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Draft Needs: Can the Falcons Add Steven Jackson’s Successor?

April 28th, 2014 Comments off

The retirement of running back Jason Snelling certainly will affect the Atlanta Falcons depth at running back. Coupled with the strong possibility that Steven Jackson is playing his last season with the team, there appears to be a compelling need at the position headed into next month’s draft.

Jackson has one more year left on his contract beyond this season, but carries nearly a $5 million cap hit in 2015. He’ll be 32 entering that season, and only three running backs have rushed for 1,000 yards at that age over the past 15 seasons. And it’s far from a given that Jackson will have that sort of production in 2014 to even merit that expectation next year. While playing roughly 11.25 games in 2013, Jackson had 543 yards, which extrapolates to 772 yards over 16 games.

Given that, it would seem very doubtful that Jackson is going to be a Falcon beyond this season even if he has the desire to continuing playing. It makes no sense to pay a guy $5 million if he’s not capable of breaking 1,000 yards rushing.

Jacquizz Rodgers is Jackson’s primary backup, but has done little in his three seasons with the team to suggest that he is ready to take over the full-time duties. Rodgers is entering his contract year with his future also in some doubt. Helping Rodgers retain long-term value however is that he is one of the better third-down backs in the league. That’s a role and skill set that isn’t likely to diminish for many years given Rodgers is only 24 years old.

But it’s certainly possible that Rodgers could be a free agent next year, and another team could value his third-down abilities far more than the Falcons and sign him. Therefore, he too could be playing in his final season with the team.

Fellow backups Antone Smith and Josh Vaughan are also set to be free agents after this season. This means that beyond 2014, the Falcons running back position is completely unknown. So it makes perfect sense to draft a running back to add some stability for the future.

The first priority is replacing Jackson. While there is no guarantee that the Falcons re-sign Rodgers, there is certainly a much higher chance of that happening than Jackson discovering the fountain of youth in 2014. There is every reason to believe that any rookie drafted can be expected to form a one-two punch with Rodgers beyond this year.

It does appear that the running back prospects the Falcons have shown the most interest in this offseason are in that mold of lead back. Prospects like Terrance West, Carlos Hyde, Jeremy Hill and Storm Johnson all are bigger, powerful runners in the mold of Jackson and his predecessor Michael Turner.

Any rookie added is probably only going to be used sparingly in 2014, just as Snelling was a year ago. Snelling played 233 snaps last year (according to premium website Pro Football Focus), 61 percent of which came between Weeks 2 and 8 when Jackson was injured. Basically in games where both Jackson and Rodgers were healthy, Snelling averaged about 6.6 offensive snaps per game. Essentially, any rookie added will be asked to redshirt this year, learn the offense if things go according to plan.

But in the NFL, things rarely go according to plan. And injuries happen, and any draft pick would also give the team insurance in the event of their occurrence since he’d offer greater potential than either Smith or Vaughan could.

So while the Falcons don’t have to draft a running back, it makes little sense not to.

Draft Needs: Do Falcons Need Another Backup Quarterback?

April 27th, 2014 Comments off

While it’s clear the Falcons are set at the starting quarterback with Matt Ryan, there is an adage in the NFL that you’re only as good as your backup at that position.

Earlier this offseason, I discussed the team’s need at quarterback, mentioning the possibility that there is significant room for improvement in terms of their backup situation at the position.

Dominique Davis has talent worth developing but is he ready to become a starter in the unfortunate event that Ryan misses significant time?

It would be ironic that given the improvements the Falcons could make to their offensive line with the signing of guard Jon Asamoah potentially coupled with the use of a high pick on an offensive tackle, that Ryan could get injured this year. But that’s often how the cookie crumbles in the NFL as things rarely go according to plan.

Davis has struggled with his mechanics and his accuracy on intermediate and deep passes, which isn’t a great recipe for success if he’s forced to play more than a couple of series. Sean Renfree, a seventh-round pick last season, has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries dating back to his days at Duke. And in his first preseason with the team looked very rusty in limited reps.

I don’t expect the Falcons to draft a quarterback this year given the investments already made in Davis and Renfree. But this summer, if neither Davis nor Renfree show significant growth, then the Falcons may have to look in a new direction come 2015.

If a talented quarterback slips into the late rounds of the draft, given the high number of picks the team may have, they might be able to afford to draft another passer. But it’s likely any such player will still be a developmental guy that will take time to develop. That certainly could pay off down the road, but there is a more immediate concern at the position on whether the current backups are ready to produce if thrust into the lineup.

One positive is that Davis and Renfree remain eligible for the practice squad, along with any rookie added. Thus the Falcons could still manage to retain all three under certain circumstances.

But it still remains a longshot that the Falcons would address this position seriously in the 2014 draft.

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Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 4/27

April 27th, 2014 Comments off

It was a busy week for the Falcons as they worked out a number of top prospects and had them visit team facilities.

We reported earlier in the week about which players were expected to visit, but that was far from a comprehensive list. Here are the known visitors and they day in which they found themselves at team facilities this past week:

Monday:

  • Dee Ford, DE, Auburn

Tuesday:

  • Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
  • Storm Johnson, RB, Central Florida
  • Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
  • Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
  • Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State

Wednesday:

  • Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
  • Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
  • Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
  • Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
  • Terrance West, RB, Towson

Thursday:

Friday:

  • Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (on campus in Columbia, SC)
  • Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina (on campus in Columbia, SC)

Saturday:

  • Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU (Source: ESPN)

Unknown Date:

  • Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
  • Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

We also learned of the Falcons’ interest in several other prospects this past week:

NFL.com’s Gil Brandt reports that the Falcons have met with Mississippi wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post reports that the Falcons have met with Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman. Wilson also reports the team has conducted private workouts with Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith and Liberty cornerback Walt Aikens previously. Whether or not any of those players were in town this past week is unknown.

 

 

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Trading Away Future Picks Rarely Works Out

April 25th, 2014 Comments off
William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via US PRESSWIRE

Two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning is the exception, not the rule to trading future first-round picks

I’d rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.

It’s a statement that is often used in reference to the possession of a firearm, but I also believe should apply to the possession of draft picks, particularly the more valuable ones at the top of the draft.

I’ve written multiple times over the course of this offseason about whether or not the Atlanta Falcons should trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. And in light of recent reports it does seem that possibility is beginning to gain steam as we inch closer to May 8, the first night of the 2014 NFL Draft.

It has been hinted that the Falcons may need to part ways with a first-round pick in order to secure the rights for Clowney at the top of the draft, which is something that probably won’t work out in their favor if history is the judge.

This belief on the value of draft picks is based largely on past observations of when teams move up in the draft, particularly when it comes to parting ways with future first-round selections. I’ve outlined several trades over the past decade in which teams gave up a future first-round pick. There were of course multiple picks involved in these trades, but I want to remain focused on the first round:

In 2004, the Buffalo Bills traded back into the first round in order to select quarterback J.P. Losman. They gave up their 2005 first-round pick to Dallas Cowboys, who selected defensive Marcus Spears.

  • Losman started 33 games over five seasons in Buffalo, posting a 10-23 record as a starter with 33 touchdowns and 34 interceptions.
  • Spears played eight seasons with the Cowboys, serving as a regular starter for six of them. He collected 10 sacks in that span.

In 2004, the New York Giants gave up their 2005 first-round pick to the San Diego Chargers as part of their package to trade for the rights of quarterback Eli Manning. The Chargers would take outside linebacker Shawne Merriman in 2005.

  • Manning has started 151 games over ten years with the Giants, posting an 85-66 record as a starter and a career passer rating of 81.2. He has earned three Pro Bowl berths and won two Super Bowls as a Giant.
  • Merriman began his career with three Pro Bowl seasons in which he combined for 39.5 sacks, but injuries sapped him and he was cut midway through his sixth year in San Diego. In his final five NFL seasons, he appeared in just 33 games and had five sacks.

Read more…

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Falcons To Test Clowney, Work Out Ellington

April 25th, 2014 Comments off
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney

Multiple reports emerged yesterday afternoon that indicated the Atlanta Falcons were the team “most likely” to trade up with the Houston Texans for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Coupled with the news that the Falcons would be traveling to South Carolina today to conduct a workout with defensive end Jadeveon Clowney following his visit to team facilities on Wednesday made for easy dot-connecting that the Falcons were on the verge of pulling off another blockbuster draft-day trade.

Clowney’s agent, Bus Cook, made headlines earlier this month by declaring that the prospect would no longer be working out for prospective NFL teams due to an injury suffered by Clemson offensive lineman Brandon Thomas during such a workout. Cook indicated that Clowney may do a five-minute private workout for one team that wouldn’t risk injury. That created even more dot-connecting that the Falcons were the one team and today’s visit was the one workout that Clowney was planning.

However, other details given the initial buzz fell through the cracks. Per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, the Falcons would also be conducting a private workout of South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington. Later reports also emerged that confirmed that Cook’s earlier statements were in reference to biomechanical and aptitude tests that the Falcons were planning to conduct. Those tests would only last five minutes, which is unlikely to be worth the three-plus hour drive that it would take Falcons brass to get from Atlanta to Columbia, SC for the visit.

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More Prospects Visit Falcons

April 23rd, 2014 1 comment

It’s a pretty busy week for the Atlanta Falcons as their offseason program begins amid the team hosting several of the top prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft this week. Earlier this week we reported on several scheduled visits for the team over the course of this week. But apparently those reports were far from comprehensive.

Yesterday, Central Florida running back Storm Johnson was in town visiting alongside three other prospects. It was already known that UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr would be visiting the team on Tuesday, but Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier and Louisville safety Calvin Pryor were two more that were in the Falcons facilities along with Johnson.

Read more…

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2014 NFL Mock Draft: Four Rounds – April 22, 2014

April 22nd, 2014 Comments off
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Barr

I have a confession to make, I have done a poor job keeping up to date with the mock drafts for the muncher. Basically I got really busy at the end of February and planned to catch up and post an update in March. But I procrastinated and I will try to get another update up before the actual draft. There are a lot of mock updates that I will have missed over the past seven or eight weeks, so it won’t be as thorough as usual. So I apologize for that.

But I guess that’s not stopping me from providing you with my own mock draft if I’m not keeping up to date with others.

Over the weekend, I worked on a little two-round mock based off some of the thoughts I had in this week’s most recent takeaways column. But I decided to expand it to a full four rounds rather than just two. I won’t include trades in this mock, but perhaps this weekend I’ll post a mock that does have trades factored in.

1. Houston Texans – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina*
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – OT Greg Robinson, Auburn*
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
4. Cleveland Browns – OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
5. Oakland Raiders – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson*
6. Atlanta Falcons – OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M*
8. Minnesota Vikings – QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida*
9. Buffalo Bills – TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina
10. Detroit Lions – OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Read more…

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Falcons Line Up Draft Visits This Week

April 21st, 2014 Comments off

As reported yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons are set to have a busy week where they will have a large number of 2014 draft prospects in and out of team facilities to conduct visits.

Previous reports indicated that outside linebackers Anthony Barr (UCLA) and Khalil Mack (Buffalo), defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Dee Ford (Auburn), wide receiver Jarvis Landry (LSU), offensive tackles Jake Matthews (Texas A&M) and Greg Robinson (Auburn) and running back Terrance West (Towson) are scheduled to visit the team.

One more name can be added to that list, as Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert tweeted this morning that he will making a visit to Atlanta later in the week.

https://twitter.com/JGil_4/statuses/458086613050851328

Some of the dates are known for when several of the prospects will visit the team. Ford will be the first to arrive today and stay through tomorrow. He will be joined by his Auburn teammate Robinson and Barr on Tuesday. On Wednesday Clowney, Mack and West will work out for the team. Exact dates for Matthews and Landry’s visits are not known yet. It’s very likely that Gilbert’s visit won’t be until the end of the week.

There is other news involving these prospects, as Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reports that a notable contingent of the Falcons’ top brass were in the Baltimore area on Sunday to conduct a private workout of West at Towson University. Per Wilson, head coach Mike Smith, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, assistant GM Scott Pioli, and player personnel director Lionel Vital were all on hand to see West.

Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 4/20

April 20th, 2014 Comments off

This past week was a big one for the Falcons as they conducted their local pro day where draft prospects from Georgia high schools and colleges got a chance to showcase their stuff in front of the team on Tuesday, April 15.

We originally reported a number of players that were expected to show up, but in the days since there have been more reports about the prospects that were available. Georgia State sent three prospects, the previously reported defensive linemen along with offensive lineman Ulrick John. Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson was another player that himself tweeted he was there. Shane DePasquale of NFL Draft Diamonds reports that Southern Illinois linebacker Bryan Presume was among the prospects.

A pair of Valdosta State wide receivers in Regginald Lewis and Seantavius Jones were reportedly there to work out.

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that other players were there including:

  • Running Back Ryan Boykin, Ohio
  • Outside linebacker Clifton Crews, South Alabama
  • Wide receiver Ryan Culbreath, Furman
  • Safety Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt
  • Safety Kimario McFadden, South Carolina State
  • Tight End Evan Wilson, Illinois
  • Safety Greg Worthy, Furman

Read more…

What if Falcons Focused on Offense in 2014 Draft?

April 17th, 2014 1 comment

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Robinson (73) and Tre Mason could form the cornerstones of the Falcons 2014 draft class

What if the Atlanta Falcons decided to devote the bulk of their early-round 2014 NFL Draft picks to improving and solidifying the offense rather than the defense?

I should have prefaced that question by stating this is more of a thought exercise than any sort of formal proposal.

But one reason why the Falcons might decide to focus on offense because relative to the defense, it seems a lot closer to being elite.

The Falcons defense needs help at all three levels. While the pass rush is the most glaring issue on that side of the ball, the team also needs to shore up depth at several positions including linebacker and safety. And it’s not as if one pass-rusher is going fix the area, as any top-level pass rush has multiple playmakers that can consistently get pressure on the quarterback.

On offense the Falcons already made a big improvement to their offensive line by signing guard Jon Asamoah in free agency. They also added speedster Devin Hester to help at wide receiver and on special teams. But they could use more help.

Read more…