Monday Morning Draft – Conference Championships

Monday Morning Draft is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from a 2013 NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.

By Charlie Campbell.
Send Charlie an e-mail here: [email protected]
Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell for updates.

Let’s Play Matchmaker:

This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.

Atlanta Falcons: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
The Falcons took a 10-point lead into the second half, but were unable to hold on against the 49ers. San Francisco has an excellent run defense, but Atlanta lacked a running back who could challenge it. A runner who could take over and drain out the clock while producing some points could’ve made the difference for the Falcons on Sunday. Clearly, Michael Turner is done and needs to be replaced. Atlanta has to get a lead back to help take the pressure off of Matt Ryan.

The Falcons would probably have to trade up from their second-round pick to land Lacy, or they could select him in the first round. Considering the team’s need for pass-rushers, targeting a running back on the second day may be the better decision. Lacy would be a good fit to replace Turner. When the veteran was young, he had speed to go along with size, which happens to be the same combination that Lacy has.

Lacy totaled 1,322 yards (6.4 average) and 17 touchdowns on only 204 carries in 2012. He was a power runner for Alabama and lost carries to standout freshman T.J. Yeldon. Lacy caught 22 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, too. He had a massive performance against Georgia (20-181) in the SEC Championship and Notre Dame (20-140) in the National Championship.

The 6-foot, 220-pounder has quickness and agility. He could be a good downhill runner in the Falcons’ offense.

New England Patriots: Matt Elam, S, Florida
New England’s secondary was vulnerable at times in 2012, and the team could lose its top safety, Patrick Chung, in free agency. The Patriots have demonstrated an inclination to draft Gators as well as defensive backs in the early rounds. Bernard Pollard has been a physical force who has battered New England’s offense in his career. Elam could bring that presence to the Patriots’ defense.

The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Elam had a phenomenal junior season and was a consistent source of big plays. He has ball skills and is very fast, which allows him to cover a lot of ground in run defense and in pass coverage. To top it off, Elam is a punishing hitter. He is a violent safety who blasts offensive players at every opportunity. Elam was all over the field and always around the ball for Florida.

The junior had 76 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks, nine tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and five passes broken up in 2012. He was an absolute force against LSU and was dishing out punishing hits all game. Elam also had good performances against Texas A&M, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisville and Florida State.

Team Draft Report:

In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regard to the 2013 NFL Draft.

Atlanta Falcons:
The Falcons were able to break their postseason losing streak and came very close to making the Super Bowl, but after falling short of going to New Orleans to play for the Lombardi Trophy, they face an offseason with a lot of uncertainty. Atlanta has a number of needs on its roster and probably won’t be able to spend a lot of money in free agency.

First and foremost, the team has to improve its pass rush. The Falcons had issues pressuring the quarterback throughout 2012, and in the passing-driven NFL, that is too much pressure to place on the secondary. John Abraham has had a great career, but he can’t play forever.

Atlanta has to find some edge-rushers who can consistently put heat on the quarterback. Two players for the team to target in the first round are Texas defensive end Alex Okafor and LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery. Both have had two straight seasons of placing steady pressure on the quarterback. Okafor would be a nice scheme fit, since he has rushed from a variety of spots including as a stand up outside linebacker. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could mix in some 3-4 sets with Okafor. It makes sense for the Falcons to target him in the first round.

Unfortunately, it sounds like Tony Gonzalez is going to retire. He appears to have plenty left in the tank to be an impact player during the 2013 season, but he says there is a 95-percent chance he retires. Atlanta will need a good receiving tight end because Gonzalez has been critical for their offense. Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert or Florida’s Jordan Reed could be targets in the second round, but neither is likely to make it to the Falcons’ third-round pick.

Atlanta should replace Michael Turner on the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft. As highlighted above, Alabama’s Eddie Lacy would be a great fit in the Falcons’ zone-blocking system. If they can’t get Lacy, there are other good options such as Rutgers’ Jawan Jamison, Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor and Florida’s Mike Gillislee. Rookie running backs can have an immediate impact, so Atlanta easily could have the makings of a good draft class with a second-day tailback.

Other needs include interior help on the offensive and defensive line. The Falcons could draft for either of those needs as soon as the first round if an impact player falls to their pick. Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff gave up a ton to land Julio Jones two years ago and that deal has paid off for team. Dimitroff can be aggressive, so the Falcons will be an interesting franchise to monitor this offseason as it tries to get over the hump and play in the Super Bowl.

New England Patriots:
New England came close to getting Tom Brady his sixth Super Bowl appearance, but once again fell short. Brady is aging, and his athletic decline is inevitable, thus the Patriots have to make this offseason about making his job easier. That way, they can still try and get another championship while Brady is still playing at a high level.

New England can help Brady by improving his offensive line and wide receivers. Both units are led by veterans and could use some young talent. Taking a guard/center or wide receiver in the first round is very possible. North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper or Alabama center Barrett Jones would both fit the team well. Taking one of them in the first round should help to protect Brady and open running lanes for New England’s stable of backs.

The Patriots have a lot of veteran receivers but could use some play-making youth. Wes Welker is entering free agency, and if he leaves, there will be a big void in the offense. There is a strong group of talented and productive receivers for the second-day of the 2013 NFL Draft. New England could potentially land a receiver like Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, Arkansas’ Cobi Hamilton, USC’s Robert Woods or Tennessee Tech’s Da’Rick Rogers. After dealing with injuries to the tight ends, a young receiver would make a lot of sense to help fortify the Patriots’ depth of weapons for Brady.

New England has some big decisions to make on the defensive side of the ball regarding safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Aqib Talib. Both are entering free agency. Talib is a head case who is one slip up away from a year-long suspension. However, New England’s defense needs a corner of his ability. Chung has played for the Patriots and they should re-sign him. If either leaves New England, the team may have to use an early-round pick on a defensive back.

New England has some young talent on its defense with its linebackers and edge-rushers, but the Patriots have to move quickly to take advantage of Brady’s championship window.

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