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Atlanta Falcons Offseason Overview and Draft Preview

By Jake Saltzman

Defense:

Additions: LB Lofa Tatupu

The Falcons haven’t been overly busy so far this spring, and perhaps the club’s biggest move was to decline a summer appearance on the HBO series “Hard Knocks.” The transactions the Falcons have made have almost all been re-signings, and as a result franchise staples John Abraham, Brent Grimes, Kroy Biermann and Thomas DeCoud all return on defense for a club that gave up just over three TDs per game last season. The Falcons’ D actually looked alright in the team’s lone playoff game last season, holding the eventual Super Bowl champion NY Giants to 24 points, and scoring Atlanta’s only points on a safety in the second quarter. The weak spot on defense is in the secondary, so it should come as no surprise that the team has recently expressed interest in free agent corner Asante Samuel, formerly of the Eagles. James Sanders, Curtis Lofton and Kelvin Hayden are the three big losses on defense, so look for the Falcons to seek replacements either early in the draft, or later this summer.

Offense:

Additions: G Vince Manuwai

On offense and special teams, the Falcons bring back a pair of 13-year veterans in center Todd McClure and long snapper Joe Zelenka. McClure’s contract is a one year deal, so expect heir-apparent Joe Hawley, a 2010 draft selection who started 12 games a year ago, to see more time on the O-Line this season, particularly at center. It’s also possible the Falcons could bring in a third center in the later rounds this year to push Hawley. Backup quarterback Chris Redman and wide receiver Harry Douglas were also retained, and veteran Vince Manuwai was brought in to add depth to the offensive line. Finally, kick returner/wide receiver Eric Weems was lost in free agency to the Chicago Bears, so look for the Falcons to upgrade there. Atlanta has traditionally employed a reserve receiver to return kicks (before Weems Brian Finneran had the job) so expect a young wideout to get a shot.

Draft Overview:

The Falcons have had major success in the draft the past couple of seasons, and full marks go out to GM Thomas Dimitroff and owner Arthur Blank, as well as Mike Smith and the entire coaching staff. This year the Falcons hold only six picks, picking only twice in the first four rounds. Three late picks in the sixth and seventh rounds could be used to address special teams needs, as well as to add depth on the offensive line. Before that however, expect the Falcons to look to improve upon last season’s 20th-ranked pass defense by adding either safeties and corners, or possibly even a young coverage linebacker. On the defensive line, the Falcons have made no secret out of their search for a big-name pass rusher, but look for that pursuit to continue in free agency rather than in the draft. Third year DT Vance Walker was also resigned, and looks to build upon his two-sack total from last year from his spot on the line.

Seven Who Make Sense:

1: CB Trumaine Johnson, Montana.

The Falcons have shown a willingness to invest in small-school players over the past few years, and already have one former Montana Grizzly (defensive back Shann Schilinger) on their roster. Johnson has excellent size for a corner, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the Falcons could be interested in moving him to safety. If the Falcons take Johnson they’ll have to do it early, as Johnson projects to a late second rounder.

2: G Lucas Nix, Pittsburgh.

Nix’s stock has fallen due to the fact that he’s coming off a knee injury, but at 6’5, 317, his size might be too good to ignore for new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. The Falcons need better protection for Matt Ryan, and given how pro-ready Pitt offensive linemen traditionally are, Nix could potentially make a lot of sense.

3: CB Asa Jackson, Cal Poly.

Another small-school defensive back, Jackson could be the last player from the recently-disbanded Great West Conference taken in the NFL Draft. Jackson put on a solid amount of muscle leading up to both the Combine and his pro-day, though the Falcons are not one of the teams reported to have been spotted checking out his workouts near California’s capital city.

4: DE Jared Crick, Nebraska.

Injury-plagued and relying upon a somewhat weak class of defensive ends in 2012, Nebraska’s Crick had his best years as a Cornhusker playing alongside Ndamukong Suh. Crick isn’t Suh, but the Falcons hope he can recapture what he had in 2009 (9.5 sacks, 15 TFLs) lined up next to John Abraham.

5: TE Chase Ford, Miami.

While Tony Gonzalez continues to show he belongs in the NFL (at least for one more year) sooner or later the Falcons will need to find a target capable of taking over for the future Hall of Famer. Ford caught under 20 passes during his tenure at The U, but impressed mightily at the East-West Shrine Game in January. The Falcons also have Michael Palmer on their roster as Gonzalez’s number two. The Hurricanes had a tight end selected in the later rounds of last year’s draft by the way, Richard Gordon by the Oakland Raiders, who recorded only 10 catches in college.

6: WR Devon Wylie, Fresno St.

A solid kick/punt returner who ran a remarkable 4.39 40 yard dash time, Wylie has been compared to Wes Welker by some scouts who no doubt notice his 5’9 height and willingness to take a hit. Former Fresno St. head coach Pat Hill is now the Falcons offensive line coach, which is just one of many reasons why Wylie would fit in Atlanta.

7: T Bryce Harris, Fresno St.

Harris’s highest ranking among draft-eligible offensive tackles is 26th by Tom Melton’s Draft Blog, but given his ties to Pat Hill and Andrew Jackson (another former Bulldog offensive lineman currently on the Falcons’ roster) Harris could land a spot himself depending on his ability to one, potentially move to center, or two, perhaps even to long snapper down the road.


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