The Atlanta Falcons were one of the surprising teams to make it to the playoffs last year, and generating even more curiosity of how a NFL team that made it to the NFC Conference Championship in 2012; wound up being a 4-12 football team and picking in the top ten of this years draft. There were many reasons quite frankly, why they did not repeat as division winners and make it to the playoffs for the first time in three years. Falcons quarterback, Matt Ryan, was widely inconsistent with his production but injuries to both his star wide receivers and running back, along with a lack of protection; had a tremendous impact on how the offense performed under Matt Ryan. Injuries to both Pro Bowl wide receivers threw a wrench into their offensive plans, White was dealing with an ankle sprain and a hamstring injury later on in the season. The Falcons young budding star, Julio Jones, dealt with an injury a little more serious; as he suffered what is called a “Jones Fracture” in his foot which caused the star to miss the rest of the season.
The defense cannot avoid their lack of production as well, as they desperately need to find a difference maker on defense in the pass rush game. The Falcons lacked the play making ability on the backside of the defense, and could not create a pass rush consistent enough to force the opposing offense into making mistakes. The offensive line for Atlanta was just as bad throughout the season, allowing their franchise quarterback to be sacked 44 times, and forcing Ryan into a career high in interceptions with 17. The running game did not take much pressure off Ryan and the pass game either as newly acquired Steven Jackson failed to stay healthy throughout the season as well, averaging a career low in yards per carry with 3.5 and having his lowest rushing total since his rookie year with the St. Louis Rams. In order to get the Falcons back on track they will need to address their defensive side of the ball completely, find a successor to tight end Tony Gonzalez, and find a franchise tackle to protect Matt Ryan for years to come.
The NFL Draft Daily has come to conclusion that protecting their highest paid man on their roster has got to be priority for Atlanta. The amount of sacks that the Falcons allowed last year is unacceptable and they are putting their franchise player at high risk of injury if they do not address the offensive line immediately. It is not the most glamorous pick but Atlanta has to roll the dice on offensive tackle out of Texas A&M, Jake Matthews. Matthews is the most technically and fundamentally sound college tackle in the draft and comes from high pedigree of tackles, stemming from his Hall of Fame father who played tackle his whole career, Bruce Matthews. Not to mention he is also the cousin of pro bowl pass rusher, Clay Matthews who plays for the Green Bay Packers. The rich pedigree and the broad football knowledge should do the young Matthews good as he should be selected to cover the left side of the line for years to come, with the Atlanta Falcons.
Other positions of need may be outside linebacker, safety, and defensive end for Atlanta. Players like linebacker Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State, safety Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois, and tight end Jace Amaro; could solve other needs in the draft if they feel those players are worthy of a second round pick. The Falcons have focused on solving both their offensive and defensive line issues first and could use the draft to finish up on the line. Look for them to get back into playoff contention as injured players return to form and new talent mixes in with the roster. A possible run back to the championship game for the Falcons is not completely out of the question, but a more realistic goal is another division crown and Matt Ryan getting back to his former self.
This article is one in a series, published daily, which provides analysis, insight, and predictions leading up to the NFL draft and beyond.
Commentary by Justin Huffman