The Atlanta Falcons have a prime opportunity to get a jump on the rest of the NFC prior to the offseason. They (the North squad), along with the Jacksonville Jaguars (South), are slated to coach in the Senior Bowl. Such a reward is attributed to the putrid 4-12 season the Falcons went through.
The silver lining of being able to see prospects not only perform in your system, but also to coach them in the process is worth its weight in gold. Atlanta has holes along both lines of scrimmage and could also possibly use help in the backfield.
But for a team as talented as the Falcons, at the skill positions, acquiring top-notch talent in the trenches could easily result in a rapid turnaround. The Senior Bowl is just the initial kickoff to the offseason, but gaining hands-on experience with potential prospects may set the Falcons up to "win the offseason."
Let's take a look at prospects Atlanta should keep its eye on.
After finishing 29th in sacks (27th in total defense), finding someone who can generate pressure off the edges is paramount. With defensive coordinator Mike Nolan running a multiple-scheme outfit, having an athlete like Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu would be beneficial in a myriad of ways.
Attaochu (6'3", 242 lbs) is a quick-twitch athlete with outstanding suddenness. He looks as if he's sculpted out of granite and has a motor like you wouldn't believe. His 12.5-sack performance was highlighted by a four-sack outing against the rival Georgia Bulldogs (much to the chagrin of some of you readers I'm sure).
In coordinator Ted Roof's defense, Attaochu was able to rush from a down or standing position—a role he would undoubtedly have in Nolan's scheme. Attaochu has experience dropping into zone coverage, and he has the speed to be a factor all over the field.
Here's hoping Attaochu makes the short trip over from Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Atlanta potentially brings back the worst running backs corps in the NFL. Incumbent starter Steven Jackson has 2,553 carries on his frame and will be 31 years old before the start of next season. His career-low average of 3.5 yards per carry is being blamed on both injuries (missed four games with a leg injury) and a below-average offensive line.
While those factors need to be taken into account, they don't explain why Jackson's average went down the two previous seasons. Backups Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers are rotational guys at best. Both have had their respective moments, but those moments have been few and far in between.
Atlanta is expected to revamp its line, but even if it does, it needs an explosive back who can change field positions with one carry.
Enter West Virginia University's Charles Sims. At 5'11", 214 pounds (according to Chris Trapasso of Bleacher Report), Sims would be the explosive athlete the Falcons lack. He has great vision, agility, power and hands. It's also nothing to see Sims split out at receiver—looking extremely comfortable.
He'd become an intricate part of the Falcons' screen game and wouldn't have to leave the game on third downs due to his blocking prowess. His running style is reminiscent of the Washington Redskins' Alfred Morris.
He can run you over or outmaneuver you. Can we really say that about anyone on the Falcons' roster presently?
Things that make you go hmm.
University of Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson doesn't fit the description of what the Falcons normally look for. He has gone through three separate suspensions and was even involved in a car accident—where he was cited for running a red light. To say he has red flags would be an understatement.
Furthermore, after being one of the most hyped prep linemen in recent memory, his college career didn't come close to living up to the hype.
But at 6'8", 345 pounds, Henderson could be the answer to the team's offensive line woes at the right tackle position. With the Falcons hiring of fiery offensive line coach Mike Tice, providing him with a lump of coal like Henderson may pay some serious dividends in the future.
Henderson is good in pass protection, but he has the ability to improve as his technique evolves. His run blocking can improve, and will, under the guidance of Tice—which we have a chance to witness as Henderson is on the North squad at the Senior Bowl.
There's a great chance that Henderson goes in the second round, but he may perform admirably at the NFL Scouting Combine and push his value into the first. If he shows the staff he has what it takes, which seems like it may already be underway according to Dan Kadar of SB Nation, acquiring this behemoth may prove to be exactly what the doctor ordered for fans of the Red and Black.
Many believe the Falcons need the most help on the interior of the line; those who do should refer back to the last game against the Carolina Panthers where tackle Lamar Holmes was destroyed, repeatedly.
But with horrendous players like Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds manning the interior, you can plainly see how such a notion is derived. For Atlanta to have a fighting chance at restoring its name among the elite, it needs physical maulers who will act as tone-setters for the offense.
Baylor University's Cyril Richardson (6'5", 335 pounds according to SeniorBowl.com) would provide that and more. With Tice in town we should expect the man-blocking scheme to be in full effect. Richardson is extremely stout at the point of attack and has the ability to get out on the second level and spring an explosive run.
He's played tackle at Baylor and could be counted on to fill in adequately in a pinch. But Richardson would earn his keep by being a mauler in the mold of former Falcons guard Harvey Dahl.
How does that sound, Falcons fans?
Another prospect who would fit well in the Falcons' multischeme approach on defense is BYU's Kyle Van Noy. Van Noy, much like Attaochu, is a scheme-specific fit who can get after the passer.
At 6'3", 245 pounds, Van Noy is not quite the athlete of Attaochu, but he has the potential to be just as effective. As a 3-4 outside linebacker Van Noy is used to performing all the duties that will be required of him in Nolan's system.
He has an innate ability to drop in coverage and is very effective doing so, in part, due to his instincts. He has great change-of-direction skills and can bring the thunder on impact. He can stand to add a few pounds, as he may be asked to stick his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in the NFL.
If the Falcons were to draft Van Noy, many Georgia Tech fans would instantly get chills, as he collected three sacks in a game against the Yellow Jackets last season. If Van Noy can replicate that performance wearing a Falcons jersey, I'm pretty sure all will be forgotten.
Van Noy looks to be late first- or early second-round pick.
After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin returns home to cover his hometown team in 2014. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.
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