TMAPA, FL - JANUARY 02: Cornerback Brandon Boykin #2 of the Georgia Bulldogs returns a kick against the Michigan State Spartans in the Outback Bowl January 2, 2012 at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The Falcons come into this year's draft without a first-round pick, but also lack any glaring weaknesses. Keeping that in mind, this should be the year the team starts preparing for when starters like Tony Gonzalez retire or leave in free agency.
While the Falcons have mostly only kept their own players around this offseason, the draft will be the team's real chance to bring in some fresh talent. It will also give us some insight into what both new coordinators really plan to do with their respective units.
Most of all, this is simply a chance for the Falcons to improve. Atlanta has drafted very well under Thomas Dimitroff, with eight of the team's current starters coming from one of his classes, and they should continue to do so this year despite not having a first-round pick (which was sent to Cleveland as part of the Julio Jones deal).
So I mean it when I say there is a good bit of pressure riding on this second-round pick, and while most probably have a rough idea of who it could be, part of the fun is projecting who you want to see taken. Without further ado...
Round 2 (Pick No. 55) -- CB Brandon Boykin, Georgia
Sure, there's a need at offensive tackle. But my reason for not taking a left tackle in the second is twofold: 1) in recent years we've seen left tackles fly off the board really quickly, and 2) it would be much better to wait until the Falcons have a first round pick next year.
Let's face it: ever since Mike Smith's vote of confidence in Sam Baker, it seems pretty likely that he'll get one last shot at the starting gig, with Svitek as the safety net. The likelihood that the Falcons don't work out a long-term deal with Brent Grimes also seems pretty likely. Why not prepare for the future now?
The main reason for taking Boykin is his potential to be the complete package. He's a great tackler, skilled at playing the run and can hold his own in coverage. He could also fit right in as a game-changer on special teams, with his ability to return punts and kicks as well as play on the coverage team.
And it's also likely Boykin will be there in the second round. His size (5'10, 182) and not overly-impressive measurables are what might turn teams away, but it's Boykin's grit and versatility that I think will get Dimitroff to bite. Let's also not forget that Grimes (5'9) is pretty dang good for a "short" cornerback.
Round 3 (Pick No. 84) -- TE Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette
Tony Gonzalez has already announced that 2012 will be his last season in the NFL. Right now, the only other tight end on the roster with NFL experience is Michael Palmer, who hasn't shown us he's anything phenomenal yet. So, what better way to groom your tight end of the future than have him learn from a Hall of Famer?
Green works because his pass-catching skills and speed are undeniable. He's the ideal deep threat tight end that creates those big time mismatches with safeties and linebackers over the middle, and could easily take over as the starter in 2013.
The only legitimate knock against Green is size and blocking. He's a little light at 6'6 and 238 pounds, but if given a year to bulk up his blocking would surely improve. All in all, he'd give the Falcons a weapon comparable to what the Saints have in Jimmy Graham, the sort of guy who can bust a game wide open.
Round 5 (Pick No. 157) -- OT Andrew Datko, Florida State
Okay, I finally give in to the cries for a left tackle. While his talent is undeniable, Datko will fall because of his shoulder injury concerns (he's undergone multiple surgeries, and his play in 2011 suffered because of it).
But if healthy, Datko has the potentially to be a quality starting left tackle. He won't completely overpower defenders, but he is agile and shifty enough that I think he fits the "Todd McClure" mold of an offensive lineman quite well. Perhaps by 2013, Datko is healthy and ready to take over as Ryan's blindside protector.
Round 6 (Pick No. 192) -- DT Brett Roy, Nevada
Imagine a guy who's played almost every position on defense and what you have is Brett Roy. He started off his college career as a safety, then moved to linebacker, defensive end, and ultimately shining at defensive tackle.
It's this versatility to fill in at multiple positions (and probably on special teams) that makes him worth the draft pick. Personally, I could see him slotting in as a quality backup linebacker, taking over Mike Peterson's old role. But regardless of where he ends up, he'd easily find a place to contribute on the Falcons.
Round 7 (Pick No. 229) -- WR Marquis Maze, Alabama
Even though he hails from the same Bama that produced Julio Jones, Maze is a completely different type of receiver. At 5'8, 186 lbs, he's a quick, shifty receiver that also has experience returning on special teams.
The pick makes sense because the Falcons have just lost their "versatile wideout" (Eric Weems) to free agency, and bringing in Maze to compete with the likes of Kerry Meier and Kevin Cone for a roster spot doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.
Round 7 (Pick No. 249) -- FS Damien Jackson, Ole Miss
The Falcons didn't lose too many good players not named Curtis Lofton, but James Sanders was definitely an important contributor last year, and his departure leaves a hole on the roster at backup safety.
Jackson could easily fill this role, and makes sense because he's the raw athlete type that has a decent amount of upside. Like Green, Jackson could probably stand to bulk up. But if he does, at the very least the Falcons have a nice backup option should DeCoud not satisfy.