Complete Falcons 7-Round Mock Draft for 2014
The Falcons went from a 13-3 division champion that played in the NFC Championship Game in 2012 to a 4-12 disappointment in 2013. Wide-scale injuries played a part in the reversal of fortune, but that was only part of the story.
Atlanta had trouble stopping the run, rushing the passer, protecting quarterback Matt Ryan, running the football and had some issues with depth, all of which need to be addressed in the offseason.
Through free agency the Falcons signed defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson to help against the run and added Jon Asamoah to help open holes for the running game. Several others came on for depth. But Atlanta isn’t done.
For the Falcons to make it back to the playoffs, general manager Thomas Dimitroff needs to win the 2014 draft.
Atlanta owns the sixth overall pick in the draft, and with three compensatory picks has 10 picks this year. Because I’m a man of the people, I asked Falcons fans to provide me with the first five picks in the draft for this mock. Here was one of the first suggestions:
@knoxbardeen Clowney - Matthews - Mack - Bortles - Robinson.— Matt (@FalconsM5) Apr il 17, 2014
These first five picks in the draft provided me with what might be considered a worst-case scenario for Atlanta. Four of the first five picks were used on what are the two biggest areas of need (offensive tackle and a pass-rusher) for the Falcons. I set a rule for myself with this first mock draft that I wouldn’t trade up or back in the draft; I’d keep the same 10 picks the Falcons inherited.
Had I not made that rule, the obvious move for the Falcons when two tackles and two pass-rushers were taken in the first five picks would be to trade back and pick up some more draft selections (I’ll address that scenario later in a few more mock drafts as May 8 approaches).
But for today, here’s what Atlanta’s draft might look like with zero trades and many of the team’s area-of-need selections pried from the draft board right before the No. 6 pick.
Round 1, Pick 6 (6th Overall): Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
The Atlanta Falcons still have to find a way to protect quarterback Matt Ryan better than they did in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), no team in the NFL allowed its quarterback to be pressured more than the Falcons did Ryan: 264 total pressures came from 32 sacks, 42 quarterback hits and 190 hurries.
The two best offensive tackles in the draft (former Auburn standout Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews from Texas A&M) were selected in the first five picks, so general manager Thomas Dimitroff had former Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan’s name called.
NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks told D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Lewan established himself as a top 10 pick at the combine. Brooks believes Lewan will turn into exactly what the Falcons need, a franchise tackle.
With Taylor Lewan, people were just as excited by seeing his athleticism on display. He really hasn’t played offensive tackle long because he switched from tight end to tackle in high school. But when you get a guy of his size, playing and performing the way that he did, people started to believe that he could be a franchise player at the next level.
The Falcons will continue their offseason rebuilding of the trenches in the first round of the draft with what Ledbetter calls “the meanest and nastiness of the three top tackles in the draft.”
Round 2, Pick 5 (37th Overall): Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Former Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was a medical scratch at the combine when his physical showed a red flag. He wasn’t allowed to participate in drills, and his draft stock took a hit.
“I had a back procedure in 2011, and they didn’t want to chance anything at the combine,” Ford said at Auburn’s pro day. “So they put me on a medical precaution just to be on the safe side and to do everything at my pro day. But I feel fine, I feel great, and I felt great out here today.”
Ford definitely shined at his pro day. His 40-yard dash time (4.53 seconds) ranked as a tie for first with defensive linemen who participated at the combine and third among linebackers. He also showed top-10 efforts in the bench press (29), vertical jump (35.5”), broad jump (124”) and in the three-cone drill (7.06 seconds) compared to both defensive linemen and linebackers.
Why is it important that Ford is compared to both linemen and linebackers? Well, he believes he has the versatility to play both, as an end in the 4-3 scheme and at outside linebacker in the 3-4, according to Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. The Falcons could be moving to more 3-4 looks in 2014 but will stay a 4-3 based team. Ford’s versatility may come in handy for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Ford can definitely get after the quarterback; He posted 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in his All-SEC 2013 campaign. At 6’2” and 244 pounds (his measurements at Auburn’s pro day), he will need to beef up to help against the run in a 4-3, but when it comes to rushing the passer, Ford can get the job done.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand at Auburn’s Pro Day in Auburn, Ala. on March 4, 2014.
Round 3, Pick 4 (68th Overall): Dion Bailey, FS, USC
Because of the departure of free safety Thomas DeCoud, the Atlanta Falcons signed Dwight Lowery on April 8 to a free-agent deal. The 28-year-old safety is more of a run-stopper than cover safety and had limited time as a starter last season because of a concussion.
If the season started right now, Lowery would be penciled in as the starting free safety for the Falcons. That’s why it’s imperative Atlanta drafts a safety early to come in and compete for that starting role in training camp.
Dion Bailey could come in and help the Falcons against the run, as well as in coverage.
Bailey played two seasons for the USC Trojans at linebacker before transitioning to safety for the 2013 campaign. In 14 games, he notched 61 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and led the team with five interceptions.
@DonDelarente Dion Bailey is a guy that the more I watch, the more i really like at safety. he's so athletic & is still figuring out position— Michael Felder (@InTheBleachers) April 11, 2014
Because of Bailey’s hybrid skills and versatility, he will be able to play the run. But he’s also an always-around-the-ball defender too. This is the kind of guy defensive coordinator Mike Nolan can move around pre-snap to create confusion.
Round 4, Pick 3 (103rd Overall): C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
The Atlanta Falcons will never replace tight end Tony Gonzalez. There’s a good possibility the NFL will never replace him either. That said, while the Falcons could use help at the tight end position, everyone should stop expecting “the next” Gonzalez to walk through the doors in Flowery Branch.
The Falcons already have 6’8” Levine Toilolo on the roster, and no one’s truly seen what he could produce in Atlanta’s offense. He caught 11 passes last year and scored twice. With his size, the notion is he’ll turn into an excellent red-zone option and should be able to help Atlanta move the ball down the field as a huge target between the hash marks.
But Toilolo is unproven. Atlanta could still bring in another option at tight end for security, and if Toilolo pans out, use the 2014 draftee as a second tight end as the two-tight end set gains popularity.
Former Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz could be that option for the Falcons.
Fiedorowicz shined at the Senior Bowl, and won the honor of Most Outstanding Receiver for his week’s work in Mobile, Ala.
C.J. won the Alabama Power Most Outstanding Receiver for the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday practices. He has excellent size with a proportioned body and is physical enough to continue developing as a blocker. He demonstrated more suddenness in and out of his cuts that will allow him to get separation when facing Man coverage. His hands are dependable and he provides a large catching radius for the QB. Expect to see C.J. get on the field as a rookie in two- and three-TE personnel groupings. He has the physical development and mental maturity to contribute in his first year.
What might make Fiedorowicz more valuable to the Falcons is his ability to block as well as run routes and catch passes. Gonzalez was a pass-catcher, and many of the best tight ends in the NFL today are more receiver than blocker. Atlanta needs someone who can do both.
Round 4, Pick 39 (139th Overall): Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor (Compensatory)
With the Atlanta Falcons’ first compensatory selection, general manager Thomas Dimitroff could look to the future and take former Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk.
Atlanta finished dead last in the NFL last season with a measly 77.9 yards rushing per game. The most frequently aimed finger in the Falcons’ lack of a rushing attack is at the offensive line. But until that aspect of Atlanta’s roster is fixed, we won’t know for sure whether the line was the problem or if it was ineffective running from running backs Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers.
We do know that Jackson averaged just 3.5 yards per carry last season and spent considerable time on the mend. He’s also on the wrong side of 30 years old, a point where most running backs become less useful. In Rodgers’ three NFL seasons, he’s never averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry and never carried the ball more than 96 times. He may be a perennial backup or change-of-pace back.
Seastrunk rushed for 1,177 yards last season at Baylor and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground. He also rushed for 1,012 yards in 2012 and in both seasons averaged at least 7.4 yards per carry.
When he arrives in the NFL, Seastrunk could benefit from developing better vision to find the right holes and allow those blocking in front of him time to get to the proper assignments. He needs to depend less on popping outside to find an open field and more on the line in front.
Atlanta might give him a perfect scenario for that. A year behind Jackson could be a great teaching tool and also give the Falcons time to fix their line before Seastrunk is handed the starting job.
Round 5, Pick 7 (147th Overall): Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
If the early part of the draft works out for the Atlanta Falcons, Taylor Lewan will start on one side of the offensive line while Sam Baker will be the tackle on the opposite side.
The problem with that scenario is that Baker missed all but four games last season after he was placed on injured reserve with a left knee injury. Take into account that Baker has rarely been fully healthy during his six seasons with the Falcons, and the need to add some depth along the offensive is still necessary.
Former Miami tackle Seantrel Henderson could offer the depth the Falcons still need.
Henderson had some trouble at the Senior Bowl when he left his workout early. He’s also been a discipline problem on multiple occasions for the Miami Hurricanes.
49ers met this week with Miami OT Seantrel Henderson, source said. He was suspended three times for violating team rules in college career.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) April 17, 2014
But Henderson also has an NFL ready 6’7”, 331-pound frame and the raw skills to make any NFL coach drool.
Very impressed with Seantrel Henderson's athleticism/body control. He is maddeningly inconsistent on tape, but he definitely has tools— Bucky Brooks (@BuckyBrooks) February 22, 2014
Adding Henderson in the fifth round will be a gamble for the Falcons, one this regime might not usually take. But the offensive line has a new leader in Mike Tice, and according to Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com, Tice put forth a lot of effort to work with Henderson at the Senior Bowl.
Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice has been giving Henderson a lot of extra attention in practice this week. Henderson and Tice both hail from Minnesota, and as one contact from Minnesota said, "there are so few of us guys from Minnesota in this industry, we kind of stick together and look out for another."
Henderson could be a rare character gamble that pays off for the Falcons.
Round 6, Pick 6 (182nd Overall): Carl Bradford, OLB/DE, Arizona State
There are a number of reasons why the Atlanta Falcons can’t stop at just adding one pass-rusher in the 2014 draft. First off, defensive end Osi Umenyiora led the team last season with just 7.5 sacks. After him, the next highest sack providers were defensive tackle Corey Peters and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, who emerged as a starter because of all the injuries last season.
In addition to the lack of sack power, the Falcons will also be moving to more 3-4 looks in 2014. To do that without a hiccup, Atlanta is going to need some help finding stand-up pass-rushers.
Former Arizona State defensive end Carl Bradford was a First Team All-Pac-12 selection in 2013 after compiling 61 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He spoke with D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his versatility at linebacker.
I had a couple (meetings with) teams with inside and outside (linebacker openings), so I can play either, or. I have experience on the outside, and I can put my hand in the dirt or stand up. I think that helps a lot. Some teams kind of (see me) as a (strongside) backer, and some see me as middle (linebacker).
The Falcons have already shown interest in Bradford.
As the team transitions to more four-linebacker looks, guys that can play both inside and out will be beneficial. If that same guy can rush the passer, well that’s just gravy—especially in the sixth round.
Round 7, Pick 5 (220th Overall): Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford in the first two rounds of the draft last year. The team also has Robert McClain at the nickel position and signed cornerbacks Javier Arenas and Josh Wilson in free agency.
Even though the cornerback position seems bountiful, the Falcons still might add former Purdue corner Ricardo Allen in the seventh round.
Allen was a four-year starter in college and compiled 13 interceptions over that span of time, including a career-best six during his senior season. He also returned four of those interceptions for touchdowns. Someone has to keep the pick-6 spirit alive now that Asante Samuel is no longer with the Falcons.
After returning three punts for 56 yards and making five tackles at the East-West Shrine Game, Allen was handed some hardware for his efforts.
Ricardo Allen was voted Most Impressive at the East-West Shrine game this past weekend. Looking like a solid NFL career coming his way.— Blaire (@BlaireWestall) January 16, 2014
By providing depth in the secondary and playing on special teams, Allen could be a great fit for one of Atlanta’s three seventh-round selections.
Round 7, Pick 38 (253rd Overall): Derrell Johnson, OLB, ECU (Compensatory)
Former East Carolina outside linebacker Darrell Johnson could be another Atlanta Falcons pick to help guide the team as it moves to more 3-4 looks on defense. He also has some upside that could develop into pass-rush help in the future.
Johnson finished his career with the Pirates with 18 sacks; seven came in his senior season with seven the year prior. He also notched double-digit tackles for loss with 11 during his junior season and 13 in 2013. Johnson can get behind the line of scrimmage to wreak havoc on both the quarterback and a ball carrier.
He’s also extremely coachable. To a guy like head coach Mike Smith, who’s a player’s coach who teaches on the field frequently, a guy like Johnson can be a great find.
Ruffin McNeill's been around a bunch of NFL LBs. He told me #ECU's 257-lb Derrell Johnson is best LB he's ever coached in his 33 seasons.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 13, 2013
In the latter portion of the seventh round, any guy you can find with some upside is valuable. Johnson could be a guy brought in just for positional depth but who develops into something more.
Round 7, Pick 40 (255th Overall): James Morris, ILB, Iowa (Compensatory)
Former Iowa linebacker James Morris didn’t run a great 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. But the 40-time he produced at his pro day surely opened eyes.
LB James Morris runs 4.59 electronic 40 at Iowa Pro Day!!! WOW. Would have been Top 3 at the NFL Combine.— Neil Cornrich (@NeilCornrich) March 24, 2014
Morris has an always-on motor with natural instincts that always push him toward the football. According to the Iowa athletic department, Morris was just the sixth player in school history to record 400 career tackles. He also posted 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and six interceptions.
Eight of those sacks and 18 of the tackles for loss, as well as four interceptions, came during his senior season as Morris exploded to finish his career.
He’s best suited for a middle linebacker spot in a 4-3 scheme, but with his intangibles and ability to make plays near the football, he could be a star for special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong.
Morris will make a huge splash on special teams and provide depth at linebacker, both huge needs for the Falcons.