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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Atlanta Falcons Draft/Free Agent Forecast.

Well it is combine time again which means our weekend plans involve us, a couch, and the NFL Network. In spite of the fact that the NFL doesn't allow defensive players to actually play football--we still watch it because..... well.... it is football....sorta. However, I really get into the NFL this time of year because I love the draft. I think the draft is as exciting as any quasi-arena league game that the NFL plays. When monitoring the draft one must also be mindful of the state of free-agency as it directly influences draft day selections. With that in mind let's look at the Falcons goals and targets in free agency and draft strategy.

Atlanta made great strides in 2010 and they have a great core of players. Unlike many other teams the Falcons have a quarterback who, if not considered elite now, is on the cusp of that consideration. Also, the Falcons have a great group of running backs with a clear cut starter, an elite pass rusher, and a true number one receiver. While the core is there the Falcons still need a few complimentary pieces to put them into Super Bowl contingency. The Falcons top goal in free agency has to be the re-signing of guard Harvey Dahl. Dahl is arguable one of the top three guards in the NFL and keeping him on the team should be a top priority. In addition to Dahl the Falcons should be trying to retain right tackle Tyson Clabo. Clabo may be a problem considering his recent pro-bowl selection (which could drive the cost of re-signing him up too far). Justin Blalock is also a free agent but while it would be nice to keep him he could be replaced far easier than Dahl or Clabo.

With the steady decline of Tony Gonzalez this season it has become obvious that Roddy White needs another pass catcher to carry the load. Another receiver should be at the top of Dimitroff's top do list. John Abraham is an elite pass rusher and one of the top sack artists in the NFL but much like with White it is abundantly clear that he needs a complimentary player to assist him on the D-line. Another pass rusher would help relieve Abraham of a steady diet of double teams.

To a lesser degree the Falcons may want to look at upgrading the left tackle position as former 1st rounder Sam Baker has failed to meet his first round expectations. Also, Curtis Loftin tends to look weak at the point of attack and as a middle linebacker a stout run stuffer is key to running an effective 4-3 scheme. Dunta Robinson could use some help at the corner position and Todd McClure is not getting any younger at center. Here is a list of free-agents that the Falcons may look to bring in:

1. Sidney Rice- WR Minnesota Vikings- The Vikings did not franchise tag Rice and with Favre looking to actually be done this time Rice will probably want to go to a contender with a QB that can get him the ball. Rice keeps a home in Charlotte as well as Miami but neither of those teams are set at QB and neither is really a contender for the play-offs much less the Super Bowl. Atlanta is close to his home town of Gaffney, SC and with White on the roster Rice would consistently draw other teams number 2 corner or would get into the slot on the nickle corner or an outside linebacker. All that should add up to Rice being virtually unstoppable in red and black.

2. Braylon Edwards- WR New York Jets- An older, less talented version of Rice. Edwards would benefit from the presence of White just like Rice would but being a former first rounder he may have an elevated opinion of his own abilities and may be more expensive than Rice.

3. Ray Edwards- DE Minnesota- Greatly over-shadowed by Jared Allen and the Williams wall while with the Vikings Edwards is an excellent DE. Stout against the run and with an excellent initial burst Edwards would force teams to pay him enough attention to free up Abraham as well as the DTs. He would not be the featured DE in Atlanta just like in Minnesota so he may just be in it for the money and that may keep Atlanta out of contention for him.

4. Charles Johnson- DE Carolina- A former Bulldog and a player with NFL experience in the 4-3 would make him an excellent fit in Atlanta. Johnson was a surprising replacement for Julius Peppers and the Panthers may make a huge push to keep him.

5. Zach Miller- TE Oakland- Miller is one of the most underrated players in the NFL but that is mostly on account of him playing for the Raiders. Miller has excellent size, the ability to stretch the field, and top notch hands. He should be looking to get out of Oakland ASAP and the price tag on him may stay low. Signing Miller would most likely mean no fair-well tour in Atlanta for Tony Gonzalez.

6. Owen Daniels- TE Houston- About as close to Jason Witten as you can get without actually having Witten. A balanced TE that has excellent hands and isn't afraid to mix it up blocking-wise. A major knee injury may cause trepidation by some GMs but he should be totally healed from that.

When the draft kicks-off in April the Falcons will have the 27th pick in each round and will also have the 28th pick in the 7th round. This is our Atlanta mock draft but before we get into it let me give some disclaimers: first, while many pontificators have the Falcons taking Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi with their first round pick I disagree with the premise that he will still be available at the 27th pick. Also, I think that between Rice, Edwards, and Santonio Holmes the Falcons will pick-up a complimentary receiver via free-agency.

Round 1 (27) Allen Bailey DE Miami 6'4 285

Round 2 (27) Marvin Austin DT N. Carolina 6'3 310

Round 3 (27) Clint Boling G/T Georgia 6'5 315

Round 4 (27) Wesley Saunders TE S. Carolina 6'5 270**

Round 5 (27) Tori Gurley WR S. Carolina 6'5 230

Round 6 (27) Chris White LB Miss St. 6'4 245

Round 7 (27) Ted Laurent DT Ole Miss 6'1 305

Round 7 (28) Lazarius Levingston DE LSU 6'4 280

** I'm not sure what the deal is with Saunders who did not file his paper work to enter into the draft, but if he can be taken the Falcons should because despite some off the field problems he is a tremendous talent.**

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