Archive

Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 27 Joplo Bartu

July 17th, 2014 No comments

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 27th-ranked player: linebacker Joplo Bartu.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 50/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 52/100
Teams he is starter: 12 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 21 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

Bartu essentially came from nowhere last season as an undrafted rookie who carved out a quick role in the team’s linebacker rotation, almost immediately stealing snaps in nickel situations from linebacker Stephen Nicholas.

And he wound up having a pretty solid rookie season in 2013 given his humble origins. But now, he will be asked to do a lot more given that Sean Weatherspoon is out for the season. Bartu is the main candidate currently on the roster expected to replace Weatherspoon and if he isn’t up to the task, the Falcons lack viable alternatives.

But there should be a great deal of confidence that Bartu will be ready. While Bartu lacks Weatherspoon’s natural gifts and experience, he is no slouch as the team’s second best athlete at linebacker. With capable hips and very good short-area closing speed, Bartu has what it takes to be an effective two-way linebacker versus both the run and pass. And given his history as a defensive end in college, there’s little doubt he can be an effective blitzer (3.5 sacks in 2013).

Bartu had some early growing pains last year, notably a breakdown in coverage against the Miami Dolphins that was arguably the back-breaking play for the Falcons in the final minutes. But as the season wore on, his play improved to the point that over the final few games when Weatherspoon was officially out for the season, Bartu was arguably the team’s best linebacker.

Bartu will carry a heavy burden in 2014, but it will be his opportunity to show that he has the potential to be a long-term fixture in the Falcons starting lineup.

It’s not to say that he’s expected to take his rightful place among the league’s best linebackers in 2014, but if he can build off a solid rookie year while showing improvement and eliminating some mistakes, then there’s a lot of promise that Bartu will become a familiar name to Falcons fans for years to come.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 28 Lamar Holmes

July 17th, 2014 2 comments

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Holmes

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 28th-ranked player: offensive tackle Lamar Holmes.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 50/100

Last year’s rank: 25
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 9 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 27 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

Holmes was thrust into the fire in 2013 following the injury to Mike Johnson. And his play early on at right tackle showed that he was not ready for the responsibility. Through his first two starts, he allowed only one sack but also gave up five pressures and seven hurries (per Moneyball reviews). But Holmes did improve once he made the switch to left tackle following the early-season injury to Sam Baker. Over his next seven games at left tackle, he gave up no sacks, four pressures and 10 hurries.

Had Holmes been able to maintain that level of play, there would have been little issue with him retaining a starting position. But Holmes did not finish 2013 well, giving up seven sacks, four pressures and 10.5 hurries in the final six games at left tackle.

There certainly was the possibility this offseason that the Falcons would give Holmes a chance to redeem himself with another year starting at right tackle. With the addition of offensive line coach Mike Tice and an assumption that Holmes could revert to 2013 mid-season form, there was a reasonable hope that Holmes could have been more than competent as a starter this year.

With the selection of Jake Matthews in the first round this past May, any chance that Holmes would remain in the starting lineup evaporated. Holmes will instead be expected to compete for the swing tackle spot this summer and thus will get at least another year to develop before he’s asked to start again.

That time should be beneficial to Holmes, whose biggest issue last season was inconsistent technique and hand use. Holmes has the size and athleticism to be an effective starter, but needs to be more consistent with his technique and leverage.

But given the injury history of Baker, there’s also a decent chance that Holmes will log significant reps in 2014 should Baker miss time. But with Matthews on the roster, Holmes’ best chance at sticking long-term will stay at right tackle. Baker’s contract could become prohibitive down the road, prompting the Falcons to move Matthews to left tackle. Then, there will be a void at right tackle that will need to be filled.

How Holmes develops this year and performs if given the opportunity will determine if the Falcons still pencil him in to fill that void. He’s not quite there yet, but the potential is there and it just may need another year or two for it to developed. And now in light of the Falcons’ moves made this offseason, Holmes should get that much-needed time to refine his game and live up to his third-round billing.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 29 Mike Johnson

July 16th, 2014 No comments
Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Mike Johnson

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 29th-ranked player: offensive lineman Mike Johnson.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 48/100

Last year’s rank: 22
Player Grade: 48/100
Teams he is starter: 11 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 25 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +3

Johnson is the highest-ranked Falcon on this list that is firmly on the roster bubble this summer. He will be tasked with competing with the likes of Gabe Carimi and Harland Gunn for what may prove to be one reserve guard spot.

Helping Johnson’s chances is the fact that he’s been somewhat a journeyman on the Falcons depth chart over the years. Originally drafted to be a developmental guard in the third round of the 2010 draft, Johnson has bounced around to offensive tackle the past few years. He’s even received a handful of snaps here and there as a center during his time in Atlanta, making him potentially capable of playing all five roster spots. That certainly adds significant value when it comes to earning a roster spot as a reserve with the Falcons.

Despite receiving limited playing time over the course of four seasons with the Falcons, Johnson earns relatively higher grades than other Falcons blockers thanks to his ability. That is ability that he has not had the good fortune to show on the field due to untimely injuries.

In 2011, while on the verge of beating out Garrett Reynolds for the starting right guard spot, Johnson suffered an injury that allowed Reynolds to take the majority of first-team reps throughout training camp. Johnson then suffered a season-ending injury midway through that season. He came back in 2012 and made the move to tackle to make room for rookie Peter Konz, and eventually served as the team’s sixth lineman and blocking tight end during the regular season.

In 2013, after outworking Lamar Holmes in the offseason to win the starting right tackle spot, Johnson suffered a season-ending injury midway through camp. Who knows whether Johnson would have proven to be a significantly improved option at that spot than Holmes was early in the year.

Johnson should benefit to returning to his more natural position at guard this summer, where his less than ideal athleticism and footwork are far less hindrances. The key for Johnson may simply be staying healthy this summer since he’s mostly been effective when he’s been on the field.

While Johnson is by no means guaranteed a roster spot, all the adversity he’s faced throughout his career might have made him a lot more versatile than other options the Falcons could choose, ultimately earning him a job for another year.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 30 Peter Konz

July 16th, 2014 No comments
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Peter Konz

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 30th-ranked player: offensive lineman Peter Konz.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 47/100

Last year’s rank: 16
Player Grade: 47/100
Teams he is starter: 4 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 4 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 24 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

Peter Konz blew a fantastic opportunity last year to become the team’s long-term starter at center. Now he’s behind the eight ball heading into 2014, as he will be the backup behind Joe Hawley.

While there will be a competition between the two, Konz would have to play exceptionally well or Hawley would have to struggle mightily for Konz to leapfrog him on the depth chart.

Konz struggled last year thanks to a litany of issues including poor footwork, hand usage and an utter lack of an aggressive edge in his play. The Falcons are hopeful that new offensive line coach Mike Tice can help address some of these issues to help salvage Konz’s career. Because at this point, his career is on the brink.

While Konz’s high draft status as a former second-round pick should keep his roster spot relatively safe this year, beyond this year remains to be seen. That will largely depend on what if any improvements Konz can make this season, as well as whether or not Hawley plays well. If Hawley can play well and increase the gap between him and Konz by year’s end, it could result in Konz being firmly on the roster bubble heading into the 2015 season.

But that is still a ways away, and for the time being Konz needs to be focused on this summer and season. Reports indicate that Konz has been “living” in the weight room this offseason, strong indications that he’s not taking his roster status for granted. That’s an important first step for Konz to make to salvage his career, but the rest will have to be proven on the field.

Konz will likely serve as the team’s top interior backup, due to his ability to play both center and guard. He’s struggled mightily at the latter position when asked to play there. That’s why players like Mike Johnson and Harland Gunn will likely receive reps at center this summer, as if either perform well there, it could cost Konz his status as their preferred option as a swing center/guard.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 31 Josh Wilson

July 16th, 2014 No comments
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Wilson

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 31st-ranked player: cornerback Josh Wilson.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 47/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 5 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 29 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +4

Alongside Javier Arenas, Wilson is another free-agent addition made by the Falcons this offseason to bolster their cornerback depth. Like Arenas, Wilson will be competing with incumbent Robert McClain for the team’s nickel cornerback position.

What Wilson brings to the table more so than the other is experience and toughness. While he’s never been blessed with ideal size, Wilson has always been the type of corner that played with a chip on his shoulder to best compensate. Unfortunately, at age 29 Wilson has begun to show the signs of slowing down. He had an abysmal performance last season against the San Francisco 49ers where he was repeatedly torched by Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.

Wilson served as a starter for the Washington Redskins the past three seasons, but was also tasked with playing in the slot in the nickel last season for the first time as a Redskin. For his efforts, Wilson was one of the lowest-graded slot corners according to premium website Pro Football Focus, allowing 75 percent of passes against him completed, 8.6 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 114.8 in the slot. Fortunately for him, McClain did not fare any better in Atlanta last year: allowing 78.4 percent completions, 11.1 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 132.4. So there is certainly room for improvement as far as the Falcons nickel spot goes, which Wilson’s experience could earn him.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Wide Receiver

July 16th, 2014 No comments

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones (left) and Roddy White

The Atlanta Falcons head into the 2014 season with the same basic trio that they have sported for the past three seasons, yet for perhaps the first time ever in that span there are some causes for concern.

The biggest being the health of Julio Jones. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that cost him the final 11 games of the 2013 season and has been rested for all of the offseason.

While the word all offseason long has been that the team is resting Jones in preparation for training camp, there is no guarantee that he’ll even see much action when camp does arrive.

The Falcons have been clear that they won’t rush Jones back, which could lead to him missing all or most of the preseason if he’s not 100 percent within the first week or two of camp. Expectations are that Jones will return for the regular season opener against the New Orleans Saints, but the Falcons probably won’t risk jeopardizing that even if it means playing Jones at 98 percent.

That translates to the possibility that Jones will sit out all of the preseason with the possible exception of the third game against the Tennessee Titans. If Jones is not 100 percent by mid-August, it likely means that he will skip that Titans game and go into the regular season with limited work in pads.

In the meantime, the Falcons should have Roddy White and Harry Douglas to fill any void. White also missed much of the offseason as he was dealing with a family matters due to the murder of his brother. But expectations are that White will be back for training camp and may have a new contract as well.

Douglas is coming off a career-high season in which he led the Falcons in receptions and yards. His play this summer will be a big factor as he is the team’s primary option to fill the void left by the retirement of tight end Tony Gonzalez. The Falcons are expected to employ three wide receivers significantly more to try and compensate for Gonzalez’s loss. Douglas played in 59 percent of the team’s offensive plays in 2012, but that figure increased to 86 percent in 2013 (per premium website Pro Football Focus). It’s likely that his workload in 2014 will mirror his 2013 one.

Read more…

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 32 Gabe Carimi

July 16th, 2014 No comments
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe Carimi

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 32nd-ranked player: offensive lineman Gabe Carimi.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 45/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 47/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 23 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Carimi was essentially signed to replace Garrett Reynolds after the latter’s release this offseason. With the hiring of new offensive line coach Mike Tice, who Carimi played under for two seasons with the Chicago Bears, the Falcons are hoping that Carimi can finally live up to the potential he once showed at Wisconsin.

Michael Holley’s book The War Room indicates that the Falcons were poised to select Carimi with their top selection in the 2011 draft had they not made the blockbuster deal to move up for wide receiver Julio Jones.

As a rookie, Carimi immediately was plugged into the Bears’ starting lineup at right tackle but a knee injury ended his rookie season prematurely. His return to the field in 2012 was met with disappointment as he was benched after 11 starts due mainly to poor pass blocking. Injuries would occur as the Bears season wore on and Carimi returned to the lineup once more as a right guard, where he showed a bit more promise.

But with the turnover that occurred with the Bears coaching staff the following year, Carimi was shipped via trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thanks to an injury to starting left guard Carl Nicks to start the season, Carimi got another opportunity to showcase his abilities but failed to take advantage. Even with injuries debilitating Nicks for the rest of the season, Carimi hardly saw any reps outside of garbage time.

So Carimi comes to Atlanta as somewhat a reclamation project, and it may be his last opportunity in the NFL.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 33 Patrick DiMarco

July 16th, 2014 No comments

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick DiMarco

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 33rd-ranked player: fullback Patrick DiMarco.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 44/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 13 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 8 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +2

DiMarco gets ranked over a better overall player like running back Jacquizz Rodgers essentially because the former has at least some potential to start for a quarter of the remaining teams in the league.

DiMarco is essentially a slightly above average lead blocker. While he’s not the most powerful guy out there, he consistently hits his assignments and does enough to create space for his running back.

He’s also a competent special teams player, carving out a role on punt coverage last year for the Falcons. Unfortunately it did not lead to high production as he only recorded a single stop on special teams. But that ability will help him earn a roster spot as he vies to fight off a pair of undrafted rookies for what is likely to be only one roster spot at fullback.

The fullback position will receive less emphasis due to expectations that the Falcons will fully embrace three wide receiver sets as their base offensive attack this year. But there is still going to be a need for someone to lead Steven Jackson and other running backs through the hole on occasion, which should lead to one lead blocker being kept.

The question remains, is whether DiMarco will be tasked with filling that role or someone else. At this point it could go either way, but at least DiMarco is the most known commodity as things stand today. And if push comes to shove that can help earn him one of the last roster spots on the team this summer.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 34 Jacquizz Rodgers

July 16th, 2014 No comments

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Jacquizz Rodgers

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 34th-ranked player: running back Jacquizz Rodgers.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 44/100

Last year’s rank: 27
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 0 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 28 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +3

Rodgers was pushed down in this year’s rankings thanks to additions the Falcons made in the offseason as well as the fact that a number of unproven players rose in the rankings from a year ago. But that does not mean that Rodgers doesn’t add significant value to the Falcons roster.

While he’ll face stiff competition from rookie running back Devonta Freeman this summer, Rodgers isn’t exactly going to lay down. He is one of the best third-down backs currently in the league, being one of only four players that ranked in the top 15 in premium website Pro Football Focus‘ pass-blocking efficiency and yards per route metrics for running backs in 2013.

But Rodgers likely hopes to expand his role as a rusher this season. He received a career-high 96 carries in 2013, including 58 carries during a five-week stint where starter Steven Jackson was sidelined with injury. Rodgers has yet to receive more than 10 carries in a game in which he was not filling in as a starter or the Falcons were involved in a rout. Earning those reps will become harder with Freeman on the roster, as the team envisions Freeman as capable of being a lead back, something that Rodgers has not been.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 35 Devin Hester

July 15th, 2014 No comments

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with 35th-ranked player: wide receiver Devin Hester

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 44/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 0 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: 0
Positional Bonus: +3

Hester was brought in to primarily be the return specialist for the Falcons. In that capacity, he is arguably the best returner in NFL history. His 13 punts taken back for scores is the all-time mark, and he currently sits tied with Deion Sanders with most non-offensive touchdowns (19) in a career.

Hester’s always been a little more dangerous as a punt returner than kick returner, especially since new rules adopted by the league have limited the impact in the latter arena in recent seasons.

If there is any cause for concern with Hester, it’s that his penchant to go for the home run can lead to a few mistakes and turnovers. Hester fumbled 30 times over the course of eight years on 486 combined kickoff and punt returns for the Chicago Bears, or once every 16 returns. In contrast, during his tenure in Atlanta return specialist Eric Weems only fumbled three times in 190 total returns, or once every 63 returns.

But that risk is mitigated by the fact that Hester is and has been a far more explosive returner than Weems was. Only about eight percent of Weems’ punt returns as a Falcon went for 20 or more yards, while 21 percent of Hester’s returns did during his career as a Bear. Even in recent years where Hester has slowed down, that figure is still at 15.5 percent.

Not since the heyday of Allen Rossum (2002-04) have the Falcons sported a return specialist that was a threat to take it to the house every time he touched the ball.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,