Julio Jones was both explosive and frustrating in his rookie year. He scored eight times and had five games with at least 100 receiving yards, but he missed four games, and was severely slowed in others while nursing a hamstring injury.
The Falcons’ 2011 draft began with a leap of confidence and/or faith in Jones, as general manager Thomas Dimitroff dealt five picks over two years (first, second, and fourth round picks last year, and a first and fourth this year), to Cleveland, so their first pick will be in the second round this year.
That jump from the 26th slot to sixth overall in last year’s first round landed Dimitroff his dream wide receiver duo for Matt Ryan between Jones and Roddy White, but the price was incredibly steep. With needs elsewhere, the Falcons will be on the clock just twice over the first 128 picks, which has increased their drive to retain key contributors and role players like wide receiver Harry Douglas, and be more aggressive in free agency.
1. Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson are gone, so a middle linebacker becomes a priority in the second round, right?
I actually think middle linebacker is set. The Falcons signed Lofa Tatupu to provide veteran stability, assuming he’s healthy, and have young talent Akeem Dent. I doubt they’ll make middle linebacker a true priority unless they have far less confidence in Dent than I suspect they do.
2. Maybe tight end is the better option early then with Tony Gonzalez saying that 2012 will likely be his last year. Coby Fleener should be gone by the time Atlanta picks at No. 43, so maybe Dwayne Allen?
Dwayne Allen and Ladarius Green have been mentioned as possibilities for the Falcons. They’ve worked out Green and might be able to snatch him in the third round, which would be excellent. I like Green’s upside considerably better, even though I think he needs a coat of paint. The Falcons may choose to take care of more immediately pressing needs and make tight end their highest priority in 2013, but it’s not a lock.
3. Any other need you’d like to see addressed or specific player on your wishlist?
The Falcons desperately need to improve the pass rush and get better protection for Matt Ryan. It’s possible new coaching will fix some of those shortcomings, but the team should target a high-upside left tackle in the draft and look for a defensive end or defensive tackle with pass-rushing chops.