By Jason Powell, Senior Editor Falcons Offseason Needs We continue our team-by-team look at offseason needs with the Falcons, who still have problems despite the fact that Michael Vick was cleared of any wrongdoing in his awkward water bottle incident at an airport.
Areas of Need: The Falcons seem to believe they have the wide receiver position covered via the two first-round draft picks they used on Michael Jenkins and Roddy White in recent years. They have expressed some interest in re-signing Ashley Lelie at the right price to compete with White for a starting job, but it's not a major area of concern given that Brian Finneran is slated to return after sitting out the entire 2006 season with a torn right ACL. There has been speculation that new head coach Bobby Petrino will seek out a power running back that fits his offense better than Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood.
As impressive as it is that Morten Andersen can still boot 40-yard field goals at age 107, the Falcons will probably be in the market for a kicker who can convert from longer distances. Punter Michael Koenen was a bust when he was given the kicking job early in the season, but he is good on kickoffs and can boot the occasional long distance trey.
It took years for offensive line guru Alex Gibbs to piece together his type of front five in Atlanta. Unfortunately, he won't be back as a consultant this season and neither will the zone blocking schemes the Falcons used under former head coach Jim Mora. The Falcons are undersized upfront, so don't be surprised if they add some beef via free agency or the draft.
Help is on the Way? Due to their many needs, the Falcons will have options with the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. Their primary needs are in the defensive secondary at right cornerback and free safety, and they could have defensive line problems if they fail to re-sign free agents Patrick Kerney and/or Rod Coleman. In our latest mock draft, we predicted that the Falcons will select defensive tackle Amobi Okokye.
Despite our initial projection, Falcons general manager Rich McKay has already expressed interest in re-signing Kerney, so the secondary will probably be their primary area of concern heading into the draft. They would be giddy if LSU safety LaRon Landry is still available when they go on the clock. If not, they could probably trade down a spot or two and still land Florida free safety Reggie Nelson. Either player would be an upgrade over Chris Crocker, who is expected to move back to his natural strong safety position to serve as a backup for starter Lawyer Milloy.
Bobby Petrino could use his picks to reunite with two former Cardinals.
By Jason Powell, Senior Editor
Wants and Needs: A massive overhaul is underway in Atlanta. New head coach Bobby Petrino is installing a new offense that relies on traditional blocking as opposed to the zone-blocking scheme that was favored by the previous regime. The Falcons have several undersized offensive linemen left over from the Jim Mora Era and they would like to use the draft to beef up. They could also be in the market for running back help given that smallish running backs Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood are not great fits in Petrino's offense. On the other side of the ball, the Falcons are still reeling from the loss of defensive end Patrick Kerney to free agency. They also have a developing issue at defensive tackle, as starter Grady Jackson is suing the team over the release of medical information. Jackson has stated that he's open to returning, but team officials are accusing him and his agent of using the lawsuit as leverage for a new contract. Strong safety Lawyer Milloy isn't getting any younger and free safety Chris Crocker was a flop in his first year as a starter for the Falcons.
Potential Selections: The buzz in Hotlanta is that the Falcons are maneuvering to create a space in the secondary for rookie safety LaRon Landry. They intend to feature Crocker as a nickelback, leaving the starting free safety job to Landry. The only problem is that the Cardinals and Vikings, whom pick ahead of the Falcons, are also rumored to have interest in the former LSU Tiger. Keep in mind that Petrino coached defensive tackle Amobi Okoye at Louisville. Okoye and fellow defensive tackle Alan Branch are legitimate candidates if Landry is not available. For that matter, defensive ends Gaines Adams and Jamaal Anderson would be considered as replacements for Kerney, although we expect Adams to be off the board before the Falcons are on the clock. Although we expect the Falcons to focus on defense with the No. 8 overall pick, they could use both of their second-round picks to fill offensive needs. Big Uglies Joe Staley, Ben Grubbs, and Arron Sears might still be available with either the 39th or 44th overall pick. For that matter, running back Michael Bush, another former Louisville Cardinal, will most likely be available if the Falcons choose to grant Petrino's wish for a bigger running back.