Oct 30, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (81) catches a touchdown pass against Atlanta Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen (37) in the second quarter of their game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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Despite leading the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons have some holes that need to be filled in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft.
Scheme fits will be at a premium for the Falcons in this coming draft and filling their needs will be key. True needs at free safety, right guard and along the defensive line will be the focus of the first four rounds. Atlanta needs to make sure they have the right kinds of players for their scheme with defined roles too. This draft tries to address all of those concerns.
Oct 8, 2016; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) returns the interception during the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes won 38-17. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
Round 1: FS Malik Hooker, Ohio State
Starting free safety Ricardo Allen has been a disappointment this season at free safety and could be replaced with a high draft pick or even an average free agent. However, if Malik Hooker comes out of Ohio State this coming offseason, the Falcons would be best off. Much like Austin Hooper, Hooker would be coming out as a slightly raw redshirt sophomore. But that would be for the best, as he wouldn’t have the bad habits most college players have.
Hooker’s size, speed, range and intelligence make him a prototypical player for the free safety role in Dan Quinn’s defense. He’s as good of a fit there as Keanu Neal has been at strong safety. By spending the pick on a free safety that can be the long-term leader of the defensive backfield as well as another eraser, Atlanta’s defense would take the next step. Hooker and Neal could be the next Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas type dynamic at safety. And who wouldn’t want that?
Nov 7, 2015; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Bryan Cox (94) rushes during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Round 2: EDGE Bryan Cox, Jr.
Bryan Cox is one of the few second-generation players that doesn’t fall too far from what his dad was. As a 6’3″, 270-pound defensive end for the Florida Gators, Cox has been used in both base sets and the nickel in a similar role to what he could play for the Falcons in 2017. Should the Falcons draft him, he’d be an ideal LEO in base sets off the weak-side of the defense while also sticking in the game on pass rushing sets as a right-side defensive end.
Cox would be a good complement to Vic Beasley and could turn into a Michael Bennett-type of defensive end who also terrorizes quarterbacks from the inside if need be. The only question here for Cox is whether he would be the pick due to his dad being the Falcons current defensive line coach. But hopefully, that wouldn’t get in the way of Atlanta adding more pass rushing talent to join with Beasley and interior pass rusher Adrian Clayborn.
Sep 10, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes offensive lineman Isaac Asiata (54) and offensive lineman J.J. Dielman (68) celebrate with the Deseret First Duel trophy after beating Brigham Young Cougars their crosstown rivals 20-19 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Round 3: OL J.J. Dielman, Utah
The Falcons need someone to replace the potentially retiring Chris Chester in 2017 or beyond. Chester has been just average this season and could be upgraded for the future by someone who is quick, strong and can hold up well against interior pass rushers. The replacement will also have to be quick enough to play in the zone blocking scheme that the Falcons have run the past two seasons and be able to trap on the gap schemes for when Tevin Coleman gets the ball.
Hopefully, they can get J.J. Dielman out of Utah to help out with this issue. He’s started for three years at right tackle and is easily quick enough to play right guard in a zone scheme. He’s also a solid pass protector out in the Pac-12. He’ll have an adjustment period when he moves to the pros, but should the Falcons re-sign Ryan Schraeder, he’ll have a pair of above-average talents around him in Schraeder and Alex Mack to help limit his mistakes.
Assuming the Falcons release Tyson Jackson, they would need someone to come in and push Ra’Shede Hageman as the base strong-side defensive end. Hageman is full of potential and could wind up showing that he’s more than worth the role, but if he doesn’t, the Falcons should be wise enough to invest in a backup option there.
Da’Shawn Hand plays a similar role to what Hageman would play in the Crimson Tide defense and would be able to challenge him, as he’s a better pass rusher than Hageman has shown thusfar. Hand would be an instant competitor in the rotation and even if he can’t win the job in the base defense, he should be able to compete for snaps in the nickel as an interior rusher.
Oct 21, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Oregon Ducks tight end Pharaoh Brown (85) scores a touchdown between California Golden Bears cornerback Josh Drayden (20) and defensive back Cameron Walker (3) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Round 5: TE Pharaoh Brown, Oregon
The Falcons have just Austin Hooper and Joshua Perkins under contract at tight end for both 2017 and 2018. They could use someone to potentially replace an outgoing Levine Toilolo and Jacob Tamme in the rotation—especially if they continue to run as many three-tight end sets as they have through the 2016 season.
Pharaoh Brown would normally be a first-round talent, but an injury really set him back from being what he could have been. Brown’s got the size and blocking ability to be the perfect replacement for Toilolo, but he also seems to be a better receiver than the current Falcon. Brown could easily be the Falcons No. 2 tight end to Hooper and give them a great tight end group.
Oct 22, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Skyler Howard (3) and West Virginia Mountaineers offensive lineman Tyler Orlosky (65) celebrate after the game against the TCU Horned Frogs at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Round 6: C/G Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia
The Falcons have just four offensive linemen under contract in 2017. After taking J.J. Dielman in this scenario and hopefully re-signing Schraeder, they would need another depth player on the interior three defensive linemen. Taking someone who can play both center and guard in a zone scheme would be the ideal pick for the Falcons here.
Tyler Orlosky out of West Virginia is a team captain who has started every game for the past three seasons for the Mountaineers at center. Orlosky fits well on the inside for a zone team and could compete with Dielman and Wes Schweitzer for playing time in 2017 while also providing competent depth behind Alex Mack with a potential re-signing of Ben Garland.
Oct 15, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware (10) during the second half against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Tigers won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Round 7: LB Ben Boulware, Clemson
With the contracts of Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon, Philip Wheeler and LaRoy Reynolds ending, the Falcons will need some depth past Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell. Signing one or two of the expiring contracts back should help with depth, but additional depth will always be useful. Someone who can also help on special teams would be an asset.
Ben Boulware out of Clemson is a similar player to what Worrilow was and could be a solid special teams player early on. He’s one of Clemson’s best defensive players and is a good blitzer from the linebacker position. He’s also very competent in zone coverages and could make a great depth linebacker should Jones or Campbell get hurt.