Dead Zone on it’s Way Out
Sorry for the delay on a new post Cage brethren, but as the summer nears the edge of the end, the passion will come roaring back for all of us. It’s only a matter of weeks now until the Falcons not only kick off training camp, but also do it live for the entire country to see. Since the NFL’s Top 100 Players is officially a joke (Matt Ryan isn’t even #100 on the list), then it’s time to do our own version for our Falcons. The Dead Zone’s end is nigh, but it’s not next week, so in that case, let’s break it down by offense and defense. First up…..offense. This ranking can take on many different categories and characteristics. It can be Most Valuable to the Falcons, who needs to have the best year in 2014 for the Falcons to have success, or simply who’s your favorite Falcons. With that said, this list will take the form of who currently holds the most value to the Falcons AT THIS TIME, but feel free to put your own spin on it.
#1) Matt Ryan
No need to belabor the point here. Despite the fact that the NFL Network is really stupid, he’’s one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. Unlike Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kapernick, Ryan hasn’t had one of the best defenses in the league to help him out. In fact, he’s had one of the worst. The fact that, statistically, he achieved close to what he did in 2012 with a trainwreck offensive line and planecrash running game speaks volumes. Those who are dismissive or enjoy hating on Ryan obviously don’t share a penchant for the truth. Above all, he’s the best hope the Falcons have to ever win the Lombardi. Although, that time will start to run out sooner than most think.
#2) Julio Jones
Yes, he was hurt most all of the 2013 season and won’t take a live snap until the first game vs. the Saints, but he was on pace to mirror what Calvin Johnson did during his record breaking campaign. He’s an All-Pro and Pro Bowl player of the highest caliber. It seems only a matter of his health will be the issue going forward.
#3) Roddy White
Some may disagree here, but currently Roddy White with the combination of Julio Jones with Matt Ryan throwing the football represent the best chance the Birds will have to win the big win. He’ll turn 33 this November, but he showed that he still has enough left in the tank after he finally got over his injury to make a run for the next few years.
#4) Justin Blalock
Mr. Dependable. He’s started every single game since donning red and black (110 if you’re counting) and been THE ONLY player to be a rock in a tornado of disaster on the offensive line. He’s literally seen every other offensive line position changed at least once, and in many instances several times over (right guard perhaps?). He’s got to step up and be the lead of this OL.
#5) Jake Matthews
Scoff all you want, but the Falcons finally took a top tier talent in the first round on the offensive line. Some would argue that Sam Baker should be here, but that dude has officially stayed healthy roughly 50% of the time he’s been here (2008, 2011, 2013 on injured reserve). Matthews represents the current and the future for the Falcons. He immediately boosts this offensive line and will probably be taking over Ryan’s blindside sooner than later. Two time All-American at both RT and LT in the SEC give him the nod over everyone else.
#6) Jon Asamoah
It’s crazy to think that a new free agent should be this high but several factors come in to play on why he’s this high. First, he finally stops the ridiculous turnstile that’s happened at right guard for 3 years. He’s a proven veteran that can pass block and close that hole that’s led to Ryan getting beat to death for years. Dimitroff and Co. decided to fill the awful sieve at right guard, very much belatedly. He makes it over Hawley due to his proven experience and over Baker because he can play more than a few downs without getting an injury.
#7) Harry Douglas
Maybe this is too high for HD, but the assumption is that he will take over most of the 80 catches that Tony Gonzalez averaged over the last 5 years. He once and for all proved he can be a legitimate target going over 1,000 yards receiving when both White and Jones were injured and maybe he can finally shine in the slot receiver role we’ve longed for him to do.
#8) Sam Baker
Should he be higher? Should he be lower? It’s hard to gauge this guy. He’s been injured about 50% of the time he’s been a Falcon. On the bad end, when he’s been hurt (2011, 2013) the Falcons have had their worst seasons. But on the high end, when he’s been a stalwart for the Falcons (2010, 2012), they’ve had their best seasons. Ultimately, when he plays good and stays healthy, the Falcons have done well. The problem simply is that he cannot, for whatever reason, stay healthy. This is the reason he’s as low as he is: you just can’t count on him. Thank goodness the Falcons have other options to take over for him in Matthews, and also options to move to right tackle as well (Ryan Schraeder, Lamar Holmes). He was a first round draft pick that Dimitroff traded 2 second round picks for, and while he hasn’t been a total bust, he just can’t be counted on.
#9) Joe Hawley
The Falcons felt so strongly about Hawley that they gave him a fairly big contract for someone who has only shown bits and spurts in his career. He did well as a RG in 2011, but lost out completely to a really terrible Peter Konz in 2013. The former UNLV product redeemed himself late in 2013 when he took over for Konz last year and showed enough for the Falcons to give him a starter level contract. With Asamoah, Blalock, and Matthews beside him, maybe he’ll make the jump that so many think he can.
#10) Devontae Freeman
Crazy? Absolutely. But this has to do more with potential and promise than anything else. Also the fact that Freeman presents something new and fresh to this offense, combining speed and tough running. Steven Jackson proved he’s quickly over the hill, Jacquizz Rodgers missed his opportunity in 2013 to prove he can be the guy, and Antone Smith was blacklisted long ago. He really should be lower, but the hope of promise pushes him this high.
#11) Steven Jackson
The idea and aura of Steven Jackson donning a Falcons uniform trumped the reality of what we were getting. Jackson as 25, 27, or even 29 years of age would have been much different for us getting a running back that had already hit the 30 wall and over 10,000 yards rushing on his tires. He showed some rebirth towards the end, but the fact is that he is 31 years old and doesn’t present the threat he once did.
#12) Devin Hester
Even though fans want to see him on the field as much as possible on offense the fact is that he probably will be a glorified special teams player. But he’s proven that he can be dynamic in pretty much any regard when given the chance and that Julio is coming off major injury and Roddy White is 33 years old.
#13) Jacquizz Rodgers
The old Oregon State Beaver seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle after having Jackson being the lead back, Freeman the new starlet draft pick, and Antone Smith the speedster. It is very interesting to see where he fits in the 2014, but he’s shown to be the most versatile running back in run and pass this team has to date. If Jackson gets hurt or is ineffective, the idea of a Freeman / Rodgers combination is very interesting and promising, but don’t hold your breath with Smith’s penchant for his Veteran Preference Program.
#14) Levine Toilolo
Ugggh. So at this point it’s hard to rank too many more backups over a singular position that actually starts and plays the game. There just is no confidence in this position at all. Toilolo might be the next Gonzalez (beachfront in Kansas talk), but the front office is GIVING him the position without any competition whatsoever. They signed Bear Pascoe and it reeks of the Ben Hartsock, which was nothing more than a glorified blocker. 55 yards, 2 TDs in 16 games as a rookie gives us nothing.