The Falcons have the sixteenth pick in the draft, courtesy of their 7-9 record. After a bad start, they improved down the stretch and hope to build on that. They’re in a “win now” mode from owner Arthur Blank, but they need a few more pieces to achieve that. Having a good quarterback in Matt Ryan is a start and a return to form from Todd Gurley would be better.
The Falcons have six picks in the draft: a first, second, third, two fourths, and a seventh. They have no picks in the fifth and sixth round.
I list the needs below, including major, for depth, and areas they are unlikely to look at. I may add categories for a particular situation.
Major Needs (No Particular Order):
Running Back: Much is being made of the signing of Todd Gurley after he was released by the Rams. However, I am not sure what Gurley has left and that remains to be seen. He replaces Devonta Freeman, who was a salary cap casualty, which leaves Brian Hill as the top reserve. Keith Smith plays fullback. Also on the roster are Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison, while Kenjon Barner is an unsigned free agent. Gurley is on a one-year deal and we will see what happens. I still see them picking here somewhere in the draft.
Offensive Line: While not the weakness it was last year, there is still some upgrading that is needed. The Falcons are strong in two places, had rookies in two places, and the last spot is questionable. Jake Matthews and Alex Mack are among the NFL’s best at left tackle and center, respectively. First-round pick Chris Lindstrom missed a good portion of the season, but showed enough promise when he played. Their second first-round pick, Kaleb McGary, struggled at right tackle, but had a preseason heart procedure and had knee problems. Left guard is troublesome. James Carpenter played poorly and Jamon Brown wasn’t much better. Reserves include John Wetzel, Justin McCray, Cinnaminson alum Matt Gono, and Sean Harlow. Ty Sambrialo was a cap casualty. One or two picks will be used here: a guard and center since Mack can be a free agent next year.
Defensive Line: The biggest weakness here is the pass rush, which generated only 28 sacks, the second lowest in the league. Some help is on the way with free agent signing Dante Fowler, who had 11.5 sacks with the Rams last year and will be one end. Meanwhile, former first-round pick Takkarist McKinley has not played up to his billing after three years. This will be a put-up-or-shut-up year for him. Also in the mix is Allen Bailey, who is a swingman at tackle or end. This unit is led by Grady Jarrett, one of the game’s better tackles and had 7.5 sacks. He is paired with Tyeler Davison, who is solid. In reserve are fourth-round pick John Cominsky, Austin Larkin, and Steven Means at the ends, while Deadrin Senat and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner back up at tackles. The Falcons also lost Adrian Clayborn and Jack Crawford in free agency, while Michael Bennett is currently unsigned.
Linebacker: The current starters are Deion Jones in the middle and Foyesade Oluokun on the weak side. A strong side linebacker is needed with De’Vondre Campbell, their leading tackler, going to Arizona in free agency. At this point, the only others on the roster are free agent signee LaRoy Reynolds, Ahmad Thomas, and Edmond Robinson – who comes over from the XFL. An extra starter is needed in the draft or a veteran pickup, while depth is also needed.
Cornerback: With Desmond Trufant gone in free agency, the Falcons are left with two youngsters. Isaiah Oliver will be in his third year, a second-round pick in 2018, while Kendall Sheffield was a fourth-round pick and was very effective when he moved the slot corner – he could play there or the outside corner this year. There are only four corners on the roster, with Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Jordan Miller, a fifth-round pick last year. Jamar Taylor is currently unsigned. There will be at least one corner chosen, maybe as soon as the first round.
Quarterback: Matt Ryan enters his thirteenth season and the only game he missed last year is the only one he’s missed in ten years, while being one of the better quarterbacks. Matt Schaub has been a capable backup over the years and will be 39 when the season begins. Others on the roster are Kurt Benkert and Danny Etling. There is a possibility they select one late.
Wide Receiver: The Falcons have a top pair of wideouts, including Julio Jones, who has arguably been the best receiver in football over the past several years. Calvin Ridley joins him, putting together two good seasons. In addition, Russell Gage caught 49 passes and has developed nicely. New to the team is free agent signing Laquon Treadwell from the Vikings, a player who never lived up to being a #1 draft choice. Others on the roster are Olamide Zaccheus and Christian Blake. Justin Hardy is currently unsigned. If the right wide receiver is available, the Falcons could take him, but probably not in the early rounds.
Tight End: After losing Austin Hooper in free agency, the Falcons obtained Hayden Hurst from Baltimore. Hurst caught 30 passes last year and was a #1 pick in 2018. Their backup is Jaeden Graham, while Carson Meier XFL product Khari Lee are on the roster. Luke Stocker was released. It makes sense to pick an extra tight end for depth purposes.
Safety: The Falcons may employ three-safety sets at times and have Keanu Neal at strong safety, Ricardo Allen moved from free safety to strong, and Damontae Kazee at free safety – who is better on the back end. The reserves are Sharrod Neasman, Chris Cooper, CJ Reavis, and Jamal Carter. Unsigned players are Kemal Ishmael, Jonathan Cyprien, and JJ Wilcox. One thing to note is Kaezee and Neal have expiring contracts and that could prompt Atlanta to choose a safety.
*Information from various sources, including Pro-Football Reference, Sportac, and ESPN.