The Atlanta Falcons earned the top seed in the NFC, but lost in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers.
The thing that showed up big in that loss, and for much of the season, was the Falcons' need for more speed -- especially on offense.
The Falcons need to open up their passing game. With Matt Ryan, they have the quarterback to do so. But they have to get him speed to open things up down the field.
On defense, they have to be faster off the edge with their pass rush. The nickel corner position has to be better as well.
The Falcons are not far from being an elite team. They made big strides last season, and a draft full of speedy players might be just what it takes to get them to the Super Bowl.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff is one of the best in the NFL. His draft track record since taking over has been impressive. Now that the building blocks are in place, he has to fill in the holes on his team.
|Five possibilities: Falcons|
Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue: He can fill a big need. He plays with a relentless style.
Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri: He probably won't be around when they pick, but he would be a nice complement and maybe a successor to Abraham.
Mike Pouncey, G, Florida: They loved his brother last year, and he isn't far behind in terms of talent.
Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: He's a big, fast player who might also be able to put his hand down.
Jerrel Jernigan, WR, Troy: He could help add some of those much-needed explosive plays.
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The Falcons are built for the long haul. Ryan makes it so. Now it's time to improve the speed around him. The Falcons scored 414 points, good for fifth in the league, but they didn't have enough big plays.
"We have to improve on our number of explosive plays," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Speed can do that.
QB: They are set here for the next decade. Ryan is a franchise-type passer entering his fourth season. It's time they give him more of the offense. Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson are solid backups. Wilson is a player the Falcons really like. They won't address this position in the draft.
RB: Michael Turner bounced back from a sub-par 2009 season to have a good 2010. He is a tough runner who can move the chains, but he isn't explosive. They could use a speed back with Jerious Norwood likely gone. Fullbacks Ovie Mughelli and Jason Snelling are a nice combination. Snelling also does a good job of spelling Turner. They need a third-down/speed back.
WR: Roddy White is one of the NFL's best. But they need help around him. White is a good player, but he isn't a burner. That's what the offense lacks. Ryan needs a speed threat. Michael Jenkins runs well, but he doesn't play fast. Harry Douglas has been a disappointment and has had trouble staying on the field. They do like second-year player Kerry Meier, but he isn't fast either. They might address this early in the draft, maybe in the first round.
TE: Tony Gonzalez is still a quality tight end, but he's slowing down. That showed up last season. He doesn't have the speed to threaten vertically anymore. The Falcons need a young, developmental player. Justin Peelle is a decent backup, but he doesn't run either.
OL: They have some potential free agents on this line, so they have to look at taking a linemen early. Center Todd McClure is getting up in the years, so maybe an early pick on a center/guard would make sense. Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock are solid, but both could be free agents. Left tackle Sam Baker hasn't lived up to expectations, but he's decent. Right tackle Tyson Clabo, the team's best lineman, could be a free agent. Young backups Mike Johnson and Garrett Reynolds have potential. Will Svitek could move in at right tackle if Clabo were to leave.
DL: The interior of the defense is good. Starters Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux form a nice 1-2 combo. Peria Jerry, a 2009 first-round pick, has been slowed by injuries, but the coaches still think he has a chance to be a quality player. John Abraham is the top pass rusher at right end, but he's getting up in the years. Kroy Biermann was a big disappointment last season after a good 2009. He needs to play better at left end or he could lose his job. Backups Chauncey Davis and Lawrence Sidbury are just guys at this point. They could address pass rusher early in the draft.
LB: Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton had a bit of an off year in 2010, but the coaches still think he's a good player. He has to re-gain his 2009 form. Sean Weatherspoon flashed when he was on the field as a rookie, but he missed time with injuries. Even so, he has that star look about him. Mike Peterson, the other starter in 2010, is a free agent. He will likely be back because the coaches like what he brings to the defense in terms of leadership and attitude. Stephen Nicholas, who started when Weatherspoon was hurt, is a free agent. The backups don't offer much. They need depth.
DB: The Falcons added Dunta Robinson in free agency last season, giving him a big deal, and Brent Grimes outplayed him on the other side. Robinson took too long to get used to the Falcons' way of doing things, but he has talent and the team feels he will be a better fit in 2011. Christopher Owens struggled as the nickel corner in the playoffs, and the guy to watch is Dominique Franks, a second-year player. The safeties are good with Thomas DeCoud and William Moore, although DeCoud's play slipped a bit last season.
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