FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes a deep dive into the status of the Falcons as the 2019 NFL Draft approaches.
Only a couple of weeks remain until the 2019 NFL Draft. The Falcons have quietly added some depth pieces on defense over the past week, leaving them in position to go in several different directions during the first round of the draft.
ESPN's Andrew Potter provided a deep dive for the NFC South's approach to the draft, assigning a biggest need, quiet need and non-need to each team.
For Atlanta, Potter views edge rusher as the team's biggest need, which is a fairly prominent opinion nationally. The Falcons' quiet need, in Potter's opinion, is cornerback. That makes sense given the departure of Robert Alford and Brian Poole this offseason. Potter also states that wide receiver is not a need for Atlanta, and he's completely right about that.
"Vic Beasley Jr. has now descended from leading the league in sacks in 2016 to warming the bench for the latter part of 2018, as midseason acquisition Bruce Irvin almost immediately took over Beasley's starting spot," Potter writes of the Falcons' pass rushers. "Irvin is now in Carolina, so the spot once again belongs to Beasley, but this season he is playing on an expensive fifth-year contract option and there is little to indicate that he can or will return to his 2016 form. Takk McKinley has one starting edge spot sewn up, but when the options for the other spot are Beasley and journeyman Steven Means -- even Brooks Reed has moved on, in his case to the Cardinals -- it is clear that the Falcons require an upgrade. They are widely expected to prioritize this position at the top of a deep rookie class at the position."
To see the rest of ESPN's NFL Draft guide, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
ESPN: Top five NFL Draft needs for each team
Much of the pre-draft discussion involving the Falcons has centered around how they need to address the offensive and defensive lines. There are some other interesting ways the Falcons can go on draft night, however, and it's interesting that ESPN's Todd McShay rates an entirely different position as the team's top need.
McShay has cornerback at the top of Atlanta's list of needs, which certainly is a possibility given how thin the secondary is right now.
"The Falcons love drafting defense early, and you can expect them to look that way again this year," McShay writes. "Cornerback is a pretty big hole, as there's not a lot behind Desmond Trufant. There's untapped potential still in Takkarist McKinley and Vic Beasley Jr., but edge rushers will be on Atlanta's board -- as will defensive tackles to drop in beside franchise-tagged Grady Jarrett."
Behind cornerback, McShay lists the Falcons' top remaining needs as guard, edge defender, defensive tackle and inside linebacker, in that order.
To see the rest of McShay's top draft needs for the rest of the NFL, click here.
ESPN: NFL Draft do-over for all 32 teams
In the leadup to the 2015 NFL Draft there were many Falcons fans who wanted the team to draft University of Georgia superstar running back Todd Gurley. Atlanta picked Vic Beasley with the eighth pick that year, and Gurley slipped two more spots until the Rams selected him at No. 10.
ESPN is giving teams a do-over in a recent piece, in which team reporters fix what they view as the biggest draft mistake of the past five years. Falcons beat writer Vaughn McClure went back to that 2015 NFL Draft and selected Gurley.
"Sure, pass-rush help was the No. 1 priority for the Falcons, but it's hard to pass on an offensive playmaker who is right in your own backyard," McClure writes. "Gurley could have made a dynamic Atlanta offense even more dangerous despite coming off a serious knee injury in college. And it wouldn't have mattered that the Falcons already had an eventual Pro Bowl back in Devonta Freeman; they ended up drafting the now-departed Tevin Coleman in this draft."
Gurley has had three 1,000-yard rushing seasons in four years with the Rams. Thus far in his career, Gurley has gained a combined 6,430 yards from scrimmage and scored a total of 56 touchdowns. Beasley, meanwhile, has recorded 114 tackles and 29.5 sacks, including a league-best 15.5 in 2016.
To see what else ESPN's writers would change about recent draft history, click here.
ESPN: McShay's best-case, three-round NFL mock draft
The NFL Draft is still a few weeks away, but teams already have a very clear notion of how they want to approach draft weekend.
What will it take for the Falcons to nail the draft? That's a question ESPN's Todd McShay sought to answer in his best-case scenario mock draft, in which he played general manager for all 32 NFL teams for three rounds and selected the player he viewed as the best available selection for each team.
For Atlanta, McShay has the Falcons drafting former Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins in the first round, former Kansas State offensive tackle Dalton Risner in the second round and former TCU defensive end Ben Banogu in the third round.
"Wilkins is the best player on the board and makes sense for the Falcons with Grady Jarrett on the franchise tag in 2019," McShay writes. "He has good range for a 315-pounder and displays a high motor as a pass-rusher. Atlanta will also want to get some offensive line depth and find a pass-rusher; it does both in its next two picks. Risner flashes some upside on the line, and Banogu possesses the speed and body control to turn the corner and attack in the pass rush."
To see the rest of McShay's perfect three-round mock draft, click here.
NFL.com: One burning question for each NFC team
Heading into this year's draft, many mock drafts have the Falcons selecting an offensive or defensive lineman. From NFL.com's Elliot Harrison's perspective, more mock drafts have the Falcons looking offense than defense. His burning question for Atlanta is whether or not the Falcons will buck that trend and address the defense in the first round.
"The Falcons must support the defensive side of the ball in the draft, especially with the team needing another edge defender," Harrison writes. "Mock drafts galore predict Atlanta tabbing a replacement at right tackle with the 14th overall pick. That's cool. Draft predictions aside, can this team really afford to overlook corner in the first two rounds? Robert Alford is gone. So is Brian Poole. With Drew Brees coming off arguably the best season of his career, Cam Newton presumably in better throwing shape than a year ago post-surgery, and Bruce Arians certain to upgrade Jameis Winston's game, the need for talent on the outer realm of Dan Quinn's defense is real. The good news here is that there is plenty of talent available at edge rusher in this draft. There's not as much depth at offensive tackle, although GM Thomas Dimitroff and Co. could opt to grab a tackle early, then swing around at 45th or 79th overall to fortify the secondary. However they choose to bolster the group, this cannot be one of those "next year" items."
To see the rest of Harrison's burning questions for the NFC, click here.
Many Atlanta Falcons players returned to Flowery Branch Monday morning including WR Calvin Ridley who will be entering his second NFL season and QB Matt Ryan. Voluntary offseason workouts begin this week for the team.