Falcons 2014 Draft: Who Should Be on Atlanta's Draft Radar?
"How do the Atlanta Falcons improve through the draft?" is the biggest question in most people's minds. The Falcons have quite a few needs, but they tend to target a specific type of player in the draft to be part of their locker room full of leaders.
Atlanta should use this draft to take a chance on some guys who might have some issues that could be resolved with good mentors in the locker room. But most of all, the Falcons should take the guys who fit their team the best.
As of now, they would be picking in the sixth slot in every round. So we'll do this mock assuming that draft positioning.
Round 1: LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo, 6'3", 248 Pounds
At No. 6 overall, the Falcons need to get an impact pass-rusher. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. They have the worst pass rush in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), at a cumulative minus-39.6 grade. That means they have averaged out 40 points below league average.
For reference, the best team in the league is at a plus-53.8 in the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons need to dramatically improve their pass rush, and they have three great options this year in Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr.
In this scenario, I'm projecting Clowney to be gone. So, the Falcons will have to go with their second-best option in Khalil Mack. Mack is very similar to Von Miller on the field, and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could find some creative ways to use the talented pass-rusher. However, an underrated part of Mack's game is his coverage ability.
With Nolan loving the Amoeba fronts, the Falcons could have Mack and Kroy Biermann both able to drop deep into coverage and really confuse defenses. He had an off-field issue stemming from a fight in practice, but other than that, he looks like the kind of player general manager Thomas Dimitroff tends to bring in, especially since he's a captain for the Buffalo Bulls.
2013: 13 Games Played, 100 Tackles, 19.0 Tackles for Loss, 10.5 Sacks, 6 QB Hurries, 3 Interceptions, 5 Fumbles Forced, 7 Pass Deflections, 2 Defensive Touchdowns
2012: 11 Games Played, 94 Tackles, 20.0 Tackles for Loss, 8.0 Sacks, 4 QB Hurries, 4 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Blocked Kick
2011: 12 Games Played, 65 Tackles, 20.5 Tackles for Loss, 5.5 Sacks, 13 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 5 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 1 Blocked Kick
2010: 12 Games Played, 68 Tackles, 14.5 Tackles for Loss, 4.5 Sacks, 8 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 10 Pass Deflections
Round 2: DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota, 6'6", 311 Pounds
The Falcons' biggest hole outside of pass rush is their ability to run stuff. While Corey Peters was an excellent nose tackle for the Falcons in 2013, he's a free agent...and so is Jonathan Babineaux...and so is Peria Jerry.
So Atlanta needs some more talent at defensive tackle either way. Ideally, the Falcons can get a guy who can play the 1-technique in the base sets in free agency by either re-signing Corey Peters or bringing in Linval Joseph.
However, a guy like Ra'Shede Hageman in the draft wouldn't be a bad consolation prize for someone who could play the 1-technique nose tackle, the 3-technique under tackle or the 5-technique defensive end. The Falcons would love to have his explosiveness.
Hageman has some of the best explosiveness out there. However, he was suspended for some academic troubles early in his career with the Golden Gophers. He has been a captain for the team, and the Falcons would love someone with his talent disrupting from the interior of the defense.
2013: 13 Games Played, 38 Tackles, 13.0 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 1 QB Hurry, 1 Interception, 8 Pass Deflections, 2 Blocked Kicks
2012: 13 Games Played, 35 Tackles, 7.5 Tackles for Loss, 6.0 Sacks, 1 Fumble Forced, 2 Pass Deflections
2011: 12 Games Played, 13 Tackles, 3.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 1 Fumble Forced
2010: 7 Games Played, 5 Tackles
2009: Redshirted as he switched from tight end to defensive tackle
Round 3: OG Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State, 6'4", 340 Pounds
After focusing on the defensive line and pass rush early, the Falcons need to add some competition to the offensive line. The biggest hole in the Falcons offensive line is at right guard, and bringing in a guy who is a road-grading run defender and solid pass-blocker is exactly what is needed.
Gabe Jackson is exactly that. He's a massive bulldozer and, combined with Lamar Holmes (6'6", 335 lbs) on the right side of the offensive line in 2014, could give Atlanta a pair of massive bodies to roll over opponents in the running game.
In the passing game, right guard has been such a huge hole that the Falcons have needed to scheme to mask issues there. Jackson would be able to take on defensive tackles one-on-one like Justin Blalock is able to. This would allow for Joe Hawley to sit back and protect against blitzes or for better slide protections.
The Falcons do have talent on the offensive line, and Jackson would be that final piece to the puzzle. An Atlanta offensive line with Sam Baker, Blalock, Hawley, Jackson and Holmes starting could finally play like that above-average offensive line Atlanta has been missing for years.
2013: 12 Games Started at Left Guard
2012: 13 Games Started at Left Guard
2011: 13 Games Started at Left Guard
2010: 13 Games Started at Left Guard
Round 4: DT/DE Dominique Easley, Florida, 6'2", 280 Pounds
When it comes to the Falcons defense, Atlanta has been missing explosion. Khalil Mack and Ra'Shede Hageman would be perfect to infuse the explosion early. However, Dominique Easley should be taken later—if he falls—because he could be the next Geno Atkins-type interior force.
A rotation at defensive tackle of Hageman, a re-signed Corey Peters and Easley would be good against both the run and the pass. And it'd also allow all three players to give their all every play that they are in together.
On run downs, the Falcons could employ a combination of Hageman and Peters inside to protect the linebackers. But on pass downs, Peters or Hageman rotating at the nose with Easley at the 3-technique would be potentially dominant.
And on 3-4 sets, the Falcons could have Easley play a 5-technique role that he has excelled at in Florida. Atlanta would continue its ability to be multiple with the pick in Easley. The only real question is his injury history. But if Thomas Davis can come back from his three ACL injuries, Easley can come back from two.
2013: 3 Games Played, 5 Tackles, 2.0 Tackles for Loss, 4 QB Hurries
2012: 12 Games Played, 26 Tackles, 8.5 Tackles for Loss, 4.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 1 Pass Deflection
2011: 12 Games Played, 37 Tackles, 7.5 Tackles for Loss, 1.5 Sacks, 3 QB Hurries, 1 Blocked Kick
2010: 7 Games Played, 4 Tackles
Round 5: RB Adam Muema, San Diego State, 5'10", 205 Pounds
Another problem in the Falcons offense that has been understated is the running back depth. Steven Jackson is an excellent starter, but when he goes down, Atlanta doesn't have a true workhorse and has been relying on change-of-pace back Jacquizz Rodgers there.
Adam Muema is a guy who has a solid frame, good speed and excellent vision. He also has great balance in his cuts and understands how and when to turn up the field for the big gain. He's the kind of back who can close out a game and provides talent as both a receiver and a rusher.
The other big area that Muema could help is in the red zone. The Falcons need to score more points there in 2014, and he could be a huge contributor. Of his 31 touchdowns the past two seasons, 25 came in the red zone.
Some will ask where he would really play if everyone is healthy. However, Josh Vaughan wasted that same roster spot Muema would take this season. The only real difference is Muema is the kind of guy who could actually contribute if called upon.
2013: 13 Games Played, 256 Carries, 1,244 Yards, 15 Touchdowns; 18 Catches, 98 Yards
2012: 13 Games Played, 237 Carries, 1,458 Yards, 16 Touchdowns; 9 Catches, 147 Yards, 1 Touchdown
2011: 9 Games Played, 42 Carries, 253 Yards, 3 Touchdowns; 2 Catches, 3 Yards, 1 Touchdown
Round 6: TE/H-Back Gator Hoskins, Marshall, 6'2", 244 Pounds
There are two trains of thought when it comes to replacing Tony Gonzalez. The first is to go out and take someone high in the draft or sign a big-name free agent. The one that I prescribe to is that the Falcons should have Levine Toilolo as the in-line tight end and then they should bring in a joker or H-back type.
And there isn't a better H-back type in this year's draft than Gator Hoskins. The Gainesville, Florida, native is similar to Aaron Hernandez in his makeup on the field. Luckily, his off-field history is squeaky clean and allows the Falcons to take a look at him.
The biggest thing that Hoskins adds to the Falcons offense is the ability to run effective two-tight end sets. Toilolo was never a secondary-style tight end, and neither was Chase Coffman. More multiple-tight end sets will help in the red zone. That's where the Falcons really need assistance.
They are one of the worst in the NFL there this season. Hoskins has 15 touchdowns this season and 25 over the past two years. More important than that, Hoskins has nine red-zone touchdowns this year and 17 over the past two years. The ability to score in the red zone will be extremely helpful for a team that has been missing it.
2013: 14 Games Played, 50 Catches, 821 Yards, 15 Touchdowns
2012: 11 Games Played, 35 Catches, 374 Yards, 10 Touchdowns
2011: 13 Games Played, 14 Catches, 123 Yards, 3 Touchdowns
2010: 1 Game Played
Round 7: WR Jeremy Gallon, Michigan, 5'8", 184 Pounds
Atlanta needs some depth at receiver and at return specialist. It can kill two birds with one stone by going after talented Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon here. The longtime Wolverine has looked like a Steve Smith clone for Michigan this year.
He's able to go over the middle and is fearless despite his size. He might not have the same kind of deep-ball ability as the dominate receiver that Smith has become. But he does have the talent to work guys underneath and create plays with his yards-after-catch ability.
If there is a prospect who is similar to Wes Welker out there in the 2014 NFL draft, it's Gallon. He's very intelligent with his route running, and he's been unabashed about playing on special teams. For the Falcons to return to the playoffs, bringing in guys like Gallon—and the rest of the potential Falcons listed earlier—needs to happen.
2013: 12 Games Played, 80 Catches, 1,284 Yards, 9 Touchdowns; 2 Carries, 9 Yards; 7 Punt Returns, 32 Yards
2012: 13 Games Played, 49 Catches, 829 Yards, 4 Touchdowns; 11 Carries, 67 Yards; 12 Punt Returns, 66 Yards; 2 Kick Returns, 23 Yards
2011: 13 Games Played, 31 Catches, 453 Yards, 3 Touchdowns; 3 Carries, 26 Yards; 19 Punt Returns, 192 Yards; 3 Kick Returns, 46 Yards
2010: 12 Games Played, 4 Catches, 49 Yards, 1 Touchdown; 10 Punt Returns, 43 Yards; 27 Kick Returns, 589 Yards
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, college football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.