The Falcons need to add depth at guard, because relatively speaking the Falcons interior line is the weakest part of their front five. Left guard Justin Blalock has yet to live up to the high expectations he came in with as a second round pick in 2007. And right guard Harvey Dahl is a nasty guy, but his blocking ability isn’t exactly stellar.
It behooves the Falcons to at the very least add players that can push these guys.
Dahl missed the final four games of the season due to injury, and his replacement Quinn Ojinnaka certainly did not fill the void. The Falcons like Ojinnaka because he’s versatile, having played or at least gotten reps at every position in the front five. And while he gives good effort, he’s not athletic enough to play on the outside and not physical enough to play on the inside. He’s an asset to have in a pinch, but he easily becomes a liability and exposed with extended playing time.
The Falcons need to find a backup guard that can replace Ojinnaka, but also potentially push either starter in the near future. Dahl is a restricted free agent, but is expected back because he’s a Paul Boudreau favorite. Blalock is entering his contract year as well. So essentially both players should be expected to start this year, but I’m sure the Falcons will monitor both players closely this season in order to evaluate whether either deserve a long-term extension. So ideally, any player that the Falcons add needs to be able to start by his second year.
Last year, the Falcons looked at replacing veteran Todd Weiner with a guy that could potentially work as a swing tackle. They wound up with Garrett Reynolds.
He didn’t contribute a lot as a rookie, but showed some ability to play both inside and outside, and could push for more playing time this summer.
But the Falcons should be back at it again this draft. Sam Baker is a solid left tackle, that if he can ever stay healthy, could develop into one of the better guys in the league. He won’t remind anyone of Walter Jones, but certainly can be as good if not a better player than Matt Light.
Tyson Clabo was the Falcons most consistent blocker over the course of the first half of the season, but his second half was not quite as solid. I think a big part of that was the injury to Harvey Dahl that messed up the continuity. But Clabo isn’t the most athletic option for a right tackle, and many believe that he is better suited with a return to guard, where he played mostly in 2006.
So ideally, the Falcons could find a blocker that could push Clabo for his starting position, but also be a good backup to Baker as well.
At the end of the season Tony Gonzalez said he would be coming back for at least one more year in Atlanta. But Gonzalez left the door wide open for him to hang it up after this season. I saw an interview on Jim Rome is Burning last month that indicated that Gonzalez before he left Kansas City had envisioned 2010 being his last year as a pro.
With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense for the Falcons to be looking hard at tight end prospects to replace Gonzo as soon as 2011.
Behind Gonzo is Justin Peelle who is a solid blocker and capable receiver. But the presence of Gonzalez in the lineup adds so much more to the Falcons offense, particularly in the redzone, something that Peelle just cannot bring to the table.
As for Keith Zinger, I was really impressed with his blocking this past year and he was a major asset when the Falcons went to their big sets with three tight ends in short-yardage and goalline situations. But Zinger dropped the only pass thrown to him this season, and thus there’s no reason to think he can pick up any of the slack left by Gonzalez in the event of his departure.
All of this means that if the Falcons can find a tight end that can bring many of the traits that Gonzalez brings to the passing game this April, then they should definitely pull the trigger on him.
Most say that the Falcons can use some help at the wide receiver position. Michael Jenkins was very disappointing this year. One could certainly make an easy argument that his dropped passes in the red zone possibly cost us two wins this year.
He simply isn’t a playmaker and if the Falcons could get someone that can create more headaches for defense, it would make Matt Ryan’s job a lot easier, as well as the other options. Coupled with the fact that Tony Gonzalez is also on the decline, it makes sense that improving this position will offset some of that.
The Falcons will have Harry Douglas coming back next year after tearing his ACL this past year. Those types of injuries aren’t easy to come back from especially for a player that as much of his game was his running ability like it is for Douglas.
How explosive a weapon he can be this upcoming season remains to be seen. He was on the rise at the end of the 2008 season, but the team can no longer count on him picking up where he left off.
The Falcons just re-signed Brian Finneran to be their fourth option this year. Finneran has clearly lost a step. He still has good hands and will make a key catch every now and then. But he’s no longer good enough to be a featured part of the gameplan. His value as a player most often came with his versatility to line up at H-back last year for the team due to injuries to Mughelli at fullback. He’s a solid blocker, and it’s likely that and special teams will be his primary roles again this year.
That leaves things open for the Falcons to add a player to the mix that can be more of a factor on offense than Finneran, and offers insurance in case Jenkins and Douglas aren’t ready to step up this year.
I’d make the case that Mughelli has assumed the title as best lead blocker in the league, a mantle that was vacated by Lorenzo Neal since he left San Diego two years ago. So really there isn’t any room for improvement in that regard at this position.
As I explained in the running back assessment, I think going forward this position is going to become less and less significant, as well as morph from wanting a blocker-first to a more versatile offensive weapon.
Mughelli is more versatile than he’s given credit for, showing he’s a capable runner and receiver on the rare opportunities he gets there. But the Falcons pay him to block and he earns every bit of that paycheck. But again, moving forward as confidence of Matt Ryan and the coaches’ confidence in him grows, the blocking back is going to be left by the wayside. I don’t think we’ll ever see an offense like the Colts where the fullback doesn’t exist with Smitty being the coach. But I do think the Leonard Weaver-model of fullback will be more of an asset than the Lorenzo Neal-type.
But I think we might already have that player on our roster. His name is Jason Snelling. It’s one of the reasons why I’m not super high on Snelling’s future at running back because I believe that as this offense grows and develops, Snelling’s future is much brighter as a fullback. He’s a good runner and receiver, and his blocking is improving. It’s not quite where it needs to be, but he’s not a liability there from what I can tell.
So between Ovie’s impact short-term and Snelling’s impact long-term, there really isn’t a lot of need at fullback. But for the sake of due diligence, I’ll look at some prospects out there that could potentially challenge/usurp Snelling.
I think the defensive tackle may be going under the radar in terms of need for the Falcons because we used a high pick on Peria Jerry. But the Falcons have been suspiciously mum about the extent of Jerry’s injury. To the point that I think Jerry’s injury could be much more severe than they are letting on (we still don’t know which if any ligaments he messed up in his knee), to the point that the Falcons could be addressing that position again this off-season.
Now I don’t think the Falcons would use another high pick on a defensive tackle since they’ve already invested in Jerry. So instead it seems prudent to try and shore up the position in the short-term (until Jerry can come back) with a veteran player.
With most expecting the Patriots and 49ers to tag their nose tackles Vince Wilfork and Aubrayo Franklin, that does leave the cupboard a bit more bare.
While Casey Hampton would be an intriguing option (if the Steelers don’t tag him as well), I’m not sure the Falcons will target a widebody anyway. They tend to prefer a more penetrating style, and since there is no strict delineation between under tackle and nose tackle in the scheme, the Falcons tend to prefer guys that can play either spot.
Some names to keep an eye on are: Justin Bannan (Ravens), Tank Johnson (Bengals), Jimmy Kennedy (Vikings), and Fred Robbins (Giants).
The Falcons announced today that quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave will add assistant head coach to his title.
The move likely stems from the significant interest in Musgrave this off-season to become another team or organization’s offensive coordinator. He was a candidate for that position with the Houston Texans as well as the University of Virginia.
Musgrave has been the Falcons quarterbacks coach since 2006.
One could certainly say the Falcons sported a MASH unit last year at running back. I think there was only two or three games last year where all three backs: Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, and Jerious Norwood were healthy.
Becuase of this, there is a potential need for the Falcons to add more depth at the position. Between the three, the Falcons are solid. But if one or more are missing (which was often the case last year), then it negatively impacts the Falcons offense.
Compounding the issue is the fact that Michael Turner is 28 years old. At least in recent history that is usually the age that running backs are at when they have their last good years as starters (see Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shaun Alexander). The positive is that Turner did not sustain the wear and tear that those backs sustain up until age 26. But regardless of the amount of miles on him, it’s obvious that the body doesn’t recover as quickly for backs as they approach thirty as it did years before. A given Turner’s heavy workload, it’s probably naive for the Falcons to think he’ll be able to sustain a high level of play for a full 16 games going forward.
Throw in the fact that Jerious Norwood is a free agent, and at a contract crossroads. He’s a restricted free agent, so he should be back for another year, but hasn’t shown the durability and consistency to merit the team giving him an extension. So presumably, this is his last year.
And while Jason Snelling played very well at times in spot duty, I don’t think the Falcons should think that is a lot of room for improvement with him. Considering he’s a former seventh round pick that was a tweener at halfback and fullback coming into the league, it’s not crazy to think he’s just about maxed out in terms of his potential.
All of that means that in a worst case scenario, the Falcons could be without a viable option as a lead back as soon as next season. And thus, it behooves the team to approach the draft with this in mind.
I’ll be trying to evaluate position-by-position which traits and skills that the Falcons will likely look for in prospects in this year’s upcoming draft.
Kicking things off will be quarterback. Now quarterback isn’t a need for the Falcons at this point in time. They currently have four players on the roster, and since Jon Gruden is not our coach, then the Falcons won’t carry anymore than that number into camp. But one of those players is a free agent: Chris Redman. And there stands at least a decent if not good chance that Redman could leave this off-season. After Chad Pennington and Marc Bulger (if the Rams cut him), he’s arguably the third best veteran passer available this off-season that teams won’t have to give up draft picks to get.
So the Falcons will only need a quarterback if they lose Redman. And more than likely that would be a veteran player, but just for the sake of this exercise, let’s imagine that the Falcons want a young passer that they can develop long-term as a backup rather than a vet that would have to be replaced from year to year.
If that were the case, the Falcons would most likely target prospects with the following traits:
The Falcons pass rush was a major blemish on the defense last year. Mike Smith’s defenses have historically had their most success when they can get consistent pressure with the front four only. But about a month into the season, the Falcons had to switch to a blitz-heavy scheme, and were reliant on that blitz to get pressure in critical situations. It wound up leaving the secondary hung out to dry too often in coverage and led to too much breakdowns in coverage.
If the Falcons want to get their defense to a level where they can compete with the premier offenses in the league, the pass rush must improve.
But before the Falcons can look elsewhere for those improvements, they have to examine their own. The Falcons might opt to part ways with John Abraham this off-season. He’s due a $6.5 million base salary. And because of the uncapped season, dead money is no longer a factor. So if the Falcons don’t think much is left in the tank of Abraham, then it would make sense to cut him sooner rather than later. The Falcons might also decide to part ways with Jamaal Anderson, who has not made significant improvements as a defensive end. If Anderson is to come back, it’ll likely be as a defensive tackle exclusively.
If the Falcons are looking for someone to man the left end spot, then they will find no shortage of quality left ends available in free agency. Unfortunately, all of them are 30 or over.