Falcons Corners

03

by Dewey

Triangle? Square? Pentagon? Octagon? How many corners will the Falcons defense have? (Wait for laughter to die down and….), but seriously, the Falcons find themselves with an embarrassment of riches at the all important cornerback position heading into the 2017 summer workouts. With the NFL becoming more and more a passing league, and teams becoming more and more reliant on sub-packages, I guess you can never have too many cover men. But how many will the Falcons keep on the final 53 and how many will be among the 46 dressed on Sundays? We currently have a first rounder, 2 second rounders, 1 undrafted rookie and 3 castoffs, all of whom have seen significant playing time, and all who have played pretty well under some pressure filled situations. Now we add to the mix a 5th round rookie who by all rights should battle for significant playing time. Who will be the last few standing come September?

12

DESMOND TRUFANTxxxxxI had been pretty vocal on my displeasure with the Falcons rolling over and presenting Desmond with a big check without even testing the waters to see what type of deals might be available. Desmond is a good corner, but the defense actually played better (or 02put up better numbers at least) after Desmond was lost with an injury mid-2016. But with a new monster contract, Desmond will be a Falcon for quite some time. So let’s pencil him in at our #1 CB and hope he produces what his contract implies.

ROBERT ALFORDxxxxxThe player every Falcon fan loves to hate. Personally, I’ve always liked Alford. I could do with a few less penalties, which he did, in fact, clean-up in the back half of 2016. Alford has been our #2 CB since arriving via the 2013 draft with Desmond, and like Desmond, has a shiny new contract that will make him a Falcon for the foreseeable future. I like the way he takes chances for turnovers, something his06 counterpart doesn’t seem to do as often. I’ve seen where folks would like to see him tried out at FS, but since there have been no rumblings from the branch about this, we’ll go ahead and slide Alford into CB #2 spot.

JALEN COLLINSxxxxxBoy, I really didn’t like this pick in the 2nd round of 2015. Troubled past, not a lot of starting time at LSU, and didn’t put up impressive numbers when he did play. Really slow to pick up even the fundamentals when he got to “big boy school”, it looked as if this was a dud pick. 2016 didn’t start off any better for Jalen, as he was suspended the 1st four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Then coming off suspension, he was inactive for a few games and it looked like we might have to admit our folly in drafting Jalen. Then came the Trufant injury and Collins was forced to play. To everyone’s surprise, amazement and awe, Jalen actually played steady 04(further fueling my desire to at least shop Desmond). Jalen can be a solid #3 CB, but not a nickel. Ultimately, when we go to 3 corners, Jalen plays the outside and Alford would assume slot duties. One has to wonder though, has the Falcons FO had its collective fill of Jalen? Only 1 slip-up with the league so far, but is that, coupled with his past, and the fact that he was so slow to grasp the process, enough to make the Falcons look in another direction? More on that later.

BRIAN POOLExxxxxPoole burst onto the Atlanta scene as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2016. He impressed enough that he was the 3rd CB in the first 4 games while Jalen was serving his suspension, then continued in that role after Jalen returned and subsequently after Trufant was injured. Coach Dan Quinn intimated this past off season that Poole would get some work at safety. Obviously, some people ran with that and said Poole was being moved to safety. I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe Poole will get some work07 there to be familiar with the position in case of injury and to have more roster flexibility with the final 53 and the dressed 46. Right now, I believe Poole has the inside track on the 4th CB slot in dime situations.

DEJI OLATOYExxxxxAs 2016 wore on, the Falcons made a couple of minor roster moves to their practice squad with a couple of free agent CB’s. One, that we will get to in a moment, was more the “headliner” of the signings. The other, Olatoye, was barely even noticed. But down the stretch run to the playoffs and on into the playoffs and Super Bowl, it was Olatoye that proved to be the better signing, as he played steady, within himself, when called upon.

BLIDI WREH-WILSONxxxxxBlidi is the aforementioned “headliner” signing the Falcons made when filling out their practice squad. More heralded than Olatoye, Wilson did an admirable job when called 08upon, but it was clear that he was behind Olatoye in the pecking order. Good size and speed that Quinn likes, Wreh-Wilson may be fighting an uphill battle to earn a roster spot.

C.J.GOODWINxxxxxTalk about size, speed and athleticism! C.J. has it all except experience. A college WR along with playing WR his first couple of years in the league, C.J. made the switch to the defensive side of the ball in 2016 and showed some really good ability. Mostly a special teamer in 2016, CJ did find his way on defense a few times and was relied on even more during the post-season. There were also rumors of C.J. getting some looks at safety.

DAMONTAE KAZEExxxxxOne of our 2017 5th round draft picks, Kazee is going to be the wild card on how the CB10 situation plays out this fall. Smallish and more quick than fast, Damontae has a penchant for turnovers, something this defense could use more of (2 ways to stifle the opposing offense, stop ‘em or just take the damn ball from them). If, if, if, if, if Kazee can come into camp and win the 3rd/4th CB spot, things could get a whole lot more interesting in our defensive backfield, personnel wise.

Trufant and Alford are the starters, period. At the end of last season, Jalen had proved himself capable of being the #3 CB, playing the outside in nickel and dime situations. But if Poole improves and provides solid depth at the safety position AND Kazee comes in and performs like everyone hopes, Jalen could find himself on the outside looking in come 2018 (where he 11could be traded/released to provide some much needed cap space).

MY PREDICTION:

The Falcons will break camp with 7 CB’s on the roster. My feeling is Trufant, Alford, Collins, Poole, Kazee, Olatoye and Goodwin all make the club. Poole and Goodwin will also be used for depth at the FS position. I believe we could see a defensive alignment were all 7 are on the field at once (I call this the Knee-Jerk-Reaction-to-Blowing-a-Huge-Lead-to-the-Patriots-in-the-Super Bowl defense). Or maybe we’ll just call it the “Heptagon Defense”.

(And Yes, I’m aware that a heptagon actually means 7 angles, but that also means there are 7 vertices, or “corners” to the layman….I went to elementary school too ya know.)

01

Falcons Draft: A Retrospective

Grading the Atlanta Falcons Draft

by Dewey

With the Falcons 2017 draft square in our rearview mirrors, everybody with an opinion and access to the internet is quick to give out letter grades for a bunch of prospects who haven’t stepped one foot on a professional football field, either in practice or a game. Though there is nothing wrong with the process of grading the most current draft, it is hardly an exact science. The NFL draft is, year-in and year-out, my absolute favorite televised sporting event. I love playing armchair GM, speculating on all the “what if’s” and “if only’s”. Another reason I love the draft is it’s the perfect time of year for reflecting.

It is said that you can’t truly know how good a draft is or isn’t for 2-3 years. I prefer 3 years. A player’s rookie season is all about learning. Schemes, verbiage, speed, not to mention a complete culture shock. It’s difficult for rookies to make much of an impact (in general). A player’s second season is when they tend to make the biggest jump as far as on field production. With all of the “new” worn off, 2nd year players are able to do more reacting on the field rather than thinking. By a player’s third year in the league, the player and his team pretty much know who they are…starter, reserve, rotational, situational, special teamer, whatever. So, to me, this is the perfect opportunity to go back in time and re-grade an older draft.

So, without further ado, I give you…..

 

1-coulda

He coulda been a contenda…

 

THE ATLANTA FALCONS 2014 DRAFT

2-injuryRound #1, 6th overall-Jake Mathews, RT, Texas A&M
Jake was brought in to solidify the RT spot until such a time that he could take over for another 1st round pick, Sam Baker, at LT. Well, the future came all too quick as Sam Baker suffered a season ending knee injury (surprise!) forcing Jake to the LT spot early in his rookie career, a spot he has not relinquished since. And, although Jake has been steady at LT, he has not been spectacular. Technically sound with brains to spare, Jake can still get bullied from time to time and has been developing a penchant for untimely penalties. One starts to wonder if Jake wouldn’t be better off at another position, RT, G or maybe even C one day. Every season seems to have the same story line for Jake, “He wasn’t all that impressive, but he played through nagging injuries all season.” That’s all well and good, except for 2 problems, (1) he wasn’t all that impressive and (2) he played through nagging injuries all season. It’s time for Jake to either start being impressive or stop with all the nagging injuries. Having just had his 5th year option on his rookie contract picked up, Jake will more than likely be given the chance through the 2018 season to prove he was the 6th best player in the 2014 draft

GRADE: 81


3-workRound #2, 37th overall-Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Baby ‘Shede came in to the Falcons with all the size and potential in the world, but with a less than stellar work ethic. Flashes of brilliance are often disrupted by long periods of “where the hell is Hageman?” The beginning of the 2016 campaign didn’t start too well for Hageman as there were reports of domestic violence along with being inactive for early season games, flaming speculation that Hageman’s days in a Falcons uniform were numbered. A light came on for Ra’Shede in the second half of 2016 and he started to resemble the player we’d all envisioned when he was drafted in April of 2014. One thing has always been true for Hageman going back to his rookie season…if he’s properly motivated, Hageman can be a major force to be reckoned with on the football field. Fortunately for Falcons fans, not much inspires Hageman more than going face to face with Cam Newton or Drew Brees. Something about those 2 guys brings out the nasty in Hageman. It’s contract year for “Shede, so I can expect we’ll be seeing his best game in and game out in 2017. If not, we’ll be seeing him in another uniform in 2018.

GRADE: 73


4-flashRound #3, 68th overall-Dezmen Southward, FS, Wisconsin
Oh deary. Who’s to blame for this horrible pick. Ex-coach Smitty who never seemed to have a handle on what type of players or what type of defense he wanted? Thomas Dimitroff, who seemed to have an affinity for the “measurables” and players from the Midwest (particularly Wisconsin)? Going into the 2014 draft, the Falcons had no real FS on the roster, but seemed fine with letting this position wait until the 3rd round of the draft, and choosing a player that was rated by most “draft experts” as a 5th rounder at best. Lightning speed with incredible quickness and reach, Dezmen never got his feet on the ground under Smitty. Enter Dan Quinn who tried a position change to CB in an attempt to harness all that God given talent. It was to no avail. Dezmen was released in November of 2015 having played in just 3 games that season. Later signed to the Colts practice squad, Dezmen was released with an injury settlement in September of 2016. In December of 2016, Dezmen landed on Carolina’s practice squad where he was granted a futures contract.

GRADE: 12


5-strengthRound #4, 103rd overall-Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
There’s no need to go into all of the accolades of the diminutive RB with the Big heart. If you don’t know them,shame on you. 2 pro-bowls, back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, 29 total touchdowns already, etc., etc., etc. Tailor made for the zone blocking scheme Atlanta now employs, you really couldn’t ask for much more from Devonta than what he has produced during his 3 years in Atlanta(except possibly better representation at the contract table).

GRADE: 99 (taking off 1 point for a horrendous missed block at the most inopportune time)

 

 


6-wolfRound #4, 139th overall, Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Prince had his troubles before he ever became a Falcon. Accused of sexual assault on a female student at Notre Dame who eventually committed suicide. He was also suspended his Senior year of High School for throwing a desk at a teacher who took away his cell phone. Prince came into Atlanta under ideal conditions. Not a lot of talent or depth at the LB position. Prince got to play and did pretty well for himself. Even being counted on as a probable starter for the 2015 season. Then, in May of 2015, Prince was viscously attacked by his girlfriends dog. Fearing for his life, Prince bravely, valiantly fought off the onslaught by kicking the dog until the dog had ceased living. The dog was a Yorkshire Terrier. For those of you unfamiliar with Yorkshire Terriers, they are about as big as a grown man’s foot. Prince was gone the moment the story broke. No one would touch him after that. End of story.

Grade: 0


7-strikerRound #5, 147th overall, Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
What a ride for Ricardo. Allen spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. Exit Mike Smith. Enter Dan Quinn. Mix in a position change to free safety and voila…instant starter. That’s pretty much how it went for the smallish Ricardo. He has shown the ability to stick his head in and make a tackle, break up passes and even pick off a couple. A very smart player with a fabulous work ethic and study habits, and becoming more of a defensive field general each year, Ricardo Allen might not be the best FS in the league, but what he offers you is steadiness. Game in and game out you pretty much know exactly what you’ll get from Ricardo. Everything he’s got.

Grade: 79


8-argonautsRound #5, 168th overall, Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that Marquis blew out his knee and we never got the chance to see what he could do, or the fact that Thomas Dimitroff traded a 6th and 7th round pick to move up and acquire him. Marquis was a head scratcher for most Falcons fans. Too small to continue at MLB, too slow to be an OLB or SS. After Marquis lost his rookie season to reconstructive knee surgery, he came back under rookie head coach Dan Quinn and didn’t make it through pre-season before being cut. In 2016 he signed on with the Toronto Argonauts in April but was released in June. Talk about a tale of “what might have been?”. What if Marquis hadn’t blown out his knee? What if the Falcons hadn’t traded up for him and he was drafted by another team? Does he still blow his knee out? Sad really.

Grade: 0


10-slowRound #7, 253rd overall, Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
I know I wasn’t the only one excited when we snatched up Yawin in the 7th round. I had seen projections with him going as high as the 4th round. Big bodied middle linebacker, Smallwood was going to be the diamond in the rough that we always look for. One small problem though. Yawin was slow…I mean really slow. Slow to move, slow to recognize, slow to react, just all around slow. Oh, he could hit you, and hard. He had to catch you first, and that was difficult. If you ran the ball straight up the middle, you didn’t have a chance to get by Yawin, 3 feet to the left or right, and a RB was home free. Yawin was cut at the end of August that year, signed on to Tennessee’s practice squad for 2015 & 16. He’s currently a free agent.

Grade: 0


11-starrRound #7, 255th overall, Tyler Starr, LB South Dakota
I remember thinking 2 things about Tyler when the Falcons drafted him at the tail end of the draft, (1) damn, his fiancé is hot, and (2) I bet of all the LB’s we drafted in this draft, Tyler ends up having the biggest impact. Turns out I was correct on both counts, sort of. Tyler’s fiancé now wife was and still is hot and by making the 53 man roster in 2014 and the practice squad in 2015 (later promoted to 53 man roster), Tyler at least outlasted any of the other LB’s drafted in 2014. Career stats: 1 game played, 1 tackle. Tyler was injured in the preseason in 2016 and was waived/injured. He is currently a free agent.

Grade: 10(for his wife, Megan)


Using my very scientific grading system, that comes up to 354 points divided by 9 players chosen for an average score of 39.33 per pick. By all rights, that’s a failing grade. However, There are currently 3 starters from this draft, including 1 two-time pro bowler plus 1 rotational player who is a major contributor to this young, up and coming defense. So that’s 4 main contributors out of 9 picks, which is outstanding after 3 years, and under the Smitty/Dimitroff regime, quite possibly the best draft they had together.

Tune in next year when I spotlight the 2015 draft (the first under Dan Quinn).

Thanks for listening.

9-armchair

The Atlanta Falcons: Post Draft Analysis

SHADOW

by Roddy E. “Seminole Warrior” Nixon, Jr.

Well, the 2017 edition of the NFL’s Annual Selection Meetings, aka the NFL Draft, has come and gone. After a couple of days to assess the workings of the Atlanta front office, we here at Tee Pee Sports decided to take a closer look. The Falcons went into this draft with concerning needs at several positions. Among these were offensive line, defensive line (particularly a defensive end/pass rusher), safety, and linebacker.

TeePeeSports_150Tee Pee Sports will now take a look at the players selected, assign a grade, and give an outlook in regards to anticipated impact on the team. The FINAL OVERALL draft grade assessed to the team by Cocoa Mel and Tee Pee Sports is C+.

The draft could have been better despite an overall weak class in many areas. As you will see, the Falcons did well in some areas and not so good in others. The trade in the first round may have been essential if the player selected TRULY was the man we wanted all the time. Only the shadow knows!!

But this front office has a history, more troubling than productive, of making moves up for players that are more “splash” than “solid”. So, let’s see how it all played out in the eyes of the Tee Pee.


ROUND ONE

DE/OLB Takkarist McKinley – University of California, Los Angeles Grade: A

takThe Falcons HAD to address their pass rush. I hate that they had to move up in the draft to do so but I have no issues with the player they selected. I am going to be this kid’s biggest fan!!

Takkarist McKinney represents an emerging talent. He is filled with an intense degree of pride and dedication. He is driven by something GREATER than football. He wants to succeed not because he stands to make millions in the process. TM has a much higher, more personal reason to represent himself well and leave a legacy. And it is that edge that Tee Pee Sports senses will result in the greatest Falcons pass rusher since John Abraham wore our colors.

TM is still developing his skill set. But make no mistake. It has the potential to be one HELL of a skill set. His game has grown each year during his time at UCLA as has his role. A review of video reflects a player that is a bonified pass rushing specialist. But the same video review indicates that there is still a raw nature to his game in terms of technique. He does not possess a dominate move (i.e., Reggie White’s famous club move) but he still gets to the target.

Quality coaching and improved technique will certainly be essential in developing this talented player. His combination of speed, aggression, and drive can’t be taught. And if properly enhanced, he is going to become one of the league’s most feared defenders. Expect an ascent very similar to that of former first round pick and Deacon Jones Award winner, Vic Beasley. Four to six sacks this season is likely but by year three, double digit sacks each season should be the norm.


ROUND THREE

OLB/ILB Duke Riley – Louisiana State University. Grade: D

rileyThe Falcons needed depth at the linebacker position but to select a special team ace with one year of experience at this point in the draft was not the approach TPS would have taken. First, Riley is an undersized linebacker who put on some twelve pounds just to get to the 232 he was listed at for the NFL Combine. Second, his coverage skills are questionable when one takes a look at the tape. Granted, he has a very quick step and may offer some promise as a blitzing linebacker (evident on tape), the total package is not there. Sure, he followed in the footsteps of former Tiger Deion Jones, TPS does not feel that he is as complete a package as Jones was. Using a third -round selection was not in order here as TPS sees Riley as a future special team linchpin and a quality reserve player.

At this point, given the need and value, Tee Pee Sports would have taken, instead of Riley, Pittsburgh offensive guard Dorian Johnson would have been the choice. Johnson would be an instant plug and play at right guard in his rookie season. In the zone blocking scheme, Johnson displayed, as his tape reflects, solid footwork and solid blocking technique. Further review reflects a solid performance in both pass protection and opening lanes for running backs.

An alternate to Johnson, Tee Pee Sports also considered CB Fabian Moreau from UCLA. Moreau’s 6 foot, 205lb frame and talents would have been great opposite Desmond Trufant and would have allowed me to use the skill set of Robert Alford in his new position, free safety.


ROUND FOUR

OG Sean Harlow – Oregon State University Grade: C+

harlowOffensive line depth had to be addressed in this draft. At this point, Sean Harlow represents a solid pick and quality value at this point. He is a versatile lineman and is capable according to scouting reports of playing all positions along the line. Some reports we here at TPS looked at compared Harlow’s game to that of former New York Giant and current Fox broadcaster, David Diehl. If that is the case, given Diehl’s fifth round selection by the Giants and his ensuing eleven-year career, this may be a quality find. This was a good selection in an overall not too impressive offensive line class.

NOTE: The Falcons are STILL in need of OL depth across the board. 2018 looks to be a better OL class.


ROUND FIVE:

RB Brian Hill – University of Wyoming Grade: B+

hillOutstanding value and a fine pick at this point. The Falcons were hurt several times last season by the lack of size and power when attempting the inside rushing game. Courtesy of the Mountain West Conference, those days may well be over in Atlanta now. Brian Hill is a PERFECT counter to the skill set of Devonta Freeman in the Atlanta rushing attack. The 220 pounder runs with a purpose. There is a little Michael Turner in his game as he can be deceptively effective and hit another gear on sweeps and around the end. Video review of Hill shows a power back that grinds out the tough yards. He is a solid blocker as well. The perfect red-zone compliment for Atlanta and the perfect spell-man for Freeman. Most of all, review of the tape reveals one of the most secure ballhandlers in college football over the past two years.

However, Hill is not the most gifted receiving option. But that is not why we are bringing him to Atlanta. There are a few minor things to clean up in his game but this is a VERY solid pick.


ROUND FIVE:

TE Eric Saubert – Drake University Grade: D

saubertAt this point in any draft, a few chances are taken. Some turn out to be the rare discoveries and others just fade into the twilight. I really do not know what to think of the selection of Eric Saubert. We do not have a lot of depth at tight end; Austin Hooper shows flashes of potential and will have every chance to emerge big time in 2017. Every other tight end on the roster is living on borrowed time.

In the limited film study, TPS noted that Saubert was much more inconsistent than I care to see. There are some things there to build upon. There is nice size and speed. At times, his routes look nice. But….

Here comes that word again – consistency. It’s missing in action too often. We saw easy passes dropped. He saw a lack of effort in blocking too often. Overall game would run hot and cold too easily. Honestly, Tee Pee Sports thinks that the Falcons would have been better off here with perhaps, another offensive line selection.


ROUND FIVE: CB/S Damontae Kazee – San Diego State University Grade: B-

kazeeI love the Mountain West. And for a defense that relies on depth at defensive back, the Falcons found pretty VERY GOOD value here if they are looking for the ultimate “nickel” corner. Damontae Kazee is the real deal. He is very solid in slot. DK displays a very nice talent suite; a fine feel for the ball; reads the quarterback well and understands how to attack passing lanes. DK further displays a nice ability to jump routes having secured FIFTEEN interceptions over the last two years. This pick DEFINES value.

So, there you have it. The 2017 edition of what the defending NFC Champions need to address in the eyes of the Tee Pee. Let the discussion, pro or con, now begin….

The Annual Tee Pee Sports Mock Draft

TeePeeSports2017 Edition


Cocoa Mel, aka Seminole Warrior, the CEO of Tee Pee Sports, managing six of picks for the 2017 NFL Annual Selection Meeting, and acting as lead agent for the Atlanta Falcons, respectfully submit the following selections. Our vision: The building of a team core and laying a foundation for the future.

As always, I want to pay homage to my draft mentors, Sensei Ozzie Newsome and Mel Kiper. Like the great Sensei, we will NEVER reach for a player; we will simply move on to the best player available at an immediate position of need. After all, our single mission is to acquire and develop productive football players.

Simply put, an infusion of defensive talent continues to be first and foremost for the team. So, let us get right to the heart and soul of the matter in the two rounds.

ROUND ONE

PRIMARY: OLB/ILB Jarrad Davis – University of Florida

SECONDARY: OLB/ILB Zach Cunningham – Vanderbilt University

First, to HELL with this bull—- of converting K. Ismael to linebacker. We need the depth at safety. This is one stupid move in the eyes of Tee Pee Sports. Sorry. I got carried away. Back to regular programming.

The Atlanta Falcons have not had a presence at middle linebacker since the release of Curtis Lofton. We attempted to change that last season with a mid-round selection. Post Super Bowl, it is now PRIORITY ONE.

1

Jarrad Davis, Zach Cunningham

Davis and/or Cunningham would bring INSTANT impact to the core of the Falcons defense. Both of these guys are serious football players, strong leaders, and astute students of the game. Both members of this dynamic SEC duo were clearly among the most productive and tenacious linebackers Tee Pee Sports has scouted in some time. Their drive and desire are relentless; both possess great sideline to sideline range as well as excellent anticipation skills, and utilize solid tackling techniques.

Both Davis and/or Cunningham can be disruptive when asked to blitz and either player would be an upgrade in pass coverage skills over any linebacker currently on the roster. Both tend to be a little overactive at times but quality coaching can clean this up in short order. Each represents the real deal!!!

Acquiring either of these immense talents and pairing him with rising stars Deion Jones and Vic Beasley would give the Falcons a linebacker corps of unparalleled talent, youth, and potential. The key elements of versatility, speed, tenacity, and improved coverage ability would IMMEDIATELY UPGRADE the intermediate pass game defense that was SERIOUSLY exposed by the Patriots in the second half of the Super Bowl. (PS: Yep, that is the REAL reason we lost the damn game!!)

ROUND TWO Primary Pick: FS Budda Baker – University of Washington

ROUND TWO Secondary Pick: DE/DT Demarcus Walker – Florida State University

The Falcons defensive backfield has the potential to be a great one. With CB Desmond Trufant and SS Keanu Neal looking like long term stars, the free safety position needs to NOW be addressed. Given the recommendations given in round one related to the upgraded linebacker corps, a dynamic, ball-hawking free safety is a MUST. And in the Pacific Northwest, Tee Pee Sports has found him.

2

Budda Baker, Demarcus Walker

Enter Washington’s Budda Baker. While scouting Baker, TPS constantly found comparisons to former Pro Bowl free safety Bob Sanders. The comparison is valid in our eyes. If we can get that kind of productivity from our free safety, the sky is the limit. Baker is the epitome of a free safety – a focused defender that displays strong tenacity and incredible scheme focus. Baker is always near the ball with a fiery presence. He displays great skill in pass coverage as he displays nice closing speed, the ability to change direction in coverage, and excellent field vision. His tackling technique is very solid and he is a physical presence. He has the heart of a lion and the ability to be a MAJOR upgrade at the position as well as a perennial Pro Bowler.

Speaking of legitimacy, the Falcons need a LEGIT presence at the defensive end position. Coach Dan Quinn needs a presence on his defensive front that is capable of being a force inside and outside. He needs a “Michael Bennett” like presence for his scheme. The Gulfstream next landed in Tallahassee.

Demarcus Walker represents OUTSTANDING value here. In terms of defensive ends, JB appears to be as solid as any of the so-called “true” defensive ends in this draft class. His work ethic, total team first attitude, willingness to play through pain, and dedication to improving all facets of his game, are critical facets that Tee Pee Sports feels strongly about. Walker is outstanding against the run and a presence as a pass rusher. Like Bennett, Walker also has the ability to move inside and impact the defensive interior. Think of him as the next Jonathan Babineaux. There are a few issues with technique that could be cleaned up with quality coaching but this pick represents great value!!

ROUND THREE:

PRIMARY: OG Dan Feeney – Indiana University

SECONDARY: OG Dorian Johnson – University of Pittsburgh

The Falcons are STILL in need of OL depth across the board. Jake Matthews, in the eyes of Tee Pee Sports, is NOT the long-term answer at left tackle. But there is nothing we can do about it in the weak tackle class of 2017.

3

Dan Feeney, Dorian Johnson

Both offensive guard positions remain in a state of flux as Chris Chester is no more (retired) and Andy Levitre remains inconsistent. In 2017, given that he is a “slightly” better run blocker than pass protector as well as his cap figure, Tee Pee Sports will move Levitre into the right guard spot vacated by the retirement of Chester.

With that move, the staff took trips to Bloomington, IN and Pittsburgh, PA where they discovered a pair of very promising prospects that would excel in the zone blocking scheme and could become starters on day one in Atlanta.

Guards Dan Feeney and Dorian Johnson are both technically solid, position versatile, and leaders on the field. Both represent great value at this juncture in the draft and have the upside going forward to become very solid NFL players.

ROUND FOUR:

PRIMARY: RB Samaje Perine – University of Oklahoma

SECONDARY: FS/SS Xavier Woods – Louisiana Tech University
The Falcons are on the verge of a great move by retaining two-time Pro Bowl RB Devonta Freeman for the long haul. He needs a compliment. Tevin Coleman is a speed demon but can’t stay healthy. Given the extreme value Freeman gives the team as a cut back rusher and receiving option out of the backfield, TPS will allow Coleman to move on and find a larger compliment for Freeman.

4

Samaje Perine, Xavier Woods

The TPS G5 jet landed in Norman, Oklahoma where we found Samaje Perine. NFL Networks’ Mike Mayock , on the occasion of OU’s Pro Day, stated that SP reminded him of former Charger and Falcon Michael Turner. After reviewing more film, at 5’ 11 and 230 pounds, the comparison, both in terms of size and talent, are very accurate, friends. SP represents the total package; consistent in all facets – a true “thunder” compliment to the “lightning” represented by DF24.

The need for additional depth at safety is enhanced with the selection of Xavier Woods. The immensely talented All Conference USA player is a focused defender that displays strong tenacity and incredible scheme focus. He is always near the ball with a fiery presence. He displays great skill in pass coverage as he displays nice closing speed, the ability to change direction in coverage, and excellent field vision. His tackling technique is very solid and he is a physical presence. Though undersized in many eyes, Xavier Woods could be effective at either the FS or SS positions.

ROUND FIVE: TE Bucky Hodges – Virginia Tech

At tight end, Austin Hooper is showing signs of promise. Depth at the position is a need for Atlanta as the tight end is a critical element of the West Coast Offense. Tee Pee Sports strikes again with truly outstanding value at this point in the draft.

5-hodges

Bucky Hodges

At Virginia Tech, Bucky Hodges was a steady, improving force on a football team that was often offensively challenged until a head coaching change last season. Hodges is the prototypical tight end; a great combination of size and athleticism for the position. His movements are always smooth and he displays a great catch radius. Hodges can climb the ladder and win the battles with LBs/DBs with ease. Solid hands and the ability to separate in the intermediate game. Nightmarish red zone potential as he continues to fine tune his game. Shows some skill as a blocker with upside evident if afforded proper coaching and additional physical conditioning.

There are some things that need to improve in his game but the upside here is incredible. The potential for a Tony Gonzalez/Jimmy Graham like career is not out of the question if this potential is truly tapped. One of the best hidden gems in this draft class and an ABSOLUTE sleeper in the right hands.

ROUND SEVEN: QB Nathan Peterman – University of Pittsburgh

Matt Ryan is entering his prime as a NFL quarterback. The four-time Pro Bowler and reigning MVP is the most under-appreciated Atlanta Falcon EVER. Despite the constant and wishy-washy nature of the Falcon fanbase, MR2 serves as the field general for one of the most lethal offensive units in the NFL.

However, depth behind him is a SIGNIFICANT issue. It is time that the Falcons begin to develop that depth and perhaps, an eventual replacement. Once again, value strikes.

7-peterman

Nate Peterman

Nate Peterman is a very solid quarterback and has solid potential. He has nice touch on his passes at time and is solid placing the ball downfield. He has good pocket awareness and displays solid mobility. He is not afraid to tuck and secure yardage if the play is not there. Displays the ability to be patient and allow the route/play to unfold. Comfortable with three, five and seven step drops. Compiled a 47-to-15 touchdown-to-interception ratio the past two seasons at Pitt. Married (April 2016) with a mature lifestyle — high character individual and worker.

But….

A true and honest review of film shows that Peterman needs some work but his upside is very promising. At times, he looks great and confident. Other times, he can frustrate the hell out of you. But at this stage in the draft, he is a developmental prospect that could become MUCH more. And having time to learn from one of the best students of the game and a true professional, MR2, can only serve as the ultimate motivation.

So, there you have it. The 2017 edition of what the defending NFC Champions need to address in the eyes of the Tee Pee. Let the discussion, pro or con, now begin….

 

philly

To Trade or Not to Trade? That is the Question!

trading-post

by Michael Chastain – just “lil ole” me

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when trading up, or to field offers from the sea of GMs wanting the extra contract year and by playing them against each other get the most from them by trading down! To think, to plan; to plan, perchance to dream, of what trades may come as we shuffle around on draft weekend, Must give us pause. Tis but part of the calamity that makes us all lifelong Falcons fans! Sorry, I was stuck somewhere in the late 1500s for a moment. Back to 2017…

Trade up! Really!? Is there a Julio Jones quality player in this draft to trade up for? Yes! Myles Garrett is one such player. Is he worth the cost to trade up to get him? Not just NO, but H. E. double hockey sticks NO! How did it turn out for Coach Ditka when he traded his entire draft class plus the following years 1st and 3rd for Ricky Williams? Or, when Washington traded how many first round picks (3) for RGIII? History says do not do it! There is a reason that NFL also means Not For Long. It only takes one play or moment to end a career. Even though Easter is almost here there is no need to put all of even multiple picks into one prospect! Not even prospects with high 1st round grades are guaranteed to become stars or even solid starters. Just ask Todd Marinovich or DE Jamal Anderson!

EZ

Value is first concern…

Patience pays off! Have you ever gone to an auction and found something you wanted so much that you decided to bid on it. You get super excited when you win the item! Then you go to pay for it and you think “How much did I just pay for that?” Stay away from the “Man crush” syndrome! It is very easy to fall so in love with a prospect that feelings get hurt if they go to another team. Then the second guessing starts up and we begin to lose faith in those we trust. Build a list of prospects that will fit and perform well with the current team structure. Maybe a prospect, which is a good fit, with a second round grade is still on the board in the 4th round. Walla! You just drafted great value! But, if that 4th round pick would have been traded away to move up in the second round to select a player that was coveted, then you lose that extra value! Only reach for a player when there are no reasonable offers on the board to add value by trading down!

Trading down in the draft does not always maximize value! Some factors to take into consideration when trading down include: what prospects are currently available, how many spots down are you willing to move, what is the return (are you adding picks or just moving up in later rounds?), how many prospects with later round projections have been identified as positive fits that can help the team be successful, and how many picks does the trading partner have? The final factor is not about greed, but with willingness to give-up draft picks in a trade! Generally speaking people with greater means have an increased willingness to spend. Those with less tend to be more careful about how they spend. The following teams are expected to draft a quarterback: Browns, 49ers, Cardinals, Texans, Chiefs, Chargers, Jets, Bills, and Saints. Of those teams the 49ers and the Browns have 10 and 11 draft picks respectively. Here are two possible scenarios that are low risk high reward for trading out of the 31st pick to quarterback needy teams.

Scenario #1

fish

“Gimme all your plug and play OGs.”                        “Go fish!”

Cleveland has picks 1, 12, and 33. They have a grand total of 11 picks in the draft, the most of any team. Cleveland also has a need at quarterback. Most of the quarterbacks in this draft are considered to be developmental, but that has not stopped Cleveland from selecting a quarterback in the first round in previous drafts. However they currently have a much better front office than in the past. There is not a quarterback worthy of the number 1 or number 12 pick. They will draft DE Myles Garrett with the number 1 pick. They will most likely draft a DB with the number 12 pick. They could trade back from 12 to later in the first round, but it is doubtful that they will use the pick on a quarterback. Cleveland is very interested in a fifth year option on any quarterback they might select in draft this year. They have identified two quarterbacks that they like, Deshone Kizer and Davis Webb. Cleveland is also going to want to jump ahead of New Orleans who has a 38 year old quarterback. Evidently they do not see Garrett Grayson as the future if they are not willing to allow him to be the back-up. Why else would they sign 30 year old Chase Daniels? Look for New Orleans to draft a quarterback with the 32nd pick to learn for a year or maybe two behind Drew Brees before he retires. If we go by the numbers on the draft chart, worst case is Atlanta gets Cleveland’s second pick in the 5th (pick 175) to move back to pick 33. If Atlanta gets a premium for the fifth year option then Cleveland could give-up as high as their 4th rounder, pick 108.

Scenario #2

San Francisco has picks number 2 and 34. In all they have 10 picks in the draft. Here again we come back to teams with more picks have an easier time parting with them. Brian Hoyer is not the future of the 49er franchise. New Head Coach Shanahan wants to give a young quarterback a year to learn while Hoyer takes the lumps. He will have John Lynch call up Tommy Dimitroff about that 31st pick. Again worst case by the numbers this trade is worth San Francisco’s second pick in the 4th round (pick 143) and a swap of picks in the 5th round. Atlanta would move up from pick 174 to pick 161. If Atlanta gets a premium for the fifth year option, and to jump ahead of Cleveland and New Orleans, then San Francisco could give-up as high as their 4th rounder, pick 109 and an additional day three pick. A windfall for Atlanta would be to acquire the 49er’s 3rd round pick to move back to pick 34. Lynch is an inexperienced General Manager who may be willing to sell part of the farm to get the player his coach wants!

stamps

Quinn’s been saving.

Both of these trades could potentially add a draft pick for the Falcons with very little risk of another team selecting the prospect that Atlanta would select with pick 31. The biggest factor will be how many quarterback are still on the board when pick 31 is on the clock. The second factor to take into consideration is Coach Quinn’s short draft history. In the 2016 he showed no fear selecting a player with a high second round grade in the middle of the first round. If the top player on his list is on the board there may not be any trading back.

What are your thoughts on the two trade scenarios?

How risky would it be to move farther down in the second round in a trade with one of the other quarterback needy teams?

What players would you be ok with the team trading up in the draft to select and at what cost?

Should Atlanta be more like Green Bay and refrain from draft weekend trading?

Are draft weekend trades more exciting or frustrating?

Are there any players on the team that you would not mind being traded away for a draft pick? If so what round pick would you want in return?

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Who Will the Falcons Select in 2017?

march

by Michael Chastain – just “lil ole” me

It is that time of year again with no football on the gridiron. The initial phase of free agency has come and gone with excitement for some and disappointment for others. Most have now turned their attention to the upcoming draft. What prospects do we like? What holes need to be filled? What positions can be improved? What are our priorities going to be on Draft weekend? Can we find a late round gem like RB Terrell Davis (6th rd Broncos), WR Dwight Clark (10th rd 49ers), DL Richard Dent (8th rd Bears), and TE Shannon Sharpe (7th rd Broncos)? These are all questions the NFL front offices and coaching staffs are scurrying to find the answers to in the short time remaining before that last weekend in April. There are many of us in fandom who are doing the same thing, but we aren’t getting paid. We do it for the love of the game and the devotion to our team. With the hopes that the players we like are drafted by our team and perform beyond expectations.

There are numerous variables that come into play on draft weekend. Who was scouted? What does the video show? What needs are going to be prioritized? Who are other teams selecting? What are the options for moving up or down in the draft? The list goes on and on. Up until the 72 hours of drafting we get to have fun with all the possibilities! What will Dan Quinn and company do when the Falcons are on the clock? In guesstomating the future one should always consider the past. This will be Coach Quinn’s 3rd draft as a head coach. Let’s review the previous two.


Round  | Proj. Round | xxxxxxx2015xxxxxxxx | Proj. Round | xxxxxxx2016xxxxxxx|

1xxxxxxxxxxx1xxxxxxxxDE – Vic Beasleyxxxxxxxx1–2xxxxxxxS – Kenu Neal
2xxxxxxxxxxx2xxxxxxxxCB – Jalen Collinsxxxxxxxx2xxxxxxxxLB – Deion Jones
3xxxxxxxxxxx2xxxxxxxxRB – Tevin Colemanxxxxx2-3xxxxxxxTE – Austin Hooper
4xxxxxxxxxx3-4xxxxxxxWR – Justin Hardyxxxxxxx5-6xxxxxxxLB – Devondre Campbell
5xxxxxxxxxxx2xxxxxxxxDT – Grady Jarrett
6xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxUDRFAxxxxxOG – Wes Schweitzer
7xxxxxxxxUDRFAxxxxxxT– Jake RodgersxxxxxxxUDRFAxxxxxWR – Devin Fuller
7xxxxxxxxUDRFAxxxxxxS – Akeem King
Needsxxxxxx           xxxxxLB,TE,OL,RBxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxDL,LB,TE,S,OL


The first round selections from the past two drafts have both been defensive players that started immediately. The second round selections were also defensive players. Collins only started two games his rookie season, but played in all sixteen games. He started six of the eight games he played in this year after returning from being suspended. Jones started thirteen of the fifteen games this year and showed improvement throughout the season. The third round selections from both years were offensive players. When Dan Quinn was hired as the Head Coach he made a statement to the effect that he was going to let the Offensive Coordinator run the offense. Offensive draft selections included? Tevin Coleman was slated to be the starting running back in 2015 until he was injured and Freeman took the job with a vengeance. Hooper was slowly worked into the offense this past year and should be a solid tight end for the future. The fourth round went to the offense in 2015 and defense in 2016. Hardy is a part of the offensive game plan, but he has yet to step up to be more than a spot starter (4 starts in 25 games). Campbell stepped in on the defense and started ten of eleven games his rookie season. The only fifth round selection the past two years was Defensive Tackle Grady Jarrett. He started two of fifteen games his rookie season and fourteen of sixteen games this past season. Grady showed how disruptive he could be racking up three sacks against Tom Brady in the “Blew-it Bowl”. The only sixth round pick went to the offense in 2016 with the selection of Guard Wes Schweitzer. He did not see action in any regular or post season games. He will compete for the starting Right Guard position for the upcoming season. There have been three seventh round selections with one going to the offense each year and the second selection going to the defense in 2015. It could be argued that Devin Fuller was drafted to be the return man on kickoffs and punts, but he was placed on injured reserve early his rookie season. Offensive Tackle Jake Rodgers did not make the team in 2015 and was signed to a futures/reserves contract with Carolina in January. Akeem King was showing progress this past preseason as a defensive back before being placed on injured reserve. He played in five games his rookie season.

carnac

“Will the Falcons trade down?”

Here are some things that can be gleaned from all that information. The defensive draft picks have had much better production than the offensive draft picks. Even if only the third, fourth, and fifth round selections are measured against each other the production still swings heavily to the defense. If Coach Quinn has the final say on defensive draft picks does he give the final “ok” on the offensive draft picks to the offensive coordinator? The past two drafts have seen six of the eleven starting positions on defense get younger. The offensive draft picks have contributed, but have only developed into spot starters. So the team is either drafting better players on defense or doing a better job developing the defensive players drafted. Unlike previous years Coach Quinn has not doubled up on draft picks with the hope that one of them will pan out. Another positive from the past two drafts is that there is only one player out of the thirteen drafted that is no longer on the team. These are major changes from the previous coaching regime.

Refer back to the chart above. The bottom of the draft chart shows draft needs from the 2015 and 2016 drafts. These were taken from NFL.com. Notice that OL is listed as a draft need for both years, specifically interior offensive linemen. Both years the team drafted developmental linemen late on day three. Again this year interior offensive line is a need. Will it be addressed early in the draft or will the team again bring in an elder veteran to fill the gap for one more year? Also notice that where players are projected to be drafted are not always where they get drafted. Coach Quinn has shown that his is willing to make the obvious selection as well as “reach” for a player that he wants if that player will be off the board by the next time the team is on the clock. He made a great value pick with Grady Jarrett in 2015 during the fifth round when other teams did not like Jarrett’s size for the position he plays. This also shows that Quinn knows what he is looking for in a player and doesn’t care what the “talking heads” have to say. What will be interesting this year is when and who they select on the offensive side of the ball. Does Coach Sarkisian like the starters on offense or has he been politicking for improvements at various positions on his side of the ball. Maybe players that will better fit his style of play.

chrystal

“I see the Saints spending lots of money on a questionable player…”

What will the 2017 draft bring?

Offensive Guard: Both Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have acknowledge that the trenches need to be improved. The offensive line has been a draft need for many years. Four of the five offensive line spots are set for 2017. Right Guard is the big hole this year and Left Guard will need to be addressed in the not too distant future. Forest Lamp is the top guard but might be drafted before pick 31. After Lamp there is a step down to Dorian Johnson and Dan Feeney. Are any these worth the 31st pick or will Atlanta trade down into the second round and still select a guard with their first pick of the 2017 draft. Cam Robinson’s name has been linked to Atlanta, but many believe he can play tackle. Some other options that will need some development include Dion Dawkins, Nico Siragusa, Jordan Morgan, and Corey Levin. From the outside looking in this stands out as the greatest need on the team. Look for this position to be a first or second round selection. If so it will be the first time the Falcons have addressed the interior of the offensive line early in the draft since the selection of Peter Konz five years ago in the second round of the 2012 draft.

Defensive Tackle: There is talent throughout the draft at defensive tackle. So maybe this position will not be addressed with the first pick, the team did sign Dontari Poe. But, Coach Quinn did say he wanted to improve the trenches. Atlanta’s defense improved in 2016 to be ranked 17th in rushing yards allowed per game. That ranking can be very misleading. Opposing rushers only had 370 rushing attempts against the Falcons defense, the fifth lowest number of attempts in the league. The defense gave up an average of 4.5 yards per carry which ties them for the sixth worst behind the Browns, Colts, Bills, 49ers, and Dolphins. The killer stat is that Atlanta had the most attempted fourth down conversions (25 attempts) in the league and they allowed a 72% conversion rate good for 29th in the league. Giving up a fourth down conversion is a major morale killer! The majority of fourth down conversion attempts are short yardage situations. How does the team get out of the league basement in this category? Quality defensive tackles! Look for Malik McDowell or Caleb Brantley in the first round, Montravius Adams and Carlos Watkins in the second and third rounds, Jarron Jones and DJ Jones could be surprise gems in the fourth and fifth rounds. Coach Quinn knows best what he is looking for in a defensive lineman. Expect him to select a productive defensive tackle at some point in the draft.

cards

“Sorry. New black unis are just not in the cards…”

Edge Rusher: Many believe that the Falcons still need a complimentary edge rusher to go with Vic Beasley. Coach Quinn and company may or may not subscribe to this line of thought. If the Falcons are considering drafting an edge rusher there is a plethora for them to choose from. TJ Watt is one of the more recent names that have been mocked to Atlanta at pick 31. What does Coach Quinn look for in an edge rusher? The same thing he looks for in the rest of the defense, speed! With edge rushers, look at the 10 yard split of their 40 time. Those are the guys who are going to explode off the line that offensive tackles have nightmares about! Takkarist McKinley could be a possibility at 31. Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis are possibilities in round 2. Trey Hendrickson posted a 1.59 10 yard split and could still be on the board in the 4th and maybe the 5th round. The bottom line is that Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn were signed to play the defensive end positions on early downs while Vic Beasley plays the Strong side linebacker, then in the nickel Beasley will slide down to one of the defensive end positions. Personnel wise this is not as strong a need as offensive guard or defensive tackle. The best possibility for this position to receive a draft pick is a developmental player in the middle to late rounds.

Safety: Strong Safety Keanu Neal was Atlanta’s first pick in 2016. With Ricardo Allen signed on for one more year; would the team use their first pick of 2017 on Keanu Neal’s counterpart? If Malik Hooker, Jabrill Peppers, or Obi Melifonwu are still on the board at pick 31 would Coach Quinn pass on them to draft a player at another position? There is a good chance that Ricardo Allen’s eventual replacement will be drafted this year. Budda Baker could be the choice in the second round. He is built like Earl Thomas and runs a sub 4.4 forty time. Neal’s former teammate at Florida, Marcus Maye, should still be on the board in the third round. Two FCS prospects that have the measurables and production at a lower level of play are David Jones and Casey DeAndrade. Most scouts consider them to be developmental players. Jones had 9 interceptions in 2015 and was projected as a second to third round selection before multiple injuries side tracked his senior year and hurt his draft stock. While safety is not an immediate need, it is an area of the defense that many believe can be upgraded. If one of the top tier prospects are still on the board when the Falcons pick at 31 then expect serious consideration. If Coach Quinn has identified his player don’t be surprised if a “reach” is made to draft that player.

prophet

“I’m telling you, Dimitroff has no say in the final decision!”

Cornerback: The NFL becomes more pass heavy every year; requiring teams to field more quality corners to cover all the receivers on the field each play. 2016 saw an undrafted rookie (Brian Poole) log 9 starts in 16 games played. The mindset of most defensive coaches is that you can never have too many cornerbacks. This draft has a high number of “long” corners. Coach Quinn likes long corners with speed. Fabian Moreau’s measurables have raised his draft stock from a mid-round draft grade to a low first round grade. Atlanta has already spoken with him, but it is doubtful that they will spend their 1st round pick on him. Kevin King may be an option in the second round. Like Moreau he has been one of the draft’s quick risers. Another option in the second and maybe even the third could be King’s teammate Sidney Jones. Jones was considered one of the best corners in the draft until he tore an achilles during his pro day. His stock has fallen from a first round lock to a late second early third round selection. Ahkello Witherspoon is an option in the third round and the big bodied Brian Allen in the fourth or fifth. A seventh round flyer might be taken on Jeremy Clark. He tore his ACL early during the 2016 season, but played very well before the injury. Coach Quinn surprised everyone his first year when the Falcons selected Jalen Collins with a second round pick. There is a high probability that a cornerback will be selected at some point in the draft by the Falcons.

Outside Linebacker: At the moment this could be considered the thinnest position on the team. It depends on who is considered an outside linebacker. Brooks Reed and Vic Beasley have played outside linebacker, but they are primarily edge rushers on passing downs. Phillip Wheeler, the primary fill-in for Beasley at strong side linebacker, and Sean Wetherspoon, the primary fill in for De’Vondre Campbell at weak side linebacker, are no longer on the team. Does Coach Quinn draft an outside linebacker to split time with Beasley on early downs so that he is more rested on passing downs. Maybe even a player that can play both outside linebacker positions? Two linebackers that will be available in the second, third and maybe fourth rounds are Tyus Bowser and Alex Anzalone. Both have the skill set to cover running backs and tight ends, rush the passer, and stop the run. Bowser is a fast twitch muscle prospect and plays that way. Anzalone can play any of the three linebacker spots, but has a history of injuries. Expect this position to see a day two or day three selection.

dowsing1

Draft dowsing: start ’em young.

Tight End: Currently the Falcons have six tight ends on the roster. So why would they draft another tight end? According to Dimitroff the roster does not have any holes. If the team is not filling holes they will be upgrading positions. The tight end position can use some upgrading and there just happens to be a deep tight end class this year! If OJ Howard is still on the board at 31 it would be foolish to pass on him, but Howard is so good that he will be one of the top 15 picks. After Howard there are a number of good tight ends, but most of them have glaring weaknesses. Coach Sarkisian likes to run double tight end sets. To do this he needs two tight ends that can block, but it would also be a tremendous advantage if those tight ends can catch. An added bonus would be a tight end that can line-up at the fullback position a couple times during the game. These preferences will help streamline the list of prospects receiving consideration. It is highly doubtful that Coach Quinn would use anything before a third round pick on a tight end. Michigan’s Jake Butt is a possibility in the third round, but he is coming off a season ending injury. George Kittle, whose stock has been on the rise since the combine, could be selected in the fourth round and maybe the fifth. Kittle was the third fastest tight end at the combine behind Howard and Evan Engram. Kittle was used as an inline blocker at Iowa and was even lined up in the back field on occasion. Tennessee’s Jason Croom might be worth a seventh rounder as a developmental tight end. He was converted from wide receiver his senior season, and will need to improve on his blocking skills. Croom has had some injury issues during his college career that have prevented him from putting up bigger numbers like other tight ends in this draft class. Unless Coach Sarkisian is content with the current stable of tight end, look for the team to draft some young blood as early as the third round to add to the mix.

Untitled-7

And the arrow is pointing up.

Kick Returner: The Falcons recently signed Andre Roberts to a 1.8 million dollar contract. It is expected that he will be the return man for Atlanta during the 2017 season. If Roberts doesn’t make the team then his salary cap hit will drop to 750,000. This would save the team a little over 1 million in cap space. Devin Fuller will compete with Roberts for return duties. They are both receivers and there is probably only one roster spot between the two of them. Many teams use the sixth and seventh rounds of the draft to address Special Teams. Here are two prospects that might hear they name called in the seventh round by the Falcons. TJ Logan was second in the country in yards per kick return with a 32.9 average. Trey Edmunds has battled injuries during his career, but the big back ran a 4.47 forty at 223 lbs and showed soft hands. He can factor into short yardage plays on offense and he has the size to make an impact on special teams maybe even as a returner. One other prospect worth mentioning, but maybe not worth drafting is Speedy Noil from Texas A&M. He is a dynamic athlete, but he has a number of red flags. If Atlanta’s staff goes a different direction in the seventh round it will show the confidence they have in Andre Roberts and Devin Fuller to handle return duties for the 2017 season.

Everything, up till the cards have been turned in, is simply a combination of hopes, dreams, and best guesses. In about a month the Atlanta Falcons will be adding a number of rookies to their roster with the hope that they will all become productive players. For now those prospects are working to improve their draft stock, while the rest of the football world tries to figure out which selections will give their team the best chance to win a championship. Just as the past two drafts have provided the Falcons with an infusion of youth, look forward to more of the same in 2017!

on-the-clock

On the clock.

Current State of the Roster, Part 2

Manuel

Marquand Manuel

by Michael Chastain – just “lil ole” me

Some of us love this time of year because we get to fantasize about what players may be signed and which ones might get released. What kind of trades we can put together as we play arm chair GM. Then we check out the prospects and build our own personal draft boards. We make more trades so we can draft most if not all the prospects we like. The depth chart gets constructed and we think “That team is going to win the Super Bowl!” On second look we change this and that as we reimagine how the roster will look come September. Others just sit back and applaud or shake their fist as the team we love makes offseason moves. The Falcons have a roster that was up by 25 points in the Super Bowl and at most will only lose two starters from that team. That in itself is worth getting excited about! No one can predict the future, but right now the future is looking good! Enjoy the offseason, the anticipation, and the imagination!


THE DEFENSE

Defensive Tackles:

Starters: Grady Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman – Jarrett is embedded as one of the starting Defensive Tackles. Hageman is the incumbent though he only started four or the twelve games he played in this season.

Backups: Chris Mayes, Jimmy Staten – Mayes spent the 2016 season on injured reserve. He will get the opportunity to earn one of the rotational spots in 2017. Staten was drafted by the Seahawks in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent the 2014 season on Seattle’s practice squad. Did Coach Quinn see something in him in Seattle? Will it show up in camp for the Falcons?

Expectations: Defensive Tackle is a rotational position for Atlanta. The team really needs a minimum of four quality players to rotate during the game. That is one of the things that was lacking in 2016. It is why we saw players like Courtney Upshaw at 272 pounds playing some Defensive Tackle. Look for the team to bring in a number of new players to compete for these roster spots.

Jonathan Babineaux, the longtime Falcon we all know as “Babs” has already posted his good-byes to the Atlanta fans on Instagram. He was informed by the team that they will not be resigning him. He was a player that we all enjoyed watching over the years! Joe Vellano was promoted to the Falcons active roster during the post season after Adrian Clayborn was placed on injured reserve. He will be a restricted free agent. With his limited playing time the team should be able to resign him at the veteran minimum. This position is one of the biggest needs going into the new NFL year.

Some possible free agent signings are Jonathan Hankins, Dontari Poe, Dominique Easley, and Stacy McGee. These players are all under the age of 27 and will be able to contribute to the team for a number of years. Poe and Hankins both had down years due to injury. This might help keep their price tag down, as they are both proven game changers. Poe’s injury is a bit more concerning since it was a back injury he sustained in 2015 that he still has not recovered from. Easley played well this season after being cut from the Patriots. There are some off the field concerns that he hopefully has remedied. McGee graded well according to Pro Football Focus. He started nine games, one where he sacked Matt Ryan. He should have the lowest price tag of these four free agents. Two slightly older options are Stephen Paea and Chris Baker. They are both 29 years old. Paea was the beast of the combine a few years back benching 225 pounds 49 times. His play has been up and down the past few seasons. He had 6 sacks in and 2 forced fumbles in 2014. Baker had his best year in 2015 when he tallied 53 tackles, 6 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. He followed it up this past year with 47 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. Baker is projected to get upwards of 7 million a year from the team he signs with which may be more than Atlanta is willing to spend on an older defensive tackle.

Listen for a Defensive Tackle’s name to be called during the draft and maybe two. Will it be a day one prospect or someone like Grady Jarrett who falls to day three? Caleb Brantley (University of Florida) is a smaller tackle who excels at disrupting the backfield. Some have compared to Atlanta’s own Jonathan Babineaux. If the Falcons are interested in him they will probably have to select him in the first round. It is doubtful that he will last until they pick in the second round. Carlos Watkins (Clemson) is a beast on the Defensive Line who keeps getting better. He is stout in the run game and disruptive in the backfield. Will Coach Quinn dip into the Clemson well again? Like Brantley, Watkins will need to be a first round selection. It is a slim chance that he makes it to the end of the second round. Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama) only has one year of starting experience. He is more of a run stuffer at this point in his career. He moved well in Alabama’s stunt/twist oriented defense. Dalvin is a day two prospect. Montravius Adams (Auburn) was unblockable the first day of practices at the Senior Bowl. He has an explosive first step. Many feel that he underachieved at Auburn. His Senior Bowl showing should push him into the day two conversation. Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) was projecting to be a future first round draft pick before tearing his ACL in 2015. His 2016 film shows a different player than his body of work before the injury. Will an extra year removed from the injury help him return to the player he was pre injury? Most teams will not take that chance early in the draft which is why he is projected as a day three selection. DeAngelo Brown (Louisville) led the Cardinals in tackles for loss with 14. He plays with great leverage and is a disruptor in the run game. He is currently projected as a day 3 pick. D.J. Jones (Ole Miss) is a 320 pound player that moves like a fullback, but he is only 6’0”. He has a high revving motor and great lateral quickness. The knock on him is that he is shorter than most teams like their defensive tackles to be and he has short arms. He has been compared to Grady Jarrett. All DJ must do now is play like Jarrett when he gets to the NFL! He is projected as a late day 3 pick.

Adams_Watkins

Mantravius Adams, Carlos Watkins

Edge Defenders:

Starters: Vic Beasley, Derrick Shelby – Beasley had his coming out party in 2016 when he posted 15.5 sacks to lead the league. Shelby was signed to be the other bookend, but was placed on injured reserve after only 6 games. His play during those six games was not as good as many had hoped for. He will have to earn his starting spot in 2017 with improved play!

Backups: Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, Tyson Jackson, Martin Ifedi – Clayborn was second on the team with 4.5 sacks. He continues to be a contributor in Dan Quinn’s Defense. Reed was brought in at a hefty price two years ago. After an injury riddle 2015 he was able to play 15 games with 7 starts in 2016. Even with a full season of playing time his statistical production has not reached what he did in Houston. Jackson’s production dropped off this year. Many consider him not worth the price paid for the pedestrian numbers he has put up since signing with Atlanta. Ifedi had 22.5 career sacks in college, but most scouts felt like his game did not translate well to the NFL. He has been on and off various practice squads the past two seasons. He will get a chance to compete in camp.

Expectations: Will Atlanta resign any of their free agent Edge Defenders? Courtney Upshaw played where ever he was needed this past season. He put up respectable numbers for being a rotational player. Dwight Freeney still has the fire to play the game. He was worth every penny of his one million dollar contract. Dwight has been a great mentor to the younger players. Will the Front Office bring him back for one more season? Tyler Starr is a project that only played in one game. Does the coaching staff like him enough to resign, him or is it time to move on?

There are a number of edge defenders on the free agent market this season. But, are they worth what they will cost to sign? John Simon, Alex Okafor, and Jarvis Jones are all three candidates that should come with a lower price tag because either they are not full time starters, or they have underperformed. That being said they are only worth signing if the coaching staff sees areas of their play that can be developed. Simon has averaged over 50 tackles and 4 sacks as a part time starter the past two seasons. Okafor had 8 sacks in 2014, but his production has dropped off the past two seasons. Can he still be the player that was terrorizing Quarterbacks? Jones is considered to be a first round bust. Can a change of scenery and coaches help him find the production he had in college?

The least expensive Edge Defenders come from the draft, but most take at least a year to adjust the NFL game. This is an area that has the potential to be addressed at any point in the draft. Here are some Edge Defenders with promise. Taco Charlton is a first round prospect out of Michigan. He is only a one year starter, but he has a violent punch with great lower agility. DeMarcus Walker (Florida State) had over 20 tackles for loss in 2016. He is a backfield disruptor in the run and passing game. DeMarcus is currently a second day prospect. Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villinova) is a very intelligent player that is just scratching the surface of his abilities. He had a good week at the Senior Bowl. Tanoh is an early third day prospect. Trey Hendrickson (Florida Atlantic) was one of the best looking prospects at the Shrine Game this year. He had good production at Florida Atlantic. Trey is projected to be drafted on the third day. Deatrich Wise (Arkansas) was the second best pass rusher against power 5 teams in 2015 as a backup. His 2016 season did not start well when he injured his hand in the season opener. He played through that and other injuries, but it affected his production. He has long arms to keep linemen away. One team will find a third day gem when they draft him.

Freeney_Charlton

Dwight Freeney, Taco Charlton

Outside Linebackers:

Starters: De’Vondre Campbell – Campbell was part of Coach Quinn’s infusion of youth into the teams defense in 2016. Expect him to continue to improve in 2017.

Backups: None

Expectations: Sean Weatherspoon, Philip Wheeler, Josh Keyes (ERFA) – Weatherspoon has only played one season where he has not missed a game. Wheeler is no longer the player that recorded triple digit tackles in 2012 and 2013, but he played well for his age when called upon. Keyes is a fluid athlete who is more like an over grown safety than a linebacker. In college he did well beating blocks to make the tackle. As an exclusive rights free agent expect him to resigned and compete in camp for the backup spot at weak side linebacker.

The Falcons are going to need to add two or more Outside Linebackers to fill the voids left by the free agents. Watch for Atlanta to invite Jelani Jenkins in for talks. Jenkins played for Coach Quinn in college, so there is some familiarity there. Jenkins is the complete outside linebacker. He can rush the passer, stop the run, and cover tight ends. His pedestrian numbers in 2016 were due to playing through a knee injury. This may help to keep his price tag down.

It is highly doubtful to see a day one pick at linebacker, but days two and three are different stories. Tyus Bowser (University of Houston), a three down linebacker, is an explosive, quick twitch athlete. He can be used as an edge rusher or in coverage. Tyus played two years of college basketball and those skills have helped his coverage. Currently he is a day two prospect. Alex Anzalone (Florida) has been injured most of his college career. He has great size and athleticism. Alex can play all three linebacker spots, but can he stay healthy? Even with the injury concerns he is projected to be drafted between the third and fourth rounds. Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Tennessee) is a linebacker safety hybrid who can cover. He excels at reading and reacting to the play. Senior season ended in early due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. He is currently a late day three projection.

Inside Linebackers:

Starters: Deion Jones – He played well considering he was a rookie thrown into the fire. Look for him to continue to improve in 2017!

Backups: None

Expectations: Atlanta is going to sign two or more Inside Linebackers. Paul Worrilow stepped in as an undrafted rookie to record over 125 tackles. He lost his starting role to Deon Jones this year. Expect him to be signed by a linebacker needy team where he will be starting. LaRoy Reynolds fared well during his limited playing time. Expect him to resign with the Falcons if the price is right.

Jon Bostic is a good bet to receive some attention from the Falcons in the free agent market. He is another one who played for Coach Quinn at Florida. He showed the kind of player he can be while with the Bears. Recent injuries have derailed his career. Can Coach Quinn get him back on track?

Other than Anzalone mentioned above it is doubtful that Atlanta would draft an inside linebacker before day three if at all. A possible third day developmental selection is Connor Harris from Lindenwood. He is 5’11”, 240 pounds and is one of the fastest inside linebackers in the draft. He has great agility and football IQ. The knock on him is that he has short arms and a difficult time getting off his blocker. A good showing at the combine could push him to early on day three in the draft.

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Jelani Jenkins, Jon Bostic

Defensive Backs:

Starters: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Jalen Collins, Keanu Neal – There is no talk of trading Trufant by the front office. Even if that were something they are looking into I would expect it to remain very quiet. Unless Trufant is traded then look for Alford to play nickel cornerback and Collins to play opposite Trufant. Neal is going to be the man at strong safety. Free safety is the only open starting position.

Backups: Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin, Sharrod Neasman – Poole played well for an undrafted rookie. He will continue to provide depth at corner and safety where he played some in college. Goodwin, the converted receiver, continues to improve. This may be a make or break year for him. Neasman will need to compete for playing time. He was versatile in college playing the nickel and free safety, but his lack of speed may be keeping him off the field.

Expectations: The Falcons need to fill the starting free safety position and bring in some competition for the backup spots. Ricardo Allen (ERFA), Dashon Goldson, Kemal Ishmael, Akeem King (RFA), Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Deji Olatoye (ERFA) – Allen is an exclusive rights free agent. Expect him to be tendered and resigned. There is a slight chance that Atlanta brings in a free agent or drafts a player to compete with Allen for the starting free safety position. Goldson, a former pro bowler, will be 32 and may not be in the Falcons future plans. Dimitroff has said in his most recent press conference that they are working to resign Ishmael. King will be a restricted free agent. He performed well in camp and was even mentioned as the possible third cornerback before ending up on the injured reserve list. Wreh-Wilson was signed when the team placed Trufant on injured reserve. If he is resigned it will be to compete for a backup position in the secondary. Olatoye is an exclusive rights free agent who was promoted from the practice squad in November. He played in five games and recorded 4 tackles. If he is tendered he will be competing for a backup position in the secondary.

There is not anyone that jumps out as a possible free agent signing for the Falcons. Matt Elam may be available on the cheap if he can cleanup his off the field antics. The Ravens parted ways with him after being arrested for possession of marijuana. Coach Quinn may give him a second chance in the NFL since he is familiar with the player from Florida.

I doubt the team drafts a cornerback high enough to be considered a starter, but a rookie free safety would not be surprising. Some interesting draft prospects to keep an eye on are Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut) who can play both safety positions. He is a big safety that is fast. He was the quickest player to the ball on Connecticut’s defense. It is doubtful that he will last to the third round. Kevin King (Washington) played safety and corner at Washington. He only has average speed, but is long and can fill in at any defensive back position. Early on the third day is where he is projected to be drafted. Jeremy Clark (Michigan) is coming off a knee injury that required surgery. He should be ready by the beginning of the season, but the team will need to do its medical homework on him. If not for the injury he should have been a day two prospect at worst. He is currently a late day three prospect.

Poole_Goodwin

Brian Poole, CJ Goodwin

Special Teams:

Starters: Matt Bryant (K), Matt Bosher (P), Josh Harris (LS)

Backups: Mike Meyer (K)

Expectations: No change to these roster spots unless Matt Bryant decides to retire.

Some of us love this time of year because we get to fantasize about what players may be signed and which ones might get released. What kind of trades we can put together as we play arm chair GM. Then we check out the prospects and build our own personal draft boards. We make more trades so we can draft most if not all the prospects we like. The depth chart gets constructed and we think “That team is going to win the Super Bowl!” On second look we change this and that as we reimagine how the roster will look come September. Others just sit back and applaud or shake their fist as the team we love makes offseason moves. The Falcons have a roster that was up by 25 points in the Super Bowl and at most will only lose two starters from that team. That in itself is worth getting excited about! No one can predict the future, but right now the future is looking good! Enjoy the offseason, the anticipation, and the imagination!

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Bulgarian placekicker prospects (left to right): Kamen, Blagoy, Stanimer, and identity unknown.