ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. went exactly in the direction I expect the Atlanta Falcons to go in the first round of this year's NFL draft: offensive tackle.
Kiper has the Falcons taking Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick in his latest mock draft. He has Matthews as the second offensive tackle to be drafted, following Auburn's Greg Robinson at No. 2 to the Rams.
The Falcons are destined to take a close look at Matthews, Robinson and Michigan's Taylor Lewan as they try to fix the line going into the 2014 season. A lot of folks would say a pass-rusher is a more pressing need after the Falcons decided to add nose tackle Paul Soliai and run-stuffing defensive end Tyson Jackson via free agency. True, adding a pass-rusher is a great need, but maybe the Falcons can gamble on getting one in the second round. The trading-down scenario always is in play, too.
Among the top three tackles, Robinson would be the best fit for the Falcons in terms of bringing that gritty nature the Falcons need up front. But Matthews could be the most NFL-ready of the three.
While Matthews could be a safe pick, he might underwhelm. One scout I talked to said Matthews was "a little overrated" and would lean toward Lewan between the two. Kiper even mentioned on a conference call Thursday how Matthews sometimes gets in trouble facing quick defenders. At the same time, Kiper praised Matthews, Robinson and Lewan as a trio.
"Right now, I would have Robinson as having the most upside," Kiper said. "He's a tremendously gifted player. He's got some work to do in pass protection. Obviously, he came out of a run-oriented attack. But he's an incredibly gifted football player. That's why he's going to go in the top 2-6.
"I think you look at Jake Matthews, the bloodlines [Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews' son], the fact that he plays right tackle so effectively. He played left tackle very well. Now, he had some trouble with the quick guys, the explosive guys in a couple games when you watch him. But he's a guy who's going to be solid, consistent, and reliable. ... Taylor Lewan had a really good year. I think people were critical of Lewan based on the line play at Michigan. But if they watched the games -- which some people were making comments about Lewan that were inaccurate -- he played well. ... I think he's deserving of being in the top seven. Probably won't go that high just because we get into needs again."
The bottom line is, the Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan. Matthews might not be my first choice, but he certainly would be a tremendous upgrade.