The second day of the 2014 NFL Draft is upon us where teams will be selecting their second and third-round picks. After the Atlanta Falcons used their top pick on Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, it now begs the question of what is next?
The Falcons top need is at pass-rusher where the team was at or near the bottom of the league in both sacks and third-down defense in 2013. The team has been at the bottom of the league in both those categories for several years, so frankly, their need at pass-rusher has been many years in the making.
The first-round of the draft saw a couple of edge-rushers go late with Auburn’s Dee Ford being selected by the Kansas City Chiefs at 23rd overall and the Philadelphia Eagles selecting Louisville’s Marcus Smith with the 26th overall pick. According to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, the Falcons attempted to move back into the first round in order to select Ford, presumably trying to swap picks with the Philadelphia Eagles, who originally held the 22nd overall selection. They traded that pick to the Cleveland Browns, who selected quarterback Johnny Manziel, Matthews former teammate at Texas A&M.
In terms of compensation, the Eagles were able to move down four spots and also picked up a third-round pick (83rd overall) in return. There were also reports that the Minnesota Vikings were looking to move into that spot, meaning that the Falcons needed to blow away the Eagles with an offer to get Ford. While the Falcons could have given the Eagles a higher third-round pick (68th overall), their second-round selection (37th overall) pales in comparison to the 26th pick that the Browns offered.
The Falcons interest in Ford coupled with their need at the position strongly suggests that their priority with the 37th overall pick to come later this evening, the team will target an edge-rusher.
There should be plenty to choose from. Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech), Scott Crichton (Oregon State), Kony Ealy (Missouri), Demarcus Lawrence (Boise State) and Kyle Van Noy (Brigham Young) were all potential second-round targets that worked out for the team this offseason. In fact, I discussed those exact players along with Ford in April as potential second-round targets. At the time, it was concluded that Ford and Attaochu would likely top the team’s list of potential candidates.
There are possibilities that the Falcons could pass on an edge-rusher, particularly if Ford was the sole apple of their eye. Perhaps they deem the rest to be better value in the third round. It’s unlikely, but certainly a possibility.
If that is the case, then what other potential positions could the team opt to address in the second round? Safety and tight end are two potential needs that stand out.
The first round saw four safeties taken off the board in Calvin Pryor (18th to New York Jets), Hasean Clinton-Dix (21st to Green Bay Packers), Deone Bucannon (27th to Arizona Cardinals) and Jimmie Ward (30th to San Francisco 49ers). Pryor and Clinton-Dix have been projected to be first-round picks since both declared for the draft, but Bucannon and Ward were a little surprising. Both players had been moving up boards since their participation in the Senior Bowl back in January, but a climb into the late first round still seemed a little too steep.
Given their connections to the Falcons coaching staff from their shared week in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl, both represented two prime candidates to be selected in the second round if available. With the pair off the board, the Falcons and other NFL teams may feel a bit more pressure to find their safety sooner rather than later tonight. A record nine defensive backs were taken in the first round last night, and there may be another run at the position group tonight. To the point that it may leave the cupboard relatively bare for the Falcons when the third round comes about. If upgrading the safety position with someone that can compete with Dwight Lowery for a starting job right away is a priority for the team, it might be smart to take a safety with the 37th overall pick.
A pair of Florida State defensive backs in Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks could make sense. The Falcons weren’t connected to either in the pre-draft prospect, but both are highly touted prospects that could help the team’s coverage abilities on the back-end.
The Falcons could also feel pressure to take a tight end in the second round. While only one tight end went in the first round in Eric Ebron, selected 10th overall by the Detroit Lions, that only means that the next best prospects could soon see their names called.
The consensus seems to point to Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro and Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins as the next best tight ends. If the Falcons really want either player, they might feel pressure to take them at 37 rather than hoping one lingers around to the 68th pick. The Falcons did show pre-draft interest in Amaro. Seferian-Jenkins did have a run-in with the law a year ago with a DUI arrest, but has shown an incredible amount of maturation in the time since to suggest that he would pass the team’s character filters. There are no overt signs of the team’s interest in Seferian-Jenkins, although they did attend Washington’s pro day back in March. But Seferian-Jenkins did not work out then due to a stress fracture in his foot.
The Falcons did show interest in tight ends like Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz and Cal’s Richard Rodgers, neither of whom are projected to go in the first two rounds. So they could potentially afford to be patient. They could also look to snag Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas, who is cousins with Jake Matthews.
Other options for the Falcons that may come in the third round as opposed to the second could be running back, cornerback or wide receiver. The Falcons showed pre-draft interest in several players that were played those positions and were projected to be second-day selections.
Nearly all the running back prospects could be termed as such since there was no one projected to be a first-round pick in this year’s class, and that prediction came true. LSU’s Jeremy Hill, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Central Florida’s Storm Johnson and Towson’s Terrance West were all brought in for private workouts with the team. The team also visited with Florida State’s Devonta Freeman. If any are available with the 68th overall pick, they would be solid bets and could be developed as the heir apparent to Steven Jackson.
While most of the cornerbacks the team was connected with were projected and ultimately selected as first-round picks such as Kyle Fuller, Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett, the fact that all three division rivals selected wide receivers in the first round last night could prompt the team to look further at the position.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took 6-5 wide receiver Mike Evans with the seventh overall selection while the Carolina Panthers snagged fellow 6-5 prospect Kelvin Benjamin 21 slots later. The New Orleans Saints took lightning-fast Brandin Cooks with the 20th overall selection. Cooks ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the Combine.
The Falcons already had a need to add some size at the cornerback position, and given those moves it makes even more sense now.
Several tall corners are projected to be second-day selections including Walt Aikens (Liberty), Pierre Desir (Lindenwood), Phillip Gaines (Rice), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska), Keith McGill (Utah), Marcus Roberson (Florida) and Jaylen Watkins (Florida), all of whom stand 6 feet or taller. If any one of them makes it to pick 68, they might be too tempting to pass up. Aikens, Desir, Jean-Baptiste, McGill and Watkins were all Senior Bowl participants as well. Desir and Jean-Baptiste played on the North team, which was managed by the Falcons coaching staff.
The Falcons also looked at a couple of wide receivers, including USC’s Marqise Lee who unexpectedly was not selected in the first-round of the draft. The team also took interest in Davante Adams (Fresno State), Martavis Bryant (Clemson), Bruce Ellington (South Carolina), Jarvis Landry (LSU), Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt) and Donte Moncrief (Mississippi), all of whom are projected to go by the third round.
The Falcons could use improved depth at the position and could be looking for an heir apparent to Roddy White in the very near future. Any one of those prospects previously mentioned could provide that. And it could certainly be argued that given the depth of the 2014 wide receiver draft class, most of those players would have been first-round picks most other years. Such value might be too hard to pass up in the second round despite not having a huge, pressing need at wide receiver.
But given the team’s needs-based draft strategy, it seems very likely that the team will take a pass-rusher in the second round and then play the third-round pick by ear. Depending on how the draft goes could determine what they deem most pressing for the 68th pick. If several more defensive backs go in the second round, then it likely will mean they’ll press for help there in the third round. If running backs start to come off the board in the second, then it will push up their timetable at that position and so on at other positions.
They also have the option of moving back into the second round via a trade as well if a player they are hoping would fall to the 68th pick appears unlikely to make it.
Overall, the Falcons have a lot of options on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft but it seems very likely that at least one of them includes an edge pass-rusher.