FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons filled a huge need when they selected former Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews in the first round of the 2014 draft Thursday. The front office also watched 31 other first-round picks roll off the board, and paid close attention to what was happening within the NFC South.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers grabbed Matthews’ former teammate Mike Evans at No. 7. The New Orleans Saints moved up seven slots to take Brandin Cooks at 20, while the Carolina Panthers stayed at No. 28 and took Kelvin Benjamin. All three divisional foes got better on offense by taking wide receivers with considerable upside.
That means defenses around the division had better pay attention. Even more than noticing the changing landscape, will the Falcons actually change their draft plan for their next nine picks after seeing all those new offensive weapons in the NFC South?
“I think we were very mindful of our division,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said late Thursday night in regard to what the rest of the division did, and how it could shape Atlanta’s late-round strategy. “How we put our team together is very important. Obviously, if you can’t get out of your division, we all know what that means. So yes, it definitely affects our approach and how we’re going to continue to build the team.”
What does that mean exactly?
Dimitroff wasn’t in the mood to share his draft board, and it’s pretty obvious that Atlanta’s next move is to grab a pass-rusher. But after that, how might the Falcons react to Tampa Bay, New Orleans and Carolina all adding huge, pass-catching weapons?
The pass-rusher will help immediately. Any time you can get after the quarterback and reduce his time to throw, good things can happen for the defense. What else could the Falcons do to help on Day 2 of the draft?
Dimitroff joined WZGC 92.9 the Game in Atlanta Friday morning and said defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was vocal Thursday night in Atlanta’s draft room about the need for defensive additions after those wide receivers went to divisional opponents. Dimitroff said the defense—both the line and secondary—was addressed in free agency, and will continue to be addressed in the draft.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated posted a tweet where he speculated most of Atlanta’s Day 2 priorities would lie on defense.
RT @gumby61184: 5: Pass rusher next target for Falcons? ... Atl Day 2 priorities: 1 Pass-rusher, 2 physical S, 3 CB, 4 TE.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) May 9, 2014
The Falcons spent their first two picks of the 2013 draft on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. In hindsight, that was a fantastic move, and will help to slow down these new receivers. Another cornerback could be added to help on nickel assignments.
If the Falcons could enhance their pass rush and bolster their secondary on Day 2, Atlanta’s defense would be greatly improved, and it would work to counter what the Buccaneers, Saints and Panthers did in the first round.