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Atlanta Falcons' draft needs: Khalil Mack could upgrade D-line

Roster weaknesses: Every team has them, and the draft is often the best way to address them. With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah will be taking an up-close look at the main areas of weakness -- and the prospects who could fix them -- for all 32 squads in the league. Be sure to catch "Path to the Draft" on NFL Network at 7 p.m. ET Monday through Friday for more in-depth analysis.

The Atlanta Falcons' 4-12 record in 2013 was the franchise's worst mark in seven seasons. Much of the team's struggles last year stemmed from issues up front on both sides of the ball. The Falcons aggressively tried to address their defensive line woes through free agency, signing tackle Paul Soliai and end Tyson Jackson to five-year contracts. Still, I expect Atlanta to consider using the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft to add a premier pass rusher.

But as poorly as the defensive line played last year (31st in rushing yards allowed and tied for 29th in sacks), the Falcons have plenty of room to improve along the offensive line. Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times last season, tying Russell Wilson for third most in the NFL.

With the depth in this year's draft class, general manager Thomas Dimitroff has a great opportunity to provide coach Mike Smith with some talent upgrades throughout the roster.

Here are four positions of need for Atlanta -- and some prospects who could fill them.

1) Edge rusher


The Falcons moved on from John Abraham last season, and his absence resulted in a noticeable drop-off in production. Adding Soliai and Jackson will help, but the team still lacks a dominant edge rusher.



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If Khalil Mack were to somehow fall to the Falcons at No. 6 overall, they should race their draft card to the podium. The former Buffalo linebacker has the combination of power, speed and agility to develop into a double-digit sack artist at the next level. But if they have to wait until the second round to address this need, they might look for Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence. The former Bronco lacks explosive burst off the edge, but he uses his hands well to engage and get past blockers.

2) Offensive tackle


There are three tackles in this year's class who stand above the rest -- Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan -- and at least one of them should still be on the board when the Falcons are on the clock. They've made it public they want to be a more physical football team, and I think Robinson would help contribute to that goal. If he's gone, though, both Matthews and Lewan would provide an enormous upgrade over the team's current starting tackles. Matthews is a little more consistent on tape, but Lewan's athleticism and nastier style of play afford him more upside.

3) Safety


Atlanta released starter Thomas DeCoud earlier this offseason, and I think they'll look for his replacement in the draft. There's not a safety worth taking with the sixth overall selection, but the Falcons could trade down and take Ha Ha Clinton-Dix a bit later in the first round. The Alabama star would be a perfect complement to William Moore.

If the Falcons are looking for a second-round option, both Deone Bucannon (Washington State) and Jimmie Ward (Northern Illinois) would be attractive candidates. Bucannon provides more size and physicality than Ward, while the former Husky is a little more athletic and has the ability to cover slot receivers.

4) Tight end


With Tony Gonzalez not on the roster -- at least for now -- the Falcons will look to second-year pro Levine Toilolo to step up. But I expect Atlanta to add some competition at the position through the draft. I could see Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz being on the team's radar in the third round. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has a nice mix of size, toughness and ball skills. He's not a dynamic athlete, though he is one of the better all-around tight ends in this year's group.

Projections


So what will the Falcons do with their first-round pick (No. 6 overall)? Here's what NFL Media's analysts see happening, according to their mock draft projections (click here for full mock drafts):

Daniel Jeremiah: Jake Matthews
Bucky Brooks: Greg Robinson

Charles Davis: Taylor Lewan

Matt Smith: Jake Matthews

Chase Goodbread: Anthony Barr

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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