Why the Falcons Can Comfortably Look to Trade Down in 2014 NFL Draft

Knox Bardeen@knoxbardeenNFC South Lead WriterMarch 25, 2014

Texas A&M offensive lineman Jake Matthews runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Compensatory picks were handed out by the league Monday at the NFL Owners Meetings in Orlando. The Atlanta Falcons received three extra picks in the 2014 NFL Draft: A fourth-round selection and two seventh-round picks, which according to the Falcons’ website are picks No. 139, 253 and 255 overall.

The extra picks are uber-valuable to a Falcons’ franchise that’s in desperate need of replenishing its roster. But are three extra picks enough to get Atlanta back to the playoffs in 2014? Can the Falcons actually get more picks in the upcoming draft by trading down in the first round and still comfortably fill their immediate draft needs?

The easy answer is yes. Sure the Falcons can trade down and grab some extra picks. But should they?

Over the course of the last three drafts, the Falcons have traded up three times to grab players general manager Thomas Dimitroff desired.

In 2011, Atlanta gave up five picks to move up 21 spots and draft wide receiver Julio Jones. In 2013, the Falcons moved up twice: Atlanta gave up three picks to move up eight spots to select cornerback Desmond Trufant (the St. Louis Rams sent a 2015 seventh-round pick back to Atlanta in the deal) in the first round, and then Dimitroff gave up two picks to move up 10 spots in the fifth round to select defensive end Stansly Maponga.

Atlanta Falcons: Draft Moves 2011-2013
YearTeamGave UpObtained+/-
2011Browns1(27), 2(59), 4(124), 1(2012) & 4 (2012)1(6) - Julio Jones-4
2011LionsChris Houston6th (2010) & 7(210)+1 (2010 portion not counted)
2011PatriotsQuinn Ojinnaka7(230)+1
2012Eagles7(229)Asante Samuel-1
2013Rams1(30), 3(92) & 6(198)1(22) - Desmond Trufant & 7(2015)-2 (2015 portion not counted yet)
2013Bears5(163) & 7(236)5(153) - Stansly Maponga-1

Take into account the Falcons gained two extra picks in the 2011 draft (a seventh-round pick from the 2010 Chris Houston trade and a seventh-round pick from the Quinn Ojinnaka deal) and lost a 2012 seventh-round pick by obtaining cornerback Asante Samuel from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Over the last three seasons Atlanta has a net loss of six draft picks (after the 2015 draft that number will fall to five because of the seventh-round pick coming back from the Rams in the Trufant deal).

Losing those six draft picks severely limited the Falcons in 2013 when injuries crippled this team and the depth that normally would have been there for head coach Mike Smith to lean on had been traded away in the form of draft picks.

Replenishing those lost draft picks (compensatory picks have not been factored in because those are awarded for lost free agents) would be a huge win for Dimitroff if he could get it done in the 2014 draft. The first step would be to move back from Atlanta’s first-round spot in the draft at No. 6.

The three players in this year’s draft that have been most frequently linked to the Falcons as potential targets are South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, outside linebacker Khalil Mack from Buffalo and Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. Any one of those guys could step in immediately and help Atlanta in 2014.

It’s always been the case that Atlanta would have to move up in the 2014 draft to take Clowney. But in recent weeks, Robinson and Mack have climbed draft boards as well. It now may be the case that none of these three players is available to the Falcons at the No. 6 pick.

If that’s the case, instead of reaching for a player at No. 6, the team might be able to draft later in the first round. If Clowney, Robinson and Mack all are taken in the first five picks, that would mean at least one of the top three quarterbacks would be available. Atlanta could find a quarterback-needy team and construct a deal. The Minnesota Vikings or the Tennessee Titans instantly come to mind as potential trade partners.

By moving back just two spots to No. 8, Atlanta might be able to gain an extra third- or fourth-round pick from Minnesota. A move to No. 11 could mean an extra second-round pick from Tennessee, or possibly a third- and fourth-round pick.

If the Falcons moved back, they still might be able to land an offensive tackle like Jake Matthews from Texas A&M or Taylor Lewan from Michigan. Or, if Atlanta wanted to look at a pass-rusher, UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, who has a visit scheduled with the Falcons, might be available. 

If Robinson or Mack were available at No. 6, it would be hard to argue with Atlanta pulling the trigger and grabbing either one. But there’s also a sound argument to be made for moving back even if Robinson or Mack were to be available.

In the event that both Robinson and Mack are drafted before the Falcons get a chance to do so at No. 6, it’s absolutely the prudent move for Atlanta to move back in the draft and obtain some draft picks. The team could still fill a need on either the offensive of defensive line somewhere between pick Nos. 8 and 11, or consider moving back even farther and addressing a need at tight end or possibly even safety.

While bolstering either the offensive or defensive line is the expected move for the Falcons in the first round, guys like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Louisville free safety Calvin Pryor could be had anywhere from pick Nos. 12 to 17.

A move back that far could be just the depth-replenishing step the Falcons so desperately need.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.

Knox Bardeen is the NFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the author of “100 Things Falcons Fans Should Know & Do Before they Die.” Be sure to follow Knox on Twitter.


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