Who will stop the tight ends?

sports@macon.comApril 27, 2013 

Defense was the theme for the Atlanta Falcons in the three-day NFL draft. They took six defensive players with their eight selections.

But unfortunately, they might still have a burning question to address before the start of the 2013 season: Who is going to stop the tight ends?

Remember the playoffs? First it was Seattle’s Zach Miller, who abused the Falcons’ defense with eight catches for 142 yards. Atlanta was able to win with a last-second field goal, but Miller’s play created a nightmare for the Falcons, who almost squandered a 20-0 lead.

Then the next week against San Francisco, it was a 17-0 Atlanta lead that was wasted, mainly because of a wide open tight end who could not be stopped. Vernon Davis had five catches for 106 yards, and it was a replay of what Miller had done the week before as both ran all day long down the middle of the field against the Falcons’ defense.

So that had to be one of the priorities this week, right? The linebackers needed help. Stephen Nicholas struggled late in the season, and Akeem Dent is still a question mark as Curtis Lofton’s replacement. Sean Weatherspoon is a special player, but that unit is not a big strength.

The Falcons have only five players on the depth chart at linebacker. With the three starters, there’s Robert James, a sixth-year player who is strictly a reserve, and Brian Banks, the young man who spent time in prison for a crime he did not commit. He’s a good story, but we’re not certain yet how he can contribute to this Atlanta team.

And that’s it. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff did not add a single linebacker in the draft.

Credit Dimitroff for filling the biggest hole, as he traded up to pick Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant in the first round. Trufant looks like a great prospect, and he’ll have to step in immediately and start since Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes are gone.

But why did Dimitroff come back in the second round and pick another cornerback? He selected Robert Alford, from SE Louisiana. Alford looks like a very solid prospect, as well, and he might be Asante Samuel’s eventual replacement at the other cornerback spot.

Did that have to be addressed now, in this draft? Are the Falcons more worried about Samuel than we know? Wouldn’t a linebacker have been a better pick in the second round?

And isn’t it ironic that Alec Ogletree, the linebacker from Georgia, was taken with Atlanta’s original spot at 30 by the Rams. The Falcons desperately needed a cornerback, but a player like Ogletree seemed to be someone they needed, as well.

An argument could even be made that the Falcons needed another offensive lineman, instead of another cornerback, in that spot. They are going to have a revamped line, with Todd McClure retired and Tyson Clabo released. Peter Konz is stepping in at center, but there are questions about Lamar Holmes, a third-round pick last year who played in only one game last season.

Dimitroff did help the pass rush with two solid picks in the fourth and fifth rounds. Malliciah Goodman from Clemson was first, followed by TCU’s Stansly Maponga. Goodman will join Jonathan Massaquoi (last year’s fifth-round pick) and Cliff Matthews (the seventh-round pick two years ago) to try and help starters Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann.

Maponga might slip back and play linebacker, as he’s only 6-2 and 256 pounds. But that’s a huge question mark.

Might the Falcons be tempted to bring in veteran Brian Urlacher? He’ll be 35 years old this season, but after his messy divorce from the Chicago Bears, Urlacher might want to prove he still has some gas left in the tank. And he’s a player, like Tony Gonzalez, who is hungry for a Super Bowl.

This was a decent draft for the Falcons, but the selection of a second cornerback is a red flag. They have to find someone to catch out-of-control tight ends, especially with Seattle and San Francisco probably being two of the teams that could once again be in Atlanta’s way for a trip to the Super Bowl.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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