Bill Shanks

Shanks: Falcons need to make strong pick in draft

Falcons need to make strong pick

Sports fans in the state of Georgia are simply used to things happening.

They’ve seen Mark Wohlers hang a slider to Jim Leyritz. They’ve seen the Hawks blow it more than once, which is why most are scared to death about Game 5 on Wednesday night in Atlanta.

They’ve watched two NHL teams take off for Canada. And they’ve seen the Falcons take players like Aundray Bruce and Bruce Pickens in the NFL draft.

Ah, the NFL draft. It’s the annual selection party where the Falcons usually find a way to mess up. If you search the Falcons draft history online, it’s rather depressing. There are some good picks, but more head-scratchers than anything.

Thursday the Falcons once again have a very important pick, the eighth overall in the first round. For a team with two straight bad seasons, and now a new head coach, this is very important.

The main priority is simple: a pass rusher. They need a punisher, someone to put pressure on the quarterback and be a game changer. How long has it been since the Falcons had a true game-changing player on defense?

Maybe it was John Abraham, who for seven seasons was a solid player for Atlanta. Keith Brooking was a five-time Pro Bowler in his 11 seasons with the Falcons. But you might have to go back to Deion Sanders some 25 years ago to find a real difference-maker on defense.

There have been some good players on defense through the years, but the Falcons desperately need someone to be great.

Rumors persist the Falcons may trade up from the eighth pick to select either USC’s Leonard Williams or Florida’s Dante Fowler, considered to be the two best defensive players in the draft. The gap between those two and the next two solid prospects -- Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree (of Wilkinson County) -- seems wide.

If they can’t get Williams or Fowler, the Falcons need to either move back and pick Dupree lower in the first round or stay at eight and select Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. Yes, they still need help on the offensive line, and taking a big ugly for the second straight season would not be a bad thing to do for a team that has had a long-standing need at the position.

Of course, a dilemma will be if the top defensive players on their board are gone and the Falcons get tempted by a certain running back that played just 60 miles to the east of Flowery Branch the past three years. Todd Gurley will be one of the hot topics of the draft, and the Falcons could well be his next team.

Atlanta needs a running back. Devonta Freeman proved nothing last year, and in his defense, the former coaching staff did not give him enough carries late last season. Gurley would look very good in an Atlanta uniform, and let’s be honest, it wouldn’t hurt team owner Arthur Blank’s search for new season-ticket holders in the new stadium, either.

Sure, running backs are being devalued around the league, but Gurley is a special talent. No one should cry if he is Atlanta’s pick.

The Falcons just have so many needs, and that’s what is scary. It almost makes it easier for them to mess this up. But new head coach Dan Quinn must get this pick right, or it’s going to be another example of something Atlanta fans have become uncomfortably used to through the years.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at Follow Bill at and email him at