Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft 2.0
We’re less than a day away from kicking off the 2014 NFL Draft, and the Atlanta Falcons are in a great position to form one of the best draft classes in recent memory. The draft is loaded with top-tier talent in each position, and Atlanta holds 10 picks, making the Falcons one of eight teams with double-digit picks. The front office can use some of its selections to trade up to the first overall pick, which means landing any of the four best non-quarterback prospects in the draft - DE Jadeveon Clowney, LB Khalil Mack, OT Greg Robinson or OT Jake Matthews. Or, Atlanta can trade down for more draft picks, allowing the team to select more players to add depth at certain positions.
I believe that the Falcons are fine where they stand right now. Most of their picks are at the beginning of each round, so they’ll have a higher chance of finding top talent in each round. Plus, with the sixth overall pick, the team can still find itself in an interesting position. Atlanta may still have a shot at a top non-quarterback prospect if any one of them drops to its spot in the draft. If all of them are off the board, the Falcons can go ahead and grab a starting free safety early by drafting Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor. They may even consider drafting Sammy Watkins if the first five teams don’t nab him, as the Falcons wouldn't mind adding another explosive player on offense.
Atlanta is in need of a starting free safety, offensive tackle, outside linebacker or pass-rushing defensive end, running back and fullback this year. The team can also add more depth at tight end and defensive tackle.
Below is my final Falcons mock draft for 2014, assuming that Atlanta keeps all ten picks:
Round 1, Pick 6: Ha’Sean “Ha Ha” Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
The Falcons are in need of a tackle and Matthews, Robinson or Taylor Lewan may still be on the board when the sixth overall pick rolls around. However, they also need to find a starting free safety that can scare opposing receivers alongside SS William Moore. Zeke Motta, Kemal Ishmael and Dwight Lowery are more likely to serve as backups, unless one proves himself in the preseason. I would rather see the Falcons fill this glaring hole in the secondary than look for pass rushers and offensive tackles, especially when there are plenty of good prospects that will be available on Day Two and Day Three of the draft.
Clinton-Dix would be a great complement to a hard-hitting safety like Moore. He was a proven ball hawk at Alabama and is primed to intercept passes from the elite quarterbacks found in the NFC South. Clinton-Dix can start right away and help form a young secondary that will strike fear in opposing receivers like Jimmy Graham and Vincent Jackson.
Round 2, Pick 37: Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB, Georgia Tech
By the second round, most of the top pass rushers and outside linebackers will still be available. Therefore, I don’t see the point of throwing away precious picks in order to trade up for Clowney. Instead, the Falcons can stay in Georgia to find their next great pass rusher. Jeremiah Attaochu is like the poor man’s version of Clowney - he is an athletic freak of nature who finds ways to get to the quarterback. But unlike the former Gamecock, Attaochu can be just as effective in coverage. His football intelligence will allow him to cover receiving running backs and recognize gaps he needs to clog during running plays.
As an added bonus, no scouts are complaining about Attaochu’s work ethic. I don’t expect him to slack off every other play.
Round 3, Pick 68: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State
I really hope that Davante Adams can slide down to the third round. If that happens, it will be an absolute steal for Atlanta. The Falcons don’t really need to add another wide receiver for depth, but it will help to find one that could eventually start alongside Julio Jones and be a reliable go-to target on short passing routes. Harry Douglas is not getting any younger and I am unsure if fans will see the old, spectacular Roddy White or the injury-plagued version that took the field last season. Devin Hester is more likely to focus mainly on return duties.
In his last two seasons at Fresno State, Adams proved to be one of the elite receivers in college football. He caught 223 passes for more than 3,000 yards and led the nation in receptions in 2013. Atlanta can draft Adams to be a long-term complement to Jones. Jones can still be QB Matt Ryan’s primary deep threat while Adams can take on a role similar to San Francisco's Anquan Boldin, catching the tough passes in traffic.
Round 4, Pick 103: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
Eventually, Atlanta will have to find its running back of the future to replace an aging Steven Jackson. Jerick McKinnon can be that person. Don’t be fooled with his size - he is just 5-9 and 209 pounds. Yet, he runs like he’s a bigger back. McKinnon’s strength is indicated by his 32 reps on the bench press, while he also has the speed to run plays outside the tackle box. Both traits can help him thrive as an every-down back in the league. He’s a potential sleeper pick because he actually has running back skills, but not running back experience because he played quarterback in an option offense. Mckinnon can be even more valuable if he learns more about receiving and pass protection, as they will be just as important in Atlanta’s high-octane offense as running the ball.
Round 4, Pick 139: Michael Schofield, OT, Michigan
The Falcons can begin to add more offensive line depth by picking up at least two tackles. They can get the ball rolling with a former Wolverine, Michael Schofield. Though he needs to work on his technique and hand placement a lot more, Schofield is capable of starting at either tackle spot. Since he spent more time starting as the right tackle, he can come into Atlanta as one. Schofield relies on leverage, good awareness, an inner motor that runs 110 percent of the time and nastiness to stop pass rushers. Tough players like him define what GM Thomas Dimitroff is looking for.
Round 5, Pick 147: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
There is nothing wrong with adding another pass rusher - Atlanta could use all the pass rushers it can get its hands on. I envision the Falcons drafting 2013 co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year honoree Michael Sam for two primary reasons. First, he will be a pass rushing specialist, whether he lines up in a three-point stance or as an outside linebacker in the multiple defense. Sam has very good initial quickness to evade offensive tackles and pressure quarterbacks. He can also be useful in run support, where he could use his awareness and ball pursuit abilities to track down ball carriers.
In addition, the Falcons will have the chance to draft the first openly gay football player in sports history. What better team to play for than Atlanta? I’m sure team owner Arthur Blank won’t mind the front office drafting Sam. As New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan would say, he’ll fit in just like everyone else if he’s a good football player, good teammate, and great citizen (according to Blank’s ideals). Considering that the city has a strong LGBT community and it’s the fifth most LGBT-friendly city in the US, Atlanta will welcome him with open arms. Sam can even be a positive role model for the LGBT community not only within the organization, but also within the city of Atlanta and the entire state of Georgia.
Round 6, Pick 182: Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami (FL)
If selected, Seantrel Henderson may be one of the most high-risk, high-reward offensive linemen in this year’s draft. Some teams may not draft him at all because of his constant suspensions and failed drug tests. Normally, the Falcons won’t touch troubled players with a 10-foot pole, but Henderson is worth the risk because his upside outweighs his off the field issues. For starters, he fits the frame of a prototypical left tackle, measuring at 6-7, 331 pounds. As far as what can he do on the field, I don’t see anything that he lacks from his game. Not only is he an exceptional pass blocker, but he can also use his long reach to get to defenders on running plays. All Henderson has to work on is staying out of trouble and coming off the ball lower. If Henderson can do those two things, he’ll have the potential to be just as elite as the top tackles in the draft.
Round 7, Pick 220: Zach Kerr, DT, Delaware
Dimtroff and Scott Pioli added more defensive lineman during free agency, but bringing in one more lineman wouldn’t hurt at this point in the draft. In the multiple defense, a team needs a lot of linemen for rotations, depending on the situation. For instance, Atlanta would need a defensive linemen rotation for both passing and running situations. Zach Kerr can be effective in both situations. He can clog the line with his sheer size, finish off tackles and use his arms to bat down passes. Kerr is also Dimitroff’s type of player, not stopping until the whistle blows. If Kerr wants to see the field, however, he must up his stamina dramatically. No one wants a fatigued player to crumble during key moments in close games, and he’s been criticized for tiring too easily in college. And like Henderson, Kerr must also learn how to stay low.
Round 7, Pick 253: Ryan Hewitt, FB, Stanford
Right now, Atlanta is without a fullback who can lead block for Steven Jackson and the running back unit. And considering that the team likes to pass a lot and fight for short yardage, why not search for a fullback who can do it all?
Ryan Hewitt may be the Falcons’ answer at fullback, especially after they released Bradie Ewing. He is definitely not a mammoth like J.C. Copeland, but he’s a “jack-of-all-trades” according to the scouting reports. Not only can Hewitt help create running room for Jackson, but he is also reliable at catching the football and pass protection. He can either start as a pure fullback or transition to an H-back.
Round 7, Pick 255: Joe Don Duncan, TE, Dixie State
Atlanta may not have the shot to draft the next Mr. Irrelevant, but they find their own version in Joe Don Duncan. At this point, they’ll just draft him to add depth to the tight end position. Most teams may pass up on Duncan because he played against relatively weak competition - namely Division II schools. But that doesn’t mean that he won’t have any value. At 6-3, 268 pounds, Duncan can be a multi-year project who can eventually either compete for the starting job or play critical roles on offense. The Falcons may use him as a H-Back, paving the way for a more lively running attack. As a receiver, he can get a team the extra yards they need and may flourish as a possible redzone target.
Falcons fans, I look forward to seeing what will happen in the draft between Thursday and Saturday. Atlanta is in a good place, having 10 picks to address its needs. Hope that Dimitroff and Pioli create a draft class that can kickstart a dynasty in Atlanta.
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