2011 NFL Draft Prospects: Gabe Carimi, Tyron Smith, Anthony Castonzo Potential Falcons Tackle Picks

Atlanta Falcons fans are starting to lean towards defensive end and offensive tackle as the team’s primary needs in the 2011 NFL Draft. Current Falcons at those position groups have played well this season, but top DE John Abraham isn’t getting any younger (despite his 2010 Pro Bowl resurgence) and RT Tyson Clabo is up for a new contract along with RG Harvey Dahl.

Ideally the Birds could keep both Dahl and Pro Bowl alternate Clabo, but Thomas Dimitroff’s New England Patriots background — not to mention the house-cleaning he subjected the roster to upon arriving in 2008 — means we shouldn’t be surprised to see the team cut ties and go young.

The Falcons drafted guard Mike Johnson in the third round last year, and Joe Hawley can play either center or guard if need be. Neither has gotten a lot of live playing time, but let’s say the interior starters are covered for now no matter what happens in free agency.

If the team goes young at tackle, it could wind up with the draft’s No. 1 player at the position. It’s a weak tackle crop, with most of the talent likely to start going at the bottom of the first round.

Mocking The Draft projects Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod to go No. 23 to the Indianapolis Colts, which would be out of Atlanta’s range. Later in the first, MTD has Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo going No. 27, right in the Falcons’ neighborhood. MTD’s Brian Galliford lists USC’s Tyron Smith and Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi as other possibilities.

Smith is being projected as a left tackle, despite never having played the position. He could be worth a long look as a right tackle option for the Birds — he’s raw, but an amazing athlete for a lineman.

Though his Big Ten speed means he’ll need help against finesse rushers, six-foot-seven, 327-pound Carimi is the most intriguing to me. Atlanta’s a power team, perhaps the NFC’s most Big Ten offense, and Carimi is an overwhelming run blocker. The best in the draft according to Galliford, in fact.

And he’s an Academic All-Big Ten. Arthur Blank and Dimitroff have no problem with “reaching” for character guys, like they did last year by picking Kentucky’s Corey Peters earlier than measurement bros would’ve liked. (Drafting Peters absolutely made the team better.)

And he’s the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, consensus All-American, and so on. The big question is whether he could adapt to deal with edge rushers, though the NFC South isn’t exactly the league’s deepest division in that area.

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