Legendary Post By Cage Member JOHN WAYNESWORLD
As we welcome Dan Quinn and his coaching staff to Atlanta, there is optimism in the air when it comes to our team and the future. In Quinn we have a Head Coach who is a personable and intelligent leader with confidence drawn from recent championship experience. On the personnel side we have a GM in Pioli who when in charge of a draft board has a proven record of selecting Pro Bowlers. Together, Pioli and Quinn should produce a solid and very promising draft. While there has been plenty of Falcon front office forgiveness concerning the lame duck GM Dimitroff, his influence is negligible. Anyone Quinn wants from this draft he should get, especially in year one. I believe Arthur had this in mind and has already told Dimitroff in no uncertain terms to take a quiet back seat in this draft.
THE DRAFT SEASON BEGINS
This is the time of the offseason that millions of NFL fans start to dream again. To me it’s a great time because it’s all about eyeballs, evaluations, comparisons and decision-making. I have been perusing the college football talent landscape in past weeks and I thought I would share with you some ideas I have on this upcoming draft and some of my favorite prospects that could be selected by Pioli and Quinn. This is just a topical piece and obviously these thoughts are prior to the Combine, Free Agency and Pro Days but the players listed all have searchable stats and many played in the recent East-West Shrine and Senior Bowl games.
We could debate about which positions could be filled through free agency before and after the draft, but for now we can agree we pretty much need help everywhere especially at positions in the trenches, LB, RB, and TE. Most folks here in the Bird Cage know which positions are locked up contractually as well as which spots were filled in recent drafts by promising players we can use moving forward…in other words positions we probably won’t draft too high.
We also are aware of the specter of Sam Baker and his contract, but in the best interest of a smooth transition, Quinn may give Baker every chance to start at Left Tackle and move Matthews to RT (which is familiar to him). Due to Baker’s insane contract, his inability to play Right Tackle (or any other line position) and his potential for injury at any moment, the Falcons are basically stuck with him for now, but Pioli and Company will definitely begin to formulate their Plan B option for when Sam goes down (if they haven’t already). My guess is they will not draft an OT in the early rounds because of Baker and will look at some raw or fixable talent in the later rounds for that future Right Tackle. Having Matthews’ ability to shift from RT to LT gives us some flexibility on when to take an OT in the draft.
The draft hopefully will go just as we suspect and the positions we cry for should (for the most part) be addressed. The Falcons have lots of glaring holes so it is not a matter of if, but when in the Draft we take an Edge Rusher, TE, LB, RB, OT, CB, WR, OC or some other very similar combination of positions of need. It will be interesting to see how these player ratings change when their Combine numbers are revealed. In the meantime we can speculate and that’s what I’m doing here.
Note: The player links to the NFL.com website are not always complimentary toward the players. Thankfully it is only one opinion and the only reason I linked them to that particular website is because NFL.com had all (except one) of my prospects profiles, where other websites lacked information on many players.
LET’S GET STARTED!
>>>ROUND #1 (#8 OVERALL)<<<
Everybody on the football planet knows the Atlanta Falcons need a pass rusher…or two…or three. By the time the Falcons pick at #8, at least one of the top promising pass rushers should still be available. For the Falcons there should be no other positions to consider this high in the draft and it may not matter whether the prospect’s origins are a 4-3 or a 3-4 as long as they can get to the QB. By the time the 8th pick is announced the choices may be the following four edge rushers: Dante Fowler Jr, Shane Ray, Bud Dupree or Vic Beasley. Without mistake any one of them would help make our pass rush and our team better.
In a few select cases it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to trade down a few spots for that extra pick or two. Some mocks now have Beasley, apparently because of his light frame, falling to the middle of the 1st round. That would be in the vicinity of the rating for OLB/S Shaq Thompson, so we should still have our pick of an elite edge player as long as we don’t trade down too far. Thompson is an unbelievable all-around talent in himself and if used properly could be a QB’s nightmare.
Of course a pass rusher should be taken at #8, but with an underperforming roster it may be a smarter play for Atlanta to trade down for more picks and then select from that exceptional 2nd tier of edge rushers. A deal with Cleveland for instance would be ideal as they have an extra 1st round pick to play with in a prospective trade. Having 5 or six picks in the first 4 rounds would be optimal for a new coaching regime to address multiple problem areas in the draft, rather than navigating an expensive scavenger hunt through free agency.
Whatever…Just get that QB hunter!
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #8:
- DANTE FOWLER JR. – DE/OLB – FLORIDA
- SHANE RAY – DE/OLB – MISSOURI
- ALVIN “BUD” DUPREE – DE/OLB – KENTUCKY
- VIC BEASLEY – OLB – CLEMSON
- . SHAQ THOMPSON – OLB/S – WASHINGTON (TRADE DOWN)
>>>ROUND #2 (#42 OVERALL)<<<
This could be the selection to either double down on defense with an elite Linebacker or to consider that game-changing offensive skill player.
OLB/ILB – This is a great spot for a gliding sideline to sideline ILB who can also pass rush. Miami’s stud ILB Denzel Perryman’s is a possibility here and would be a great fit for us. UCLA’s Eric Kendricks is a super talented ILB and has moved up lists lately and would be a needed upgrade for us. Utah DE/OLB Nate Orchard seems more a DE than OLB, although he looked agile in pass coverage at the Senior Bowl. He would be a great addition to Quinn and Smith’s attacking defense.
TE – The Falcons may also want to take a look at Minnesota Tight End Maxx Williams if he falls to #42. Although not as glaring a need as pass rusher, a top TE selection at this spot could have an immediate impact in the 2015 season. It is possible that the TE position gets filled via free agency by a solid route-running veteran, but if they are going to draft a Tight End, Williams fits the bill perfectly as a 3rd down chain mover and red zone threat.
RB – Red flags abound for 1st and 2nd round RBs after Melvin Gordon. Unfortunately for us there are no “clean” 3-down RB prospects worthy of the 42nd pick. These prospects, although super-talented, are either too frail (Abdullah), coming off major injuries (Gurley, Coleman), or have significant fumbling (Ajayi, Yeldon) or pass protection (Johnson) issues. Tevin Coleman could be good fit for the Falcons but only if he performs well at either the Combine or his Pro Day. Gurley could go in the 1st round if he runs well at his Pro Day or the 2nd round if he just has a limited Pro Day. Neither may run at the Combine but Coleman could be ready to go.
OT – Penn State’s Donovan Smith looked really good at the Senior Bowl fending off all comers and is projected as a Right Tackle although he was a LT. A few other OT prospects have been rising recently but they will eventually separate themselves at the Combine. Without Baker on the roster this would have been our spot to select an Offensive Tackle, if we didn’t jump on one in Free Agency, but we have plenty of other positional needs and great prospects here in the 2nd round.
WR – Roddy’s age and health, Julio’s and Harry’s upcoming contracts, as well as never having any productive, up-and-coming WR depth past those 3 guys during the Smith era shows the need to upgrade talent at the WR position, but not at #42. There will be some very good WR prospects to select in later rounds.
Defense could trump practically everything at #42 and the Linebackers listed below are dynamic playmakers to be considered, but we could see a Tight End or Running Back picked here if someone the Falcons really covet is on the board.
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #42:
- MAXX WILLIAMS – TE – MINNESOTA
- TEVIN COLEMAN – RB – INDIANA
- DENZEL PERRYMAN – ILB – MIAMI
- NATE ORCHARD – DE/OLB – UTAH
- ERIC KENDRICKS – ILB – UCLA
>>>ROUND #3 (#73 OVERALL)<<<
At this point we should already have one of the those top pass rushers and either an offensive skill player or another elite ILB/OLB. Whichever positions we don’t have, the top of the 3rd round is still prime market for tremendous players.
LB – Lorenzo Mauldin has good measurables, great stats and is a multi-tool fire breather. He could be either a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick so he could be a possibility. Clemson’s Stephone Anthony has been moving up boards lately. He was a stand out at Senior Bowl practices with his quickness and hitting.
OL – Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams started every game at Right Tackle last season for a team that rushed for 261 yards per game. Hopefully he will be available in the 3rd round. Oregon Center Hroniss Grasu is very familiar with zone blocking techniques as well as being proficient in a hurry-up offense. Stone should be kept without a doubt but we may need an upgrade at Center with the new offensive scheme.
CB – We could find a solid CB at #73 depending on the status of our other DBs in Free Agency and maybe as an insurance policy if Robert Alford can’t stay healthy. Central Florida CB Jacoby Glenn has good size and is a good overall pass defender but needs some work with footwork and extended man coverages.
WR – Finding a gem WR in a loaded WR draft shouldn’t be difficult. Plenty of gifted WRs who hail from smaller programs or who had down years for any number of reasons can be found at #73. The Senior Bowl was brimming with overachievers outplaying the known studs. Still the Falcons should pass on one here.
RB – I don’t see any 3rd round-rated RBs that have the needed tools the Falcons are seeking, including pass protection and ball security, unless someone takes a 4th round prospect early like one of the RBs that will be mentioned in the next round. If anyone falls here it is because of various flaws that were mentioned earlier. I know South Carolina’s RB Mike Davis is rated around here but he is very similar to our own Devonta Freeman. He also has some lingering health issues.
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #73:
- LORENZO MAULDIN – OLB – LOUISVILLE
- STEPHONE ANTHONY – ILB – CLEMSON
- DARYL WILLIAMS – OT – OKLAHOMA
- HRONISS GRASU – C – OREGON
- JACOBY GLENN – CB – CENTRAL FLORIDA
>>>ROUND #4 (#104 OVERALL)<<<
If the Falcons are committed to drafting defense in the first 3 rounds, or they draft defense twice and then select one skill player, they could still go for another offensive player here at the top of the 4th round. If an O Lineman is taken from here on, I am glad Pioli is doing the picking. DBs also could get some scrutiny here.
RB – While major positions of need will be taken in the first 3 rounds, I think the sweet spot for Atlanta for a big, multi-tool, QB-protecting Running Back in this draft will be here at #104. Promising 3-down, fundamentally sound ball carriers Minnesota’s David Cobb and Northern Iowa’s David Johnson may still be around at this point in the draft. Cobb looks solid in every way and has a really nice burst to go with his size. He might not even make it to the 4th round but we can hope. He runs like a young Michael Turner but he can catch and pass protect as well. Johnson was surprisingly agile for a big man at the Senior Bowl, but his resume against lesser conference schools will be held against him. Good for us because Johnson may be just what we need. The touchdown run in the Senior Bowl was so impressive. He may actually excel in a ZBS with his excellent vision. Johnson has that one-cut-and-go that our OC does like. Both these RBs are very good pass protectors, which was chronicled at the Senior Bowl practices against top players. I think there is a significant drop-off after them so we may want to use our high 4th rounder on one of these multi-tool RBs. Cobb is the better thumper but either one of these two prospects would be a great complement to our smaller backs.
LB – There should still be some solid Linebackers here in the 4th round. Some will have earned their newfound rating at either the invitational bowl games or will soon at the Combine and Pro Days. UGA ILB Ramik Wilson could drop here due to coverage questions but could be a good ILB addition. LSU’s 4-3 OLB Kwon Alexander is a fast riser and may be gone by this spot. Texas OLB Jordan Hicks is another possibility. He would be ranked higher but has a laundry list of injuries.
DB – The Falcons could also be looking at some secondary players at this point to compete for a spot, again all dependent on the roster status of our DBs. Steve Nelson is a confident and aggressive Cornerback, which our new DC could be seeking. Michigan State’s Kurtis Drummond is a tall Free Safety with good instincts who hails from an acclaimed defensive program.
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #104:
- DAVID COBB – RB – MINNESOTA
- DAVID JOHNSON – RB – NORTHERN IOWA
- STEVE NELSON – CB – OREGON STATE
- KURTIS DRUMMOND – FS – MICHIGAN STATE
- RAMIK WILSON – ILB – GEORGIA
>>>ROUND #5 (#138 OVERALL)<<<
Here we can bolster the Defensive Backs and the Offensive Line while looking for hidden gems. An O Line addition at Center or Guard would upgrade the talent for the future. Getting a Right Tackle here could be an option. There are also some all-around athletes who may be projects to be taken in these later rounds.
OL –Rob Havenstein is a solid Right Tackle who can grade the road for RBs but needs work with speedy edge-rushers, which is the main reason why he is rated here. He’s got that nastiness we have been missing at RT. The Center position may still be a target and B.J. Finney is as solid as you could find this late in the draft. He’s a Remington finalist who can hold off those big Nose Tackles as well as push the line of scrimmage. Alabama OT Austin Shepherd is a tough-guy run blocker who could be coached up to play Right Tackle or be eventually moved to Guard, where he is projected.
TE – If the Falcons didn’t get their Tight End earlier they could find a blocking TE with nice upside. Delaware’s Nick Boyle was very impressive at the Senior Bowl. He is big Tight End who has long arms and good hands. Boyle could play quickly as he is big enough (6’6”, 270 lbs) to move Defensive Ends.
DB – A raw and interesting prospect could fall to the 5th round. Nick Marshall is a real wild card with all his other tools and he could make a fine Cornerback. It may just take some time for him to get readjusted to the position. His height (6’2”) is a real teaser too, plus there’s the Wildcat option for the offense.
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #138:
- ROB HAVENSTEIN – OT – WISCONSIN
- NICK BOYLE – TE – DELAWARE
- B.J. FINNEY – OC – KANSAS STATE
- NICK MARSHALL – CB – AUBURN
- AUSTIN SHEPHARD – OT – ALABAMA
>>>ROUND #6 (#169 OVERALL)<<<
At this point everybody is a longshot and going straight to Special Teams or just depth picks. Hometown guys could be given some priority here as well as savvy ballers from smaller schools and all-purpose players. Defense and O Line depth helps as well as Special Teams phenoms and overachieving WRs with speed.
LB – Utah State’s Zach Vigil is a throwback ILB with a crazy motor and hails from a school known for putting talent into the NFL. He is a good defensive leader and team captain. His rating will rise or fall with his Combine numbers but someone will definitely take him. Coaches love ‘always on’ effort guys and he’s one.
OL – Shaq Mason could be a fit at Guard or maybe backup OC. He has legitimate NFL power and zone blocking experience but his skills as a Center need to be evaluated as he was a Guard his entire time in college. He could stay a Guard with his impressive natural strength. The Combine could help his stock rise.
WR/ATH – Plenty of athletic prospects here in a loaded WR draft. Duke’s Jameson Crowder made some points at Senior Bowl practices while Missouri’s ATH Marcus Murphy was nifty on kick returns in the actual game. Crowder is a blazing WR who works best with an accurate QB, which we happen to have on our roster. Levi Norwood is a tall receiver with some skills but needs to get stronger for getting off coverage in the NFL.
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #169:
- ZACH VIGIL – ILB – UTAH STATE
- SHAQUILLE MASON – OG/OC – GEORGIA TECH
- MARCUS MURPHY – ATH – MISSOURI
- JAMISON CROWDER – WR – DUKE
- LEVI NORWOOD – WR – BAYLOR
>>>ROUND #7 (#200 OVERALL)<<<
The Falcons could still find excellent talent at Wide Receiver. Special teams stars would be welcome additions too.
WR – Rannell Hall outplayed many top WRs at the Senior Bowl and I think has a chance to be special. Hall has good size, great vertical speed and could return kicks or play gunner. Nebraska’s Kenny Bell has been very productive for all 4 years in college, never missed a game (played hurt alot), and was a team captain.
RB – If the plan is to find a good thumper, Yale’s Tyler Varga fits the bill. Smart, strong and willing to play both FB and RB as well as Special Teams. Good hands.
DB – Tennessee CB Justin Coleman had 4 picks last year to go with 31 tackles and was a productive 3-year starter. He’s another aggressive guy that may fit.
DT – I have steered clear of the D Line for roster reasons but taking a flyer on a small school product is a good play here. San Jose State DT Travis Raciti is a 2-time All Conference D Lineman, a 3-time All Academic award winner, has athletic upside and is a film study.
MY TOP 5 CHOICES AT #200:
- RANNELL HALL – WR/ATH – CENTRAL FLORIDA
- KENNY BELL – WR – NEBRASKA
- TYLER VARGA – RB – YALE
- JUSTIN COLEMAN – CB – TENNESSEE
- TRAVIS RACITI – DT – SAN JOSE STATE
>>>ROUND #7 (#224 OVERALL)<<<
Here’s where the new Head Coach puts his arm around the Bulldog Nation!
OC – David Andrews has been the foundation for an offensive line that had much success in his 4 years at UGA, three as a starter, and helped Aaron Murray get to the top of UGA’s record books. He is also very experienced with the hurry-up offense . I predict he will be drafted despite his Combine snub. His play and sideline demeanor reminds me of Todd McClure. He was voted the MVP of the 2013 season by the team, and was rock solid in 2014. Some club will take him.
WR – Mike Conley is tall, rangy, has great hands and has deceptive enough speed to get separation in a route. He’s not a burner but with Ryan’s pinpoint accuracy and timing, these two could have much success in tight windows. Conley also plays Special Teams with a passion so there’s not much to dislike here. He has prototypical size but he does need to add some strength to get off press coverage.
MY TWO CHOICES AT #224:
Yea…I’m a homer.
That’s all I got right now. We’ll see who shines at the Combine. I look forward to your responses.
Thanks for reading!