2016 Free Agency and Draft Preview – Part Two
Special Guest Writer: Roddy E. “Cocoa Mel” Nixon, Jr.
This one is not going to set well with a lot of people.
Since 2012, using overall statistical analysis, the Atlanta Falcons have been consistent. In the previous three years (2012, 2013, and 2014), we found a nice home in the cellar as one of the league most inconsistent defensive units. That was simply sad!! During this period, we had more “seasoned” defensive coordinators on the ATL staff than we have seen gubernatorial vetoes from Nathan Deal over the same period.
But wait!! Over the beautiful Appalachian foothills of north Georgia rode in a savior. Coming to save Atlanta and restore glory as mandated by Arthur Blank, the Falcons would bring in another defensive guru in the form of the Mighty One, Dan Quinn. Fresh from the Seattle Experience, Quinn would be the man to lead the Renaissance here in the Empire City of the South.
Soon, we would see that the same ole formula was still in play. Millions of dollars would be absolutely wasted once again on the defensive side of the ball. The trend, one that has included the likes of Ray Edwards, Dunta Robinson, and others, would keep on trucking in 2015 as we saw the arrival of pathetic joke known as Brooks Reed. As we continued to make extensive use of our “Big Lots” credit card, we did find a few “bargains” in the form of Justin Durant and Adrian Clayborn.
Before I move on to the heart of the matter, allow Tee Pee Sports a moment to handle a few admin matters. First, let’s give some love and kudos to my brother Arno. Your dedication to keeping the pulse of this forum going is incredible. THANK YOU!!
As usual during draft season, I pay homage to my mentors, Ozzie Newsome and Mel Kiper, Jr.
Last but certainly not least….allow me a special moment of deep reflection. As the draft draws near, I pause for a moment to remember a dear friend. The Queen of the Cage, our dear Sarah B., has now been observing from heaven’s luxury boxes, for five-plus seasons. Her enduring impacts continue to be felt in the Cage and her presence remains strong. Miss you, Queen!!
In 2015, we saw some strides made on the defensive side of the ball. Improvement was noted in several areas, moving from the OUTHOUSE to an affordable, decent apartment in the central city. I, for one, was glad to see the “foul funk” of ineptness take a hiatus for a while. Work remains certainly but at least, if only for a short time, things actually looked up.
Overall, we finished 16th in the league last season. In a dramatic improvement, the ATL rush defense moved up to 14th, a SEVENTEEN point move in the right direction!! Pass defense improved by 20%, advancing from 20th in 2014 to 16th in 2015.
TPS thinks this had more to do with the “weaker” aspects of the schedule early and a lot of lady luck defensively. Not a single Falcon defender was a player of the week or month nominee.
The defensive unit was horrid when it came to pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Falcons finished the year with a dreadful nineteen (19) sacks, worse in the league. How bad was that figure? Two of our NFC South rivals, Carolina and Tampa, DOUBLED that total, and the lowly New Orleans Saints, had a whopping 62% more sacks than Atlanta did. Simply put…SAD!!
We here at Tee Pee Sports will now evaluate, position group by position group, the defense. TPS will use a scale of one to five to evaluate the needs of the group. A grade of one means that there is no need for change at the position while a grade of five means a grave situation is being noted. We will state the need, suggest draft prospects, and comment on free agency as it relates to the position groups.
Rating: Five (Grave Concern)
In 2015, the Falcons made two moves that were intended to improve an incredibly weak pass rush. They BOTH paid dividends as the two acquisitions lead the team in sacks. But, despite the best efforts of these gentlemen, the Falcons, if you can believe it, actually REGRESSED. The team actually saw a 15% decrease in sacks. And of the nineteen sacks in 2015, over one-third came from “new” Falcons, Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn.
There is a bigger problem with the effort of the defensive end group. This issue carries over to the ENTIRE defensive line. There is a lack of quality coaching for this group. Bryan Cox IS NOT the man for this job. And he has to go as soon as possible.
DRAFT RECOMMENDATION: The absolute lack of talent and depth at the DE position outside of the two previously mentioned gentlemen is glaring. However, Tee Pee Sports does not see a defensive end worthy of a first round selection in this draft class.
In the SECOND round, TPS likes, from the University of Florida, Jonathan Bullard. ALL the tools, physical and mental, are in place. With a quality DL coach to clean up his technique, the Falcons get a presence as a 4-3 defensive end that could become a force for years to come. Solid against the run and showing capability to be effective as a pass rusher, Bullard represents great value here. He also has the size and tenacity to move inside, i.e., Michael Bennett.
FREE AGENCY MOVES: Retaining Adrian Clayborn was an outstanding move. If nothing else, he provides, if he maintains his healthy status, quality depth and experience. The Tee Pee has concerns about the inconsistency of Derrick Shelby. TPS also hopes that his issues with disrespecting women, failing to respect authority (both on the football field and when dealing with law enforcement) as well as displaying conduct detrimental to the team are all past him.
Rating: Five (Grave Concern)
The Atlanta Falcons continue to field, in my opinion, one of the worse interior presences in the National Football League. The interior of our front still struggles against the run and displays little to no ability to generate/supplement a pass rush. The best player at the defensive tackle position will be 35 years old this October and is probably in his last year as a Falcon. He should be, at this point in his career, a quality reserve player but finds himself forced into the starting role because there is little depth/experience behind him. Thanks for everything, Babs.
The clone of Babs, Grady Jarrett, should continue to evolve this season as he will most likely take Babs starting position in 2017. Do not be surprised if the inept front office cuts Babs as a move to get to the final 53 man roster and thrusts Jarrett into the starting role this season.
RaShade Hageman continues to under-achieve in TPS’s eye. With his size and power, the fact that he is not dominating up front reflects poorly on him as well as the inept defensive line coach discussed earlier, Bryan Cox. Personally, the DT that I compare Hageman to most is his fellow Big Ten counterpart, Carolina’s Kawann Short. And hands down, the Kittens are getting MUCH better production and performance in ALL facets out of their selection. It is time for Hageman to take it to the next level. But as long as Cox is his coach, he will continue to be mediocre. Fact!!
FREE AGENCY MOVES: The Falcons did release Paul Soliai. No cheers here as this was a stupid acquisition and major waste of money when made two years ago. Due to inept front office cap management, the Falcons could not make a move at this position in 2016.
DRAFT RECOMMENDATION: In the FIRST round, TPS shocks the world (and angers most Falcon fans), with this choice. It is an absolute need. The team gets a clone of Kawann Short. From Louisiana Tech, the Falcons select Vernon Butler. Like Short, Butler can line up anywhere along the front and be a force. He can dominate against the run, collapse the pocket, and has the speed/tenacity to facilitate a pass rush. Looking to the future, the Tee Pee is marveling at the thought of Butler and Jarrett dominating the interior.
Rating: Five (Grave Concern)
When the best linebacker on your football team is an undrafted free agent, consider yourself lucky. When you have to recycle a former first round pick that you RELEASED a year ago, you have potentially SERIOUS issues. When your team is still retaining and overpaying for the services of an overrated, underachieving former second round pick, you have GRAVE concerns.
Friends, allow me to re-introduce you to Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon, and Brooks Reed.
Once more, the front office has failed miserably here. Depth is non-existent and free agency has been a disaster to say the least.
Atlanta linebackers are subpar against the run and a major liability in pass coverage. This LB corps also brought very little to the pass rush aspect of the defense. There is not a single one that comes close to striking any aspect of fear in the minds of opposing offensive coordinators.
FREE AGENCY MOVES: Courtney Upshaw, Sean Weatherspoon, and Philip Wheeler. Damn!! The Ravens let Upshaw walk. Yes, the RAVENS!! Weatherspoon, after several injury prone seasons in Atlanta, was allowed to move on, landing in Arizona where he had ELEVEN total tackles in FOURTEEN games last season. NOTE: And I was the MAIN cheerleader for this guy in ATL; a top talent but could not stay healthy. And Wheeler represents the ultimate reserve and nothing more.
DRAFT RECOMMENDATION: In the THIRD round, TPS goes with maximum value and the best player available at a position of need. Sensei Ozzie would be proud of me with this choice. See, the tenacity of the warrior reveals the soul of a man. And if that is the case, the Falcons strike gold here. From Temple University, Tyler Matakevich, as soon as he steps on the fields in Atlanta, becomes the BEST linebacker on the team. I have read a lot of articles in which TM is compared to former Dolphin star Zach Thomas. I TOTALLY concur with that comparison and if TM can become half the player that Thomas was, all the Falcons gain out of it is a player that will finish his career with four Pro Bowls and almost 900 tackles.
CORNERBACK and SAFETY
Rating: Four (Major Concern)
Cocoa and the TPS team feel that we have a solid cornerback in Desmond Trufant. He is a keeper for the long term. We also feel that Robert Alford has potential as a nickel back but is not a viable long term solution as a starter. I think that the safety duo of Ishmael and Allen present a nice pairing for now. Depth behind them though, stinks.
The “reach” that was Jalen Collins in the second round last year may be coming home to bite. From all accounts, there is a lot of work to do there and now come suspensions related to PEDs.
FREE AGENCY MOVES: Retaining Philip Adams may prove to be a very wise move. For without his presence, depth is a damned joke.
DRAFT RECOMMENDATIONS: None.
Given the very limited number of picks that we have going into this draft, even with the need to acquire cornerback and safety depth, the Falcons CAN NOT afford another defensive selection. Cornerback safety considerations will have to come via the post-draft undrafted free agency route. Two cornerbacks that TPS really like are Minnesota’s Eric Murray and Kansas State’s Morgan Burns. Safety is a draft bust in 2016; one of the weakest classes I have ever evaluated.
The mighty Quinn was brought in due to his defensive pedigree as well as his “keen” assessment skills. Certainly, he has his work cut out for him. But until he has a “real” partner in the front office to help him in all facets, this job is a daunting one. Tee Pee Sports sees the Falcons defense as one filled with average talent that has over-achieved more often than not. It is not a group that can seriously contend for a title shot. What is clear to TPS and Falcons fans all over the world is that 2016, one paper, does not offer much more defensively than last year did. We will sustain the “Missouri” approach; show me (us). In the mean time, assess the following:
What are your thoughts on the state of the defense?
How many draft picks should the Falcons commit to the defense in 2016?
Is this defensive coaching staff an asset or liability as currently configured?
What defensive coach would you remove from the staff if you could?
Who is the defensive “breakout” player of 2016?
Is there a “true” leader on this defense?