One of the biggest keys to drafting well is finding value. There are a lot of factors that go into determining how value a potential player has. Often times, it is based on how other teams feel about a player. If most other teams view a player as a third round pick, even if you think he has first round potential, you’re better off waiting until the second round to try and snag him and using your first round pick on another player.
At other times, it is based on how well that player fits in your scheme. For example, Ovie Mughelli might be the best lead blocker in the league, but since the Indianapolis Colts almost never use a fullback in their offense, a player of his skillset and caliber has almost no value to them. However on a team like Atlanta that makes extensive use of the fullback, he has a high degree of value.
And coupled with that, based on your scheme, the player’s skill and those of players currently on your roster, can also determine value. Nobody is going to put Thomas DeCoud in the same breath as Ed Reed, but there are a dozen teams that would happily take him over what they currently have at the position. So for some safety need teams (e.g. Jacksonville), a DeCoud-level safety is going to have more value. For the Falcons or another team with a comparable or better free safety, only a Reed-level safety that offers a significant upgrade over DeCoud is going to have value.
With all that said, I want to discuss some offensive players that the Falcons should be looking at in the first round that I personally think offer good to great value for the Falcons. I will continue this with each round. Not only am I going to consider the Falcons needs, but I’m going to base a lot of this on whether these players offer significant upgrades over what the Falcons already have at the position. I’ll go position by position.
You might be surprised to see Ingram’s name up here, but there is no doubt that Ingram is the premier running back in this class. He’s been compared to Emmitt Smith, and I personally think the comparisons are very apt. While the Falcons don’t have an immediately huge need at running back, they do need to improve their depth in order to keep Michael Turner fresh. Jason Snelling took a step back last year, and Ingram is a significant immediate upgrade over him. Ingram is a skilled runner, pass catcher, and also is a solid pass protector for a college runner. His power and vision makes him one of the best runners after contact, that would potentially rival someone like Turner. In the Mularkey-style offense, he gives the Falcons a solid young workhorse to groom to succeed Turner in the near future. Frankly, I believe if Ingram were able to stay healthy, he would be a better running back than Turner has been over the past three seasons.
Smith is a good receiver with the speed to stretch the field vertically. What makes Smith a good fit in Atlanta is because he’s tough, and reminds me quite a bit of a young Roddy White. He’s not super big, but has explosive speed. He’s not a guy that is probably going to come in right away and make a huge impact, but like Roddy as he gets his feet wet and develops with Matt Ryan, he’ll steadily become a better player. His vertical potential should help add more explosive plays to the offense, because unlike Michael Jenkins he has the burner speed to run past corners. The other thing you like about Smith is that he’s humble (a rarity among most wide receiver prospects these days) and is a very willing blocker. That means he is a near-perfect candidate to replace Jenkins on the outside as the No. 2, and has much higher upside to be a factor when opposing teams try and double White.
I’m not convinced that the Falcons should use their top pick on an offensive lineman, just because I’m confident that the Falcons will be able to retain at least two of their starters that are prospective free agents, and I’m not quite ready to give up Sam Baker at left tackle. Baker has flashed ability to be a solid left tackle (particularly in the early portion of 2009), but hasn’t quite put it together. But what makes Carimi a good value for the Falcons is that he is a significant upgrade in Baker’s most glaring area of weakness: run blocking. And while Carimi played exclusively at left tackle while at Wisconsin, he at least offers the potential and versatility to think he could flip over to right tackle or slide inside at guard, which means the Falcons could move him around in case Baker does step up his play. More than likely, Carimi would sit as a rookie and be played at multiple positions. But come 2012, he would be a very good position to challenge any of the Falcon starters at left tackle, left guard, or right tackle. He is big, physical, and a much better athlete than people give him credit for. As a left tackle prospect, Carimi would probably struggle against the top pass rushers (much like Baker), but would at least do a better job making up for it by being able to clear running lanes on the left side, which currently is a major area of weakness. The other positive you like about Carimi over other prospective blockers in this year’s draft is he comes from Wisconsin, which has a very similar blocking scheme as the Falcons.
These three guys add the most value for the Falcons offensively. Not only do they provide immediate quality depth, but also have the upside to become starters in their second or third seasons. In all three cases, the Falcons have potentially added players offensively that are significant upgrades over what they currently have. And that’s exactly what sort of value you are looking for in the first round. Ingram has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowl running back is about as ideal a fit in the Mularkey offense as you’ll find in any draft. Smith has a skillset reminiscent of Roddy White, and if he’s half as good as Roddy, then he’ll be a very good complement opposite him. And Carimi gives the team a capable starter that can be an upgrade at multiple positions.
I’ll continue later with defense.