It will be a make or break draft for the men opposite Arthur Blank. (Credit ISportsWeb.com)
It’s only February yet several writers are starting to put out their first mock drafts. If you have been following the site on twitter, many PFS writers have taken part in a mock draft. The draft doesn’t take place until May, which is why I’m not so sure why mock drafts are already being posted. Then again, I’m not a college football fanatic so I don’t take part in these drafts.
Rather than looking at the actual prospects in the draft, I’m going to look at the Falcons agenda for the draft. Most teams have personnel needs that they will address through the draft. There aren’t many teams that draft the best player available. Atlanta isn’t one of those teams and is clearly looking to address both lines. Both lines were manhandled on a consistent basis last year. It was one of the main reasons why their season was a complete disaster.
Now the big question in Atlanta is what do they address with the sixth pick? Do you look to sign a franchise tackle to protect Matt Ryan for the next five years? Could they go the route of wanting to finally add a potential premier pass rusher? Those are the only two legitimate options, even though a Jones-White-Sammy Watkins trio would be pretty incredible.
I’ve been watching the Falcons consistently for 11 years now. What has always stood out to me was how the Falcons have never truly managed to put together a formidable pass rush. People can bring up how John Abraham was outstanding in Atlanta, which he was. In seven seasons, Abraham reached nine or more sacks in five of those seasons. Unfortunately for Atlanta, he was a one man wrecking crew. There was never another defensive end that took advantage of getting individual matchups with the opposing tackle. Abraham was constantly attracting double teams.
Patrick Kerney was breaking down physically, when Abraham was brought in. Jamaal Anderson and Ray Edwards were absolute flops that the organization invested a great deal in. While Kroy Biermann is solid, he’s a rotational player at best. Atlanta hasn’t had a formidable pass rush since 2004 when they had Rod Coleman, Brady Smith, and Kerney. A formidable pass rush is having at least two solid pass rushers. Atlanta hasn’t had that in years, which has frustrated all fans greatly.
You look at the past Super Bowl winners like Seattle, Green Bay, and the New York Giants. All three of those teams had ferocious defensive lines. You saw how Peyton Manning and Tom Brady struggled in the past Super Bowls against those defensive lines. Then people forget that Green Bay had 47 sacks in their 2010-2011 championship season. It continues to be proven that an efficient pass rush leads to having major success defensively.
The past success of those teams leads me to believe that Atlanta will follow suit. I assume that they realized that they couldn’t win a Super Bowl without having an above average defense. You look at last year’s debacle; they’ve realized they can’t invest in so many average to below average players starting in key positions. Another key factor to why I believe the Falcons will take a pass rusher in the first round comes down to Sam Baker’s contract.
Baker being re-signed for such a hefty price infuriated many Atlanta writers. It didn’t anger me as much, because the free agent market wasn’t great for left tackles. Most of them were being resigned, which is why Atlanta was obligated to giving Baker such an outlandish contract. It’s sad that in today’s modern era, one good season leads to a player being so substantially paid. Not to mention, Baker’s unstable history of injuries and inconsistent play. Who could forget in 2011 when he benched for a sixth round pick journeyman in Will Sivtek?
Baker is guaranteed to make 14 million dollars out of his six year, 41 million dollar contract. When you look at that contract, you expect a contract for a dependable star player. He was rattled by injuries for most of 2013 and now the team is already starting to consider replacing him. Even though Baker will never be a great left tackle, it’s still hard for me to believe that they are replacing him with their first pick. Are they really going to draft someone like Jake Matthews for him to play right tackle in 2014? I find that hard to believe, although not entirely impossible.
With the situation at left tackle, it seems likely that Atlanta will look into trading up for Jadeveon Clowney or staying in place to take someone like Khalil Mack. According to many analysts, Anthony Barr is too raw to be picked so early. He may need two years to start playing up to his potential, which is the last thing that Atlanta needs. Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith are on a short leash after last year’s debacle. They can’t invest in someone, who won’t be able to be productive until their second or third season.
I’m not opposed to taking a tackle by any means. It was painful seeing Matt Ryan consistently taking big hits last season. He’s the 100 million dollar quarterback that everyone believes in. If they want to take someone like Matthews to shape up the offensive line, you won’t see much backlash from fans or analysts. Unless something drastic happens in free agency, I’m still expecting Atlanta to take a pass rusher. The lack of a pass rush has hindered the defense for years now. As painful as it may be to envision, they will give Baker one more year to prove his worth.
It will be exciting to speculate on what may occur. You know Atlanta is due to make at least one huge splash in free agency. That can be combined into possibly trading up for Clowney. It sure won’t be a dull off-season, which is why it’s tough to make any predictions right now.
I can’t see them adding a premier pass rusher like Greg Hardy; especially at the high price he’ll command. Even if they sign someone like Michael Bennett or Michael Johnson, that would be a solid addition at best. Can they be difference makers? Of course, but neither of them have proven to be premier pass rushers. They would play second fiddle to either Clowney or Mack.
The combination of past championship teams having a ferocious pass rush and Sam Baker’s contract makes me believe that they will go in the defensive route. I’d do that as well given the situation that Thomas Dimitroff is currently in. Don’t rule out the possibility of Atlanta taking pure talent over position, as long as it’s directed towards either line. They may like Matthews over someone like Mack. That’s another situation that can’t be ignored. We shall see how it plays out, but Atlanta should finally invest in a pass rusher in the first round. It’s long overdue.
You can follow me on twitter at @Allen_Strk