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Mark Bradley

Falcons draft: O-line or D-line (or LB) first?

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The Falcons will play this one close to the vest. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Falcons will play this one close to the vest. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

The Atlanta Falcons’ coaches are in Mobile prepping amateurs for the Senior Bowl, a weeklong exercise that can’t hurt if you’re a franchise facing a rather important draft. The Falcons, as we know, need a lot of help, and mostly they need help at the basic football stuff. Blocking, for one. Tackling, for another.

Almost any lineman chosen in Round 1 — the Falcons hold the sixth overall pick — would be seen as an immediate starter here. I’ve long been intrigued by Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina, but he’ll probably be gone by the time the Falcons select. (Unless they trade up to take him, which would surprise me.)

There are two very good left tackles in this draft — Jake Matthews of Texas A&M and Greg Robinson of Auburn — and one will surely be available at No. 6. (Most of the teams drafting ahead of the Falcons are in need of a quarterback, which is one position that’s covered here.) That would probably be the way to go, given that Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons’ O-line as the NFL’s second-worst in 2013.

Still, the offense wasn’t the Falcons’ worst unit last season. It was, believe it or not, the best. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) ratings, the Falcons were 14th in offense, 18th on special teams and 29th on defenseWhich leads us to ask: Would they be better served drafting a defender in Round 1?

The consensus choice as second-best defender in this draft is UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, and Mel Kiper of ESPN has the Falcons taking Barr in his first mock draft. But a linebacker isn’t quite a lineman — close, though — and pretty much everyone around here agrees that both lines are in dire need of upgrade.

Granted, the draft is only one talent-acquisition mechanism. There’s free agency and there are trades, but NFL trades are tough to work and free agency can get expensive. The easiest and cheapest way to restock a team is by choosing the right college players. But you knew that already.

So I’m asking: If you’re the Falcons, which is the Round 1 way to go — O-line, D-line or LB? I’ll hang up and listen to your answers. Thomas Dimitroff might want to do the same.

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