5 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Atlanta Falcons
These guys come from all over the country, but they all fit in with the Falcons' philosophies of great players on the field and good characters off of it. Atlanta will focus primarily on the lines in this year's draft. But don't be surprised when they look at tight end and running back earlier in the draft.
Follow along for the five prospects that would make sense for the Falcons to draft based on their talents both on and off the field.
RB Tre Mason, Auburn, 5'10", 205 Pounds
The Atlanta Falcons need a legitimate running back for the long term with only one running back under the age of 28 by the end of 2013—Jacquizz Rodgers. Tre Mason will be just 21 entering the 2014 season and should have a long career ahead of him.
He's the ideal running back for Dirk Koetter's scheme. His vision is ideal for the blocking scheme Atlanta runs as he is more patient than most backs. On top of that, he's shown potential as both a receiver and pass-blocker despite not specializing in these aspects.
Atlanta needs a legitimate running game with someone who could actually be a workhorse running back, and Mason has shown that he's more than capable of doing so, averaging just under 23 carries per game in the SEC.
2013: 14 Games Played, 317 Carries, 1,816 Yards, 23 Touchdowns, 12 Catches, 163 Yards, 1 Touchdowns, 15 Kick Returns, 395 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 1 Tackle
2012: 12 Games Played, 171 Carries, 1,008 Yards, 8 Touchdowns, 7 Catches, 86 Yards, 3 Kick Returns, 79 Yards, 2 Tackles
2011: 12 Games Played, 28 Carries, 161 Yards, 1 Touchdown, 24 Kick Returns, 633 Yards, 1 Touchdown
TE Troy Niklas, Notre Dame, 6'7", 270 Pounds
With Tony Gonzalez retiring, a huge hole in the middle of the Falcons offense has been created. And while Levine Toilolo is a big tight end with solid hands and average blocking, the Falcons would be wise to add another at some point in the draft.
Troy Niklas would be a great fit for the Falcons and could be that in-line tight end that could also split out as a joker-type at times. His height would give the Falcons a trio of tight ends at 6'6" or taller—making their group the tallest in the NFL.
Because they would have an obvious height advantage with a 6'8" Toilolo and 6'7" Niklas in the red zone, the Falcons could truly dominate with their two- and three-tight end sets. This would be especially effective on third downs as well, and Atlanta should be looking at the idea with some legitimacy.
2013: 13 Games Played, 32 Catches, 498 Yards, 5 Touchdowns, 1 Tackle
2012: 13 Games Played, 5 Catches, 75 Yards, 1 Touchdown
2011: 12 Games Played, 20 Tackles, 0.5 Tackles for Loss, 2 QB Hurries
OL Weston Richburg, Colorado State, 6'4", 300 Pounds
While the Falcons have invested in both Peter Konz and Joe Hawley at center throughout the years, they have displayed a willingness to get tougher on their line up front. Should the Falcons not bring back Hawley or think that they need to move Konz to guard full-time, they will look at a center.
Weston Richburg is on the Senior Bowl roster and will likely be assigned to the North squad based on where his college is located. Because of this, the Falcons will get a first-hand look at the gritty Colorado State center.
Atlanta will also get to see how he does at both tackle and guard in the practices and should be able to try him out all along the line throughout the week. If new offensive line coach Mike Tice likes what he brings to the table, he could be a mid-late round selection for the Falcons.
2013: 13 Games Started: 13 at Center
2012: 12 Games Started: 12 at Center
2011: 12 Games Started: 10 at Center, 2 at Tackle
2010: 12 Games Started: 9 at Center, 3 at Guard
DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State, 6'2", 292 Pounds
Timmy Jernigan is one of those guys every head coach will love. He played in the national championship game with the flu according to Tomahawk Nation's Bud Elliott. And he didn't just play, he excelled against arguably the best offensive line in the country.
And he excelled in every game he played in 2014. He did it in the same exact role that Corey Peters has played as the 1-technique nose guard for the Seminoles. With the Falcons, he'd likely slide over to the 3-technique and be more focused on penetrating every play.
But his versatility would be excellent for a Falcons team that needs someone who can play both the nose and under tackle roles. The Falcons tend to prefer undersized tackles in their defense. Yet, despite Jernigan being undersized, he plays bigger than he is.
2013: 14 Games Played, 63 Tackles, 11.0 Tackles for Loss, 4.5 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 1 Pass Deflection
2012: 13 Games Played, 45 Tackles, 8.0 Tackles for Loss, 1.5 Sacks, 1 QB Hurry
2011: 13 Games Played, 30 Tackles, 6.0 Tackles for Loss, 2.5 Sacks, 3 QB Hurries, 1 Fumble Recovered
DE/OLB Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State, 6'2", 250 Pounds
The Atlanta Falcons could really use a talented pass-rusher who understands how to play with excellent hand usage and has a great motor. Shaquil Barrett can be that outside pass-rusher the Falcons need. However, he's not just a defensive end.
He can legitimately drop back into coverage as a linebacker. He can play special teams. He can block kicks and out-work offensive tackles. He can line up at end or outside linebacker. He can also line up at inside linebacker depending on the scheme.
A guy like Barrett added to the Falcons rotation on the defensive line would be like adding Wallace Gilberry there. Barrett could also play outside linebacker in the Falcons base 4-3 and 3-4 packages as well. Add in his off-field personality and locker room presence, and the Falcons would love to bring him on board.
2013: 14 Games Played, 80 Tackles, 20.5 Tackles for Loss, 12.0 Sacks, 6 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 4 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, 3 Blocked Kicks
2012: 12 Games Played, 67 Tackles, 7.5 Tackles for Loss, 3.5 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 2 Fumbles Forced, 1 Pass Deflection, 1 Defensive Touchdown
2011: 12 Games Played, 99 Tackles, 4.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.5 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 3 Pass Deflections, 2 Defensive Touchdowns
Transferred from University of Nebraska-Omaha when they dropped their football program before the 2011 season.
2010: 11 Games Played, 82 Tackles, 11.5 Tackles for Loss, 8.5 Sacks, 3 Fumbles Forced, 4 Blocked Kicks
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.