No one expected the Atlanta Falcons to make the playoffs. We all wrote them off because of an unimpressive depth chart on defense and a rookie quarterback prone to throw interceptions in the ACC. It wasn't exactly worst to first, but the Falcons proved millions of people wrong by making the playoffs. They have one of the brightest futures in the NFL with Matt Ryan at the helm, and another draft to possibly upgrade their team.
Let's get to their draft range at No. 24 overall:
Brandon Pettigrew: Adding an elite tight end opens up everything offensively. The offense can then run the ball more effectively because the defense is worried about the play action to open up the passing game. Roddy White will get less double teams as nickelbacks will be forced to cover Pettigrew. This selection just gives so many possibilities, but then again adding a tight end later on could also strengthen the passing game. Could Atlanta look elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not.
Brian Cushing: Outside linebacker is a huge need for Atlanta. However, I do not feel like a linebacker who played only two downs in college will be a three-down linebacker in the NFL. I think Atlanta will pass up on Cushing, and Clay Matthews is already off the board at No. 24.
Cornerback: Domonique Foxworth leaving in free agency to the Baltimore Ravens potentially leaves a hole on this Atlanta defense. In the mix I believe will be Illinois' Vontae Davis and Connecticut's Darius Butler as they are the only true first-round corners who can play in Atlanta's scheme, which emphasizes press man coverage. Butler could come off the board much earlier, but Davis is looking like more and more he will be available at this pick.
I believe these are the four main targets for Atlanta in the first round. What could they target later on?
Tight end will be a big need if Atlanta decides to not draft Pettigrew in the first round. Jared Cook, Travis Beckum, Cornelius Ingram and Shawn Nelson would all be viable options in the second or third rounds.
Nose tackle must be addressed in this draft. Evander Hood is not a great run-stuffer, but he does bring good size to the defensive line at 6-3, 298, and he has a high motor. Ron Brace, Sen'Derrick Marks and Chris Baker could all be had later on in the second-to-fourth rounds, though Brace is expected to come off the board at some point in the second.
This defense needs outside linebackers very badly. They are not likely to go there in the first round. Cushing could very well fall to the second round. I also think Tyrone McKenzie and Marcus Freeman are in Atlanta's second-to-third round range. USC's Kaluka Maiava is a very serious option in the third or fourth rounds.
You can never have enough defensive ends on your roster. Atlanta might be targeting one in the mid-rounds. Hawaii's David Veikune, Texas' Henry Melton and USC's Kyle Moore are versatile pieces to the puzzle who can be capable rotational defensive ends in the NFL. Any time you can add an impact player, whether it is a starter or backup in the mid-rounds, I call that a good pick.
The Falcons better have a good draft because New Orleans and Carolina are not backing down in the South. Matt Ryan is the franchise, but will the team continue to add pieces to the puzzle?