An Epic Guest Post from Cage Member Dewey
Offensive Skill Positions Review and Predictions
It’s that time of year. Time to look at our Falcons roster. See what we have, what we need, and what we can live with (at least for one more season)
(just the skill positions for now, will do another on the o-line, then one for defense as this is getting a bit long for anyone to want to read)
Part I-The Quarterbacks
Matt Ryan, TJ Yates, Sean Renfree
Matt Ryan is our guy. One of the better QB’s in the game, probably the best we’ve ever had around here. Besides his stats, anyone who has watched him, especially the last 2 seasons, has to be impressed with his toughness. The beating he has taken the last 2 seasons and he hasn’t missed 1 snap. His rather hefty contract expires in 2019, but we can probably expect an extension at some point that will lend some cap relief and ensures MR2 stays in Atlanta his entire career.
TJ Yates-back up who’s contract has expired. Unless someone on the inside sees something we don’t, it’s time to move on from Yates, his money can be well spent elsewhere.
Sean Renfree-probably has the backup job. Has performed nicely in some preseason games. Hope we won’t need to see what he can do in real game situations for any extended period of time.
Analysis: it’s all good at the QB position, no real need to add anything here. We’ll probably bring in an UDFA for preseason depth and competition, as well as an emergency QB on the practice squad. I will add however, if a veteran proven backup can be brought in on the cheap, it might not be a bad idea to bring them in. The beating Ryan has taken without a scratch and the injuries that have befallen every other position, you’re just kinda waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Prediction: Ryan and Renfree make the club, rookie added to PS. Yates looking for work.
Part II-The Running Backs
Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jerome Smith, Antone Smith, Ronnie Wingo
Steven Jackson-you always hate to see a great player who’s poured his heart and soul into his craft, no longer be able to play like you remember. But that time has come for Jackson. He will most likely be cut before training camp, tough love as our buddy SW calls it. Cutting Jackson will create some cap space, but also create a little bit of the dreaded “dead money”. A necessary evil in this case as dead money is preferable to dead weight.
Devonta Freeman-the odds on favorite to be the feature back. Devonta has a style more suited to our new west coast blocking scheme and is an excellent receiver coming out of the back field. A years worth of experience will have him better adjusted for pass protection duties as well.
Jacquizz Rodgers-His contract is up, but at only 24 years of age, he still has a lot of football ahead of him. Never meant to be a feature back, this change of pace runner did everything that was asked of him under sometimes less than ideal conditions. Visions of a Darren Sproles type of back never materialized as he was mostly underutilized in a power back scheme.
Jerome Smith-UDFA who landed on the practice squad and has parlayed that into a modest contract with virtually no guaranteed money that runs through 2017. One of the bigger backs on the roster.
Antone Smith-if not for a mid season injury, we could have complained about his grotesque misuse all season long. Gifted with a burst from step one which few players possess, anytime ‘Tone touched the ball, everyone held their breath. His contract has expired and he’s coming off a broken leg, not the best way to hit free agency.
Ronnie Wingo-this big back from Arkansas has pretty much the same story line as Jerome Smith, but with no guaranteed money on a contract that runs through 2017.
Analysis: on the surface we appear to be in pretty good shape here. The reins will be handed to Devonta, either Quizz or ‘Tone will be resigned, and the other Smith and Wingo have a chance to make the club as a big back. No major upgrades needed, but the ball is squarely in Devonta’s court. A mid to late draft pick should be spent here to provide capable backup or to share some of the load.
Prediction: Freeman, J Smith, and ‘Tone make the club along with a drafted RB. Quizz signs elsewhere and Wingo heads to the PS or is cut with no guaranteed money so no dead money. SJax rides off into the sunset, keeping himself in shape for a late preseason phone call from someone after injuries start setting in or players just aren’t working out as hoped for some teams.
Fullback has become all but a forgotten position in the NFL, until you really need one. Dimarco’s contract is up, his price tag was cheap and probably wouldn’t cost anymore to resign him. Never a devastating blocker or runner, DiMarco did show signs at the beginning of 2014 that he could be counted on for a couple of surprise receptions a game. Then we went away from that game plan for 10-12 weeks and by the time we got back to it, DiMarco had forgotten how to catch.
Analysis: this is one I could live with for one more season if I had to.
Prediction: DiMarco is resigned to a 2 year contract with no guaranteed money, meaning we can cut him with no ramifications if something better comes along. Probably won’t draft a FB unless the top 1-2 FB in the draft is still available in the 7th round where we have 2 picks. Otherwise some form of FA will be brought in for competition. Not a top priority this offseason. Revisit in 2016.
Part IV-Wide Receivers
Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Drew Davis, Freddie Martino, Bernard Reedy, Eric Weems
Roddy White-on the wrong side of 30, has lost a step, hands are getting hard and calloused causing inopportune drops, nagging bumps and bruises are now becoming lingering injuries causing him to miss games or not play to the level we are accustomed to seeing and he’s signed through 2017 with a contract that is heavier on the back end. Still he owns or will own every receiving record in the Falcons record book. We should have tried to find his replacement already as he may now be more of a solid #3 than a solid #2. However, ya gotta love #84.
Julio Jones-What’s there to say? A tremendous athlete and right now the best WR on our team and one of the best in the league. Heading into the last year of his contract and coming off his best season, this ones gonna be expensive to keep around. I have advocated “LOOKING” to see what trading Julio could net you, mostly for economic reasons. No harm in looking right? But let’s face facts, no way is King Arthur going to give up 5 picks to draft this guy only to trade him away 5 years later. Plus, by 2016, unless some other move happens in a big way for us, Julio could be our only legitimate receiving threat. We just need him to stay healthy for 35-50 consecutive games.
Harry Douglas-Wow, talk about banging your head against the ceiling and not being able to break through. Harry is a solid, not spectacular #3 receiver. The problem here is, he needed to be a solid #2 receiver. In 2013, because of injuries to other players, he was able to showcase what he could do, and had a solid season. Again, solid, not spectacular. Harry is in the last year of his contract and will be 30 next season, the taboo age in sports, though it doesn’t affect WR’s as much. Trading him this offseason might net you a 5th round pick, doubtful we could get a #4, maybe a late #4, but the Falcons receiving cupboard is pretty bare after the “big 3”. Less than $1million in dead money if cut with a cap savings of $3.5 million.
Devin Hester-excellent return man, better than we expected WR. Another on the wrong side of 30. Can make the wideopen reception, but has trouble making the tough catch. Under contact for the next 2 seasons, cutting him this season would net you almost the same amount in cap space as it would in dead money(about 500K difference). Still one of the best return men in the league(pro bowler this year) and definitely the best return man we have. Maybe this season he’s just an 8-10 plays a game guy with half of those being as decoys and the other half trying to get him the ball in space where he is truly dangerous.
Drew Davis-restricted free agent, which means we get to match any contract anyone is willing to sign him to, and if we don’t, we may get compensation for him(though doubtful given his career standings). Everything about this guy screams he should be a solid #3 or even a #2. Showed some flashes in 2013 with all of the injuries, but then himself injured in 2014, pretty much ruining any chances to improve upon 2013. 26 years young so he isn’t going to get bigger or faster, but he isn’t slowing down either. The biggest thing this kid needs is reps to try and impress coaches and improve his skills.
Freddie Martino-young, hungry, on the books for 2 more seasons with no guaranteed money which equals no dead money. Had a decent camp last season, played some at the end of 2014. Will have to prove himself in camp.
Bernard Reedy-1st preseason game, 2014-WOW!!!! Everyone was talking about this guy. He was gonna make the club, bring more explosiveness to the offense, probably end up being the #3 receiver before the season ended, then….what? Where’d he go? We didn’t see a whole lot of Reedy after that 1st preseason game. There has been some speculation that Reedy was put on ice on purpose. His only real chance to help on special teams is as a return man, which we had one of the best, and with the top 4 WR spots already spoken for, the 1-2 backup WR’s would have to be able to contribute on ST’s, which meant Reedy wasn’t going to make the final 53 and have to go to the practice squad. But the Falcons feared if they showcased him too much, he would be snatched up for someone else’s 53 or at least their PS. So Reedy got all his work in practice, no game time. Has the exact same contract status as Martino.
Eric Weems-I love this guy. He’s a football player. He will do anything asked of him and give it everything he’s got. Special teams ace, decent return man and can grab a few passes if you need him to on offense. Selfless downfield blocker. Just a good team guy. Currently not under contract, got him on the cheap last season for less than 750K.
Analysis: This group needs to get younger and by definition hungrier pretty damn quick. If we were a team on the brink of competeing for the Super Bowl, I’d say ride the same untit for one more season and see what we can do. But with a new direction, new head coach, new philosophies, there’s bound to be some bumps in the road. You don’t want to go through growing pains with a group that won’t be around when the pain stops.
Prediction: Against my recommendation, the Falcons aren’t going to talk to anyone about Julio. Julio is staying right here until he can no longer walk onto a football field under his own power. Julio, Roddy, Drew Davis, and Bernard Reedy make the club. A WR is drafted in the mid rounds and a few UDFA as well as some mid level veteran FA will be brought in. The Falcons try and trade HD83 and if they can’t, he is released for cap space. Hester is released as Reedy or someone else takes over return duties. Hester is pretty much a break even on cap space vs. dead money. Martino finds himself on the outside looking in at a numbers game. Believe he can be resigned to practice squad if we so choose.
Personal Note:I hope Weems comes back. There is something to be said for having guys who are just football players on your roster. But needing to get younger here(Weems is 29 now, will be 30 during 2015), I just don’t see it as likely, no matter how cap friendly he is.
Part V-Tight Ends
Levine Toilolo, Mickey Shuler, Kyle Miller, Bear Pascoe
Levine Toilolo-everyone’s favorite punching bag not named Kroy Biermann. Tall, gangly specimen(big, but looks gangly due to his height at 6’8”). An above average blocker with below average hands. Tries to make too many catches with his body. When you’ve got arms that long, it’s difficult to wrap them around the ball before it bounces off your chest. Decent speed for a TE, but not Graham, Gronkowski, or any of the new era hybrid TE’s. currently under contract for the next 2 seasons with a very cap friendly number, plus only 150K in dead money if we decide to go in another direction here.
Mickey Shuler-more than just a few of us were amazed that he didn’t make the final 53 in 2014. He showed to be a decent “old school” TE as a target on offense. Nothing earth shattering as a blocker, but not many TE’s are in this day and age. Missed his chance when Smitty and Co. decided to go with 2-TE’s instead of the traditional 3. Currently signed to a 2 year futures contract with no guaranteed money.
Kyle Miller-have to admit, I had to do some research on this one. Signed to a futures contract similar to Shuler’s, has been with Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Miami. Has played in 1 career game(Indy in 2012). Had a decent career at Bowling Green and is a big body(6’5”, 260+lbs).
Bear Pascoe-a better than average blocking TE, was also our backup fullback in 2014 and managed to catch a couple of passes. Seems better suited to a power offensive football scheme. Currently not under contract, was on a Eric Weems type of contract in 2014.
Analysis: I pretty much feel the same way about the tightend position this year as I do about the fullback position. I could live with the status quo for one more season and revisit this in 2016. We have more important holes to fill for 2015 and we have plenty of offensive firepower without a top notch TE. Someone needs to get Toilolo into basketball camp so he can learn to catch the ball away from his body with his hands. Maybe bring in Tony Gonzalez as a special assistant just for training camp with the sole objective on working with Toilolo on getting separation and catching.
Prediction: Levine makes the ball club. A TE will either be taken late in the draft or in FA or both. I don’t know what philosophy we will go with(2 or 3 TE’s), if we go with 3, Shuler has a shot, if we just go with 2, Shuler will be shown the door once again. The Bear won’t even be offered a contract.