The Biggest Questions for the Atlanta Falcons Heading into the 2013 NFL Draft
No team might have made more noise this offseason, to this point, than the Atlanta Falcons.
Wooing Tony Gonzalez, signing Steven Jackson and bringing Osi Umenyiora closer to home helped keep the Falcons relevant on top of the NFC, where San Francisco and Seattle have done their own work in creating a super-team.
Re-signings of tackle Sam Baker, safety William Moore and guard Garrett Reynolds also helped solidify the foundation of a team that went 13-3 last season.
But, for the Falcons to evolve into a legitimate Super Bowl contender, five questions that remain on the table must be answered soon.
Here's a breakdown of the biggest questions remaining for the Atlanta Falcons as they head towards the end of the month's NFL Draft.
Is Dominique Davis a Solid No. 2 Quarterback?
As long as Matt Ryan is taking snaps, everything in Atlanta will probably run pretty smoothly. After all, the veteran quarterback has been a proven winner year after year since his first start in 2008.
But, how safe are the Falcons if Ryan goes down? Generally, having an elite quarterback is the difference between being a perennial contender and just another average team in the league, but that doesn't mean teams should not strive to have a solid backup plan.
Right now, after news that the rival New Orleans Saints have plucked up Luke McCown (McCown was signed to a one-year contract last year to backup Ryan), second-year starter Dominique Davis is the only other quarterback on the roster.
Davis redshirted as a freshman at Boston College, under the wing of Ryan, before transferring to East Carolina where he finished with 25 touchdowns, 3,225 yards and a 67.6 completion percentage as a senior.
Watching the 6'2", 198-pound quarterback will be fun for Falcons fans in the preseason, but expect a draft pick or free-agent signing to add to the position.
Could John Abraham Really Return to Atlanta?
As soon as the 28-24 result of the NFC Championship game was set in stone, Falcons fans were already griping and complaining about how terrible Atlanta's pass rush was in the playoffs.
Not having a 100-percent healthy John Abraham definitely contributed to the faults, but one thing was pretty clear when the dust settled: get a pass rusher to help Abe out.
Instead, Falcons fans were shocked when the inevitable release of Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson included a contract termination for Abraham, who's the Atlanta Falcons all-time sack leader.
Yes, adding veteran Osi Umenyiora appears to be a stellar move, but Atlanta still needed a defensive end before Abe was let go. This lends to the idea that there has not been a true gain in terms of fixing that position, to this point.
Falcons fans are probably more comfortable with the thought that a rookie pass rusher could rotate with Abraham and Umenyiora, rather than starting full-time alongside just one veteran.
With Abraham three visits in without having a contract, it's becoming more and more likely that Atlanta could actually bring him back.
A new deal for Ryan, which is expected to happen this offseason, will free up more space for the Falcons to make one or two modest free-agent moves.
Bringing back Abraham would be considered a modest move in a grand scale, but it would feel like another major win for the organization and its fans.
Is Stephen Nicholas a Liability?
Stephen Nicholas' name has been thrown around as the scapegoat of Atlanta's struggles with covering tight ends in the playoffs.
While the more casual fan might have illustrated Nicholas as the most useless player left from the 2012 starting depth, there's no doubt that label deviates pretty far from the true picture.
There's not much to be said about Atlanta's defensive struggles in the playoffs, other than that the pass rush was absolutely horrible. No defense in the NFL is going to function in this day and age without one.
Furthermore, 'cover linebackers' are not a premium position anymore, considering the evolution of the tight end position, especially when they have to cover the likes of Vernon Davis (who can run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash). The Super Bowl champion Ravens couldn't cover Davis either.
Nicholas wasn't too shabby last year. He defended four passes, intercepted one and led the team with 97 tackles.
While many might think Nicholas needs to be replaced, Dimitroff would be more advised to pack his pass rush as much as possible.
Nicholas has earned the right to be the Falcons starting linebacker and should see even more improvement when he's not asked to cover a tight end for five seconds at a time.
Will Dimitroff Draft Cornerback with His First Pick?
As soon as the 2012 season concluded, the consensus in Atlanta was that tight end was the top draft priority for the team.
After Gonzalez announced his return, defensive end became the primary position to address. But, after the signing of Osi Umenyiora and the slip of Brent Grimes to Miami, the agenda has changed.
Now it appears pretty likely that Atlanta drafts a cornerback with their first pick. On top of Grimes heading to South Beach, Atlanta gave up Dunta Robinson and lost free agent Chris Owens to Cleveland.
Right now, Asante Samuel is followed on the depth chart by Robert McClain and Dominique Franks. Franks was cut and then re-signed last year, while 'Bobby Mac' started at nickel for much of the season and passed the test with flying colors, becoming a fan favorite for his scrappy play.
Even so, the thought of the third-year man from Connecticut moving to a starting role has some fans on edge. Depth is obviously an issue at defensive back.
There's a lot of talent at the corner position in the draft, and Atlanta wouldn't bee too out of line to draft at the position early, as well as in a later round.
How Hard Will Nolan Lead Towards a 3-4?
Atlanta's defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan, was a 3-4 guy when he came to the Falcons organization last season, but he inherited the 4-3 scheme that was previously in place and gave it a few bells and whistles that likened to the 3-4 as the season progressed.
With an entire offseason ahead of him, there's a solid chance he elects to begin a more active transition to his preferred system.
Atlanta currently has six linebackers on the roster after the signing of Brian Banks, as well as two guys who can evolve into rush ends in Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews.
Last season the 'amoeba' position was manned by Kroy Biermann, but it's likely other guys are doctored up to the technique during the offseason.
Atlanta also is rather thin inside. Jonathan Babineaux isn't a true nose tackle. Local big-man products Kwame Geathers (Georgia) and T.J. Barnes (Georgia Tech) are likely draft targets.
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