To say the 2013 football season was a disappointment for the Atlanta Falcons would be the equivalent of saying 'Bernie Madoff may have mismanaged a few dollars'. A team that was predicted by many analysts to contend for a Super Bowl title, finished the season with a measly 4 wins. In 2012, the team tabbed its fourth win – you guessed it – in Week 4 against the Carolina Panthers!
So what went wrong? Here are just a few of the issues which led to the poor season:
- In 2012, the team went 7-2 in games decided by 7 points or less. In 2013, they were 3-7.
- In the 5 weeks before the bye, the not-so-dirty birds went 1-4 (all decided by less than a touchdown), culminating with the season ending injury to star receiver Julio Jones.
- An injured (and 32 year old) Roddy White had his worst statistical season since catching balls for Michael Vick in 2006.
- A huge new contract for franchise quarterback Matt Ryan forced the team to tighten the wallet, electing not to resign veteran offensive lineman Todd McClure. Preemptive to the signing, the team had already released defensive end John Abraham, cornerback Dunta Robinson, and running back Michael Turner.
- Shaky offensive line play left Matty Ice less time to throw than in recent years. The 2013 Falcons gave up 2.75 sacks per game as opposed to the 1.75 per game they yielded in 2012.
- The team managed just 2 sacks per game on opposing QBs; good enough for 30th in the league.
In assessing the team’s most pressing needs, there seems to be a constant – difference makers on the offensive and defensive lines. The team has already begun to address this need, hiring accomplished offensive line coach Mike Tice, and bringing in former Kansas City Chiefs GM Scott Pioli to serve as assistant general manager. Both men will work to improve a rushing attack which averaged just 77.9 yards per game, last in the NFL.
It is likely the Falcons will look closely at both Greg Robinson, offensive tackle from Auburn, and Jake Mathews, offensive tackle from Texas A&M, with the sixth pick in this April’s NFL draft. Both are projected to be immediate starters in the NFL and the team may feel great about the addition of either man to be available when they are on the clock.
Another obvious need is an upgrade at the linebacker position. Undrafted and undersized Paul Worrilow ended the season at linebacker after an injury sidelined Sean Witherspoon. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA projects to be the best prospect but if he is unavailable, the team could consider C.J. Mosley (ILB) out of Alabama or Khalil Mack (OLB) from Buffalo.
A dream scenario for many Falcon fans would be for 3-4 of the teams ahead of them to fall in love with one of the QBs out there, leaving athletic freak Jadaveon Clowney to free fall into their lap at #6. While it’s certainly not impossible, what are the chances FIVE NFL GM’s risk their jobs to draft a prospect QB over perhaps the best overall DE to come along in years? A more likely scenario would be the Falcons trading up to the 2nd overall pick to land the Gamecock defensive end.
A sleeper draft prospect to keep an eye on is Eric Ebron out of North Carolina. Tony Gonzalez has made no bones about the fact that he is officially retired for good this time and the team’s current corps of tight ends does not include anyone who projects to catch more than 40 passes per year. Ebron, who many are calling the “best tight end prospect since Vernon Davis” finished his career at UNC as the best tight end to ever suit up for the Tar Heels.
Finally, the 4-win Falcons may look to improve overall depth by turning their #6 pick into multiple picks. The most likely way this occurs would be if the five teams ahead of them are not intrigued by the available QB options, resulting in Clowney, Mathews, and Robinson all being off the board when they select.