We looked at the Carolina Panthers' 2012 NFL Draft yesterday, and today we take a look at how the Atlanta Falcons did in the draft. How did they try to improve a team that seems to always beat bad teams, but never the really good teams?
The Atlanta Falcons came into the draft with just five draft picks. They did not have a first-round pick or a fourth-round pick, as both were used in an exorbitant deal with the Cleveland Browns to trade up and select Julio Jones in the 2011 draft. They also lost a seventh-round pick, by trading for cornerback Asante Samuel this year. They did manage to add a fifth-round pick during the draft, by trading back with the Baltimore Ravens.
Second Round, Pick 23 (55th overall): Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
The Atlanta Falcons tried to run a pass-first offense early last season, and they completely failed because their offensive line could not handle pass-blocking play after play after play. Meanwhile, their running game fell off as well, in part because Michael Turner is old and declining, in part because they lacked depth and quality on the offensive line. Drafting Peter Konz gives them the best center in the draft, which should help both their pass protection and running game. He should be a starter from day one.
Third Round, Pick 29 (91st overall): Lamar Holmes, T, Southern Mississippi
The Falcons traded back in the third round with the Baltimore ravens, picking up an extra third-round pick in the process. They decided to add another offensive lineman in Lamar Holmes. This lineman likely won't start, though, as Holmes is a raw but talented tackle who needs to improve his technique before he can threaten to start. This is a pick for the future, as neither Sam Baker nor Will Svitek look like a great left tackle for the future, and right tackle Tyson Clabo isn't the youngest player anymore either.
Fifth Round, Pick 22 (157th overall): Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
And with their third pick of the 2012 NFL draft, the Atlanta Falcons once again select an offensive player. The Atlanta Falcons already have a really good fullback in Ovie Mughelli. Fullbacks aren't that hard to come by. But, apparently, Mughelli is making $3 million this year and the Falcons desperately need that cap space, as they have just $700,000 in cap space - before signing any of their draft picks. Plus, Mughelli is getting older, and he's coming off a knee injury. Fullbacks don't seem like the type of player to last a long time in this league. Still, drafting a fullback in the fifth round, even if it's a weak draft? Ehhhhhhh.
Fifth Round, Pick 29 (164th overall): Jonathan Massaquoi, DE, Troy
This is the pick the Falcons got from the Ravens for trading back in the third round. And hey, look at that, it's a defensive player. Massaquoi is pass-rush specialist who struggles vs the run, and doesn't have the speed to reach the edge consistently against quality offensive tackle. Could develop into a decent role-player, but not much more than that. But hey, it's the fifth round, so what do you expect?
Sixth Round, Pick 22 (192nd overall): Charles Mitchell, S, Mississippi State
Hey, another defensive player. Mitchell could contribute as an in-the-box safety, but will most likely be a core special teamer, if he sticks. A typical sixth-round pick, really.
Seventh Round, Pick 41 (249th overall): Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina
A huge defensive tackle who should mostly help in run defense, if he even sticks. Yes, run defense. That part of their defense that didn't really need help. But it's a seventh-round pick, so drafting for need doesn't make much sense at that point anyway.
Needs they didn't fill: Pass rush anyone?
The Atlanta Falcons had a solid team in 2011, and a surprisingly solid defense. But they lacked two things above all else: the ability to play pass-first on offense, despite the addition of Julio Jones, and a pass rush on defense. The strength of their team was the ability to stop the run on defense, and the ability to have an offense work off of the running game on offense.
The Falcons have addressed the passing offense by adding offensive linemen for improved pass protection. Will that make Ryan good enough to run a pass-first offense? On defense, they added Asante Samuel, who should immediately improve their pass defense, although run defense may suffer a little. But they still haven't addressed their pass rush. They had just 33 sacks last season, and were ranked 24th in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Sack Rate. Their only good pass rusher is John Abraham, who turned 34 today. They severely limited his sacks last season, and he's extremely close to the end. If he falls off, they have no one - and counting on fifth-rounder Massaquoi to make an early impact is unrealistic.
So, the Falcons didn't have many picks, but did address their offensive line. Their pass rush remains a big problem, however, and could be the key weakness that kills them in 2012.