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Sun, Feb 7, 2016

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CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Draft team needs: Atlanta Falcons


Second-year player Jacquizz Rodgers might help Atlanta avoid the need to draft a RB in April. (Getty Images)  
Second-year player Jacquizz Rodgers might help Atlanta avoid the need to draft a RB in April. (Getty Images)  

The Atlanta Falcons have won more games the past four seasons than any other NFC team.

They also haven't won a playoff game.

That leads to the questions about how they can get past that huge hurdle. A change of coordinators might be just what this team needs.

Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, who came under a lot of scrutiny in his four seasons with the Falcons, is now the head coach in Jacksonville, while defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left for Auburn, replaced by highly respected Mike Nolan.

Look for the Falcons to be much more aggressive down the field under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. That should be good news for quarterback Matt Ryan.

Since coming into the league in 2008, the same year coach Mike Smith took over in Atlanta, Ryan and Smith have had great success, but the playoff failures, going 0-3, hang over their heads.

This is a team that needs to be better on both lines if it wants to truly be a Super Bowl team.

This draft should be about improving those areas, even if the Falcons don't have a first-round pick because of last year's trade to get Julio Jones.

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QB: The Falcons are set with Ryan, although it's certainly time for him to win a playoff game. Ryan will be given more chances to throw this season on early downs with Koetter as offensive coordinator, which will help his improvement to the next level. Chris Redman is a capable backup, although if he were forced to play for a long period of time the Falcons would be in trouble. John Parker Wilson is the No. 3 guy, a player the Falcons like but hope never plays.

RB: Michael Turner is still capable, but he has had a lot of carries and it's starting to show. Turner isn't explosive, so look for second-year player Jacquizz Rodgers to be more involved in the offense. Turner had 301 carries last season, so that has to be cut down some. Rodgers had only 57. They need to get Rodgers more involved in the passing game. Jason Snelling is a quality backup. Ovie Mughelli and Mike Cox are the fullbacks. They missed Mughelli when he got hurt last season.

WR: This is a team strong point. Roddy White led the Falcons in catches with 100, but his yards-per-catch average was down to 13.5. He also had some trouble with drops. Julio Jones missed three games with injuries, but had 54 catches and averaged 17.4 per catch to show off his big-play ability. Harry Douglas is a nice No. 3 who should be used more in the new offense. There isn't much after those three.

TE: Tony Gonzalez doesn't run like he used to, but he's still an effective player in the middle of the field. He had 80 catches last season, but he averaged just 10.9 yards per catch. He did have seven touchdown catches. Michael Palmer is the backup and he is more of a blocker. They could use some help here.

OL: This was an area that disappointed in 2011 and should see some change. Veteran center Todd McClure is a free agent who remains unsigned. If he isn't back, it would mean Joe Hawley, who started at guard some last season, would move to center, his more natural position. The guard play wasn't as good as expected last season. That's why Vince Manuwai was signed. He should push Garrett Reynolds. The Falcons still hope San Baker can turn his career around after being a first-round pick four years ago. Injuries have really hampered his progress at left tackle. Right tackle Tyson Clabo is a mauler, but his play dropped off some in 2011 after he signed a big contract to stay. Will Svitek is a backup who started some for Baker last season. Mike Johnson is a backup guard. They could use some improvement here.

DL: This was supposed to be a strong point in 2011, but it wasn't. It's hard to find many players who played to expectations. Injuries hurt, but they have to improve here if they are to become a Super Bowl contender. They did re-sign ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, two free agents. Abraham needs to be better in division games after getting just one sack in six games against NFC South teams. Ray Edwards was a disappointment after signing as a free agent last season. He is decent against the run, but doesn't provide much in terms of pass rush from the other end spot. Lawrence Sidbury had four sacks as a reserve. Corey Peters did play well for the Falcons. Jonathan Babineaux had a subpar season and need to be better inside. Peria Jerry has never recovered completely from knee troubles.

LB: The Falcons could have a new look in 2012. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton remains a free agent but still could be brought back. If not, look for Akeem Dent, who led the team in special-teams tackles last season, to get first crack at the middle linebacker spot. Veteran Lofa Tatupu is also in the mix if Lofton doesn't return. Sean Weatherspoon is the team's best linebacker. He is an explosive athlete who came into his own in his second season in 2012. He is on the verge of being a Pro Bowl player. Stephen Nicholas is solid at the other outside spot. Depth is needed.

DB:The Falcons put the franchise tag on corner Brent Grimes, which means he's back. That was key. He is their best secondary player. Dunta Robinson on the other corner has been a disappointment since coming over as a top-dollar free agent in 2010. He has to play better. The nickel corner is up for grabs. The Falcons re-signed Thomas DeCoud to continue to start on the back end. In DeCoud and William Moore, the Falcons have a nice safety tandem. They need to improve the depth at both corner and safety.

Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.

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