When an NFL team posts consecutive seasons of 4-12 and 6-10, the list of needs is long. Such is the case with the Atlanta Falcons. Among their most pressing needs are:
Two starting offensive linemen, maybe three
A pass-rushing defensive end
A run-stopping defensive lineman, or three.
Oh, and help at safety and tight end would be nice.
The Falcons hold the eighth pick in draft, which will be held next week.
Take a pass-rusher like Vic Beasley of Clemson or Randy Gregory of Nebraska? Grab another offensive lineman as they did last year with Jake Matthews? Trade down for more value?
Here's an option that hasn't been discussed among the draft analysts:
Georgia's Todd Gurley.
None of the Mel Kipers and Todd McShays have even hinted that the Falcons would draft an offensive player, let alone a running back, with their first pick. But, to give proper credit, it's not an original idea. It was suggested three weeks ago by Orlando Ledbetter, who covers the Falcons for Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It makes sense. As noted, the Falcons have the eighth pick. They need a pass-rusher. But so do four of the teams drafting ahead of them. There's a handful of pass-rushers expected to go in the first 15 slots. Any of them could become an impact player.
But none of them comes without risk. Not even Southern Cal's Leonard Williams, who suffered a torn labrum in college. There's no such thing as a safe pick.
Yes, the Falcons need help on both lines. They also need linebackers. But they're not going to satisfy all their needs with one pick.
Teams have become reluctant to draft running backs in the first round. They take such a beating, their careers are cut short.
But a dominant running back can change a game. With Marshawn Lynch, the Seattle Seahawks have won a Super Bowl and came within one play of winning another.
Dan Quinn, the new head coach hired from the Seahawks, want to build the Falcons in Seattle's image -- great defense, ball-control running game.
Gurley will be a dominant running back in the NFL. Many scouts believe that Gurley is not just the best running back in the draft but the best player overall. If not for the torn ACL he sustained against Auburn, Gurley almost certainly would be a top 10 pick, maybe top five.
The rehab prevented Gurley from working out of for scouts. That shouldn't matter. Of all positions, running back is the easiest to scout on film. It doesn't matter what system a guy plays in. It doesn't even matter that much who the competition is. Either he can use his feet and eyes to find a hole or he can't. He fights for yardage and breaks tackles or he doesn't. He has the speed to get past linebackers or he doesn't.
Yeah, there have been some prominent busts lately. Trent Richard
son looked like a can't-miss back coming out of Alabama. He flopped in Cleveland and in Indianapolis. But Richardson doesn't have Gurley's speed. His success at Alabama could be attributed in part to running behind one of the best offensive lines in college football. He had one great season at Alabama, his junior year in 2011 when he rushed for 1,679 yards.
When healthy, Gurley stood out as the best player on the field whenever he was on the field. A thigh injury and sprained ankle limited him his sophomore season. The infamous four-game suspension for getting paid for signing autographs derailed what could have been a run at the Heisman. He was just as dominating his first game back from the suspension against Auburn before the ACL injury in the fourth quarter.
All indications are that the knee is healing nicely. Yeah, it's going to limit him in preseason when rookies need game reps to get used to the speed of the NFL. But that could actually work in his favor. It will take some of the pressure off him to make an instant impact.
The Falcons have given no hint that they will do anything other than take a pass rusher with their first pick. But that means nothing. Why would they advertise their intentions?
If Gurley is available, they should take him. They have seven other picks plus trades and free agency to address their other needs.
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org