Yesterday, I posted this in the forums, where I have been periodically going through the needs of all 32 teams. But I had gotten to the point where the Falcons were the next team on the slate, and given that we are approaching free agency, it was a good time to post them for the world to see.
The ratings for the team needs is a system that I developed many moons ago when I was writing for The Huddle Report, and have developed over several years. The level of need is not necessarily based off my own opinions, but my attempt to get inside the heads of the powers that be with each respective team, and in this case the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff. They mostly apply towards but also factor in free agency as well. After the jump you can find the ratings key as well as a position-by-position breakdown.
TOP 10 NEEDS
1. OT – 4.0
2. DE – 3.5
3. TE – 3.0
4. OG – 3.0
5. RB – 2.5
6. CB – 2.0
7. WR – 2.0
8. DT – 2.0
9. QB – 1.5
10. LB – 1.5
NEEDS RATING KEY
5.0 – High priority. This is a position that is a glaring weakness and there is the likelihood that this team cannot compete next year without making a major addition here.
4.0 – Medium Priority. This is an area that is an obvious weakness, but the team isn’t quite desperate to make a major move here possibly because they have some young potential. But this is an area that if the team cannot fix via free agency, will definitely use one of their picks in the first three or four rounds to supplement.
3.0 – Upgrade Potential. This is a position that isn’t a weakness per se, but there is significant room for an upgrade. If the right player comes along they will certainly snag him, but if they don’t fix this position with a major free agent addition or early round pick, then it’s not the end of the world.
2.0 – Depth Need. An area where there is a need to add depth. Perhaps there is an aging veteran and they might want to start to look at grooming his heir apparent or replacement. Not likely to be a high priority and a position that more than likely will be address in the middle and late rounds rather than with a top pick.
1.0 – Future Need. This is an area that is not a priority, and doesn’t initially appear as a need. But there is some room to develop some depth for perhaps two or more years down the line. This is usually an area that a team will look at in the late rounds if at all.
0.0 – Non-need. This is a position that is a strength of their team, they have a solid starter, capable depth, and/or a young player at the position that they like and want to develop. Very little possibility this area is addressed and would be the equivalent of a wasted draft pick.
POSITION BY POSITION BREAKDOWN
Quarterback – While there are questions surrounding the competency of Matt Ryan to win in the postseason outside Atlanta, those within the organization seem firmly committed to the fourth-year passer. Evidenced by their desire to lock him up long-term in the near future. But they could be looking at a new backup quarterback behind Ryan since Chris Redman is a free agent, and John Parker Wilson hasn’t performed up to snuff. They could look at late round prospects to develop down the line, as well as free agents on the open market. NEED: 1.5
Running Back – Michael Turner still was a productive back last year, but is starting to show his age. Jacquizz Rodgers had his moments as a reserve and will likely see increased reps in Dirk Koetter’s offense. But it remains to be seen if the Falcons envision him as a potential feature back in their offense going forward. If not, then it makes sense to try and find such a player in the middle rounds of this draft. Jason Snelling is a free agent and a solid role player, but nothing more. NEED: 2.5
Fullback – Prior to this season, Ovie Mughelli was one of the premier blocking fullbacks in the league, but was slowed by a knee injury early and ended the year on the injured reserve. He is getting up in age, but could still be effective. The team could opt to cut him to free up cap space this off-season. They do have Mike Cox, who was serviceable as an injury replacement, and Snelling can fill here in a pinch as well. They have options if they do part ways with Mughelli, so this is unlikely to be a need. NEED: 1.0
Wide Receiver – They are set on the outside with Roddy White and Julio Jones. They need to make a determination on the inside whether they want to commit long-term to Harry Douglas, who may not be the ideal fit as a No. 3 in Koetter’s offense which emphasizes the vertical game. Douglas probably won’t have a huge market for his services as a free agent, but could wind up walking for a decent-sized contract elsewhere. If that is the case, then finding a viable No. 3 will become a need, one that they could probably easily fill with a low-level veteran free agent. But they also could potentially look to add a developmental guy in the late rounds since Eric Weems and Kerry Meier are largely special teams players, and have limited potential to develop offensively. NEED: 2.0
Tight End – The team has neglected this position for the past two off-seasons in terms of trying to find an heir apparent to Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be back for one more year, almost certainly his last. And the team lacks a young guy that can step in and fill for next year. Michael Palmer is a decent role player, but doesn’t offer the potential in the passing game to be an option as anything more than a No. 2 going forward. NEED: 3.0
Offensive Tackle – Sam Baker struggled before injuries cost him his starting job, and while Will Svitek was an upgrade on the left side, only slightly. Neither player at this point look like they are anything more than swing tackles that add much beyond depth. The team needs to look for someone that can be a lock-down bookend left tackle for years to come. Ideally that will come in the draft, but without a first round pick they are more than likely forced to settle for a developmental guy, not someone that can compete as a starter right away. That makes targeting a free agent the more likely solution if they want an immediate upgrade. Tyson Clabo is locked in on the right side. NEED: 4.0
Offensive Guard – They gave Justin Blalock a substantial extension this past summer, but may have missed on opting to let go of Harvey Dahl. They thought that Garrett Reynolds could step in and handle the spot, but he was erratic at best and looks like he’s destined to be a reserve. Joe Hawley was able to keep the unit afloat from the midpoint on, but he’s miscast as a guard. The team will need to find a player here that can provide some long-term potential. They haven’t given up on Mike Johnson potentially becoming that player, but you can certainly expect that at the very least they will add some competition for him in camp. NEED: 3.0
Center – Todd McClure is a free agent, and while he wishes to play a few more years, it remains to be seen if that will be with the Falcons. Due to the revamping the rest of the line may undergo this off-season, it may be best for the Falcons to cut ties and hand the job over to Joe Hawley. In a few spot starts early in the season, Hawley was effective and presumably with extended reps and a complete off-season working with the first unit can make serious strides to become a more consistent blocker. But it also wouldn’t hurt for the team to sign some veteran insurance on the open market just as an insurance policy in case Hawley struggles. NEED: 1.5
Defensive Tackle – Jonathan Babineaux was limited by a knee injury for much of the first half of the season, but down the stretch had a few flashes of his former ability. But he’ll be turning 31 in October, and it’s clear that his best years are behind him. Corey Peters showed some flashes of being a playmaker early in the season, but was quiet for the second half of the year. While he has shown that he can be a solid rotational player, he has yet to put it completely together in terms of being an impact starter on a weekly basis. Peria Jerry could easily be labeled a bust, and it would be smart for the Falcons to add another quality interior player to at least push him this summer. Ideally, the Falcons will add another young guy with starter’s upside that can be an eventual replacement for Babineaux, but at this juncture they can probably live with their starting duo for another year. NEED: 2.0
Defensive End – John Abraham is a free agent and the writing appears to be on the wall that he won’t be back in Atlanta, despite being one of the better situational pass rushers in the league. Instead, the team appears to be ready to move forward with Kroy Biermann, as he looks to be well on his way to returning to the team. Ray Edwards was a big money signing last summer, but was disappointing in his first year in Atlanta. Whether or not the Falcons pass rush can remain effective will depend largely on his ability to bounce back from a knee injury that slowed him for much of the year. If Abraham departs, the Falcons will likely rely more heavily on Lawrence Sidbury and Cliff Matthews,. But the Falcons will need to find somebody, preferably a young guy in the draft that can potentially provide the presence off the edge that Abraham provided over the years. That player does not appear to be currently on the roster. NEED: 3.5
Linebacker – The need at this position depends heavily on whether Curtis Lofton returns as a free agent. If they can lock up Lofton long-term, then they are relatively set here with Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon being the two other starters. If not, then the team is going to have to potentially sign a veteran stopgap or re-sign Mike Peterson and have him compete with Akeem Dent for the starting position. The presence and potential of Dent likely will prevent the team from seriously eying this spot in the draft. NEED: 1.5
Cornerback – If the team can re-up with franchise player Brent Grimes, they are relatively solid here for the time being. Dunta Robinson did not play particularly well last year, but the team is hopeful that a more aggressive, physical defense under Mike Nolan could have him bouncing back in 2012. Dominique Franks flashed ability late in the year as an injury replacement for Grimes, likely prompting the team to feel more secure at the nickel spot than in past years. They might add another veteran to the mix to compete there, similar to what they did last year with Kelvin Hayden, but it won’t be a high priority. NEED: 2.0
Safety – Thomas DeCoud and James Sanders are both free agents, and likely only one will return. DeCoud is likely the preferred option due to his youth and the fact that he outperformed Sanders. But DeCoud’s inconsistent play likely won’t have the team married to him for a lucrative long-term deal. Potentially down the line they could look to add more effective ball-hawking free safety to team with William Moore, but unlikely to come this off-season. NEED: 2.5
Kicker – Matt Bryant is extremely effective kicking indoors, having missed only 1 of 38 kicks there in the past two seasons. He’ll turn 37 in May, but the Falcons appear committed to him for a few more years. NEED: 0.5
Punter – Matt Bosher was among the league’s worst punters at the outset of 2011, but as the season wore on became very effective. They will continue to develop him. NEED: 0.0
Return Specialist – Eric Weems is a free agent, and his production dropped off a year, he’s still an effective and productive player on returns. His true value for the Falcons likely comes on coverage units, and it would appear doubtful that the Falcons would not make it a priority to keep one of their captains on that unit. NEED: 1.0