The Atlanta Falcons were dominant throughout the 2010 regular season, especially at home, which led to them entering the postseason as the number one seed. The season ended on a sour note though, as they were beat at home by the eventual Super Bowl champions. However, this team has a ton of talent and should be playoff mainstay for years to come.
Matt Ryan is one of the bright young stars in the NFL and continues to improve in each season. Michael Turner continued to be a force in the running game, leading the NFL in rushing yards. Jason Snelling is a solid backup to Turner and he is an excellent pass catcher out of the backfield.
Roddy White is arguably the best wide receiver in the league, and he turned in another excellent season. The rest of the receivers, including Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas and Eric Weems don’t really offer much, allowing teams to double cover White.
Tony Gonzalez is still an excellent tight end, but he might not have too many seasons left in him. The offensive line performed well as a unit, and the right side in particular was really impressive. The left side is a little concerning, as Justin Blalock is a free agent and Sam Baker might make a better right tackle than he does a left tackle.
On the defensive side of things, John Abraham is still playing at a very high level but doesn’t have a whole lot of help at the other end position. Kroy Bierman played OK, but he wasn’t as affective rushing the passer as the Falcons were hoping. The defensive tackles are excellent, as Corey Peters was a great surprise as a rookie and Jonathan Babineaux had another very good year.
Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson both played well last year, but Sean Weatherspoon didn’t have as big of an impact as was expected in his rookie season. He had some injury problems, which led to Stephen Nicholas getting a few starts in his place.
Dunta Robinson played well, but he didn’t have as big of an impact as many thought he would. Brent Grimes looks to have locked down the other starting corner position, but depth at this position is a concern. Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are a solid but unspectacular starting combination at safety.
1. (19) OLB Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri: Injuries didn’t help his cause, but he does have a lot of talent and he should be the starting outside linebacker in Atlanta for many years. 11 GP/ 5 GS
3. (83) DT Corey Peters, Kentucky: Peters is a great run defender who is the nose tackle the Falcons have been missing for a few years. 16 GP/ 15 GS
3. (98) OG Mike Johnson, Alabama: He didn’t play at all as a rookie, but he will most likely get the opportunity to start if Justin Blalock doesn’t return. Zero GP/ Zero GS
4. (117) OG Joe Hawley, UNLV: Hawley looks like he could take over at guard or center in the future or if one of the three starting linemen leave in free agency. 15 GP/ Zero GS
5. (135) CB Dominique Franks, Oklahoma: Didn’t play much last season, but he looks like he could have a future as a cornerback in Atlanta. 2 GP/ Zero GS
5. (165) WR Kerry Meier, Kansas: He missed the season due to injury, but he will get every opportunity to make the roster this coming season. Zero GP/ Zero GS
6. (171) S Shann Schillinger, Montana: He didn’t get much playing time on defense, but he is an excellent special teams player. 15 GP/ Zero GS
Summary: This draft is difficult to grade because a lot of the players didn’t get much playing time due to injuries or the inability to play right out of the gate. Peters looks like a steal in the third round, and Weatherspoon will most likely be a long time starter. This grade will really increase if Johnson and Hawley become starters in the future.
John Abraham is still playing at a very high level, but he will be 33 when the 2011 season begins. Add that to the fact that the other defensive end spot is unsettled, and this position looks to be a significant need. Kroy Bierman is a guy you love to root for, but he may not be best suited to be a full time defensive end.
Jamaal Anderson is a bust, as he hasn’t turned into the pass rusher that the Falcons had hoped for when they drafted him.
There really isn’t much depth here either, so I’d really be surprised if Atlanta didn’t decide to draft a pass rusher in the 2011 draft.
Round One: Ryan Kerrigan
Round Two: Jabaal Sheard, Jeremy Beal
Round Three: Sam Acho, Greg Romeus
Round Four: Cliff Matthews, Ryan Winterswyk
Kerrigan most likely will be gone by the time Atlanta comes on the clock, but if he falls for some reason, he could be a slam-dunk pick for the Falcons.
Sheard and Beal would be solid selections in round two, and they most likely could contribute right away.
The lack of depth at cornerback really became apparent in the playoff game against Green Bay, as Aaron Rodgers really had his way with the Falcons secondary. Granted, Brian Williams wasn’t playing, but they still could use some more talent in this area. Dunta Robinson was good, but I don’t think he played up to expectations last season.
Another reason that this position is a concern is that Williams will be a free agent this offseason and there isn’t really anyone to replace him at the nickel back position.
I’m not sure if the Falcons will target a corner in the first or second round, but I expect them to take at least one corner in the upcoming draft.
Round One: Jimmy Smith, Aaron Williams
Round Two: Johnny Patrick, Curtis Brown, Ras-I Dowling
Round Three: Curtis Marsh, Brandon Burton, Kendric Burney
Round Four: Chimdi Chekwa, Marcus Gilchrist, Shareece Wright
I’m not entirely sure if the Falcons will target guys like Smith or Williams because they might not want to use a first round pick on a cornerback, and I really don’t think they have too.
Marsh is a small school guy, who I think would actually make a lot of sense for Atlanta. Chekwa and Wright are also solid prospects who’d be good pickups in the fourth round.
I personally think that this position is one of the Falcons biggest needs heading into this offseason. Roddy White is a top receiver in the game, but he’s got basically nobody else on the other side of him.
Michael Jenkins will never be more than a number three receiver, and Harry Douglas really took a step back last season.
The Falcons need to take advantage of having such a good quarterback on their team by surrounding him with as many top weapons as possible. Taking a receiver early on in this draft would be a good idea if the Falcons don’t bring a free agent in, but bringing in a receiver is a necessity in my opinion.
Round One: Jon Baldwin
Round Two: Titus Young, Torrey Smith, Greg Little
Round Three: Randall Cobb, Dwayne Harris, Jerel Jernigan
The Falcons need to find another starter who could draw some attention away from White. I think that Young and Smith would be very good options in round two who could come in and start in their rookie seasons.
Tony Gonzalez is still playing at a high level, but he is clearly in the twilight of his career. He is basically the number two receiving option for Matt Ryan, so if he all of a sudden decided to retire, Ryan would be in a bit of a bind.
They need to find a player who can develop into a good tight end who doesn’t necessarily have to contribute much in their rookie season.
They can find a good option for this position in the mid to later rounds of the draft. I don’t think they have to use a top pick on this position, as they have a few other needs that are more pressing than tight end.
Potential Targets: Tight End
Round Two: Kyle Rudolph
Round Three: Lance Kendricks, D.J. Williams
Round Four: Luke Stocker, Virgil Green, Charles Clay
Round Five: Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron
I personally think the best option for the Falcons would be to draft someone like Green or Thomas in round four or five to develop into a starter in the future. They could opt for someone like Rudolph or Kendricks earlier on if Thomas Dmitrioff and Mike Smith feel it’s a more dire need than I do.
This need depends on whether or not the Falcons can bring back both Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock, who are set to be free agents. If they can bring them back, they are in good shape as both of those players are adequate guards.
The depth could also be an issue for the Falcons, especially if Dahl and Blalock aren’t back. Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley have potential, but they are unproven and it remains to be seen if they would make good starting offensive guards.
Round One: Mike Pouncey, Danny Watkins
Round Two: Clint Boling, Marcus Cannon
Round Three: Will Rackley, John Moffitt
Round Five: Zach Hurd, David Arkin
It’s difficult to say when or if the Falcons will need to take a guard in this year’s draft. If management feels they won’t be able to bring both Dahl and Blalock back, they have some decent options.
Pouncey could be gone by the Falcons first rounder, but Watkins and Boling could be intriguing options in either round one or two.
Offensive tackle: Tyson Clabo is a free agent and it’s possible he might not be brought back. If Clabo is gone, the Falcons will need another tackle to pair with current tackle Sam Baker.
Safety: Thomas DeCoud and William Moore are pretty solid as starters, but the Falcons don’t really have much depth behind those two.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan is obviously the starter, but they may want to take a developmental player in the late rounds, unless they have a lot of faith in John Parker Wilson.
If the Falcons can bring back their offensive line free agents, they really don’t have a ton of needs. They really do need to get another pass rusher, but the biggest need could be at wide receiver.
I think that the Falcons need to bring in a couple of new receivers, because it would give Ryan even more weapons to work with.
Dimitriof has assembled a solid core, but the Falcons need to add a couple more pieces to the puzzle before they bring a championship to Atlanta.