Scouting Combine Prospects Who Fit the Atlanta Falcons' Biggest NFL Draft Needs

Christopher Beheler@@CBehelerCorrespondent IIIFebruary 13, 2013

Scouting Combine Prospects Who Fit the Atlanta Falcons' Biggest NFL Draft Needs

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    The Atlanta Falcons have moved past January heartbreak and turned a hopeful eye to April. The 2013 NFL Draft presents an opportunity to improve the future and the present. The Falcons have the odd luxury of being a good team with well-defined holes to fill.

    These obvious holes make it easier to hone in on perspective picks—not just what is a position of need, but what kind of player is needed to fill it.



    Atlanta Falcons' Biggest Needs

    Replacing players that are retiring or near retirement is always a great place to start when eying draft prospects. Tight end Tony Gonzalez and center Todd McClure may or may not return for one final year. Either way, the Falcons must begin filling those giant shoes. Tight end will a be a priority in the draft. McClure's replacement is most likely be replaced by Peter Konz. This will leave an opening at right guard.

    Defensive end has long been a need for the Falcons. John Abraham is getting older, but still a viable starter. Kroy Biermann is better than serviceable, but a lack of killer instinct seems to prevent him from taking his game to the next level. The Falcons need a quarterback assassin to compliment and eventually replace Abraham.

    Some needs are obvious game in and game out. Upgrading the offensive and defensive line with bigger, better players makes sense for most teams.  The Falcons have plenty of bodies under contract, so they can focus in on value when restocking here.

    Some needs only become apparent when teams exploit a weakness. The playoffs should be eye-opening for the Falcons. With mobile quarterbacks and athletic tight ends becoming a common weakness, the Falcons must acquire a more versatile outside linebacker. Sean Weatherspoon is phenomenal, but cannot do it on his own. The Falcons need a speedy ball hawk to solidify the defensive coverage.

    Finally, the Falcons need a short-yardage running back. With Michael Turners' future in limbo, it might seem like the Falcons should be looking for the starter of the future. Jacquizz Rodgers is most likely that starter. What the Falcons truly need is a runner who can turn 3rd-and-1 into a first down.

    Here are some prospects that could fill these needs in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Order of Need

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    These prospects have been ranked in order of need. With free agency beginning over a month before the draft, some positions can be filled before the first draft pick is even selected. The draft is not just about the here and now, but about the future.

    Taking into consideration the chances of finding a fix in free agency, the order of need shakes out in this order:

    6. Running Back

    5. Defensive Tackle

    4. Outside Linebacker

    3. Offensive Line

    2. Defensive End

    1. Tight End

Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

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    Le'Veon Bell is a bruiser. His 244 pounds pack a wallop at the line of scrimmage. Bell has decent hands and adequate vision. Bell will likely be available in the fourth or fifth round of the draft.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    Bell has the anti-tiptoes. While Bell does not have breakaway speed, his feet never stop churning. Using his size and strength, Bell can will his way to picking up a first down. Bell could provide the Falcons with the short-yardage threat they desperately need.

Jonathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

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    Jonathan Jenkins is a mountain of a man. Jenkins has great size and athleticism. He is a sure tackler and can affect running lanes with his mere presence.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    The Falcons do not have a single starter on the defensive line that weighs over 300 pounds. Jenkins weighs in at 359 pounds. While he has the skills to be an impact player, his sheer size can often clog a running lane. With the Falcons' inconsistent run defense, Jenkins could be an instant upgrade.

T.J. Barnes, DT, Georgia Tech

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    T.J. Barnes became a starter in 2012 and took home an honorable mention on the All-ACC Team. Barnes is a hard worker and surprisingly durable for his size. Barnes might be a work in progress, but could be a great value in the late rounds.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    Barnes is one of the biggest defensive lineman in the draft. Barnes packs 378 pounds on his 6'6" frame. He has the size to make an immediate impact and could anchor the occasional 3-4 look. Barnes will take some time before his is a starter. Head coach Mike Smith uses frequent rotation on the defensive line, and Barnes could see plenty of meaningful snaps during his rookie year.

Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers

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    Khaseem Greene might be the best fit for the Falcons in the draft. The former safety has great speed and coverage skills. He has the versatility to match any scheme DC Mike Nolan can come up with. Greene is an improving tackler who packs a wallop on impact.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    The Falcons had numerous problems with mobile quarterbacks and athletic tight ends in 2012. Current starter Stephen Nicholas was exploited repeatedly in the playoffs by both. Greene would provide an upgrade even as a rookie. Greene has the ball instincts of a safety and shows good football intelligence. His speed and hard-hitting nature makes opponents pay for any yards they pick up.

Dallas Thomas, OG/OT, Tennessee

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    Dallas Thomas is an underrated left tackle that might be drafted as a guard. Thomas blocks well in both the pass and the run. He has the frame for left tackle and excellent footwork. He has trouble with speed rushers and might be better served as a guard.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    The Falcons will most likely have a hole to fill at right guard. Thomas has already shown that he can start at either the tackle or guard position. Thomas has room to add weight without losing mobility. Thomas would add versatility and depth during his rookie campaign. If he adds a little weight, the Falcons could have a future starter.

Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU

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    Sam Montgomery is a true speed rusher at defensive end. He has the speed and skill to overcome a slow first step. Montgomery can tenaciously target a quarterback and wrap up when he takes him down.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    Montgomery has faced some of the toughest competition in college football. This battle-tested defensive end might be one of the best pass-rushers the Falcons will have a chance at in 2013. Nolan will have to work around some flaws in his game, but Montgomery is extremely coachable. He exhibits the speed and tenacity that has been lacking across from John Abraham.

Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

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    Margus Hunt might be one of the most exciting players available in this year's draft. The quick and versatile defensive end plays with unbridled enthusiasm. He has all the speed and ferocity to make an immediate impact for whoever drafts him.

    Hunts' only draw back is his age. Hunt will turn 26 during his rookie year. His physical peak might pass before he works out the kinks in his game.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    Hunt might be the prototype for a Mike Nolan defensive end. His speed and versatility could make him a threat anywhere on the field. His human-missile approach to attacking quarterbacks might speed up throws from even the most pocket-savvy of quarterbacks.

Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford

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    Zach Ertz is an athletic tight end with good hands. Ertz has the willingness and ability to use his body to make difficult catches. He has the speed to get downfield and the toughness to make the catches over the middle.



    Why The Falcons Need Him

    No rookie will be Tony Gonzalez, but Ertz is a step in the right direction. He has the height to make him an easy target for Matt Ryan. Ertz is a willing blocker and could contribute during rushing plays. Ertz's ability to stretch for the ball might be his best quality. Ryan has a penchant for placing the ball where only his intended receiver can catch it. This often requires the receiver to adjust his body to the ball. Ertz excels at that.