The Falcons are in a desirable position for a previously unstable franchise. Just a year ago this time, the Dimitroff and Pioli spearhead was facing the hot seat for failed draft turnout and free agency busts.
Mike Smith became the scapegoat for the draft busts and the bad free agent turnout and relieved of his duties. This brought Dan Quinn’s player evaluation approach to Flowery Branch for the better.
Rumblings existed early on that the relationship wasn’t working and there was a power struggle between the general manager and head coach. But it’s amazing what winning can do to fix egos.
Putting differences aside and working together, the Falcons have turned in very successful drafts and free agent signings in back-to-back offseasons that put an NFC Championship banner when the Birds open the new ‘Benz next season.
Because of the previous offseasons, there are no glaring needs for the Falcons this offseason. This is desirable becuase the Falcons can put a focus on building depth. Where a position is aging or often injured, they can find peripheral additions.
A couple of players on the defensive line – Jonathan Babineaux, Dwight Freeney, Tyson Jackson, Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn – are either aging, injured or costly to keep around.
Because Quinn has success in developing defensive line talent, the Falcons can opt to fill depth in the draft. Simply put, old dogs can’t always learn new tricks.
The Falcons will keep most of the linemen mentioned above, so they don’t need defensive linemen to plug in immediately. They can afford to pick up a ‘project’ or ‘raw talent’ in the draft that isn’t as expensive or needy for playing time that a big time free agent usually is.
Last week when making observations on the current roster, both guard positions could be open this offseason. Chris Chester should walk into free agency at 35. Andy Levitre could be cut if the brass in the front office wants to make cap room.
The Falcons drafted Wes Schweitzer in the sixth round, so he could be ready to start this year. And if he can’t, then you need another guard for security and depth regardless.
The possibilities in the draft are more varied than what’s available in free agency. So the slideshow below is more appropriate to sift through, while the discussion on possible free agents is discusses below the slideshow.
Just about every mock draft out there has the Falcons drafting defensive line, except our own Mock Draft. Here are the NFL Draft Prospects that fit the Falcons’ needs in the first round, the vast majority defensive linemen:
1. NFL Draft
2. Forrest Lamp, Guard, Western Kentucky
From our own ACAA draft expert Grant Baker: “Forrest Lamp is a stud. Lamp is a 305-pound athlete with nimble feet and a good punch. Although he started at left tackle in college, his lack of length will likely force him inside. Lamp can handle power or speed and can play multiple positions along the line. He is a big upgrade over Atlanta’s starting right guard, Chris Chester.”
3. Taco Charlton, defensive line, Michigan
He’s one of the guys labeled as a freak and raw talent, and his stock will rise when he puts up big numbers at the NFL Combine. The Falcons will need him to fall in the draft, because at 6’6″ and 272 pounds he will be highly coveted by any team that needs an edge rusher.
4. Solomon Harris, defensive line, Stanford
The pro-comparison is JJ Watt and Aaron Donald. Any player getting that comparison has some big shoes to fill, and honestly even if he’s 50-75 percent of that potential its a good draft choice. Harris can rush the passer and stop the run, exhibiting the versatility that Quinn likes in his defensive linemen and the energy that is fun to watch.
5. Malik McDowell, interior defensive line, Michigan State
This guy has the size and athleticism of a sure-fire top ten talent, and he should leave the board early on. But, ‘character issues’ have his stock falling. If Quinn is confident he can get him in line with his ‘Brotherhood’ mentality in the lockeroom, then its a great fit because he can play the zero and one techniques as well as rush the passer.
6. Chris Wormley, defensive line, Michigan
Wormley is probably the most realistic player in this slideshow to be available at number 31. He’s also the most capable player in this group that can play both inside and outside on the line.
7. Caleb Brantley, defensive line, Florida
He’s similar to Grady Jarret than the other defensive line prospects, but with more size and probably more athetic. He doesn’t have the same Florida connection with Quinn that Keanu Neal had, but he’s a talent that will definitely catch Quinn’s interest should he fall to 31.
8. Takkarist McKinley, defensive line, UCLA
McKinley is more along the lines of the edge rushing/outside linebacker type that Vic Beasley was at Clemson. He differs from the other prospects because he doesn’t fit inside like the others. But he’s got talent and can certainly be entertaining under Quinn’s training.
The Falcons will likely fill the need for guard through free agency. There are two guards hitting the free agency that are upgrades from both Chris Chester and Andy Levitre.
Ron Leary served as an insurance policy on Dallas’ offensive line the last two seasons. Leary was a serviceable guard that lost his starting role to the combination of injury and the emergene of rookie La’El Collins. He’s made his intentions clear that he’s going to leave Dallas and seek a starting role, something the Falcons can offer the 27-year-old. He doesn’t hold tons of negotiating power without a lot of film, so he might be more affordable than the next guard profiled.
Kevin Zeitler is familiar with the right guard position open in Atlanta, because it’s the same position he played in Cincinnatti. At 26-years-old, Zeitler is due for a high-paying contract as the top guard entering free agency. He’s got more size at 6’4″ than most guards, but moves well and fits Atlanta’s line like a glove with his athleticism in a zone scheme. Zeitler is the reason I think Levitre gets cut, because it frees up the cap space necessary to sign him. Zeitler ranked as the seventh best guard in 2016 by ProFootballFocus and in top three for pass blocking, he will be highly sought after by a number of teams.