC title game, you saw Jones at his best against mammoth Georgia nose guards John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Jones' versatility, and his on field leadership skills both scream Thomas Dimitroff's name.
This may be the last year we see Todd McClure anchoring the Falcons offensive line, and 2010 draft pick Joe Hawley has struggled when given his opportunities in the middle at center. Drafting Jones would allow the Falcons to keep Peter Konz at right guard while moving Garrett Reynolds into a backup role.
Realistically, John Abraham may have one more year in him, at best. The Falcons can't rely solely on Kroy Biermann and aggressive blitzing to generate pressure when Abraham retires.
This pick assumes that Jackson Jeffcoat, a junior, enters this April's draft despite missing half of the season after tearing his pectoral muscle in October. According to ESPN, at the time of his injury, Jeffcoat had 11 tackles for loss, four sacks, six quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. He also has forced two fumbles.
If Jeffcoat came out, he would likely slip a bit because of the injury. At 6'5” and 245 pounds with a ton of athleticism, Jeffcoat is just the kind of young pass rusher that the Falcons could afford to spend a second-round pick on to develop along with Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi, while possibly pushing Lawrence Sidbury out of town.
2013 is the final year of Michael Turner's contract. The Falcons may opt to release Turner rather than forcing him to play the whole season under a “lame duck” deal at this point in his career.
Stanford's Stepfan Taylor is another Dimitroff-type due to his Stanford pedigree and leadership profile. Taylor has good size at 5'10”, 218 pounds and is just the kind of physical back that the Falcons will need to spell Jacquizz Rodgers. Per ESPN.com, Taylor has 302 carries, 1442 yards, and 12 touchdowns this year.
Even if underclassmen tight ends Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz do enter the draft, I doubt that either one of them will make it to the Falcons in the first round. Thus, assuming Tony Gonzalez does retire after this season, Philip Lutzenkirchen could be the one who gets the first shot at replacing Gonzalez.
Lutzenkirchen is another strong leader and he is a tough player who has played through injuries before, so the fact that he missed a lot of time in 2012 is not a huge concern. Lutzenkirchen also has some experience as an H-back, which could be useful to the Falcons in short yardage situations.
This is the area of the draft where you are essentially drafting special teams players. The Falcons could use a backup strong safety behind William Moore, and some depth at linebacker if Mike Peterson retires.
DeVonte Holloman could provide both after playing the hybrid “spur” position in Columbia. Holloman is an active player who I would expect to contribute heavily on special teams for the Falcons.
For the second year in a row, the Falcons opt to add another big body to their defensive line rotation in the late rounds. The Falcons are set with Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Vance Walker inside up front, but Peria Jerry is running out of time. The 6'0”, 311-pound Hunter would provide some much-needed depth to the Falcons defensive tackle rotation while contributing some spot duty on special teams.
Williams may not be a household name, but I had to give you a name that made you ask “who?” Otherwise, this wouldn't be a prediction of how a Thomas Dimitroff draft would play out. Williams is one of the nation's top return specialists who has significant experience returning kicks and punts. Per ESPN.com, Williams has 24 kick returns for 489 yards and 21 punt returns for 253 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons need to bring in a return specialist to push Dominique Franks.