Most NFL mock drafts get a little redundant about two weeks before the draft because they begin to project the same players to the same teams.
Many NFL observers get so caught up in trying to accurately predict their team's selections that some of them lose sight of what mock drafts really are. Mock drafts aren't supposed to be judged on accuracy the way the NCAA tournament brackets in your office pool are. Instead, mock drafts are supposed to represent hypothetical scenarios that may or may not happen on draft weekend.
I'm tired of coloring in the lines on my mock drafts. Atlanta Falcons fans have long deserved a more thought-provoking simulation of draft weekend, and I'm the man who's going to give it to them.
This mock isn't my attempt at being an Atlanta Falcons Draft meteorologist. I'm not trying to forecast who Atlanta's actually going to pick, but it should be noted that this isn't a fantasy draft either.
I evaluated the 11 players I selected in this draft based on Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff's taste, Atlanta's perceived draft needs at their position and whether each prospect fits Atlanta's offensive and defensive schemes.
Put simply, this is a glimpse at one of the many scenarios that could play out two weekends from now. Specifically, it's a scenario where Thomas Dimitroff decides to color outside of the lines of what my colleague has dubbed his "comrade filter".
Fasten your seat belt and join me as we cruise through the boldest Atlanta Falcons seven-round (with compensatory picks) 2013 NFL mock draft on the web.
Note: This draft has some bold choices, but I left trades out of this hypothetical.
For the record, I agree with those of you out there who say that the Falcons don't need a linebacker. You're absolutely right. The Falcons didn't need a wide receiver before the 2011 draft. They needed Julio Jones (or A.J. Green for any of you UGA homers out there).
Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent aren't bad linebackers the way Michael Jenkins wasn't a bad receiver. The problem is that Nicholas and Dent will never be elite players either. Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree has All-Pro talent, as demonstrated by the fact that he often looked like the best player on the field week in and week out in the rugged SEC.
As an urgent athlete, Ogletree could team with Sean Weatherspoon and do for Atlanta's defense what Julio Jones did for the offense when he joined Roddy White: make opposing teams afraid, very afraid.
Yes, Ogletree comes with off-field baggage, and no, he doesn't fit Dimitroff's filter. However, in this scenario Dimitroff decides that he has enough credit five years into his tenure to take the risk on Ogletree because he's the best player available when Roger Goodell puts the Falcons on the clock.
I didn't forget that Asante Samuel, Robert McClain and Dominique Franks are the only cornerbacks on the Falcons' current roster with any significant playing experience.
After taking the best player available in the first round, the Falcons stay in the SEC and draft for need in the second round by taking Johnthan Banks from Mississippi State.
At 6'2", 185 pounds, Banks would add height and length to a smaller group of Atlanta cornerbacks. Banks played a ton of football during his time in Starkville, and the All-SEC performer shouldn't have trouble competiting for a starting job as a rookie based on his experience.
With Osi Umenyiora's arrival, the Falcons don't have to come away from this draft with another starting defensive end. Umenyiora should start at right defensive end while Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews (Matthews could see time on the right side too) compete for the starting job on the left side.
If he's still on the board in the third round, Corey Lemonier would be a great fit in Atlanta as a situational pass-rusher and primary backup to Umenyiora on the right side.
Lemonier, who has experience playing on the right and left side and at Auburn, has the versatility that Thomas Dimitroff and Falcons' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan appreciate at the defensive end position (see how Kroy Biermann and John Abraham have been used in the past).
Like Ogletree, Lemonier is an explosive athlete, and at 6'4", 255 pounds, he will remind a lot of Falcons fans of John Abraham with his style of play.
Three rounds down, three good football players headed to the Falcons.
If I was following conventional wisdom I'd take Leon McFadden with this pick because I do believe that the Falcons need to come away from this draft with two quality cornerbacks and McFadden's bio screams "THOMAS DIMITROFF!"
However, as I stated from the beginning, this mock isn't about being wed to normalcy. It's about pushing the envelope. Tyrann Mathieu's history hasn't stopped Atlanta from doing its homework on the ex-LSU star. In this hypothetical, Mathieu slips to the fourth round and Atlanta decides to make its second bold move of the draft by taking Mathieu off the board.
Since the Falcons already selected Johnthan Banks in the second round, Mathieu wouldn't be expected to come in and compete for a starting job. Instead, Mike Nolan would use Mathieu as a slot corner in sub-packages and allow Mathieu to make the kind of "Johnny on the spot" plays that made him popular on the Bayou.
Mathieu would also be expected to make an impact on special teams as a punt returner. Still concerned about the risk? Pause and consider this. Atlanta hasn't even had a fourth-round pick in the last two drafts because of the Julio Jones trade. In fact, the last player that the team did draft in the fourth round was Joe Hawley in 2010, who was preceded by Lawrence Sidbury in 2009.
If Joe Hawley or Lawrence Sidbury had turned out to be bust on or off the field, would it have wrecked the franchise?
The risk may be worth the reward if Atlanta takes Tyrann Mathieu in the fourth round as its second cornerback in the 2013 draft class.
Atlanta goes back to drafting for need with its compensatory pick in the fourth round. Jonathan Babineaux is on the other side of 30 and he's nearing the end of his contract. The Falcons need to come away from this draft with a defensive tackle who could eventually compete for a starting job with Corey Peters, Travian Robertson and Peria Jerry.
Akeem Spence is a strong, gap-penetrating defensive tackle out of the Big Ten who could replace Vance Walker in Atlanta's defensive tackle rotation in 2013 while being groomed to compete for a starting position in 2014.
He'd a great value as a low-ceiling, high-floor utility player at this point in the draft because he won't have to make too much of an adjustment to play the role Atlanta he'd be expected to fill in Atlanta.
The Falcons finally turn to the offensive side of the ball and choose to give Matt Ryan another weapon at wide receiver since they aren't enamored with any of the tight end prospects on the draft board at this point.
At 6'2", 212 pounds, Cobi Hamilton adds more size and physicality to a Falcons receiving corps that already has plenty of both thanks to Roddy White and Julio Jones. He was highly productive during his time at Arkansas and knows how to play in a pro-style passing scheme.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could use Hamilton in three or four wide receiver sets in places where he may have used a second tight end if Atlanta had chose to go in that direction. He'd also provide security in case of an injury to Roddy White or Julio Jones.
Atlanta stays close to home and gets the massive space-eater it needs in Georgia Tech's T.J. Barnes. After selecting Akeem Spence in the fourth round, the Falcons would still have a spot for a two-gap nose tackle like Barnes in Mike Nolan's hybrid scheme.
The Falcons scouted Barnes at Georgia Tech's pro day, and in this scenario I'm assuming that they liked what they saw.
Atlanta adds a developmental project at tight end with the first of its four seven round draft picks. Rivera saved his best for last at Tennessee and there's a good possibility that he's still on the board in the seventh round.
If Rivera demonstrates his value on special teams in training camp, he could make the roster and learn from Tony Gonzalez for a year before getting an opportunity to compete for significant playing time in 2014.
Zeke Motta is another player that the Falcons have taken a close look at during the pre-draft process.
Teams are looking for backups and special teams players at this point in the draft, and Motta is a durable four-year veteran player who could get his chance to contribute in Atlanta. Motta never missed a game during his four years at Notre Dame.
Atlanta embraces the low-risk, high-reward environment that the seventh round provides and takes a flier on Georgia native Quanterus Smith. A disruptive edge-rusher at Western Kentucky, Smith looked like he was on his way to being a highly-regarded prospect in this draft before he tore his ACL in November.
If he can recover from the injury, Smith could play an active role on Atlanta's special teams units and provide more pass-rush depth along the Falcons' defensive line.
Atlanta finishes its defense-heavy draft with small-school offensive line prospect Garrett Gilkey. Like with any Division II prospect, Gilkey will face an uphill battle against NFL talent. However, if he's around this late in the draft he's worth a look at offensive tackle because of his size (6'6", 318 lbs.) and athleticism.
Like many players in this draft, he's overcome his share of adversity to get to this point, and he's a nice piece of clay for Falcons offensive line coach Paul Dunn to mold in training camp.
Here's a rough estimate of what the Falcons' pre-training camp roster (without undrafted free agents and other camp invites) could look like after this draft:
Quarterback: Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis
Running Back: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith
Fullback: Bradie Ewing
Wide Receiver: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Cobi Hamilton, Drew Davis, Kevin Cone, Kerry Meier
Tight End: Tony Gonzalez, Chase Coffman, Tommy Gallarda, Mychal Rivera
Offensive Tackle: Sam Baker, Lamar Holmes, Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, Garrett Gilkey
Offensive Guard: Justin Blalock, Peter Konz, Phillipkeith Manley, Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds
Center: Joe Hawley, Peter Konz
Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Peria Jerry, Travian Robertson, Akeem Spence, T.J. Barnes
Defensive End: Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi, Corey Lemonier
Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon, Alec Ogletree, Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent, Brian Banks
Cornerback: Asante Samuel, Johnthan Banks, Robert McClain, Tyrann Mathieu, Terrence Johnson
Safety: Thomas DeCoud, William Moore, Charles Mitchell, Zeke Motta
There is plenty of risk in taking both Alec Ogletree and Tyrann Mathieu in this draft, but don't forget that Atlanta was 10 yards away from a trip to the Super Bowl last year.
After retaining its key free agents and adding Steven Jackson and Osi Umenyiora, Atlanta already has enough talent to win at least 10 games in 2013 right now.
The players Atlanta takes in this draft class probably won't determine whether the team makes the playoffs next year, but they could make the difference when Atlanta gets there.
I've shared my piece, now it's on you. What bold scenarios do you have in mind for Atlanta's draft? Should Atlanta draft Alec Ogletree and/or Tyrann Mathieu if the right opportunity to do so presents itself during draft weekend?