FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today's Early Bird Report includes what CBS Sports views as the Falcons' top need as well as Matt Ryan's place in the NFL quarterback hierarchy.
The Falcons hold the No. 14 pick in this year's NFL Draft, providing them an opportunity to land a talented player and address a major need.
But what exactly is Atlanta's biggest need? While many mock drafts have the Falcons selecting an offensive or defensive lineman in the first round, CBS Sports's Jared Dubin tabbed defensive back as the team's greatest need.
"After cutting ties with the aforementioned Robert Alford earlier this offseason and letting slot corner Brian Poole leave in free agency as well, our panel sees defensive back as the most obvious and pressing need for the Falcons," Dubin writes. "The team lost both its safeties for portions of last season and saw the defensive essentially fall apart, especially in conjunction with absences from multiple linebackers. Atlanta could at the very least use depth at both spots. And despite stacking athletes along the defensive front over the years, the Falcons still need some help there as well -- whether they get Grady Jarrett signed long-term or not. And while Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and the offensive line rank highly, the running backs do not score so well, with Tevin Coleman leaving, Devonta Freeman suffering injuries during each of the past two seasons, and Ito Smith coming off a wildly inefficient rookie year. Our mock drafts have them largely zeroing in on the defensive line, for what it's worth, with Ed Oliver a popular trade-up target."
To see the biggest need for all other 31 NFL teams as well as what Dubin views as the Falcons' other pressing needs, click here.
Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:
CBS Sports: 2019 NFL QB tiers
Depending on your tolerance for debate and, likely, anger, discussing who the top NFL quarterbacks are is either a fun or daunting topic. CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora has ventured into the debate each of the past three years with his NFL quarterback tiers, and he released his latest version for 2019.
As he has every single year, La Canfora has Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the second tier, which he calls "Top Pros, Proven Winners." Alongside Ryan in that category are Philip Rivers, Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson.
"I am still kicking myself for going against my gut and putting Manning in this slot two years ago," La Canfora writes. "Belonged way down. Anywho, Ryan and Rivers speak for themselves, and normally a guy like Mayfield would probably be in Tier 3 after less than a season under center. But he won, regularly, with a Browns team that had not won anything for like two years, and he did it despite Hue Jackson still being the head coach at the time. The kid will be Tier 1 next spring and I came damn close to putting him there today. Watson bounced back with aplomb from an ACL tear, and maybe this year the Texans will actually start protecting him from getting pummeled most weekends. Might be a novel approach, with J.J. Watt not getting any younger and this kid being the franchise and all."
To see the rest of La Canfora's quarterback tiers, including those he ranks above Ryan, click here.
NFL.com: Analyzing the NFC South
The Falcons missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons in 2018, so what will it take for them to get back there?
NFL.com's Herbie Teope analyzed the NFC South in a recent piece, detailing the additions and losses in free agency and the status of each team's current roster.
"The Falcons did a good job of bolstering depth within the offensive line by signing guards James Carpenter, Jamon Brown and Adam Gettis," Teope writes of Atlanta. "Defensively, though, the Falcons need to shore up the edges given the losses of Bruce Irvin (Panthers) and Brooks Reed (Cardinals). Adding a defensive tackle to help Grady Jarrett certainly wouldn't hurt, as would an injection of more talent at the cornerback position given the departures of Robert Alford (Cardinals) and Brian Poole (Jets). They have the draft capital to address those needs, with nine total picks. Outside of the draft, the Falcons are making progress on long-term deals for Jarrett, who received the franchise tag, and wide receiver Julio Jones."
To see what else Teope had to say about the division, click here.
CBS Sports: What Julio Jones' extension could look like
Atlanta is actively trying to get a contract extension done for Julio Jones, and it's reasonable to believe that deal could make him the highest paid receiver in the NFL. CBS Sports' Joel Corry, a former sports agent, explained in a recent article what Jones' new deal could look like and how it would compare to some other notable receiver contracts.
While Odell Beckham Jr. is currently the top-paid receiver in the league, Corry is more interested in breaking down Antonio Brown's contract in relation to the deal Jones might receive. Corry goes into great detail on how things might shake out, but he does see a big pay day coming for Jones.
"It would be a surprise if Jones didn't become the NFL's highest-paid wide receiver notwithstanding him downplaying the significance," Corry writes. "Jones isn't showing any signs of slowing down, although he is now 30. He can make a compelling case that he is the league's best wide receiver based on his production and accomplishments in recent years."
To see what else Corry has to say about Jones' contract negotiations as well has his projections for how they might pan out, click here.
ESPN: Julio Jones a star 'on and off the field'
There's been plenty of discussion about whether or not Julio Jones will become the highest paid receiver in the NFL once he and the Falcons come to an agreement on a contract extension. ESPN's Max Kellerman explained in a recent video that while he believes Odell Beckham Jr. and Antonio Brown are equally as talented as Jones, the Falcons have a player who causes no problems off the field.
"Is there ever a problem from Julio Jones, ever? He just puts his head down and works," Kellerman said. "Even when it comes to his contract, 'Lots of ways to get paid. We've got to keep this team together. I'll get my money, there's lots of ways to get paid.' This is the guy you want on your team. He is a player without a weakness on and off the field."
To see the rest of what Kellerman had to say about Jones and his lack of weaknesses on and off the field, click here.