Most Falcons fans have given little thought to April's NFL Draft since Atlanta still has plenty of business left to attend to on the field this week against the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC Divisional Playoff game at the Georgia Dome.
Nevertheless, as college football's bowl season comes to a close and more underclassmen continue to declare for the draft, it's time to update our early seven-round mock draft for the Falcons.
This mock draft presumes that Atlanta will be picking somewhere in the last four picks of each round. You will be provided with an explanation pertaining to each player selected in this exercise as to: 1) Why the Falcons have a need at the player's position; 2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take the player in the stated round; and 3) How the player would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013.
And now, with their first-round pick, the Atlanta Falcons select...
1) Why the Falcons have a need at defensive end
John Abraham signed a contract extension last spring, but he will turn 35 in May. At that age, the Falcons can't count on Abraham to get 10 sacks again in 2013. While Kroy Biermann proved to be more than adequate as a replacement for the underwhelming Ray Edwards, Atlanta needs to add a young pass-rusher who can contribute immediately so that there isn't so much pressure on Abraham.
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Alex Okafor in the first round
Okafor provides the best value based on where Atlanta will be picking. Yes, Atlanta will probably need to draft a tight end if Tony Gonzalez retires. However, recent drafts have shown that teams are much more likely to find quality tight end prospects (Jimmy Graham, Brent Celek, Rob Gronkowski, etc.) after the first round than they are to find quality pass-rushers.
3) How Okafor would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
Okafor would bring good size (6'4", 265 lbs) and athleticism to Atlanta's outside pass-rush. After tallying eight sacks in 10 regular season games in the regular season, Okafor looked like a man possessed in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State, as he finished with four and a half sacks against the Beavers.
1) Why the Falcons have a need at guard
Atlanta struggled to protect against pressure up the middle too many times in 2012. They also had difficulty generating a lot of interior movement in the ground game at times. Peter Konz was exposed against Detroit and Tampa Bay, and he may be more effective if he was allowed to move back to center to replace Todd McClure.
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Larry Warford in the second round
Warford reminds me a lot of Justin Blalock. He already has ideal size for an NFL guard at 6'3," 343 lbs. In addition, Warford has been tested against SEC competition and has made 37 consecutive starts for Kentucky. Given that most pre-draft rankings currently have him rated behind Alabama's Chance Warmack and North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, Warford would likely be available when the Falcons pick in the second round since the first guards don't usually come off of the board until late in the first round.
3) How Warford would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
The Falcons could plug Warford in at right guard and slide Peter Konz in at center. Konz would be a different player with Blalock and Warford flanking him, and Atlanta wouldn't get pushed around in the middle anymore.
1) Why the Falcons have a need at tight end
If Tony Gonzalez (arguably the best NFL tight end ever) retires, Atlanta will only be left with Michael Palmer and Chase Coffman.
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Joseph Fauria in the third round
Like Okafor and Warford, Fauria already has good NFL size for his position (6'6", 258 lbs), but more importantly Fauria produced a lot of big plays for the Bruins in 2012. In establishing himself as a legitimate weapon in the red zone, Fauria finished 2012 with 46 receptions, 637 yards, and 12 touchdowns.
3) How Fauria would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
Atlanta won't be able to replace a player like Tony Gonzalez with one person. Fauria would need to come in contribute as a pass catcher along with Michael Palmer and Chase Coffman to pick up for Gonzalez's production.
1) Why the Falcons have a need at running back
Michael Turner is on the wrong side of 30 and he is entering the last year of his contract. Jacquizz Rodgers is a keeper, but Atlanta needs to complement him with a back who can run the ball inside and outside the way that Turner did when he was fresh.
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Mike Gillislee in the fourth round
Gillislee would be a tremendous value in the fourth round because of the way he played for the Gators in 2012, as he rushed for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gillislee has a good combination of size and speed that enables him to be effective on the perimeter in space while also being able to stick his nose between the tackles and pick up the tough yards. Most impressively, Gillislee has demonstrated that he is a willing blocker in pass protection.
3) How Gillislee would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
If Atlanta cuts Michael Turner, Gillislee could come in and compete for a starting job. If not, Gillislee would likely replace Antone Smith on the roster and give the Falcons another quality running back to add to their rotation.
1) Why the Falcons have a need at defensive tackle
Atlanta needs to improve their depth on the interior defensive line because they were an injury or two away from having some issues in 2012. In addition, it's time to put some real heat on 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry, who may have already sealed his fate with another quiet season.
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Kapron Lewis-Moore in the fifth round
Lewis-Moore is a Dimitroff kind of a guy in that he is a natural leader who isn't going to wow you with athleticism, but he will outsmart and outwork his opponents. Manti Te'o got the headlines for the Notre Dame defense, but Lewis-Moore did a lot of the dirty work up front that made Te'o's plays possible.
3) How Lewis-Moore would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
Lewis-Moore is projected as a 3-4 defensive end by some analyst, and Mike Nolan would certainly love to have a player like Lewis-Moore to plug into his "Big Tackle 3" sub-package on defense. Lewis-Moore could compete with Travian Robertson and Peria Jerry to provide immediate depth at defensive tackle behind Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Vance Walker.
1) Why the Falcons have a need at linebacker
2012 will probably be Mike Peterson's final season and Atlanta currently has only has five linebackers on its active roster (counting Peterson).
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Cameron Lawrence in the sixth round
Lawrence is a lunch pail kind of guy who was a consistent player week in and week out in the SEC. Counting the Gator Bowl, Lawrence finished with 120 tackles in 2012. At 6'3", 230 lbs, Lawrence would be an ideal pick at this point in the draft when teams are looking for quality backups and special teams players.
3) How Lawrence would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
Like just about any linebacker drafted on day two of the draft, Lawrence would have to make his living on special teams in order to earn a spot on the roster backing up Sean Weatherspoon, Stephen Nicholas, and Akeem Dent.
1) Why the Falcons have a need at cornerback/kick returner
Dominique Franks didn't seize his opportunity as the Falcons' primary punt returner in 2012. Atlanta needs to bring someone else in to compete with him in the offseason.
2) Why the Falcons would be smart to take Dustin Harris in the seventh round
In the seventh round, teams are generally looking for players who have an opportunity to contribute because they do one thing really well. Harris established himself as an elite punt returner during his time with the Aggies, as he set an A&M record in 2011 with 162 punt return yards in a game against Kansas.
3) How Harris would likely fit into Atlanta's plans for 2013
Harris projects as a core special teams player if he were to make Atlanta's final roster.