There are several ways the Falcons could play this draft, and few would be wrong. They probably don’t need another wide receiver in Round 1, but I’m guessing they know that. What they also don’t need — guessing they know this, too — is to reach for something in the effort to turn a 7-9 team into a colossus. No one player in this draft could do that.
As mentioned a time or two, the Falcons are in an odd place. Going by the always clinical Eyeball Test, they look better than their record. Such a disconnect is often a (dys)function of coaching, which is why they have three new coordinators, one of whom remains the head coach, though he has hired someone to help with the head-coaching thing. (Yes, it’s complicated.) They have clear personnel needs — offensive line, pass rusher, cornerback — but no single need outstrips the others.
That in mind, it would be tough for the Falcons to do something I absolutely hate in Round 1. For Falcons-watchers of a certain age, this is a rather different feeling. There was a time when we approached every draft with a sense of dread: “How will they blow it this time?” Since Thomas Dimitroff arrived, that angst has largely abated. He did have a couple of whiffs — Peria Jerry, Peter Konz — but credit where it’s due: He also hooked Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, still the two best players on this roster.
With Dan Quinn as football czar of Flowery Branch, the Falcons have drafted quite well. We can quibble over Vic Beasley, but he did have 15-1/2 sacks in the Super Bowl year. (Not much since; hence the quibbles.) Keanu Neal, whose selection stirred the biggest backlash, became an immediate starter and has made the Pro Bowl. Takkarist McKinley has been OK. Calvin Ridley has been better than OK.
Beyond 28-3, the issue with the Falcons hasn’t been personnel. It has been the deployment of said personnel. They’ve lately been better at winning over three days in April than on autumnal Sundays/Mondays/Thursdays. They enter Thursday’s draft with the No. 14 pick, their highest since Beasley in 2015. If I had to bet — for the record, I never bet — I’d guess they’ll take a defensive lineman. But here we ask two questions:
1. Having taken D-linemen in Round 1 in 2015 and 2017 — Beasley was a hand-in-the-dirt guy when drafted; at last check, he’s a linebacker now — would doing it again be a sagacious allocation of resources?
2. Ed Oliver of Houston and Christian Wilkins of Clemson, two D-linemen seen as possible targets, are technically defensive tackles. Is edge rusher the greater area of need?
The belief here is that you can’t re-litigate past drafts. If Beasley has been a disappointment — the past two seasons, he has been an outright dud — that cannot influence any thinking going forward. You move on. (Note that the Falcons exercised Beasley’s fifth-year option but didn’t re-up him long-term.) If you need another D-lineman, draft another D-lineman.
As for the edge stuff: Rashan Gary, a defensive end from Michigan, might be the better fit, but he’s apt to be gone by Pick No. 14. So is Oliver. Question for the Falcons: Is either worth moving up to snag, or would staying put and waiting for Wilkins, assuming he’s still there, be the wiser course?
Not going to lie: I’ve liked Wilkins since he caught the fourth-down pass from punter Andy Teasdall that changed the first of Clemson’s seven playoff games over the past four years. Wilkins, then a freshman, would become one of the more respected players on a team loaded with high-profile guys, not to mention the most productive member of what became the nation’s most ferocious defensive front.
Think of Wilkins as a more talented Grady Jarrett, which is among the highest compliments anyone can offer. The thought of pairing the two Clemson products in the interior line would surely be tantalizing, and not just to me. The two wouldn’t be edge rushers per se, but they’d surely bring interior heat.
Wilkins would be an excellent addition, but — pardon the reiteration — there should be several excellent additions available. When you’re 7-9, you can’t say, “One more cornerback, and we’re in the Super Bowl.” A roster that appeared ironclad not so long ago has developed holes. Ryan Schraeder and Robert Alford are gone. Beasley is back in limbo. Even Matt Bryant, a pillar of reliability for a decade, no longer works here.
The Falcons have enough weaknesses that they’re drafting 14th. If they hadn’t won their final three games they’d be picking in the top 10. (Tell me again: Was winning those final three games such a good thing?) But the draft always offers an opportunity to get better, if not fully well, and the Falcons have gotten downright decent at drafting. Me, I’d be surprised if they mess this up.
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