Generally speaking, there are two rules of thought when making a draft selection: drafting according to need, or simply selecting the best player available. Usually a quality draft possesses a little bit of both elements.
For the Atlanta Falcons, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what their draft philosophy is. Some think they operate with a unicorn-like approach: take 10 paces, spin, then throw a dart at the draft board. Those who think that, shame on you...although you might not be too far off when you go back and look at past drafts.
With the Falcons' front office triumvirate of Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli and Lionel Vital collectively making decisions, most have designs on an absolute perfect draft taking place for the Red and Black. If all three are in concert, fans just might get that wish.
Let's take a look at how the Falcons can go about achieving such a draft.
Note: This mock takes into consideration (hypothetically speaking, of course) the Falcons landed an offensive tackle via free agency. They also cut: Thomas DeCoud, Kroy Biermann, Osi Umenyiora, Jason Snelling and Asante Samuel. It's also operating under the assumption Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Barr and Jake Matthews have already been selected.
After a 4-12 season in which the defense finished 27th overall (29th in sacks), it's safe to say that particular unit deserves top billing in terms of overall need. And when you factor in quarterback Matt Ryan finished with 4,515 yards while completing 67.8 percent of his passes, then you can clearly see how that notion is derived.
Atlanta looks to bolster its pass rush by selecting Khalil Mack out of the University of Buffalo with its first pick. Mack has a kamikaze-like approach to the game. His motor is always running, and he's a general nuisance to backfields.
Mack is raw in his technique, but his athleticism will cause problems for linemen from Day 1. He looks as if he's chiseled out of granite thanks to a wonderful work ethic on and off the field. Your first pick should always be a guy who has no qualms about working hard and displays that for the rest of the team.
Ryan is that guy on offense; Mack can be that guy on defense. Selecting this player, at this position, would have the greatest impact on the Falcons, period.
With the Falcons letting go of both Umenyiora and Biermann, they are down two edge-rushers. With Jonathan Massaquoi and Mack already on the roster, the addition of University of Missouri edge-rusher Michael Sam gives the Falcons one of the most promising trios of pass-rushers in the NFL.
Sam is a hybrid who can be a hand-in-the-dirt end, or he can work from a two-point stance. At 6'2", 260 pounds, pundits have doubt about Sam's ability to function in an even-front alignment. Those same pundits probably had similar doubts about former Indianapolis Colts end Dwight Freeney.
Sam can have that same impact regardless of the system. The Seattle Seahawks are perfect examples of what having multiple players who can rush the passer can do for you. The Falcons would have three that would grow together.
Now that's scary!
Continuing the defensive overhaul, the Falcons look to strengthen their secondary by selecting the 6'3", 215-pound Stanley Jean-Baptiste, out of the University of Nebraska, with their third-round pick.
With second-year corners Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford already in possession, adding the physical Jean-Batiste would go a long way in ensuring the Falcons match up across the board with today's stacked pass attacks.
Jean-Baptiste's presence would allow for Alford to be kicked inside to the nickel. Incumbent nickel Robert McClain had a horrendous year and shouldn't be counted on as the de facto starter in sub packages.
The Falcons finished as the No. 29 pass defense in the NFL—in regard to yards per completion (8.0). While bolstering the rush will undoubtedly help the secondary, having a trio of corners who can cover will reciprocate the favor.
One hand washes the other; both wash the face.
With its fourth selection, Atlanta finally decides to add to its offense by choosing running back Storm Johnson out of the University of Central Florida. With incumbent starter Steven Jackson going on 49 years old (I kid...sort of) and backups Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers being the NFL's version of store brand cereal, the Falcons need the infusion of talent.
Johnson is a 6'0", 215-pound stallion who gained 1,139 yards (5.3 average) and scored 14 touchdowns in the process. His between-the-tackles prowess will be just what the doctor ordered for the Red and Black. He has good speed, vision and power. He also has good hands and will do very well in pass protection.
Hailing from Loganville, Ga., Johnson has a local following already established. Becoming the back that revives the Falcons' run game would only further strengthen that. Johnson could spend his first season in town rotating with Jackson, but after that the show would be all his.
It's time to bring this Storm back to Atlanta.
Atlanta decides to stick to its draft board and select the highest player remaining with its fifth-round pick. University of Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan is the versatile player a multi-scheme attack covets.
At 6'3", 290 pounds, Pagan would play the 5-technique in Atlanta's 3-4 front, and he also could play the 3-technique in its regular 4-3 alignment. Pagan is a terror against the run as he excels in the two-gapping role he had under head coach Nick Saban at Alabama.
If the Falcons are able to procure a large 0-technique, like Paul Soliai from the Miami Dolphins, having another large player like Pagan would only further allow for the linebackers to operate cleanly—meaning they wouldn't have to take on as many blockers to make a play.
Acting under the assumption that the Falcons re-sign both Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, the addition of Pagan would automatically give the Falcons serious versatility—not to mention a possible impenetrable front seven—including the aforementioned additions.
For its sixth pick, the Falcons decide to address the secondary once again, with the selection of Alabama's Vinnie Sunseri. With DeCoud on the outs, bringing in a versatile safety like Sunseri is paramount.
While Sunseri played strong safety for the Crimson Tide, his experience as the dime back in sub packages would lend itself to his transition to free safety in the NFL. The way the Falcons defense is set up, the safeties are more interchangeable than people realize. That's why both spots have to have the ability to bring the thunder upon impact in addition to having good coverage ability.
Sunseri is a big hitter with really good ball skills, and he's also a threat to return the ball after he generates a turnover. At 6'0", 210 pounds, he also has good size to play both safety positions. Sunseri is an early entrant who is coming off a season-ending knee injury. But with his athleticism and football intelligence he's certainly worth the risk.
When owner Arthur Blank set the tone for the offseason by saying the Falcons need to get tougher, according to ESPN's Vaughn McClure, it's safe to say he had a player like the Falcons' final selection in mind. Louisiana State University fullback J.C. Copeland might be the toughest player in the entire draft.
At 6'1", 272 pounds (no, that's not a typo. This man is huge!), Copeland would be the exact type of lead back to assist with the Falcons' putrid rushing attack. There's not a linebacker in the league who wants to meet Copeland in the hole on a snap-by-snap basis.
As a person who has had to meet fullbacks in the hole, I shudder to think of how it would be to collide with Copeland in the B-gap. He's the type of fullback who will absolutely shorten your neck. Considering it looks as if he has no neck, that's not a proposition one wants to be a part of.
Copeland originally started out as a defensive tackle for the Tigers, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could fill in if there's a need. At the very least he's the type of monster Atlanta needs on its roster.
With Copeland leading the way and Johnson toting the ball, the Falcons will have an old-school one-two punch for the foreseeable future.
How's that for tough, Mr. Blank?