Early Bird Report: Todd Gurley joins Falcons in ESPN's draft re-do

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Today’s Early Bird Report includes a recent draft re-do that includes a very notable change for the Falcons.

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In the lead up 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 play maker 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.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today:

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.

CBS Sports: Biggest need for all 32 NFL teams

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.

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.

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