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Roster Review Part 3

QUINNITROFFEleven Men to Stop Them All!

After a disappointing end to the 2017 season where the defense played better, but the offense took a major step back, we are looking at a team that may lose a number of key players prior to the 2019 season from both sides of the ball. The defense has some holes to fill and a future to prepare for. With the exception of the Defensive Tackle position the defense is still mostly the same as what the team started in 2017.

Defensive Tackles:

Starters: Grady Jarrett – Jarrett is the heart of the Defensive Line. He brings it game in and game out. Not too shabby for a fifth round pick that other teams thought was too small to succeed at the NFL level. Sadly with the team’s current salary cap situation, it is possible that this could be Jarrett’s last season as a Falcon.

Backups: Garrison Smith, Joey Ivie IV, Justin Zimmer – Smith is the only backup Defensive Tackle currently on the team with any NFL game experience. He played in eleven games over the past two seasons in Seattle. Ivie was a seventh round draft choice by Dallas in 2017. He was waived after the preseason. He signed onto Atlanta’s practice squad in October where he spent the rest of the season. Zimmer was signed by Buffalo as an undrafted rookie out of FCS Ferris State. He broke numerous school records while playing there. At his Pro Day he put up spectacular numbers running a 4.91 40 yard dash with a 1.69 10 yard split and wowed the audience with 44 reps on the bench press. His transition to the NFL has not gone as smoothly. He was cut by the Bills after training camp and spent the later part of the season on the Saints practice squad. The Saints cut him after the 2017 training camp. He ended up playing football in the CFL last season. He has the physical tools to be an NFL player. Will this be the season that he makes the leap?

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Seven picks. Every year Quinnitroff manages to surprise us. Go 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. With only one known commodity in the Defensive Tackle rotation the door is open for players to step up. The talking heads all consider this position to be Atlanta’s greatest need. More Defensive Tackles have been mocked to the Falcons this spring than any other position. There are a few quality veterans still out on the free agent market, but the team’s lack of salary cap space will prevent them from signing anyone looking for more than the veteran minimum. Look for the team to bring in a number of new players through the draft and after to compete for these roster spots.

 

Draft Options: Coach Quinn has said that he feels like this year’s Defensive Tackle class is deep. Is that his way of saying that the team will not select a Defensive Tackle in the first round, or is it a hint that they may draft multiple Defensive Tackles, or was he just trying to reassure the fan base that the holes at Defensive Tackle should not be a worry? Even if the team does not draft a Defensive Tackle in the first round, it is a lock that they will draft at least one by the end of day two. If two are selected, then look for the second to be a day three pick. Here are some of the options: Maurice Hurst, Taven Bryan, Harrison Phillips, Nathan Shepherd, Tim Settle, PJ Hall, and John Atkins. Note: I did not include Vita Vea because I believe he will come off the board long before Atlanta picks in the first round.

Maurice Hurst has the most versatile pass rushing tool box of any Defensive Tackle in the draft. He is explosive off the line. He has very good career production including a couple of blocked kicks to his name. He has NFL bloodlines as his father played Cornerback for the Patriots. He was flagged at the combine with a heart issue. If he clears the medical he will be selected in the first round.

Taven Bryan is an athletic freak at the Defensive Tackle position. He grew up in Wyoming, the son of a Navy Seal. He has the ideal work ethic and has improved every year during his college career. Bryan is still considered to be raw but has a very high ceiling. He could be selected before Atlanta picks at 26, but his is one of the most common names mocked to the Falcons this preseason.

Harrison Phillips was the most productive Defensive Tackle in all of college football in 2017. This Nebraska farm boy had over 100 total tackles. He led the Stanford defense in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks, and forced fumbles. Phillips is a three time High School State Wrestling Champion. Not the most athletic player, but a grinder who can push the pocket and stop the run. He has a nonstop motor and knows how to deal with double teams. This NFL ready prospect could be selected late on day one, but he will most likely come off the board sometime on day two.

Nathan Shepherd has a rare blend of strength and athleticism. Many of the talking heads believe that he will need a year of seasoning after playing at Fort Hayes State, but he performed very well at the Senior Bowl against other top prospects in this year’s draft. He is a mature player with a team first mentality. He will be a 25 year old rookie this season. Shepherd is projected to be a day two selection. It is doubtful that he will still be on the board when the Falcons pick at 90.

Tim Settle is an out of control wrecking ball. He moves very well for his size. Settle is an early draft entrant as a redshirt sophomore. He is green but gifted. He has an angry bull rush and a developed swim move. He has shown that he can play off blocks as well as collapse the pocket. He will need to keep his weight under control to stay on the field and be productive. He is considered to be a third round pick that could slip to the early fourth round.

PJ Hall played his college career at FCS Sam Houston State, but he is athletically gifted. On his Pro Day he ran a 4.76 40 yard dash with a 1.70 10 yard split, put up 36 bench reps, and jumped over 38” at 308 pounds. Over his college career he had 284 tackles, 86.5 tackles for loss, 42 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 4 interceptions, and 14 blocked kicks! Can his FCS success translate to the NFL level? How long will he need to adjust to the NFL game? These are some questions that scouting communities around the league have to ask themselves when considering drafting Hall. Prior to his Pro Day Hall was considered to be a late third day pick. Some now have him projected as high as a late day two pick. Realistic expectations have him coming off the board in round four or five.

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John Atkins was a space eater at UGA when he was on the field. He played primarily on rushing downs. He did an excellent job of keeping the Georgia Linebackers clean. Atkins is a blue collar worker who plays through the whistle and purses the ball to the end of the play. He is an anchor with good hands, who is quick off the snap. He was also used as a Fullback in short yardage situations. He is projected to be drafted in the seventh round if at all.

 

Defensive Ends:

Starters: Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby – Reed was brought in at a hefty price three years ago. After an injury riddle 2015 he was able to play 15 games with 7 starts in 2016. He was finally healthy for the 2017 season and show that he could still be the player he was when in Houston. 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 was cut following the 2017 season, and then resigned to a one year contract. He is currently listed as the starter, but the waters are muddy. Expect lots of competition at both Defensive End positions.

Backups: Vic Beasley, Tak McKinley, Jack Crawford – Beasley had his coming out party in 2016 when he posted 15.5 sacks to lead the league. The 2017 season did not bode near as well for him. He was only able to garner 5 sacks all season. Part of the drop off in production is because of a position shift the coaching staff made. This off season Coach Quinn has said that they plan on returning Beasley to his more natural pass rush position on the line. He will have to show that he can hold up on running downs to be more than a pass rush specialist. McKinley was the talk of the 2017 draft after his emotional outburst. He showed glimpses of that emotion in 2017 coming off the bench to record 15 tackles and 6 sacks. With the loss of Adrian Clayborn look for McKinley’s playing time to increase. He could even push for one of the starting Defensive End spots. Crawford is an outside guy who can kick inside when needed. His game is solid and he should play better in 2017 if he can stay healthy.

Expectations: Defensive End is one of the most solid positions on the roster. Look for the team to bring in some young blood after the draft to compete in camp and be placed on the practice squad. Last year the team brought in Chris Odom, as an undrafted rookie, who played very well in the preseason but since there wasn’t room on the 53 man roster for him he was placed on the practice squad before being poached by the Packers. With Beasley’s move back to pass rush specialist and the continued development of McKinley, look for the Defense to continue to keep pressure on opposing Quarterbacks. Third and long should become automatic fourth down.

Draft Options: If a player like Marcus Davenport should happen to fall to the 26th pick he might end up an Atlanta Falcon, but do not hold your breath! If the team selects a Defensive End it will probably be a developmental player as there are other much greater roster needs for the upcoming season. Some developmental player options include: Tyquan Lewis, Ade Aruna, Zach Sieler, and Antonio Simmons.

Tyquan Lewis was a high school teammate of Todd Gurley. He has shown the ability to rush from anywhere along the defensive line. Lewis played well during the Senior Bowl game where he had six Quarterback pressures. His hand work is technically sound and he is quick off the line. Projections have him coming off the board early on day three.

Ade Aruna has the height, weight, and length to be an NFL Defensive End, but his college tape shows that he does not know how to best utilize his physical traits. He only played one year of high school football after moving to the United States from Nigeria. Even after his time at Tulane he is still very raw and will need time to develop. Because of his athleticism he is expected to be drafted before the end of the fifth round.

Zach Sieler was the 2016 GLIAC Defensive Lineman of the Year with 19.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss. He competed at State wrestling championships in high school. He was a beast at the DII level and a Harlon Hill trophy nominee. Sieler lined up at both Defensive End and Defensive Tackle during his college career. He is another athletically gifted player who competed below the FBS level. He dominated his opponents with violent hands and his ability to push through the blocker. He will need to prove that he can use his athletic gifts to compete in the NFL. He is expected to come off the board in the sixth or seventh round.

 

Antonio Simmons is a workout warrior and high effort player. Some timed him as running a sub 4.5 40 at the Georgia Tech Pro Day where he also put up 30 bench reps. Play strength does not always match his physical strength. His pass rush technique needs refining. At 250 pounds he could see a move to Outside Linebacker, but he would need to improve his coverage skills for it to be a successful move. His speed could earn him a spot on Special Teams while he develops as a defensive player. He will be selected in the seventh round if at all. He could end up a Falcon by signing as an undrafted free agent.

Outside Linebackers:

Starters: De’Vondre Campbell – Campbell was part of Coach Quinn’s infusion of youth into the teams defense in 2016. 2017 saw him make some good improvements to his game. Look for him to continue to progress in 2018.

3Backups: Duke Riley, J’Terius Jones – These two players were both rookies in 2017. Riley was drafted in the third round and expected to be an immediate contributor on defense. His contributions were disappointing at best. He earned the opening day start at Weak side Linebacker opposite De’Vondre Campbell. He finished the game with four missed tackles. A torn meniscus sidelined him for a number of weeks later in the season. He will need to come into camp this year and show the team that his game has improved and that he is ready to be an NFL starter. Jones was moved from Defensive End to Outside Linebacker during the 2017 camp. He saw time in the preseason games at both Strong and Weak side positions. He spent the 2017 regular season on the practice squad. He will have to compete for a spot on the 2018 roster.

Expectations: Duke Riley was selected last year to play opposite Campbell, but he showed that he was not ready for the NFL. If the team drafts an Outside Linebacker before the end of day two then we will know they are looking for a new starter. If the team waits until day three to draft this position then they are just bringing in competition. Competition helps everyone to get better. Depth is needed at the Outside Linebacker position, but the team currently does not have the cap space to sign a veteran off the free agent market. Kemal Ismael was resigned and can play the Outside Linebacker position, but is much better suited to play safety. There are going to be some undrafted rookies that will have a great chance of making Atlanta’s roster in 2018.

Draft Options: At this point it’s hard to know what the front office and coaching staff are thinking at the Outside Linebacker situation. They have met with a number of prospects that are slated to come off the board in various rounds of the draft. Expect them to take an Outside Linebacker at some point in the draft if for nothing else than to back up the current players. Here are some prospects to consider: Leighton Vander Esch, Malik Jefferson, Fred Warner, Shaquem Griffin, Oren Burks, Leon Jacobs, Matthew Thomas, Foyesade Oluokun, and Kendall Donnerson.

Leighton Vander Esch is considered by some to be a one year wonder, but if he can continue to build on that one year as a starter then he should not have any trouble making the transition to the NFL. He has good speed for a 256 pound Linebacker. He has the traits to line up outside or in the middle. He thrives against the run game with great instincts. His coverage skill are solid, but can be improved. He is a late first round prospect.

Malik Jefferson is a former five star recruit that under performed at Texas. He played much better in 2017 under the new coaching staff. Jefferson is a downhill Linebacker that has the athletic traits to be successful in coverage. He is a player who will succeed or fail based upon his coaching in the NFL. His day two draft projection is based heavily on his potential.

Fred Warner has very good coverage skills. He played a hybrid position in BYU’s defense. He will need to learn the positioning of a traditional 4-3 Outside Linebacker. Some teams may use him more like a Safety than an Outside Linebacker. Warner is quick to diagnose the play and react. Current projections have him being drafted late on day two or early on day three.

4Shaquem Griffin is one of the biggest stories in this year’s draft. He had a great showing at the Combine posting some of the best numbers in the Linebacker class. He has excellent play speed and has had to work to get to where he is now. Expect him to continue to work to be successful at the NFL level. Griffin has been a fast riser on public draft boards since the Combine. Will he be selected as early as day two like many are predicting, or will he be a day three selection?

Oren Burks played a different position each of the past three seasons. He spent time at Free Safety, “Star” which is an Outside Linebacker Safety hybrid, and Inside Linebacker. He has good coverage skills, but needs to improve his run play instincts. He will have learning curve due to lack of consistently play at any one position. He should come off the board early on day three.

Leon Jacobs has speed to burn. He ran a sub 4.5 40 time at the Combine. He spent time playing the Inside and Outside Linebacker position in college. He may be better suited for a 3-4 defense, but he has the athletic traits to drop into coverage in a 4-3 defense. He is an early day three prospect.

Matthew Thomas has the ideal size and build of an NFL Linebacker. He has excellent closing speed and is fluid enough in his movements to handle coverages. He has a strong punch that he uses to disengage from blockers. Thomas leads with his shoulder when tackling and does not always wrap-up the ball carrier. Improvement in his angles will drastically improve his game. He had a season ending shoulder injury his freshman season, and then also missed all of 2015 while on academic probation. He should be a first round prospect, but the injuries and suspensions have caused him to fall to day three.

Foyesade Oluokun is a converted Safety who plays with speed and athleticism. Playing in the FCS brings questions about level of competition, but if he can continue to improve his instincts for the game then he should fit at Weak-side Linebacker. He is a developmental prospect that could be selected in the seventh round.

Kendall Donnerson is a beast of an athlete that needs refining. At 250 pounds he ran a sub 4.45 40 yard dash, jumped 40 inches, and put up 20 reps on the bench. His athleticism is undeniable, now he just needs a team to development him into an NFL weapon. He might get drafted in the seventh round, but will most likely be an undrafted free agent.

Middle Linebackers:

Starters: Deion Jones – He is developing into one the top Middle Linebackers in the NFL!

Backups: None

Expectations: Last season Atlanta only carried one backup Middle Linebacker. That backup was Sean Weatherspoon who could play middle or outside if needed. A high number of the afore mentioned draft prospects have experience playing inside. Look for a few undrafted rookies to be brought in after the draft, but don’t expect a draft pick to be used on a backup until late on day three if at all.

Draft Options: Here are some prospects that may be drafted late or brought in as undrafted free agents to compete for the backup spot: Shaun Dion Hamilton, Quentin Poling, and DJuan Hines.

5Shaun Dion Hamilton was the cerebral leader of the Alabama Linebackers corps the past four years. He has been productive when on the field, but he has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career. A team may take a chance on him late in the draft, but he may go undrafted due to the durability concerns.

Quentin Poling led the Ohio Bobcats in tackles three of the four years he played there. His time spent playing Safety in high school laid the foundation for his coverage skills. He has a high football IQ and tests well. He needs to show that his game speed can match his testing speed. A team may take a flyer on him in the seventh round or give him a shot as an undrafted rookie.

DJuan Hines played Quarterback in high school and was recruited as an athlete. After practicing at receiver his red shirt year, the coaches moved him to Linebacker were he has spent the past four years. He led the team in tackles and was in the top 20 in the nation in tackles per game. His time at Quarterback has helped him to understand what the guy across the ball is thinking. He has good coverage ability and closing speed. He’s a seventh round lottery ticket, but might have to compete in camp as an undrafted rookie.

Cornerbacks:

Starters: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford – Trufant and Alford are going to be the starting corners in 2018. Trufant’s play improved drastically after two down years in 2015 and 2016. Alford has been the most consistent Cornerback on the team for a number of years!

Backups: Brian Poole, Blidi Wren-Wilson, Justin Bethel, Leon McFadden, Marcelis Branch – Poole has played well the past two seasons and continues to improve, not bad for an undrafted rookie. He will continue to provide depth at corner and safety. Wren-Wilson finally got his chance to get back on the field with Atlanta in 2017. He played in Tennessee from 2013 to 2015. Bethel was signed this off-season to play special teams where he excels. His play as a Cornerback is subpar at best. McFadden has bounced around the NFL playing on six different teams since being drafted in the third round of the 2013 draft by the Browns. He will have to compete for a spot on the 2018 roster. Branch was signed as an undrafted rookie in 2017. He spent the season on the practice squad. He will have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot during camp.

Expectations: Atlanta has two solid starters and Pool who continues to improve. Beyond these three players there is room for improvement. Current backups will need to step up and prove they belong. With the direction the league is going with all the pass heavy offenses, defenses have to employee more Cornerbacks than in the past. Expect some rookies to be brought in to compete with the current backups.

Draft Options: Coach Quinn has drafted a Cornerback in two of the three drafts he has been in Atlanta for. There is a high probability that a Cornerback is drafted again this year. The question is what round the team might select a prospect to play in the defensive backfield. He are a few options throughout the draft: Josh Jackson, Jaire Alexander, Quenton Meeks, Nick Nelson, Parry Nickerson, and Arrion Springs

Josh Jackson received the highest grade ever given to a Cornerback by Pro Football Focus with a 95.1. College Cornerbacks who have received a grade of higher that 90 by Pro Football Focus have had an extremely high success rate in the NFL. He had a breakout year in 2017 with eight interceptions and 17 pass deflections. He will likely fall to the later part of the first round because there are other Corners who are faster than him.

Jaire Alexander dealt with some injuries in 2017 which affected his play. His 2016 tape looks tremendously better! If he can return to the player he was in 2016 he will be a steal late in the first or second round.

Quenton Meeks is the son of NFL coach Ron Meeks. He has prototypical size for a NFL Corner. He has experience playing inside and outside. He excels in press coverage though may not have the speed to make up lost ground at the NFL level. He may need to switch to Safety. He is projected to be drafted late on day two or early on day three.

6Nick Nelson took a step up in competition when he transferred from Hawaii to Wisconsin and he excelled. In 35 college starts he had 42 pass deflections. He plays very physical against the run and against the pass. His game is not affected by double moves and he understand different kinds of coverages. His lack of elite speed will cause him to fall to day three.

Parry Nickerson is very fast, posting a 4.32 40 time. He has a high football IQ and plays with great instincts. Nickerson had very good production during his college career. His lack of size and length may limit him to playing the Slot Corner in the NFL. He will be a steal for a team on day three.

Arrion Springs had very good college production, but was snubbed from the post season all-star games. Pro Football Focus rated him as the number one Cornerback in the Pac-12. He had 17 pass deflections in 2017. Even after running a sub 4.5 40 yard dash during the Oregon Pro Day, he still seems to be flying under the radar. He will be a gem for a team on day three of the draft.

Safeties:

Starters: Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen – Neal is going to be the man at strong safety. Free safety is Ricardo Allen’s job to lose so long as he signs his Restricted Free Agent Tender. Allen has been in mini-camp this spring, but still has not signed. Once a RFA Tender is placed on a player it counts against the salary cap whether the player signs it or not.

Backups: Damontae Kazee, Kemal Ishmael, Quincy Mauger, Tyson Graham – Kazee had significant playing time in 2017 including one start when Ricardo Allen was injured. He played above average for a rookie. If he continues to improve he may be the future at Free Safety for the Falcons. Ishmael was resigned to a one year contract this spring. He has played both Safety positions and Linebacker during his time in Atlanta. He will be a solid backup for Neal in 2018. Mauger spent the 2017 season on injured reserve. He will need to play his way onto the team in 2018. Graham was signed this spring to come in and compete with the other Safeties on the team. He may just be a camp body unless he can show the coaches that he belongs!

Expectations: Atlanta has two quality Safeties if Allen does not hold out. Kazee should continue to improve and become the starter if Allen walks. Veteran Safeties Tre Boston and Eric Reid are still on the open market, but the team does not have the salary cap space to sign either of them. Allen is participating, but has not signed his Tender because he wants a long term contract. Assuming that Allen signs before the 2018 season, there is not an immediate need to add another Safety to the roster other than bringing in some rookies to compete for the backup spots.

Draft Options: There is not a major need to draft a Safety early, but one might be drafted on day three to compete in camp. Some rookie possibilities are: Troy Apke, Godwin Igwebuike, and Jeremy Reeves.

Troy Apke put on a show at the NFL Combine running a 4.34 in the 40 yard dash and touching 41” in the vertical jump. His dad played football at Pitt and for the Steelers. He was an All-State receiver before switching to defense in college. He has great closing speed, but needs to improve play diagnosis. He missed a number of tackles while at Penn State. With some development he is a low risk high reward pick on day three.

Godwin Igwebuike played over 3,000 snaps during his college career. He played very well in the run game and can hold his own in coverage. He is better playing close to the line and will punish Running Backs. He needs to improve his game speed in coverage. He might come off the board in the later part of day three.

Jeremy Reeves is a former Running Back that has translated those skills to the defensive side of the ball. He knows how to navigate traffic to get to the ball carrier quickly. He played previous seasons at the Cornerback position before moving to Safety. He is fluid in coverage, but lacks the top end speed to play man coverage at the NFL level. He could be drafted on day three, but will probably be an undrafted rookie.

Special Teams:

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

Backups: None

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

7The future of the franchise may hang in the balance during this draft with a number of heavy contributors going into the final year of their contract. If these positions are not addressed then 2019 might become a rebuilding year. That would be a sad occurrence for a team that was one play away from a Super Bowl win at the end of the 2016 season!

Questions for thought:

Can the Defense continue to improve in 2018 or will the unit as a whole regress?

How would you feel if the team drafts three Defensive Tackles? How many do you think they should draft?

How high should the team draft a Linebacker? Why?

Does the team need to draft another Cornerback or are you good with the players currently on the roster?

If Ricardo Allen does not resign with the team, are you comfortable with Damontae Kazee as the starting Free Safety?

The team currently has seven picks in this year’s draft. What seven positions do you think the team should draft? (Note: feel free to spend multiple picks on one or more positions.)

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Pre-Draft Roster Review Part 2

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In the Trenches and Beyond

by Michael Chastain / just “little ole” me

The 2018 Draft is less than a week away. In part two of the series we will be looking at the Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, and Offensive Line. Who will the front office select for us to cheer for and or complain about? Will a player from one of these three positions even be selected in the draft or will the team only add Undrafted Rookies to the mix? Let us look at where the roster currently stands and what might happen in the near future.

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Trench mud is good.

Wide Receiver:

Starters: Julio Jones, Moe Sanu – Julio is going to be Matt Ryan’s number one for years! Sanu came in and played much better than I expected during his two seasons in Atlanta. His production should continue to improve this season as he improves the chemistry with Ryan.

Backups: Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Devin Fuller, Reggie Davis – Hardy has been a 20 reception player each of the three years he has worn the red and black. He could possible see an increase in targets in 2018 depending on how he competes and what other receivers are brought in during the off-season. Hall was activated in mid-October this past season. In his first game he had a 40 yard reception for a touchdown. The rest of the season was very quiet for him. He finished the year with nine targets and only two receptions. Fuller spent the past two seasons on injured reserve with a shoulder injury(2016) and torn ACL(July 2017). If he is finally healthy look for him to compete for time in the slot position and as the teams main return man. He averaged 24.2 yards on kickoff returns and 11.8 yards on punt returns in college and is a slot type receiver who can win speed matchups with safeties and linebackers. Davis spent the entire 2017 season on the Falcon’s practice squad. He has an uphill battle to make the team in 2018.

Expectations: With the loss of Taylor Gabriel and Andre Roberts in free agency, Atlanta now has an opening for a slot receiver and a kick returner. The team had publicly said that they want current players on the roster to compete for those spots, but to think that they will not bring in any other competition is foolish. The team does not have the cap space to sign any veterans to much more that the minimum salary. So look for a receiver to be drafted and a high number of undrafted rookies signed to increase competition. If these options do not work out then expect the team to sign a player that gets cut during the preseason or even trade for a veteran receiver close to the beginning of the season. If the salary cap will allow it!

Draft Options: There is a rare chance that Atlanta selects a receiver in the first round, but it is doubtful. There has not been a single draft under Coach Quinn when an offensive player was selected in the first or even second round. It is much more likely that a receiver could be the choice in the third round or later. A variety of options that should be available throughout the draft are: Christian Kirk, Michael Gallup, Tre’Quan Smith, Deontay Burnette, Trey Quinn, Justin Watson, and Jonah Trinnaman.

Christian Kirk was the only player in the SEC in 2017 to return both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown. On offense he played almost exclusively in the slot position. He uses his speed to take the top off defenses. He average 12.3 yards per receptions during his college career. Kirk is an elusive receiver who forced 35 missed tackles on 233 receptions. He will be a day one starter in the Slot and in the return game. Kirk may be off the board by the time Atlanta picks at #26, but he would be an instant upgrade to the roster.

Michael Gallup is the highest graded receiver according to Pro Football Focus. He was one of the nation’s most productive receivers over the past two seasons. Gallup knows how to create separation with his route running skill and with his hands. This super competitive player is willing to block downfield and gives the extra effort at the end of the play. He projects as a day two selection. It is doubtful that he will still be on the board when Atlanta picks at number 90 in the third round.

Tre’Quan Smith does a great job tracking and high pointing the ball. He has had some spectacular one handed catches and uses his exceptional wing span and leaping ability to get over defenders. Smith is a very willing blocker in the run game. He had over 40 receptions of 20+ yards during his college career. In 2017 over 75% of his receptions resulted in first downs. He received AAC all academic honors. Needs to improve against press coverage and field awareness. Smith is a very coachable player who only played two years of HS football. Most projections have him being selected between rounds three and five. There is a chance he could still be on the board in the fourth round when the Falcons pick number 126 is on the clock.

Deontay Burnette is considered by many scouts to be more quick than fast. His thin frame may not hold up to a NFL beating, but he is not afraid to go over the middle. After the catch he is good with the ball and can make people miss. He has experience in the return game. Many project him as a typical NFL slot receiver. On the third day is likely when he will be drafted, but there is a chance he could go late on the second day if a team falls in love with him.

Trey Quinn is a player in the mold of Wes Welker. He’s an inside receiver that catches everything. This resulted in him leading the nation with 114 receptions in 2017. That’s not even his greatest accomplishment. In the 2008 Little League World Series he threw a no-hitter. Some consider him to be a one year wonder, but that is no fault of his own. He spent his first two years of college in LSU’s run heavy offense where he was second on the team in receptions during 2014. After his sophomore season he transferred to SMU to play in their pass heavy offense. 2017 was Quinn’s first year on the field at SMU and he exceled in their pass happy style of play. Quinn has some wiggle to his game, but many times he will look to punish defenders after making the reception. He has some experience as a returner, but may not have the speed to be a successful at the NFL level. Current projections have him being drafted in the middle of day three. There is a slight chance that he will be on the board when Atlanta picks in the sixth round.

Justin Watson has all the measurables of a NFL receiver at 6’2” 215 pounds. He ran in the mid 4.4s in the 40 yard dash, put up 20 reps on the bench, and jumped 40” in the vertical on his Pro Day. His college stats back up his athletic measurable, but he played football in the Ivy League. So not only is he athletic, but he is intelligent. According to his Coaches he has a first in last out work ethic. Watson had over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last three seasons. He is currently projected as a sixth round draft pick, but do not be surprised if he comes off the board much earlier.

Jonah Trinnaman is pure speed. He posted a sub 4.3 40 yard dash at BYU’s Pro Day. Prior to the Pro Day he was an undrafted rookie free agent at best. Since then he has been getting more buzz and looks from NFL teams. He has the ability to take the top off the defense and keep special teams coaches up at night as a kick returner. He is still projected as a day three selection at best. He would be a steal if selected in the seventh round.

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Wallace Francis

Tight Ends:

Starters: Austin Hooper – Headed into his third season he still has numerous areas of his game that need significant improvement! He has been working with Matt Ryan this offseason, but will that be enough to make him an impact player?

Backups: Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen, Alex Gray – Saubert was selected in the fifth round of the 2017 draft out of Drake. He spent the 2017 season as a blocking Tight End and Special Teams player. A back injury sidelined him for part of the season. He will need to make major improvements in his game to be much more that a bench warmer in 2018. Paulsen was brought in to take over the primary Tight End blocking duties. His presents should help to improve the run game, with a minor contribution in the passing game. Gray is part of the NFL Europe program so he doesn’t count against the roster, but he is a developmental player and camp body at best.

Expectations: A second starting quality tight end was needed for Coach Sarkisian’s system. So the team signed Logan Paulsen who is better known for his blocking than his receiving ability. There were a couple of years where he had over 20 receptions. He is a temporary stop gap and not the long term solution. The young guys on the roster are going to compete for their spots against any other Tight Ends who are brought into camp. There is a chance that the team could draft a Tight End, but with all the other more pressing needs it is doubtful that a Tight End selection will be made before day three. Does the team really need another developmental Tight End, or will the team make a surprise pick earlier in the draft?

Draft Options: The top end of this year’s Tight End crop are strong receivers, but none are the complete package. Teams drafting Tight Ends are going to have to choose between a receiving or blocking Tight End. Some of the prospects have the potential to become complete, but they all have areas that are going to require significant work. Here are some possibilities at the position: Dallas Goedert, Chris Herndon, Jordan Thomas, and Jeb Blazevich.

Dallas Goedert would be a surprise pick for the team in the first or possibly second round if they traded down. I doubt he will still be on the board at pick number 58 in the second round. He has all the attributes of a quality Tight End along with great production. The question is can he replicate that production at the NFL level after playing in the FCS. He is a mismatch guy that averaged 8.2 yards after the catch. While he excelled against FCS opponents, he also played very well against FBS opponents. His blocking will need work, but he is considered by many to be the best Tight End in the class. Look for him to be one of the first three Tight Ends off the board.

Chris Herndon played behind 2017 first round selection David Njoku the first three years of his college career. He has lined up all over the field, inline, out wide, as an H-Back, and in the backfield. This versatility will be an asset moving to the NFL. For teams that want to occasionally put a player in the Fullback spot on the field, but do not want to roster a full time Fullback, Herndon is an option worth considering. He has the athletic ability to be productive at the NFL level. Some teams may shy away from him due to the MCL injury he sustained in November. If not for the injury he would be a solid day two selection. He is currently considered to be an early day three prospect.

Jordan Thomas is a big boy Tight End. He was 265 pounds at his Pro Day, but has played as heavy as 280 pounds. He is very athletic for his size and will be a match-up nightmare for most defenses. He is quicker than most Line Backers and big enough to truck most Defensive Backs. Thomas has spent significant time lined up out wide due to injuries to a number of Mississippi State’s other receivers. He is a decent blocker, be he needs to continue to work on improving that aspect of his game. If he does not pan out as a Tight End he could possibly be moved to Defensive End where his combination of size and speed could be utilized on the defensive front. Thomas is currently projected to be a day three selection. Most like being drafted during rounds five or six.

Jeb Blazevich could be the sleeper in this year’s Tight End draft class. As a freshman at UGA he was awarded “Newcomer of the Year” after putting up over 250 receiving yards and blocking for Running Backs Gurley and Chubb. When the offense changed in 2016 all Georgia Tight Ends saw a major dip in their role as receivers. Blazevich spent his final two college seasons blocking in Jim Chaney’s offense. He has spent a great deal of his college time blocking for UGA’s running game and has the ability to be a receiving threat. Many scouts see him as an undrafted free agent, but he will be a steal for some team in the seventh round.

04-alge-crumpler

Alge Crumpler

Offensive Line:

Starters: Jake Mathews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ryan Schraeder – The team is returning four of the five players who started every game in 2016 and most of 2017! Mack is the rock in the middle of the line. Mathews and Levitre are in the final year of their contracts. The unit as a whole took a step back in 2017 due to injuries and subpar play from the Right Guard position and the back-ups. Fusco was brought in during free agency to take over the Right Guard position in 2018. He played well during the 2017 season and should have an easy transition into Atlanta’s offensive scheme with its similarities to the offense Kyle Shannahan runs in San Francisco.

Backups: Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, Sean Harlow, Austin Pasztor, Ty Sambrailo, Jamil Douglas, Daniel Brunskill – Schweitzer was drafted in the 6th round of the 2016 draft and took over the starting right guard position in 2017. He failed to meet expectations grading out as “Poor” by Pro Football Focus. Schweitzer’s poor play led to the signing of Fusco. Garland played well as the main back-up in 2016, but failed to match the same level of play in 2017. He is a versatile lineman who has also played on the defensive line. He was resigned to a one year deal for 2018. Harlow was drafted in the fifth round of the 2017 draft. He was on the 53 man roster, but did not see any game time this past season. Pasztor was signed before the season in 2017. He played in seven games as a backup at OG and OT. Sambrailo was the prize from the front office’s SNAFU (trade) of this year’s fifth round pick to Denver. He started two games when Schrader was out and allowed the highest percentage of Quarterback pressures of any Lineman on the team. If he fails to perform during camp this year there will not be any dead money when he is cut. Douglas played both Guard and Left Tackle in college. He was drafted by Miami where he was pressed into duty at Center when Mike Pouncy was injured. He played poorly during his six starts his rookie year. Since then most of his time has been spent on practice squads for New England and Atlanta. He is a camp body that will have to work his way into a roster spot. Brunskill was signed as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2017 season. He spent the season on Atlanta’s practice squad. He is undersized for a Tackle (257 lbs), but has been training at Tight End.

Expectations: Last spring Thomas Dimtroff said that he wanted to improve the Offensive Line. If the play of the Line is any indication of his ability to improve the Line, then the fan base should not expect much better for the 2018 season. With the team’s current salary cap situation and the number of starters that will become free agents at the end of the 2018 season the team needs to have viable players behind the current starters. Otherwise the Offensive Line could have drastic changes after the 2018 season.

Draft Options: Any selection made for the Offensive Line is most likely going to be a selection for the future. A first round selection at Guard or Tackle would be a surprise as there are more pressing needs for the upcoming season. Some options throughout the draft include: Isaiah Wynn, Frank Ragnow, Jamarco Jones, Wyatt Teller, and Will Clapp.

Isaiah Wynn could come off the board before the Falcon’s first round selection, but he has experience at Guard and Tackle. He was All-SEC first team in 2017. He is projected to play Guard in the NFL, but he excelled at Tackle during UGA’s National Championship run in 2017. He could play immediately at Guard in 2018 then transition to Tackle if the team is unable to resign Mathews. Wynn will be drafted in the first round.

Frank Ragnow has been flying under the radar for most of the pre-draft process. He has been the highest graded Center in college the past two seasons per Pro Football Focus. He did not allowed a Quarterback sack in over 2,600 snaps. He can play the Guard position as well as he plays Center. He could fill a need at Guard while preparing to become the heir at Center for when Alex Mack calls it a career. Ragnow is currently projected to be selected on day two. Atlanta would need to select him with their second round pick. It is doubtful that he will last long into the third round.

Jamarco Jones is an NFL ready Tackle with good form in pass protection. He has long arms and good play strength. He has improved every year at the college level and should continue to do so in the NFL under good coaching. He missed half his senior year due to injury. His subpar showing at the combine has dropped him on a number of team’s draft boards which will make him a gem for some team during the middle of the draft. Projections have him coming off the board sometime between rounds three and five.

Wyatt Teller was recruited as a Defensive End. After his redshirt freshman year the coaching staff moved him over to the Offensive Line. He did not lose the aggressive play that made him a standout on defense when he switched sides of the ball. He is a nasty Lineman that has incorporated his defensive skills into his offensive position. Hard worker on and off the field. Draft projections have him all over the place. If a team falls in love with him he could come off the board on day two. It is more likely that he is drafted sometime on day three.

Will Clapp played well at both Center and Guard at LSU. What he lacks in athleticism he makes up for in play strength. He may be better suited for a power running scheme, but has proven that he is not a liability in the passing game. His high football IQ will help his stock. Look for him to come off the board sometime in the middle of day three.

The front office may not see any of these three positions as heavy needs for this year’s team, but without them the future is in question. The draft will show if they believe that the team’s success in 2018 will be more dependent on current players improving or if adding players to improve these positions is what is needed.

04-van-note

Jeff Van Note

Questions for thought:

Can the team improve from 2017 with the current players on the roster? If so who do you see stepping up? If not, rank each of these three positions prioritizing the greatest need.

Do you think the team will resign OT Mathews and/or OG Levitre? Do you think they should?

Is the future of the Offensive Line going in the wrong direction?

How do you feel about the team’s current TE situation?

Do you truly believe that Coach Quinn will let the current Receivers on the roster compete for the starting slot position, or will the team bring in a player who will have to “lose” the position to the current players?

02-trenches

Favre in the trenches.

Pre-Draft Roster Review Part 1

by Michael Chastain / just “little ole” me

Part 1: Offensive Backfield

The NFL draft is less than two weeks away and many are “chomping at the bit” in anticipation of what will happen during the three days of the draft. What players will our beloved Falcons select, who will be left on the board when the team selects a player that makes us all scratch our heads. Which positions will be addressed through the draft and afterwards with the undrafted free agents? What will the preview of the 2018 Falcons look like on the Monday after the draft? This four part series will look at the different positions on the roster and offer some possible draft day selections for your consideration. In this first part we will look at the Offensive Backfield and how things are shaping up going into the draft.

Quarterback:

02Ryan

Ryan – R1 #3

Starter: Matt Ryan – Ryan failed to replicate his 2016 MVP year under new Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian in 2017. 2018 is a contract year For Ryan unless the team is able to get an extension in place before the beginning of the season. Look for his number to improve in the second year under Coach Sarkisian especially if an extension is not done before the season starts!

Backup(s): Matt Schaub, Garrett Grayson – Schaub knows the offense and is a proven veteran. Grayson was signed to the Falcons practice squad in October of 2017 after spending the two previous years on the Saints roster with the second year on the practice squad. They will both be in competition for the back-up spot along with any rookies that are brought in. Schaub has a clear upper hand as he is the most experienced and has the greatest knowledge of the offense. Unless Schaub’s physical abilities have taken a nose dive he will be the back-up again this year.

Expectations: Atlanta has only carried one backup Quarterback on the 53 man roster the past two years. Grayson and Schaub will be in competition for that spot during the 2018 camp. Look for the team to bring in at least one and possibly two rookie Quarterbacks to compete in camp. They will be competing for a spot on the practice squad unless one of

01Vick

Vick – R1  #1

them out plays the rest and the coaching staff feels comfortable with a back-up rookie Quarterback.

Draft Options: Do not expect the Falcons to use a draft pick on a Quarterback before day 3 of the draft, if at all. They could possibly select one as high as the sixth round if it is someone they really like, but the seventh round is the best bet if they are going to select a player at this position. Some third day possibilities include: Austin Allen, Kenny Hill, and my personal favorite Luis Perez.

Austin Allen was regarded by many as being the best Quarterback in the SEC in 2016. He had a rough 2017 and failed to produce the same numbers from the previous year. A mid-season shoulder injury contributed to his poor production. In both seasons Allen has shown that he can stand in the pocket under pressure. With some NFL coaching he could develop into a solid Quarterback.

Kenny Hill, whose father spent 13 years as a MLB pitcher, started his college career at Texas A&M in the post Johnny “Football” era with a bang. He put up big numbers in his first start breaking Manziel’s single game passing record as he threw for 511 yards and four touchdowns. Mid-season struggles led to his benching and eventually to his

03Bart

Bart – R1 #1

transferring to TCU where he sat out 2015. He was named TCU’s starter in 2016. During Hill’s time in college he never finished a season with a completion percentage below 61%. He is only 6’1”, but he has a skill set similar to Russell Wilson’s. He will need to put in the work and continue to improve if he is to become a NFL Quarterback.

Luis Perez did not take the traditional route to playing Quarterback at the college level. In high school he was on the bowling team and only played wide receiver on the jv football team. He started out as a last string junior college walk-on Quarterback, and through hours of hard work and a little luck became the starter. Before his junior year he transferred to Texas A&M Commerce a DII school whose football program was on the rise. Luis led the team to a national championship and won the Harlon Hill trophy in 2017. He has a first in last out work ethic that could earn him a spot on an NFL team.

Running Back:

Starter: Devonta Freeman – Freeman has been the workhorse and excelled in the Atlanta offense. He has broken the 1,000 yard rushing barrier twice and scored 11

04Chandler

Chandler – R3  #76

rushing touchdowns each of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The problem is we all remember what looked to be his missed blocking assignment on that 3rd down play in the Super Bowl. It was like a slap in the face after Freeman’s agent was calling for Freeman to get paid for his production prior to the Super Bowl. One play does not show the worth of a player, but it can leave a lasting impression on the fans. The Front Office signed Freeman to an extension prior to the 2017 season which saw a drop in his production. If Freeman is given the benefit of the doubt, since the Guards he was running behind were not as good as what he had in 2016, then we should expect an uptick in his production this season!

Backups: Tevin Coleman, Terrance McGee – Coleman was slated to be the starter at the beginning of the 2015 season before injury opened the door for Freeman who took the reins and hasn’t let go. Coleman is now in the last year of his rookie contract and will probably not be a Falcon in 2019 as there are numerous other starters whose contracts are also set to expire at the end of the 2018 season. This could possibly make Coleman trade bait at any point prior to and during the season, if the team has one or two solid back-ups on the roster. McGee is a practice squad hold over who will have to battle his way onto the team in August. After being signed off the practice squad he did dress for two games, but did not have a single carry.

05riggs

Riggs – R1 #9

Expectations: Freeman and Coleman have been the two main horses in the stable of Running Backs the past few seasons. Look for the team to draft a Running Back again this year after losing Brian Hill, who was drafted in the fifth round last year, when the Bengals sign him off Atlanta’s practice squad. There will also be a few UDRFAs that are brought into camp to compete. This year one of them might actually have a chance to make the 53 man roster. There has been talk out of the Branch about bringing in a power back for short yardage situations. This means that there will be a good chance that Coach Quinn dresses three Running Backs on game day which will be a change from past seasons where there were only two Running Backs active on most game days.

Draft Options: There is an extremely low chance that Atlanta drafts a Running Back in the first round as there are much bigger holes to fill at other positions. Do not be surprised if a Running Back is selected as early as day two of the draft. There may even be some “Thomas Trades” go down if a Running Back they like is still on the board at a certain point. Some draft options that fit the “power back” include: Nick Chubb, Rashaad Penny, Royce Freeman, Bo Scarbrough, and Chris Warren III.

Nick Chubb had a sensational freshman year filling in for and then leeching carries from Todd Gurley. After averaging 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman Chubb began his sophomore season averaging 8.1 yards per carry before a season ending knee injury in

06turner

Turner – R5 #154

week six. He returned to play in all 13 games his junior and senior seasons, but did not look as good as he did preinjury. He still managed to average 5.0 and 6.0 yards per carry in his junior and senior seasons respectively. If Chubb can regain his preinjury running ability then he will be a steal after the first round. Look for Chubb to be selected sometime on day two of the draft. There is a tiny chance that he falls to the early part of day three, but it is doubtful that he will last that long.

Rashaad Penny sat behind the NCAA rushing leader in 2016. In 2017 he became the NCAA rushing leader finishing the season with 2248 yards and 7.78 yards per carry. Penny moves well for a 220 pound Running Back. He was timed at 4.46 when he ran the 40 at the combine. Rashaad also has experience as a kick returner averaging over 33 yards per return his junior year. He also has had two plus kick return touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. There is a chance that he will still be on the board when pick #58 is on the clock, but it would be surprising if he is still on the board by the time Atlanta picks in the third round.

Royce Freeman has been compared to Jerome “The Bus” Bettis. His college coach says that he is a Sherman tank. This 234 round Running Back has shown soft hands and that he is light on his feet. Pass protection is the weak link in his game. Freeman is Oregon’s all-time leading rusher and had a very productive college career. The down side is that he had a ton of carries in college. He could go as early as the third round, but will most likely b

07dunn

Dunn – R1 #12

e selected in the fourth or fifth round on day three.

Bo Scarbrough is often compared to Derrick Henry as he was Henry’s replacement at Alabama. There are a number of similarities between the two, but Bo is about 15 pounds lighter and quicker to the hole than Henry was at this point in his career. Scarbrough has good lateral agility and vision. He does not go down easily and is best utilized pounding the rock. His is an above average pass protector, but is lacking as a receiver. He has excellent leaping ability posting a 40 inch vertical at the combine. He’s the kind of old school masher that Jon Gruden would like. He has had a variety of leg injuries throughout his college career, so durability is a concern. He is a day three pick that will not make it to the sixth round.

Chris Warren III, named after his dad, NFL Pro Bowler Chris Warren Jr, started off his college career with a bang rushing for 276 yards against Texas Tech. That performance broke the record at Texas for rushing yards by a freshman in a single game. Things went downhill after that. In 2016 his season ended with a torn PCL in his right knee. He returned from the injury in 2017, but quickly fell out of favor with the new coaching staff. By the end of the 2017 season they had moved him to H-Back where he finished the season with 18 receptions and two receiving touchdowns. Despite Warren’s disappointing college career he still has a chance to revitalize his career in the NFL. He only had 224 career touches in college so he still should have lots of tread on the tires. Durability is going to be a concern

08anderson

Anderson – R7 #201

coming off a knee injury, but players seem to do better in the second year of recovery. His NFL bloodline will warrant a draft selection, and then it will be up to Chris to use his soft hands and downhill running style to become a better pro than college player. He is going to be a third day selection. Someone will take a flyer on him in the seventh and maybe as early as the sixth round of the draft.

Fullback:

Starter: None!

Backup: None!

Expectations: Offensive Coordinator Sarkisan likes to use double Tight End sets. This will take away even more from the Fullback role on the team. A decision might be made to not carry a Fullback and use a Tight End or Lineman in the backfield the few times a blocking back might be needed. This could be part of Logan Paulsen’s job as the new blocking Tight End on the team.

Draft Options: If Atlanta does draft a Fullback it will not be until the sixth round or later. Look for one maybe two Fullbacks to be brought in as UDRFAs even if the team decides to cut the Fullback position from the roster. Extra bodies are always needed for the

09andrews

Andrews – R3 #79

various drills and situations that are ran through in camp. Somebody has to play the oppositions Fullback in practice! Four possible third day selections include: Nick Bawden, Austin Ramesh, Khalid Hill, and Daniel Marx. Note: I did not include Dimitri Flowers because I do not see Atlanta taking a Fullback in the fourth round and he will be selected long before pick number 200 in the sixth round.

Nick Bawden is a former Quarterback who has been the lead blocker for the nation’s top rusher the last two years. He has soft hands and can also pass protect. Pro Football Focus gave him the highest grade for Fullbacks in 2016. He has the potential to make the switch to Tight End and still play Fullback when the needed. Bawden may come off the board before Atlanta picks in the sixth round.

Austin Ramesh has the third most rushing yards in Wisconsin High School Football history with over 5,939 career rushing yards. He took over as the full time starter at Fullback his junior year. He was used mainly as a blocking back, but did get the occasional carry and reception. He has shown reliable hands even though his production was small. He is a blue collar player that will put the time in to adjust to what his coaches are asking him to play. Ramesh’s stock has been on the rise since the Wisconsin Pro Day. He has gone from a projected undrafted free agent to a possible sixth round selection.

Khalid Hill was Michigan’s short yardage specialist. He has 42 career rushes of which 13

10mughelli

Mughelli – R4 #134

resulted in touchdowns. He has spent a little time at the Tight End position and shown to be a reliable pass catcher. His pass blocking needs work. He was used mainly as a short yardage back in the Michigan offense. He did his share of lead back reps, but has a bad habit of diving at defensive players in an effort to perform a cut block. A fullback his size, over 260 lbs, should not need to dive at smaller Linebackers and Defensive Backs. He is considered to be a seventh round prospect.

Daniel Marx scored his first career college touchdown during the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

in January of this year. He has been a pure lead back for Stanford his entire college career. He does have a few receptions to his name, but was not heavily used as a receiver. He does not seem to have the speed to make the switch to Tight End. He is a pure lead blocker. His lack of opportunities for touches at Stanford limits how well he can be evaluated as a runner and receiver. Marx excels at run blocking and can hold his own pass blocking. He is considered to be an Undrafted Free Agent, but could be selected in the seventh round.

The Offensive Backfield is not the biggest hole on the roster, but there needs to be some quality depth added. A Running Back who can contribute this year and be an asset for years to come will be a nice addition. Here are some questions for thought.

Should the team use a draft pick on a back-up Quarterback?

11dimarco

Dimarco – Undrafted

Does the team need a true power Running Back?

Do you think the team will roster a fullback for the 2018 season?

If you were the GM which QB, RB, FB would you select? Why? It does not have to be from the one listed above.

QuinnDraft 4.0

1sifting

Sifting… sifting…

WHO WILL THE FALCONS TAKE AT #26????

by Dewey

Assuming We don’t trade up (LOL) or trade back (bigger LOL) who will the Falcons take in the 1st round, #26 overall, in the upcoming draft?

No 2 draft boards look alike, so that makes things a bit difficult. For these purposes, I’m using nfl.com. Picking at #26, I’m looking at the top 40 prospects that nfl.com lists.

1st off, I think we can safely scratch off any QB’s (Rosen, Darnold, Allen, Mayfield, Jackson)

Down to 35 targets

Given our 1 big free agent signing (OG Brandon Fusco) coupled with Quinitroff’s sweeping proclamation that rookie Olinemen need time to mature at the next level, I believe we can safely omit them (Nelson, Brown, Wynn, Hernandez, Daniels, Price, McClinchey).

28 targets remain

We are set at RB, even though we are facing the possibility of losing Tevin in 2019. So, drafting a RB in the 1st round would be a waste of a pick (unless Dimitroff did something clever like drafting a RB then immediately trading Tevin to gain assets in this draft). Believe we can safely assume that ain’t gonna happen (Barkley, Jones, Guice).

25 targets

Going out on a limb, but I think edge rusher can be removed. No, you can never have too many pass rushers, but with Vic and Tak already on board, I believe we can rule out (Landry, Davenport, Turay).

22 targets

Leighton Vander Esch is an intriguing prospect. I believe his future is as an inside linebacker, not outside. I don’t believe the thought has ever crossed Quinn’s mind to replace Deion in the middle to move him outside. Believe the only way that will happen is an injury forces the move, or a late round draft prospect or UDFA really shows out in camp and preseason and forces Quinn to make the move. Anyway, I don’t believe it’s a plan. Vander Esch is out.

21 targets

Some players will absolutely be gone by the time we pick at #26. It’s hard to pinpoint who might slide inexplicably. I think it’s safe to assume nfl.com’s top 10 players will be gone by the time we pick. Some have already been removed above because of positions, meaning (Edmunds, Bradley Chubb, Smith, Ridley, Payne, Vea, James) are off our list.

3scout

Scoutin’ clout

This now leaves 14 players who could be targets for our pick at #26. In no particular order….

DT’s-Taven Bryan, Maurice Hurst, Tim Settle

CB’s-Denzel Ward, Josh Jackson, Carlton Davis, Isaiah Oliver

S-Minkah Fitzpatrick, Justin Reed, Ronnie Harrison

LB-Rahsaan Evans

TE’s-Mike Gesicki, Hayden Hurst

DE-Rasheem Green

Assuming all of the above is true, including who the top 40 prospects are……

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

2round-one

Knock ’em out

Using the remaining 14 players I just listed…

1-which 1 of the 14 players left would you run to the draft podium, card in hand and thank the football Gods that he somehow fell in to our lap?

2-of these 14 players, who do you assume will be available for us to choose? (some of these 14 will be off the board). 2nd choice? 3rd?

3-who from these 14 would you trade up for? How far?

4-would you go “off the board” not from the 14 but also not from the ones I eliminated?

5-do you think you could trade down and still get 1 of these 14? How far do you think you could trade down?

4moneyno

“No free agents for you, sir!”

Me?

1-very doubtful, but if S Minkah Fitzpatrick were still available, even though its not a pressing need, I would choose him. He could learn for a year, playing nickle back, then take over at FS in 2019 and we wouldn’t need to spend big $ on re-signing Ricardo Allen.

2-LB Rashaad Evans would be my first choice of who could be available, 2nd would be DT Taven Bryan, 3rd would be TE Mike Gesicki.

3-There is no one from this group I would trade up for. I believe any of these 14 players could make our team stronger and fill a need.

4-pretty much the same answer as #3. If these are indeed the top 40 available, I don’t see a need to venture farther out than that.

5-I believe at least 7 of the players will still be available to us at #26. Meaning we could trade down to #32 and still get one of the top prizes.

HAVE FUN

5badcap

Bad cap management

6goodcap

Good cap management

CONTEST: SEARCHING THE COLLEGE STARS

Father and Son.

AN INEXACT SCIENCE

By John Waynesworld

 

The quest to find special players at key positions is wrought with failure because there are no universal calculations for the perfect Offensive Guard or Defensive Tackle. There are factors like heart and soul and hunger and love for mama that cannot be derived from a spread sheet, a highlight reel, or a measuring tape.

JARRETT DT-1

Grady Jarrett is a great example. Deemed too short for early consideration, most NFL scouts predicted taller OLs would smother him upon contact. Yeah, how’d that work out? That opinion is changing quickly, thanks to Grady and another 6-footer named Aaron Donald as well as a few other fire plugs. The Falcons would do worse than to select another undersized DT in the 1st round to pair (or rotate) with Mr. Jarrett.

Conley UGA

Player statistics are accessible all over the web and previously recorded highlights are produced around the country and funneled into the sports media community to share. Some Draft websites are pretty much in line with prospects’ rankings while others vary within 1 round or so on the pool of players throughout the Draft. In the later rounds it is a crap shoot for every team. So is the case for Drafttek’s late rankings.

RED DICE GREEN TABLE

In recent years, there have been a few prospects on Drafttek’s last page, which by number alone (301-400) should be way off the draft board, turned out to be mid-round picks. There have been several every season that I’ve checked the site.

So that is the source of the game. Here are the NEW rules…

Below is a link to Draftek’s ‘Big Board’ final page, with prospects listed from 301 to 400.

https://drafttek.com/Top-100-NFL-Draft-Prospects-2018-Page-4.asp

Each contestant will look over the prospects and select 10 prospects who they are confident will be drafted from this list. There are no guesses which round the player gets selected, the scoring comes from the difference between Draftek’s ranking and the player’s draft pick number. Just list 10 players from that page and you’re done.

As last time, I will screen shot the Drafttek page 4 at the contest deadline which is:

April 1st!

HOW TO SCORE POINTS

Example:

A prospect is ranked #384 by Draftek.

He gets selected #203 overall (6th round).

That is a 181 point difference and that number goes toward the contestant’s total.

After the Draft in April, contestants add up their totals from all 10 prospects. It is likely that many of each contestant’s 10 choices will not be drafted in the NFL’s 2018 class of 256 picks, but all it takes is finding a few ♦ GEMS ♦ to win!

CONTEST TIP…

A whole lot of news happens in a 2 week period. Players hurt themselves or get into trouble, which would immediately downgrade their draft status.  A good strategy would be to make your list but hold on to it until we near the April 1st deadline.

GOOD ROB YOU CAN DO IT

 

Good luck!

 

 

2015 Draft – A Look Back

09draft

A LOOK BACK AT THE FALCONS 2015 DRAFT

THE FIRST OF THE DAN QUINN ERA

by Dewey

It’s the time of year every armchair General Manager looks forward to….the off season. NFL Draft Combine, free agency, the draft, secondary free agency, the time where every fan with a pencil, paper and internet access becomes experts in talent evaluation and knows exactly how to build a Super Bowl Champion.

As much as I love this time of year, I also enjoy reflecting on past drafts…successes and failures. I’ve been doing this piece for the Cage for about 4 years now. I usually wait until after the season’s draft to post this, but this year I decided to not mess up our fawning over all of our shiny new toys and print this before any of the wheeling and dealing starts.

For those not familiar with my method, a quick refresher.

-I like giving out number grades instead of the standard letter grades

-Most NFL folks will tell you it takes 2-3 years to truly grade a draft. Years ago when I started this, I chose the 3 year mark (players have been in the league for 3 seasons). So that’s why this year’s look is at the 2015 draft.

-I usually give a final grade at the end of it all, just averaging the grades of all the draftees. This year, I’ve decided to “weigh” each pick, possibly giving a more fair assessment of the draft. Afterall, a 7th round pick who washes out shouldn’t carry as much weight as a 1st rounder who washes out.

So, without further ado, I give you Coach Dan Quinn’s 1st NFL draft


01

ROUND 1-VIC BEASLEY, DE, CLEMSON

The 2014 season our Atlanta Falcons produce fewer than 20 sacks for the entire season. There have been single players in NFL history to record 20 sacks in a single season. Quinn needed to pump some life into a miserable pass rush. Beasley had a slow rookie season (4 sacks), then burst onto the scene in year number 2 to lead the NFC with 15.5 sacks. Then year 3 saw a backslide in pass rush production (5 sacks). There will be many excuses given for these numbers. Played out of position, played injured, not used correctly, etc. The reality of the situation is, Quinn drafted Beasley to be his Atlanta version of Seattle’s Bruce Irvin or Denver’s Von Miler. Beasley was supposed to be a linebacker that rushed the QB on passing downs. The main problem here was Vic had never played linebacker and was not given the chance to do so his rookie season. Year#2 he played some linebacker, but mostly rushed the passer. Year#3, Vic was forced to play more linebacker (because of injury and poor personnel decisions) and seemed generally lost doing so. After the 2017 season ended, Quinn stated that Beasley would be moving back to DE full time. Good and bad news. Beasley is not a full time DE, he’s just to small. Injuries are mounting on the young player because he is routinely asked to do battle with players that outweigh him by 80+lbs. Moving forward, I don’t see Beasley as being anything more than a pass rush specialist. 2nd down and 9+yards to go, 3rd down and 4+yards to go and 2 minute defenses. Line him up and tell him to go get the QB, don’t worry about anything else.

24.5 sacks your 1st 3 years in the league is nothing to be ashamed of. But when 15.5 of those came in one season (and it wasn’t the most recent), then there is some cause for concern. So far, Beasley has not been the beast we’d all hoped he would become, and in the next few months, the team must decide whether or not to pick up his 5th year option for being a 1st round pick, which is going to be somewhere north of $10 million for 1 season. I can’t consciously give Beasley a high grade for 1 good season out of 3.

GRADE:78


07

ROUND 2-JALEN COLLINS, CB, LSU

This pick raised more than a few eyebrows for a variety of reasons. Collins had only started 9 career college games. Collins had run afoul of his team and the NCAA a total of 3 times for substance abuse. Trufant and Alford were our starting CB’s and played solidly if not spectacularly. There were so many other holes on the roster, adding a 3rd CB was way down on most folks lists.

You all know the story of how this turned out. Collins was slow to pick things up as a rookie and played sparingly. Year 2, his 1st NFL suspension, came back, couldn’t crack his way into the starting lineup. Trufant gets hurt, Collins is forced into the lineup. Collins places well, sometimes really well, causing some fans (GUILTY!) to wonder if the Falcons should trade Trufant rather than signing him to a big contract extension. Well, Trufant got his fat raise, and Collins was suspended a 2nd time, leading to his ultimate dismissal from the team. To the best of my knowledge, he’s still not with a club. Cautionary Tale: if you’re really good, you can screw up as many times as you want and teams will give you chance after chance after chance. If you’re just average, well there are 100’s of those guys out there, teams don’t want to deal with a major headache for average.

GRADE:0


02

ROUND 3-TEVIN COLEMAN, RB, INDIANA

Heading into the 2015 season, the Falcons only had 1 real RB on the roster, Devonta Freeman, who was a seldom used rookie just 1 year prior. Regardless if Devonta was starting caliber or not, another RB was needed. Tevin pretty much fell into Atlanta’s lap in the 2015 draft. Coleman had over 2,000 yards his senior year in Indiana and was a proven pass catcher and kick returner. So impressed were the Falcons with Tevin during training camp and pre-season, that he was named the starting RB. But then an injury caused Tevin to relinquish his starting job, one which Devonta would grab hold of and not let go. Injuries marred Tevin’s rookie season, as did a bad case of fumblitis. But in 2016, Tevin came back strong and formed a lethal 1-2 punch with Devonta. Tevin has been a perfect compliment to Devonta, and even showing he could be the workhorse when Devonta was out. Honestly, Tevin has been everything you could hope for. No complaints.

GRADE:83


06

ROUND 4-JUSTIN HARDY, WR, EAST CAROLINA

Justin came to Atlanta with a lot of NCAA receptions but not much fanfare. Justin can catch pretty much anything thrown his way, but one of the knocks on him was East Carolina didn’t really have a playbook as much as they ran sandlot football. Justin didn’t really run routes at East Carolina as he just fond the open spot and hoped the QB found him. That caused Justin to be a bit tardy in his learning curve coming to the NFL. Since then, what we have learned about Hardy is he seems just a tad too slow, not quite quick enough, but yes, he pretty much catches anything he can get his hands on. In the one game in 2017 where the Falcons lost Sanu an Julio, Hardy had his chance to prove what he could do…not much happened. Hardy has done everything the Falcons have asked of him. Plays special teams, blocks, runs clearing routes or rub routes, and does catch the occasional pass. This past year he had as many TD’s as Julio (which is more of an indictment of Julio than it is praise for Justin). The fact is, 3 years in, Justin is a take-him or leave-him wide receiver. The fact that he’s still here 3 years later is the only thing that gets him a passing grade(barely).

GRADE:65


03

ROUND 5-GRADY JARRETT, DT, CLEMSON

I wish all of Thomas Dimitroff’s trade ups worked out this well. For what we gave up, this is quite possibly the best trade up of Dimitroff’s many trade ups. This is how and when you do it. Late in the draft, where there’s a player still available who by all rights shouldn’t still be there. Grady has been everything you could hope for in a DT. He plays the run well, gets penetration, gets pressure on the QB and can occasionally get a sack. Grady saved his best game for Super Bowl 51, in which he surely would have been MVP (sorry Devonta, it would not have been you) had we just run the damn ball and kicked the FG. Sorry bout that, old wounds. Anyway, Grady is in the top half of the league’s DT’s. Not dominant every play or even every game, but he can dominate at times during games. The only part of his game you would like to se improvement in is actually getting to the QB, which may come when we finally get a full compliment of pass rushers around him.

GRADE:86


05

ROUND 6-JAKE RODGERS, OT, EASTERN MICHIGAN

This pick alone stands as a major statement selection in the Dan Quinn era. A trend that is thus far more disturbing than any. Draft what you perceive to be an athletic offensive linemen late in the draft, try to mold him into something you’re looking for, fail, move on to the next one. This is all I will say about this pick and this player. Jake never amounted to anything for the Falcons and is now out of the league.

GRADE:0


04

ROUND 7-AKEEM KING, S, SAN JOSE STATE

Here is the other Dan Quinn trend that has marked the Dan Quinn era so far. What do these players have in common? Ricardo Allen, Akeem King, Damonte Kazee. They are all DB’s that Quinn has switched from their natural position once they arrived in the NFL. So far it has worked for Allen (switched from CB to S), though he is not spectacular at any one thing. The book is still out on Kazee (switched from CB to S), who looked ok filling in for Allen a few times as a rookie. The switch did not work out well for King (moved from S to CB). King was dropped from the Falcons in 2016, has landed on a couple of practice squads, and if I’m not mistaken, is now looking for work as a free agent.

GRADE:0


OVERVIEW

I told you at the beginning, I have a new grading system for the overall all grade of the draft. Before I came up with grades, averaged them all, then came up with a final number, which usually ended up being a fail. Now I’m weighing the rounds, 1st round counts more, 2nd a little less, so on and so forth.

OVERALL GRADE:67.8

Maybe I need to find another new way to come up with overall grade. But when you’re 2nd round pick is no longer even on the team, for whatever reason, that’s going to drag your overall score down. When 3 of 7 picks are no longer on the team, that will hurt as well.

Regardless of grade, this was a solid draft. Nothing fancy. Beasley, Tevin, Hardy are all part-timers. Though Tevin has shown he can be a full timer, and Beasley has shown he can be a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher (which, in my book, is still only part time work). Grady Jarrett is easily the crown jewel of the 2015 draft.

My grading system may be lacking in overall sophistication, but it does go to show you how missing on an early pick can really mess you up. I’ve seen plenty of mocks for the 2018 draft which have us needing a CB. Had Collins kept his nose clean, that would not be a need in this upcoming draft, a pick that could be better spent somewhere else.

08Beasley

Reconstructing a Winner

7-erector

by Dewey

The Falcons have officially reached their off season. From the looks of some of the more recent posts here in The Cage, some are very anxious to get the ball (wrecking or otherwise) rolling on building this roster back up to Super Bowl character. So, without further ado, here is what our Falcons roster currently looks like headed into the 2018 season. Currently only 37 players under contract with roughly $18 million to spend to fill out the other 16 roster spots (for those counting at home, that’s about $1.1 million per player). These names and all preceding numbers are attributed to Spottrac….

4-hook

QB-Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub

RB-Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman

WR-Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller, Marvin Hall

TE-Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper, Eric Saubert

LT-Jake Mathews, Ty Sambrailo

LG-Andy Levitre, Sean Harlow

C-Alex Mack

RG-Wes Schweitzer

RT-Ryan Schraeder

DE-Derrick Shelby, Brooks Reed, Tak McKinley, Martin Ifedi

DT-Jack Crawford, Grady Jarrett

OLB-Vic Beasley, Duke Riley, De’Vondre Campbell

ILB-Deion Jones

CB-Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole

SS-Keanu Neal, Quincy Mauger

FS-Damonte Kazee

P-Matt Bosher

LS-Josh Harris

2-beam

Where do we need the most help? Who do you re-sign, remembering we only have $18 million to fill 16 spots. Here is the list of our own free agents, in case you need a refresher….

5-shovel

FB-Derrick Coleman

RB-Terron Ward

WR-Taylor Gabriel, Nick Williams

RG-Ben Garland

RT-Austin Pasztor

DE-Adrian Clayborn

DT-Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw, Ahtyba Rubin

LB-Sean Weatherspoon, Jordan Tripp

LB/SS-Kemal Ishmael

CB-Blidi Wreh-Wilson

FS-Ricardo Allen

KR/WR-Andre Roberts

K-Matt Bryant

3-barrows

These players I stumbled across while researching as 9 players the Falcons recently signed to reserve/futures contracts. Typically these players are no more than camp fodder, but you never know…

6-wires

S-Marcelis Branch

OG-Daniel Brunskill

CB-Deante Burton

WR-Reggie Davis

TE-Alex Gray

QB-Garrett Grayson

DT-Joey Ivie, Taniela Tupou

DE-JT Jones

So, that’s now 46 players, but like I said, very doubtful any of these last 9 make the team.

Start making your roster. Get us back to the Super Bowl.

1-Missouri