The team is reporting on its tweeter feed that the team has won its second coin toss, and will pick 19th. The team was involved in a coin toss during Dimitroff’s first season as GM in 2008, and won that also, winding up with the third overall pick that they used on Matt Ryan.
D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that the Falcons and Houston Texans will flip for the 19th and 20th picks on Friday at the Indianapolis Combine. The Falcons and Texans share the same record and strength of schedule.
For the record, I’m someone that has argued on the forums that cornerback is the Falcons biggest need this off-season. I think defensive end is a very high need, but if it came down to addressing one and not the other, I would choose cornerback over pass rush.
But I certainly won’t say that the people that disagree with me and think the pass rush should be first priority are way off base.
So I pose the above question to those folks that think that is the case. I indicated in my defensive end fit analysis, that I do not believe that USC’s Everson Griffen and Florida’s Carlos Dunlap are good fits here in Atlanta. Mainly because of character issues. And I’m not sure the Falcons would necessarily target Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida because he has a questionable football I.Q.
So I think if defensive end is such a priority, and that means the Falcons are going to have to hope that one of the other top-rated pass rushers: Derrick Morgan or Brandon Graham.
In my most recent mock draft, I have Morgan going 10th to the Jaguars and Graham 12th to the Dolphins. It’s still very early in the draft process, so things are far from etched in stone in terms of where players will go and who may become available.
But at this current date, it’s very hard to imagine a player like Morgan or Graham slipping to the Falcons. It’s hard to see Morgan slipping past the Titans at No. 16. And with quite a few 3-4 teams picking before the Falcons, it’s hard to see Graham being available as well.
So I wonder if the Falcons are so keen on one of these pass rushers, should they trade up a few spots in the draft to get one?
Using the standard trade value chart, if the Falcons were to package their 1st (19th) and 3rd (83rd) round picks together, they would be the exact equivalent of the 15th pick, swapping with the Giants to jump ahead of the Titans.
So again I pose the question is it worth it? Is the pass rush that important? And is one of those players I identified worth investing so much in? Or should the Falcons “settle” for a riskier prospect at defensive end, or go in another direction such as linebacker or cornerback in the first round.
Using much of what I wrote in the Finding the Fit series of articles, I’ll now try to mock out a Falcons draft with players I think they could take in each of the seven rounds.
The draft order has not been finalized, and compensatory picks have not been awarded. But I included some, based off the information compiled by blogger AdamJT13, who in past years has been more than 80% accurate with predicting who/where compensatory picks will go to. My assessment are just conservative guesses at the approximate order based on the idea that he identifies the Falcons as likely getting at least a fourth, fifth, and seventh in that process.
You’ll also notice that many of the players I’ve selected for the Falcons have been chosen with an eye that they will contribute in 2011 and not this year. I think that will be the case in a lot of drafts moving forward. I think Dimitroff and Smith have done such an excellent job building up this team in their first two years that players that aren’t selected in the first two rounds shouldn’t be expected to have huge impacts as rookies. Simply because the caliber of players that are typically drafted in the third round and later just aren’t good/polished enough to compete with above average to good NFL starters which comprises the majority of our starting 22.
Now understanding Dimitroff and Smith knows that they aren’t going to select projects. Almost every one of these picks can contribute in some fashion this year, on special teams, pushing a veteran in camp, or filling a possible depth role, so I kept that in mind.
Safety is the lone area on the defensive side of the ball that isn’t a significant need for the Falcons. The team has invested in the position the past two drafts with Thomas DeCoud and Willliam Moore, and instead will concentrate their efforts on developing those two.
DeCoud had a breakout year as the team’s free safety, in large part due to an injury suffered by Moore in training camp. DeCoud’s ability in coverage, range, and playmaking abilities seem to improve as the season wore on. Moore missed much of camp with a nagging hamstring injury and also had his knee scoped. He eventually came back about a month into the season, but then had a more serious hamstring issue come up and missed the rest of the year.
Erik Coleman was the starting strong safety, but Coleman didn’t have as productive a year there as he did in 2008 at free safety. And it’s likely the team will have him and Moore competing directly for that job this summer.
The only real issue at safety is depth. But veteran corner Brian Williams also has experience playing both safety positions, and in a pinch could be a decent option if he is retained. Antoine Harris, Charlie Peprah, and Jamaal Fudge are also on the roster, but are essentially special teams players. The team could target a reserve safety that has more upside on defense and push those players off the roster.
As stated in the defensive end section, the Falcons pass defense was among the worst in the league. And arguably as big a reason for that as the lack of a strong pass rush was the poor coverage displayed throughout the year by the team’s cornerbacks.
Brian Williams was the team’s best corner last year, but he got hurt in Week 6 matchup vs. the Bears. And at his age (31 in July), coming off a knee injury, it remains to be seen if Williams can be considered a reliable option as a starter this year. We’ll likely find out just based on whether the Falcons re-sign him as a free agent and how big a contract they give him.
At the other spot is Chris Houston who missed most of the end of the season due to injury. But Houston had an up and down, that was a lot more down than up. And he has yet to take his game to the next level as a consistent and reliable cover man since Smith & Co. took over. So it’s doubtful the team will hold out too much hope that changes in 2010.
In Houston and Williams absence, two young corners emerged as arguably the team’s best moving forward: Brent Grimes and Chris Owens. Both are short, but have good speed, and instincts to make plays. But it remains to be seen if the Falcons can afford to start two 5’9″ corners.
Also on the roster is Chevis Jackson and Tye Hill. Jackson had a promising rookie year, but took a step back this past year. He struggled in man coverage, and now there are questions about whether he has the hips and quickness to get better. Hill is another undersized corner that had a brief flirtation as a starter, but too many mental mistakes ended that experiment rather swiftly.
The Falcons truly lack a No. 1 corner that can go up against the top receivers and the league and match up. And not a single player on the roster appears to have the upside to become that player.
And the Falcons will likely target players at this position that can come in right away and compete as starters, rather than adding more depth that they hope can develop as starters down the road.
Linebacker is another area on defense that the Falcons should try and address.
Curtis Lofton had what could be called a breakout year, leading the team with 130 tackles. So the Falcons appear to be fairly solid in the middle.
But one of the few flaws in Lofton’s game is his struggles in coverage. He simply is a much better run defender (arguably one of the best in the league) than pass defender.
And much of those duties in coverage fell on outside linebacker Mike Peterson last year. Peterson got off to a great start last year, combining for 36 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles, and 5 passes defended in the first 5 games. But the rest of the year, he did not record anymore sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions, and just had 2 passes defended.
The dip in production likely indicates that the aging Peterson (turns 34 in June) is getting near the end of the road. So the Falcons should be on the lookout for a replacement that can not only be an impact run defender, but also an impact pass defender.
On the other side, the team has Stephen Nicholas, who had a nice debut year as a starter. His strengths lie in rushing the passer and playing near the line of scrimmage, as almost every play Nicholas made last year seemed to have at or behind the line of scrimmage. But Nicholas struggled in coverage throughout last year. So the Falcons might be on the lookout to try and upgrade his spot with a guy that can play in coverage, which would allow them to limit Lofton to playing mostly on run downs.
Depth is also an issue with this position. Undersized, but hard-working Coy Wire serves as the backup at all three positions. Wire is a capable reserve, but he’s not an ideal option because he’s more an asset on special teams. Outside Wire, all of the remaining reserves have very limited experience.
What the Falcons do at defensive tackle will depend heavily on the health of Peria Jerry. If the Falcons are confident that Jerry is going to be able to come back strong from his knee injury, then there need at this position really is only about depth.
But if the Falcons are worried about Jerry’s health not only this year, but moving forward due to his rich history of injuries (he’s missed time in 5 of the past 6 years), then they may instead look for an insurance policy.
But regardless it makes sense for the Falcons to look at adding depth. Thomas Johnson had some moments as a fill-in starter for Jerry, but he’s a journeyman and is better off the bench than as a starter. So getting a player that can potentially challenge or replace him as the top backup tackle would be ideal. One could argue that Jonathan Babineaux was overworked last year, and that backup should be able to spell him as well.
Vance Walker came on strong at the end of the year and will push Johnson, but his upside may be limited only as a backup long-term. The Falcons may want to add a player that can potentially start for the team if Jerry can’t stay healthy down the road.
Now we’re starting to get into the nitty gritty as we approach the defensive side of the ball. The Falcons used almost all of their picks last year on defensive players, and it’s likely there will be a similar focus this year. The Falcons will certainly add some offensive players, but it’s obvious their biggest flaws are on the defensive side of the ball.
None of those flaws are more apparent than their porous pass defense. And a big reason for that was the lack of pass rush. The huge dropoff in production from John Abraham could be considered the primary culprit as the reason why. And if the Falcons hope to improve their defense, it’s likely they will need to make a significant upgrade at this spot this off-season.
Because the Falcons use such a heavy dose of rotation, the Falcons can target more specialized options up front. Right now, Abraham and Kroy Biermann serve as the teams primary pass rushers. But the Falcons are hopeful Lawrence Sidbury to enter into the mix as well this season. On running downs, Anderson and Davis are who the Falcons turn to the most, but Abraham gets plenty of snaps there as well. But the Falcons may want to narrow his focus primarily to pass rushing, so getting more help there makes sense as well.
Todd McClure is getting up in age (33), and the time may be ripe for the Falcons to draft his replacement.
Although it might not be necessary because the Falcons have Brett Romberg for antoher year. And while Romberg isn’t exactly a young man (he’s only two years younger than McClure), he’s shown himself to be a solid backup center this past year.
So Romberg isn’t really a strong option to replace McClure long-term, but because of his lock on the backup center position, anybody the Falcons would likely draft this year probably won’t play. So that means if the Falcons want their rookie center to contribute, then he’d probably have to possess the versatility to contribute as a reserve at another position like guard.
But because of Romberg’s presence they could still potentially draft a center prospect that is a bit more raw and could spend a year on the practice squad and not hurt the team’s depth.