Nov 3, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons offensive guard Chris Chester (65) blocks Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Daryl Smith (51) during the first quarter of a football game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlanta Falcons have quite a bit of talent on the roster, but they could use a good NFL draft to help infuse some more talent into the roster.
There are a couple of unique scenarios that make sense for the Falcons. One of those that is fun to play around with is the lack of a quality LEO defender, interior defensive lineman or safety to take in the first round. In this situation, what would be the pick?
Sep 26, 2015; Winston-Salem, NC, USA; Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson talks with offensive lineman Dan Feeney (67) during the first quarter against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Guard, University of Indiana
2016: Started 5 games at right guard and 1 game at right tackle
2015: Started 13 games at right guard
2014: Started 12 games at right guard
2013: Redshirted due to Lisfranc injury in foot
2012: Started 12 games at right guard
While Chris Chester has played like an NFL average starter, the Falcons could upgrade on the 34-year old Chester with someone who’s a bit bigger, stronger and younger. Chester has also been performing at a below-average rate as a pass protector, and adding someone who can give Matt Ryan even more time to get the ball to his receivers down the field would be a wise move to make. The Falcons need someone to add youth to a position that has been playing end-of-run NFL starters since 2013 in Justin Blalock and the aforementioned Chester that could also add some bulk in the middle of the line.
Indiana offensive guard Dan Feeney would be an ideal fit for the Falcons up front. At 6’4″ and 310 pounds, he would give the Falcons more size on the interior to deal with the pass rush while also adding bulk to open holes in power situations. Outside of suffering a foot injury during his true sophomore season, Feeney has been a reliable player who has started every single game for the Hoosiers at right guard. In their zone and gap-based scheme, he’s shown the ability to open up holes for his running backs and allowed just one sack during his first three seasons in Bloomington and has continued the performance through 2016.
The Falcons could slot him right in as the right guard between Alex Mack and a hopefully, newly-resigned Ryan Schraeder during the offseason. Add in Jake Matthews on the other side at left tackle, and the Falcons really just have one hole to fill long-term at left guard with Andy Levitre looking at his make-or-break year in his contract in 2017. Feeney would be able to slot right in and improve the Falcons offensive line for the long-term. Protecting Ryan should be a priority, and the only way to do that is to add more talent up front.
Sep 3, 2016; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers defensive tackle Montravius Adams (1) walks off the field at halftime against the Clemson Tigers during the first half at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
2014: 13 games played, 43 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 12 QB hurries, 1 interception
2013: 13 games played, 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sacks, 7 QB hurries
When looking at a defensive lineman in the offseason, the Falcons need to keep in mind their need at the 3-technique in both the base defense and the nickel defense. Jonathan Babineaux’s contract is expiring, and Derrick Shelby will be coming off of an Achilles tendon rupture. The Falcons need to make sure they have some talent on the interior to compete with Shelby at a minimum, and at best, someone that can come right in and contribute as a pass rusher and run stuffing 3-technique in the base defense.
When looking for a guy who fits the attributes needed for a successful 3-technique defensive lineman in the NFL, Montravius Adams from Auburn has everything you would look for. He’s quick off the line and can dominate a half-man on the interior of the line. He explodes off the ball and uses his quickness to attack the gaps in the run game and as a pass rusher. He also has the ideal frame for the position at 6’4″ and 309 pounds with long-arms to hold offensive linemen at bay while he bursts through the gaps.
Adams is a bit scheme specific because of his skill-set being suited for only 3-technique. However, he has the long-term potential to be a Nick Fairley-esque disruptor on the interior of the line. For the Falcons, that will be just what the doctor ordered. Having an interior in base defense with Grady Jarrett teaming with Adams and then a nickel set where Jarrett, Adams and the aforementioned Shelby rotate in the spot next to Adrian Clayborn will be a much improved rotation. Atlanta could finally create an interior pass rush in both the base and nickel.
Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defensive end Taco Charlton (33) rushes the passer against the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Defensive Lineman, University of Michigan
2016: 8 games played, 23 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 QB hurries
2015: 13 games played, 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 1 fumble forced
2014: 12 games played, 19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries
2013: 10 games played, 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
One spot the Falcons really need improvement at the LEO and strong-side end in the base defense and the right end in the nickel defense. They could use someone who would potentially beat out Brooks Reed in the LEO role in the base to the point where they could cut ties with Reed or allow him to move back to the strong-side linebacker role. They could use an upgrade over Tyson Jackson on the strong-side end as well. They could also use someone who can start at right defensive end in the nickel packages and create pressure from that spot.
Taco Charlton is the kind of piece that Dan Quinn would love because he can do all of the above. He can play the strong-side end in the base defense and give the Falcons someone who can both stop the run and bend the edge as a pass rusher. He would give the Falcons someone who can play the LEO if they preferred to do that and have him rush the quarterback and stuff the run on that side of the field. And he can play in the nickel rotation as a right defensive end. Combining Charlton with the previous pick of Adams would give Atlanta some solid defensive line pieces.
Charlton is a 6’5″, 265-pound defensive end for Michigan, but he plays in multiple different techniques up front. He’s shown competency in every technique from the 3-technique through the 7-technique and could provide Atlanta the kind of piece that rarely leaves the field similar to what Carlos Dunlap is in Cincinnati. Just put him on the end of the line and let him go to work. He’ll provide results, and the Falcons will reap the benefits. Charlton has the makings of a potential first round pick, but the draft is deep on the defensive line and he could wind up slipping here.
Oct 15, 2016; Knoxville, TN, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Eddie Jackson (4) celebrates his punt return for a 79yd touchdown against the Tennessee Volunteers during the fourth quarter at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Safety, University of Alabama
2016: 8 games played, 24 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 2 pass deflections, 1 defensive touchdown, 11 punt returns, 253 yards, 2 return touchdowns
2015: 15 games played, 46 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions, 2 pass deflections, 2 defensive touchdowns
One position that has been weak for the Falcons in 2016 has been Ricardo Allen at free safety. In 2015, he was better in coverage and could support the run better than he has. He’s been missing tackles and taking bad angles to the ball in both pass coverage and run support and could be upgraded rather easily in 2016 by a mid-round draft pick. Allen has shown this season that he’s only a solid depth player long term and should be replaced in the lineup in 2017 at the latest.
The best way to get a good safety in the fourth round is to take someone who’s dealing with a season-ending injury but might have gone in the second or third round otherwise. Alabama’s Eddie Jackson is the best fit in the draft for a safety who suffered a season-ending injury but would have likely gone in the second or third round without it. Jackson is a productive, talented safety who has all of what you look for in a free safety in the Falcons scheme.
Jackson is 6’0″ and 195 pounds, so he would be a true size upgrade over Allen, but he’d also be a speed and instincts upgrade over the diminutive former cornerback. Jackson’s ability to play a deep half at Alabama will be easy to convert into a true cover 1 safety for the Falcons scheme in center field. He can read the play effectively and is a solid all-around tackler. He’s also the kind of playmaker the Falcons can take advantage of in the defense with his ability to return any ball for a touchdown from anywhere on the field.
Oct 15, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; South Florida Bulls running back Marlon Mack (5) leaps over his own man on the way to the end zone to score as Connecticut Huskies linebacker Matthew Walsh (36) and Connecticut Huskies linebacker Cameron Stapleton (10) during the second half of a football game at Raymond James Stadium USF won 48-27. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
After Pro Bowl-caliber starter Devonta Freeman and explosive change-of-pace Tevin Coleman, the Falcons don’t have much depth at the running back spot. Terron Ward and Stevan Ridley are just mediocre options, and the Falcons could use some more depth in their stead. The best possible fit would be someone with good vision, good strength and can power through the line in short-yardage situations that have hurt the Falcons through the season.
Marlon Mack from South Florida fits with the need for the Falcons. He’s got the vision to be a successful running back within the scheme despite playing a pure gap-style scheme in college. Mack also has the power, quickness and size to be successful as the power back in the scheme. The Falcons have needed that since they cut Steven Jackson after the 2014 season. They just don’t have the power back for those short-yardage situations or that extra back for when Coleman goes down.
October 22, 2016; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive back Fabian Moreau (10) defends but is called for pass interfence against Utah Utes wide receiver Tim Patrick (12) during the second half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Cornerback, University of California – Los Angeles
2016: 10 games played, 28 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble forced, 9 pass deflections
2015: 3 games played, 8 tackles, 1 pass deflection, Injury Redshirt after 3 games
2014: 13 games played, 53 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 8 pass deflections
2013: 12 games played, 52 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble forced, 4 pass deflections
2012: 11 games played, 4 tackles
The Falcons have some depth at cornerback right now with Desmond Trufant and Jalen Collins projecting as long-term starters with Brian Poole, Akeem King and C.J. Goodwin looking like talented depth. However, assuming they let Robert Alford leave in free agency, the Falcons could use some more competition at the bottom of the cornerback depth chart. When looking at corners, finding guys who are taller and more physical is definitely the way to go.
And Fabian Moreau from UCLA is exactly that. He’s a 6’0″, 195-pound cornerback who has long arms and a strong frame. He can play both in the slot and outside on defense. However, the strongest aspect of Moreau’s game is his ability to find the ball in the air. He tracks it effectively and can make good plays when need be. His speed just isn’t top notch. But put him in Atlanta’s defense and on the special teams unit, and he’ll be an asset on both.
Dec 5, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Clemson Tigers center Jay Guillermo (57) prepares to snap the ball during the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC football championship game at Bank of America Stadium. Clemson defeated North Carolina 45-37. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Offensive Lineman, Clemson University
2016: Started 10 games at center
2015: Played 15 games at center, starting 13 of them
2014: Played 8 games at center and guard
2013: Played 8 games at center and guard
One spot on the Falcons that could use even more depth is the offensive line. They have just Jake Matthews, Alex Mack, Andy Levitre and Wes Schweitzer under contract for the 2017 season as of now. Even with an earlier pick along the offensive line and a re-signing of both Tom Compton and Ryan Schraeder at tackle and Ben Garland at center, the Falcons could always use more competition along the line.
That’s where Jay Guillermo comes in. He’s a very good offensive lineman who has played in a scheme that incorporates both zone and gap-style concepts at Clemson. His 6’3″, 310-pound frame would also give Atlanta some more size on the interior even if he is just depth during his time in the Peach State. Guillermo has experience at both guard and center and could make a seamless transition to the NFL allowing the Falcons to slide Garland back over to defense.