2014 Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft: Fixing the Lines Remains Top Priority
The Atlanta Falcons have been snake-bitten this past season with injuries. But they also had glaring weaknesses along both the offensive and defensive lines show up. While the offensive line would be better to bring in veterans, the defensive line needs a youth movement.
Atlanta would be wise to follow a plan similar to what will be laid out here. So follow along with me as we go over an ideal draft for the Falcons come May.
Round 1: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, 6'6", 274 Pounds
Atlanta's biggest defensive need is an explosive pass-rusher in the mold of a John Abraham. The Falcons would do one better here with Jadeveon Clowney. He could thrive in a role similar to the one Abraham played as a guy who lined up at right end, left end and a 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker.
Clowney is the old Bill Walsh prototype defensive end. The prototype size of 6'5" and 275 pounds is just one inch and one pound off of Clowney's 6'6", 274 pounds. Add in just how good the defensive end is at setting the edge and rushing tackles back into the quarterback—two things Walsh loves—and you have a true prototype.
On top of that, he's a dynamic pass-rusher who forces three blockers to come his way in college. But in the pros, he wouldn't have to see that. For if a team put three blockers on him, it would have one-on-ones with the rest of the defensive line and a harassed quarterback.
So, yes, Atlanta needs to take him. He'd be the best defensive end to come out in the draft since Julius Peppers, and it would only help the Falcons to have him on the defense.
2013: 9 Games Played, 32 Tackles, 8.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 7 QB Hurries, 1 Fumble Forced, 2 Pass Deflections
2012: 12 Games Played, 54 Tackles, 23.5 Tackles for Loss, 13.0 Sacks, 5 QB Hurries, 3 Fumbles Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 2 Pass Deflections
2011: 13 Games Played, 36 Tackles, 12.0 Tackles for Loss, 8.0 Sacks, 6 QB Hurries, 5 Fumbles Forced, 1 Pass Deflection
Round 2: DL Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame, 6'6.5", 312 Pounds
Atlanta flirted with Richard Seymour in the offseason before 2013 started. Here, it goes ahead and takes a Seymour clone in Stephon Tuitt. The athletic Notre Dame product, who is originally from Monroe, Ga. is versatile enough to play in Jonathan Babineaux's role.
Babineaux has been playing as a defensive end in the 5-technique in the Falcons' 3-4 alignments and as the base 4-3 defensive tackle in the 3-technique. The issue is that he's not under contract for 2014 and could end up leaving.
Atlanta would be wise to bring someone in who can play the role effectively. Tuitt is definitely that guy. He may even bring an interior rush that is better than what Babineaux has brought throughout the years.
Also, on run downs, he could help set the edge on the strong side while first-round pick Jadeveon Clowney gets the weak side. The combination of Tuitt and Clowney on the outside would force double-teams and allow the athletic trio at linebacker of Sean Weatherspoon, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu to make plays in the run game.
With the Falcons' first two picks, they would have two instant starters who could vastly improve a defense that needs better push up front while also contributing as edge setters.
2013: 11 Games Played, 42 Tackles, 7.5 Tackles for Loss, 6.0 Sacks, 13 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 1 Fumble Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2012: 13 Games Played, 45 Tackles, 11.0 Tackles for Loss, 11.0 Sacks, 9 QB Hurries, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 1 Pass Deflection, 1 Blocked Kick, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2011: 9 Games Played, 30 Tackles, 3.0 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 5 QB Hurries, 1 Pass Deflection
Round 3: OL Zack Martin, Notre Dame, 6'4", 308 Pounds
Atlanta does have some troubles on the offensive line. However, Sam Baker is on a contract that gives him at least another year as the team's starting left tackle once he returns from injury. And the current left tackle, Lamar Holmes, should move back over to right tackle.
This would upgrade two spots for a Falcons team that needs it just by getting a guy back from injury.
At left guard and center, they should be set given how Justin Blalock and Joe Hawley have performed.
So the only real hole is at right guard.
But with Peter Konz—a 2012 second-round pick—still having a shot to prove himself at right guard, the Falcons have a ton of raw talent on the line but little competition. If they wisely re-sign Hawley and Mike Johnson, they honestly just need to take someone for depth and competition.
That's where Zack Martin comes in. He could legitimately play left tackle in the NFL for a squad. However, he also could fit at right guard, right tackle or even left guard depending on injuries around him.
With the Falcons having a ton of potential in a group that would include Martin, Johnson, Holmes, Baker, Konz, Blalock, Hawley and Garrett Reynolds, the offensive line may not be as week as is advertised, and experiencing a down year could be the best medicine.
2013: 11 Games Played at Left Tackle
2012: 13 Games Started at Left Tackle
2011: 13 Games Started at Left Tackle
2010: 13 Games Started, 11 at Left Tackle, 2 at Right Tackle
Round 4: NT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee, 6'8", 351 Pounds
Wait, another defensive tackle?
Yes, but not just any defensive tackle—a nose tackle with a giant body who could help Atlanta on run downs.
At this point, the team would have an excellent group on the defensive line in Corey Peters, Tuitt and Clowney. But Daniel McCullers would allow the Falcons to be more varied in their schemes. His potential is off the charts, but he has yet to put it all together. Still, he can contribute right away on run sets with him at nose tackle and Peters as an under tackle in 4-3 sets on run downs.
The Falcons' 3-4 sets could be even better if they ran an unbalanced set with Peters as a weak-side 3-technique tackle, McCullers as the strong-side nose tackle and Tuitt as the strong-side end. It'd be a definite upgrade from Peria Jerry and Babineaux in those roles.
Just having a big body, though, would be a huge advantage that Atlanta hasn't had in years. McCullers taking some double-teams to allow Peters to take on less of them would only help the interior penetration from the defensive tackles.
2013: 11 Games Played, 30 Tackles, 4.5 Tackles for Loss, 0.5 Sacks, 4 QB Hurries, 1 Pass Deflection, 1 Blocked Kick
2012: 12 Games Played, 39 Tackles, 5.5 Tackles for Loss, 1.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 1 Fumbles Forced, 1 Pass Deflection, 1 Blocked Kick
2011: Played at Georgia Military College
2010: Played at Georgia Military College
Round 5: WR/RB/RS Dri Archer, Kent State, 5'8", 175 Pounds
After the focus on the lines, Atlanta needs to add an explosive element to enhance the offense with Julio Jones. The man for the job is Dri Archer. If ever there was a player who fit his team's nickname, it's Archer of the Kent State Golden Flashes. He's a bolt on the field. Just like Jones is.
Put the ball in Archer's hands and get ready to see some exciting runs, catches and returns. He's a more explosive version of what Darren Sproles has been for the New Orleans Saints. And Atlanta should use him in the same kind of capacity.
With Jones out for the year, Atlanta has been missing an explosive threat. In this scenario, adding Archer and getting Jones back from injury would give Atlanta multiple explosive threats. And it would also finally have that dynamic return threat it's been missing since Eric Weems left.
2013: 10 Games Played, 25 Catches, 327 Yards, 4 Touchdowns, 68 Carries, 527 Yards, 6 Touchdowns, 2 Kick Returns, 128 Yards, 1 Touchdowns, 2 Tackles
2012: 14 Games Played, 39 Catches, 561 Yards, 4 Touchdowns, 159 Carries, 1,429 Yards, 16 Touchdowns, 1 Punt Returns, -4 Yards, 17 Kick Returns, 591 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
2011: Sat out due to Academic Ineligibility
2010: 12 Games Played, 16 Catches, 75 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 40 Carries, 140 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 5 Punt Returns, 12 Yards, 22 Kick Returns, 451 Yards
2009: 11 Games Played, 19 Catches, 231 Yards, 3 Touchdown, 58 Carries, 246 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 11 Kick Returns, 266 Yards, 1 Tackle
Round 6: CB Bene Benwikere, San Jose State University, 6'0", 192 Pounds
Atlanta has four cornerbacks under contract for 2014. However, this is a very fluid situation. Asante Samuel has underperformed and, if cut, the team would save 5.25 million. This is a legitimately possible move if the Falcons feel Robert Alford can start.
Desmond Trufant has been excellent at right corner, and his job is safe. But outside of him, Alford and Samuel, the only person left under contract is injured current rookie Saeed Lee. The Falcons will also likely retain restricted free agent Robert McClain.
But there's still a hole for depth, with Dominique Franks not under contract. Atlanta could use the opportunity to bring in a playmaker in Bene Benwikere. He's got great ball skills and can play the nickel and dime effectively. The depth is what is really needed, and Benwikere would provide it.
2013: 10 Games Played, 50 Tackles, 2.0 Tackles for Loss, 1.0 Sacks, 1 QB Hurry, 5 Interceptions, 10 Pass Deflections, 1 Punt Return, 0 Yards
2012: 13 Games Played, 67 Tackles, 7.5 Tackles for Loss, 7 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered, 4 Pass Deflections, 1 Blocked Kick, 2 Defensive Touchdowns, 1 Punt Return, 24 Yards
2011: 10 Games Played, 18 Tackles, 0.5 Tackle for Loss, 1 Interception, 3 Pass Deflections, 1 Catch, 11 Yards
2010: 13 Games Played, 74 Tackles, 1.5 Tackles for Loss, QB Hurries, Interceptions, 2 Fumbles Forced, 4 Pass Deflections
Round 7: TE/FB Chris Coyle, Arizona State, 6'3", 240 Pounds
Chris Coyle is a unique player who could fill a role for the Falcons that they haven't had before under Mike Smith and Dirk Koetter: an ideal H-back.
Coyle is like a poor-man's Chris Cooley and is a willing and effective blocker, which, for a former wide receiver, is somewhat refreshing to see. But his real strength comes as a pass-catcher. He's someone who can line up in multiple spots in the offense and could be that underneath threat that Atlanta has wanted Bradie Ewing to be the past few years.
Also, since he can play both tight end and fullback, Coyle could allow the Falcons to run some unique multiple-tight end sets with him, Levine Toilolo and potentially Chase Coffman. Maybe now, they could actually score in the red zone.
2013: 11 Games Played, 26 Catches, 385 Yards, 4 Touchdowns
2012: 13 Games Played, 57 Catches, 696 Yards, 5 Touchdowns
2011: 13 Games Played, 6 Catches, 73 Yards, 3 Kick Returns, 18 Yards
2010: 11 Games Played, 2 Kick Returns, 12 Yards
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.