There is a growing belief that the Falcons, scheduled to draft eighth overall, may attempt to trade up a few spots in tonight's first round for a chance to take former Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler or, should he unexpectedly fall that far, USC defensive end Leonard Williams.
So let me weigh in on that issue and others:
1. POSITION NEED: Could the Falcons use Fowler, Williams, Clemson OLB Vic Beasley or any other potential impact player in the front seven? Duh. As I wrote in this column on MyAJC.com , the team has drafted 13 defensive linemen and linebackers in the first five rounds since general manager Thomas Dimitroff arrived in 2008 and only two amounted to anything, relative to their draft position: middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and linebacker/end Kroy Biermann. Click the link for more but here's the first quote from new Falcons Dan Quinn, a long-time defensive assistant: "When I see quarterbacks are able to throw it on time and they feel comfortable, it makes my skin crawl."
2. LIKELIHOOD OF DEAL: I hate speculating on these things because there is more bad information -- much of it intentional -- before an NFL draft than any other sports event. But if the Falcons are serious about moving up, they better be right about the guy they're taking because they can't afford another whiff early in the draft, particularly in an area of such great need.
3. THE IRVIN FACTOR: The Falcons would have obvious interest in Seattle defensive end Bruce Irvin, who played for Quinn with the Seahawks and has only one year left on his contract. As Darryl Ledbetter wrote here, the Falcons and Seahawks reportedly have had trade talks. However, the potential of Irvin's acquisition, while significant, shouldn't affect the Falcons' draft strategy. One veteran player won't fix the defense.
4. MY PREFERENCE: The Falcons have multiple needs: end, linebacker, free safety, tight end, running back. For that reason, I'm not a big fan of giving away extra assets for one player, unless that one player has the potential to have a huge impact. (Conversely, I had no problem with the Julio Jones trade a few years ago because Jones has been as good as advertised, the Falcons' desperately needed a game-changer at receiver and he's the best player on the team.) If the Falcons can't get an impact defender drafting eighth, I would be more in favor of them trading down, accumulating more draft picks and re-stocking the roster.
5. THE GURLEY QUESTION: I'm rarely stunned in sports any more. But it would stun me if the Falcons drafted Gurley in the first round. They need a running back and he's a great one but fixing the defense has to be priority one. As talented as Gurley is, I'm also a little concerned about his injury history at Georgia.
6. WHO'S IN CHARGE?: I addressed this a little in the column. Assistant general manager Scott Pioli's primary duties are overseeing the scouting department (college and pro) and preparing for the draft. But he answers to general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who ultimately will take the name off the board on draft night (and days). Quinn, however, has a significant voice -- maybe even a bigger voice than Dimitroff. He had other head coaching opportunities and I don't believe he would've taken the Falcons' job without some assurances that he would be able to help pick the players. He already has final say over the 53-man roster. So when you see players come off the board, think Quinn.
7. FALCONS FILTER: If I'm the Falcons, I steer clear of Randy Gregory and Shane Ray, less because of the issue of their marijuana use (although that shouldn't be completely dismissed) as much as their sheer stupidity for getting caught in the days leading up to the draft or the scouting combine. If a player is that dumb, how can an NFL team trust them with an enormous paycheck and a job? But make no mistake: The overall "Falcons Filter" will allow some players through, which hasn't been the case since Michael Vick's exit. For more on that, click here.