Say this for the Atlanta Falcons: When it comes to the NFL draft — the first round especially — they are anything but predictable.
Even when they do something right, they can still leave you wondering if they got it wrong.
In 2013, needing cornerbacks, the Falcons spent their first two picks on the position, taking Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Trufant is still starting but is just above league average. It’s noteworthy that Trufant was sidelined for the postseason when the Falcons made their Super Bowl run three years ago. As for Alford, he was finally cut after six frustrating seasons of uneven and undisciplined play.
This year, among the many needs was rebuilding the offensive line. Yeah, they need help on defense. But let’s face it. There was no one single player they could have drafted at any position that would shore up all of their deficiencies.
They had to start somewhere and the offensive line has been wretched. They allowed 42 sacks and finished 27th out of 32 teams in rushing. Six different guys started at the two offensive guard positions. Right tackle Ryan Schraeder wasn’t any better and was finally released.
This is a franchise that has regressed from leading the Super Bowl 28-3, to blowing said lead, to blowing the NFC Championship Game to Philadelphia to finishing with a losing season. That doesn’t happen simply because two of their best defensive players, Deion Jones and Keanu Neal, were injured.
That happened because the pass rush, the running game and the pass protection — all of which were strengths on that Super Bowl team — became glaring liabilities. The quick fix on the pass rush is to get Vic Beasley playing back to a Pro Bowl level.
The Falcons entered this offseason needing immediate help at, in no particular order: right guard, left guard, right tackle, running back, defensive end, outside linebacker and cornerback. (Yeah, both of them. Yeah, still).
So regardless of which position they addressed first in the draft, they were going to be left with many needs.
And they haven’t completely ignored the defense this offseason. They added three veteran free agents two weeks before the draft — defensive linemen Chris Odom and Tyeler Davison, and safety J.J. Wilcox.
So focusing on the offensive line was the right decision. Question is, did they pick the right players?
Selecting offensive guard Chris Lindstrom from Boston College might not have been the sexiest pick the Falcons could have made, especially given that they’d already signed three free agents at the position — Adam James Carpenter, Jamon Brown and Adam Gettis. But Brown and Gettis are career backups, and Carpenter is 30 years old.
Maybe a reach, but overall a safe pick. If Lindstrom is a quick study and is as good as projected, he will help make the running game better, which will help Matt Ryan and the passing game, and will help keep that wretched defense on the sidelines for a few more minutes a game. Pretty much every ratings projection had Lindstrom as the best available guard.
But then came the surprise. They traded up to take an offensive tackle who was not the highest rated player available at that position. That was Florida’s Jawaan Taylor.
Instead, the Falcons took offensive Kaleb McGary of Washington. No complaints here about the position. Again, it’s a need.
But — and there’s always a but with the Falcons — did they really need to give up a third round pick in this draft to select a player who could’ve been there for them anyway in the second round 15 picks later?
My initial reaction Thursday night was that it was a reach. In retrospect, it seems like it may have been a reasonable gamble. Who knows? There could have been a sudden run on offensive tackles. We’ve seen that before. They could have missed out on McGary, Taylor and the handful of other guys with similar draft ratings.
Had they made the same move but drafted Taylor instead of McGary, most analysts would have said it was a brilliant move.
We will just have to trust that they chose wisely by taking McGary over Taylor. They are the expert talent evaluators, not us. (But even the expert evaluators can get it wrong.)
If they guessed right on Lindstrom and McGary, the offensive line may actually be a strength of the team for years to come or at least for the rest of quarterback Matt Ryan’s career, which figures to have at least five more productive seasons.
Now if they can only find another cornerback. Or two.