The NFL's Scouting Combine is less than two weeks away, and the Kansas City Chiefs will officially be on the clock before we know it. Unlike last year when Atlanta went into the draft without a first-round pick, the Falcons are slotted to make their first selection this April's draft at pick 30. It's obviously very early in the process, but a glimpse at the various mock drafts on the web reveals that there are plenty of names being connected to the Falcons' draft slot at this point.
Let's take a look at who some NFL draft experts are currently mocking to the Falcons in the first round and discuss our reactions to each projected selection.
Kiper's Take (via ESPN.com Insider):
If (Tony) Gonzalez isn't back, you add a player that can contribute immediately, who can be moved all over the formation and along with Julio Jones and Roddy White, cause matchup problems for defenses in multiple ways. If Gonzalez does come back, Eifert gets a year to learn from the master, and contribute plenty in the mean time. The Falcons do need help with the pass rush, but it would be hard to pass on Eifert at this spot with the presumption that Gonzalez is headed for retirement.
You can probably expect to see Eifert (or Zach Ertz) mocked to the Falcons as much as you saw Sean Weatherspoon mocked to Atlanta back in 2010. I agree with Kiper that the Falcons have a need a tight end whether Gonzalez plays in 2013 or not, but I don't think the Falcons necessarily need to spend their first-round pick on a tight end. Tight ends are definitely being featured more and more in today's NFL offenses, but recent drafts have shown that teams can find quality talent at tight end on the second and third days of the draft (Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Jimmy Graham). I think a player like Florida's Jordan Reed could fall into that category this year.
McShay's Take (via ESPN.com Insider):
Future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez has announced he will retire, and Ertz is the top-rated tight end on our board. He doesn't have elite speed, but he is a good athlete who knows how to separate from coverage, and can make tough catches over his head and in traffic.
If the Falcons do go tight end in the first round, I tend to lean towards Eifert over Zach Ertz. I like the fact that Eifert was Notre Dame's prime weapon in the passing game and his route running is more fluid than Ertz's when you watch them on film. Even still, I think Atlanta would best be served by addressing the tight end position later on in the draft.
Banks' Take (via CNNSI.com):
It's time for Atlanta to prioritize the needed upgrade to its pass rush, because John Abraham can't do it all by himself, and he's not getting any younger either. In a first round with plentiful pass rush options, Okafor is by far the top-rated remaining sacker left at No. 30.
I couldn't agree more with Banks' statement that Atlanta needs to prioritize upgrading its pass rush. Okafor was productive in college and he had a strong performance in Texas' bowl game in December. Most scouts don't consider him to be much of a speed-rusher, but his 12.5 sacks in 2012 are evidence that he knows how to get to the quarterback.
Ranks' Take (via CBSSports.com):
While the Falcons are smarting from a disappointing home loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game, the genius and aggression they showed in trading up for Julio Jones has been proven. The team may need to make a similarly bold move on the defensive side of the ball to add a pass rusher. Jordan has struggled a bit with durability but his upside is through the roof. At this point in the draft Atlanta might see him as a steal and a potential replacement for the aging John Abraham.
This is the most intriguing name being connected to the Falcons at this point. There's no doubt that Atlanta needs to add some more athleticism to its front seven, and that's one area where Jordan isn't lacking. Jordan may not be as polished as Okafor, but he could still fit into Atlanta's plans by getting on the field immediately as a situational pass-rusher. If Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Nolan like what they see out of Dion Jordan, they may have to move up to get him because it's unlikely he makes it to the back of the first round.
Brandt's Take (via NFL.com):
Short, a big, explosive guy who plays with good effort, could give the Falcons some much-needed defensive help.
Brandt may be on to something. Defensive tackle is a need area for Atlanta that many fans tend to overlook. Jonathan Babineaux is on the other side of 30 now, Vance Walker and Corey Peters are solid at best, and Peria Jerry has been a major disappointment. Short has the size (6'3", 310 lbs) and athleticism to crack Atlanta's defensive line rotation and push Peria Jerry out of town. Keep an eye on Short come April. He could be a surprise pick.
Scouting Report from NFL.com:
Cooper, an extremely athletic left guard, racked up a number of all-conference awards during his four years starting, capping it off with a first-team All-American selection as a senior. He has the athleticism to play in a number of different schemes. Due to his ability to lead the way on runs and outstanding pass protection skills, he projects to be one of the first guards selected in the draft.
It's time for Peter Konz to move back to his natural position at center. If Atlanta doesn't believe that Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes or Phillipkeith Manley are the long-term answers at right guard, Cooper would be a great pick if he slips down to 30. The Falcons really struggled when teams sent pressure up the middle last season, and Cooper has the athleticism to transition very well to NFL pass-protection schemes.
Scouting Report from NFL.com:
This lean All-SEC pick and Ted Hendricks Award finalist used very good quickness and a high motor to rack up nine sacks and chase down ball carriers all over the field in 2011. Like his high-profile teammate, Barkevious Mingo, Montgomery’s progression as a defensive player stagnated during his LSU career.
Montgomery has a nice SEC pedigree, but he was never a dominant pass-rusher. He could be a good fit in Nolan's scheme as a 'tweener DE/LB like Kroy Biermann, but I'm not sure he would represent the best value at 30.
Schrager's Take (via FoxSports.com):
Rhodes is a 6-foot-1, 220-pound big corner who flirted with leaving school early a year ago. He had a strong 2012. He’s a borderline first-second round talent.
Like defensive tackle, cornerback is a need that many Falcons observers overlook. Dunta Robinson and Asante Samuel are over 30 like Jonathan Babineaux and Brent Grimes is coming off of an Achilles injury. Robert McClain stood out in 2012, but with a 2013 schedule that features matchups against Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, the Falcons could use another quality cover corner. Rhodes is a physical corner who would certainly offer immediate help to Atlanta's secondary. That being said, I'm not sure Dimitroff would take a corner this high in April.