So continuing on from earlier about how the Falcons need to get more explosive on offense, what sort of pieces can the Falcons find out there that can help them.
Well with the uncertainty of the Collective Bargaining Agreement this off-season, we cannot be sure if the Falcons can rely on free agency to help them at the position. It would be a shame really because this is potentially a very strong crop of free agent receivers.
Players like Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Malcom Floyd, Steve Smith (from the Giants), Steve Breaston, Sidney Rice, Lance Moore, and James Jones highlight this class, which doesn’t include Vincent Jackson, who was recently franchised by the Chargers.
So that may mean the Falcons will have to rely on the draft to upgrade their wide receiver corps. Players such as Maryland’s Torrey Smith or Pitt’s Jon Baldwin are expected to be available options in the latter half of the first round. Both provide vertical potential due to either speed or size and would be potentially explosive additions to the Falcons lineup.
Many Falcon fans hope to see the Falcons offense mimic that of the more wide open ones like the Packers and Patriots. But truth be told that’s not likely to be in the cards. Mularkey’s offense dating back to his days in Pittsburgh always has been more about two tight ends than it has been about four and five-wide. That style of offense tends to condense the field, making it harder to generate splash plays. But as long as Michael Turner is the team’s starting running back, that style of offense seems to benefit him more.
But that style of offense can still work as the Falcons move forward. It may not be conducive to leading the league in explosive plays, but there is certainly room for significant growth. Other than receiver, one area that should be exploited is the addition of a second tight end that can challenge the vertical seam. Although Tony Gonzalez is coming back for another year, this is the final year of his contract and all signs seem to point to him walking away after 2011. So it would be smart for the Falcons to find a tight end in this year’s draft class that can be that second player this year, and be the No. 1 guy in 2012 and beyond. This year’s tight end class isn’t as strong as last years, but there are still some solid options that can fit well into the Falcons offense. Players like Kyle Rudolph (Notre Dame) and Luke Stocker (Tennessee) are solid inline candidates like the offense prefers, while D.J. Williams (Arkansas), and Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin) should shine in more of an H-back/Dallas Clark role. All four players are pegged to go off the board in the second to third round range.
On the outside, the Falcons need to decide how much they are married to Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas before they can make their decision on who to add at wide receiver. Douglas had a disappointing season working the slot, so he’s probably the player with less firm footing on his roster spot. Jenkins played well this past year relative to his 2009 performance, but still seems somewhat limited by how much he can do offensively, particularly down the field. He was good in 2008 in that area, but the addition of a good pass-catching tight end in the middle of the field like Gonzalez, seems to have halted his production. So going forward, the Falcons probably need to get better there.
In the slot, a player like Steve Breaston or Lance Moore could be good additions in free agency. Both players are quick and explosive, but also sure-handed and used to working with passers such as Ryan that like to get the ball out quickly. The Falcons haven’t given up on Douglas however, and if Mularkey can better utilize him by trying to get him on shorter routes that can utilize his superior YAC capabilities, should make him a more effective third or fourth option in the offense.
On the outside, a veteran addition like Holmes or Floyd makes a lot of sense. Holmes is a quick, explosive threat that can be used similarly in the Falcons offense as Roddy White. Floyd is a big, tall fast receiver that does a good job working the vertical game because he go up over the top of most defenses. But the Falcons may decide that going out and spending another $40-60 million on a free agent receiver doesn’t make that much financial sense given their investments already in White and Jenkins in recent years, coupled with their emphasis on running the football. Slot options like Breaston and Moore will probably be a lot cheaper and merit contracts that don’t really exceed what the Falcons paid Jenkins in 2008.
Instead if the Falcons want to find that replacement for Jenkins on the outside, they are probably better off looking for him in the draft. If not Smith or Baldwin, perhaps the Falcons could go after someone like Miami’s Leonard Hankerson, UNC’s Greg Little, Boise State’s Austin Pettis, or Tennessee’s Denarius Moore, Auburn’s Darvin Adams, LSU’s Terrence Toliver, or South Carolina’s Tori Gulrey, in the second round or later in the draft to shore up depth. Each of those receivers either offer size or speed, and sometimes both that would fit well on the outside in the Falcons offense.
If the Falcons cannot address their weakness in the slot in the draft, then they may have to turn to players like Boise State’s Titus Young, USC’s Ronald Johnson, Troy’s Jerrel Jernigan, Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, Mount Union’s Cecil Shorts, or SMU’s Aldrick Robinson to try and find an explosive and/or reliable option.
Either way, unless the Falcons can get significantly more talent at wide receiver and tight end this off-season via the draft or free agency, it’s going to be hard for them to make huge improvements with their explosive potential on offense.