Leftover Mailbag: February 23, 2019

Brett Davis-USA TODAY SportsCould the Falcons be looking to add another Dontari Poe this offseason?

On Friday’s episode of the Locked on Falcons podcast, I answered several questions from listeners about the Atlanta Falcons draft and free agency plans, defensive schemes, safety depth, chicken wings, and more.

But I wasn’t able to answer every question submitted on Facebook, Twitter and email. Now I want to clear out the “leftovers” from the proverbial fridge.

Let’s jump right in!

Colin Kaepernick’s Settlement

I haven’t commented too much on the Colin Kaepernick saga over the past few years. And I won’t spend too much time on it here since any words I type here won’t be able to do it the justice it deserves.

But in a nutshell, I do think Kaepernick and Eric Reid were blackballed by NFL teams due to their decision to protest racial inequality and police brutality during the national anthem in 2016. And they had every right to file their grievance against collusion.

I’m glad that they will likely get an undisclosed amount in the form of millions of dollars in the settlement from the league. Not only did both players lose a lot of money over the past two years, but as Kaepernick has consistently done since 2016, I’m sure a lot of that money will be also donated to various organizations that will do a lot of good in the world to push his message and this meaningful cause forward.

If this gets Kaepernick another gig in NFL, I’ll be happy for him and whatever team signs him.

P.S. As long as it’s not Carolina!

Offensive Line, Edge Prospects, Draft Trades Galore!

Good evening, Mr. Freeman
I have a few questions for you…

Thank You,

Marquell Jefferson

A lot of great questions, Marquell! Let’s take them in order.

Thoughts about Dalton Risner and Cody Ford? Would we be in a position to get them in this upcoming draft?

I watched Risner earlier during the fall and came away thinking he would be a solid NFL starter that would be able to have a long, successful career as a guard. He spent the past three years at Kansas State starting at right tackle.

However since the Senior Bowl, thanks to Risner’s measurables and his exclusive usage at right tackle during practices, the narrative is pushing for him to stay at his native position in the pros.

I need to watch more of Risner. When watching him several months ago, I considered him to be a solid Day 2 (second or third round) prospect rather than a guy that is getting Top 20 pick buzz that he’s getting currently from some circles. And I’ve yet to see anything when watching him recently that would make me question my original assessment, but I will certainly continue to watch more in the coming months.

Ford is a player I like a lot. While many see Ford as a guard, I think in the Falcons scheme he would be much better suited to playing right tackle. Unlike Risner, I do think Ford is a legit first-round talent.

Most current projections have Ford going in the top half of the first round, with Risner as a late first or early second-round pick. I think Risner is a possibility with the team’s first-round pick, particularly if he tests better than expected at next week’s Scouting Combine. Many think he would be a potential Falcons target should they opt to trade back in the first round.

Right now, it’s too early for me to side strongly one way or the other on any of those possibilities.

Top edge prospect in the draft?

Easy, Nick Bosa.

Which one will be available in the Falcons range?

That is a little difficult to surmise at this point, as athletic testing goes a long way to improve and/or hurt the stock of many edge-rushers. So we’ll have a better idea after the Combine.

But Bosa and Kentucky’s Josh Allen are certainly going to be off the board when the Falcons are picking.

After that point, it’s a pick your flavor. Brian Burns (Florida State), Jachai Polite (Florida), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson), Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) and Rashan Gary (Michigan) are the players most often projected to be taken in some order after Bosa and Allen.

I suspect some could go as high as the top 10 picks, while others might fall into the latter part of the first round. Also, it should be noted that many think of Gary as an interior defensive line prospect rather than an edge rusher, believing he was miscast in the latter role during his days at Michigan.

Of those five, at this point, I would bet that Polite and Sweat are the two likeliest to still be available when the Falcons are on the clock at pick 14. But it wouldn’t shock me if Burns and/or Ferrell is there too.

How likely are the chances that Dimitroff trades up or down in this years draft?

I don’t know. It depends on if the Falcons have a pressing need that they don’t think they can fill with that 14th overall selection. And that, of course, will depend on how the team addresses their current holes along the offensive and defensive lines in free agency.

But while Dimitroff’s history of trading is highlighted annually, in reality, the Falcons have not traded that often. In 11 drafts, the Falcons have traded up or down in the first round four times. I’m sure that’s probably more than the league average but is still only a third of the time. And notably, the team has only done it once in the past five drafts.

So to answer your question, it’s unlikely that the Falcons will move up or down in the first round of the draft, but not impossible.

How much of an impact will Dirk Koetter have on the offense this year? What can we expect from the offense this year?

Probably not a lot. My good friend, Charles McDonald of SB Nation, once opined that the Falcons offense pretty much takes care of itself. I tend to agree and that the Falcons offensive coordinator generally just has to not mess things up.

During their five-game losing streak in 2018, the Falcons had 10 of their 47 offensive possessions result in turnovers, which was the highest rate in the league during that stretch of games. Turning the ball over on 21.3 percent of their drives was nearly twice as much as the league average (11.8 percent) during that span.

It suggests the Falcons had a streak of “bad luck” during those games, and it’s not hard to find a few instances where the team seemed to get bad breaks:

  1. Julio Jones made a catch and run against the New Orleans Saints, gaining 15 yards before being “helicoptered” on a hit by Marshon Lattimore and Alex Anzalone, leading to a fumble at the Saints 13-yard line. If he holds onto the ball, the Falcons potentially score seven points there.
  2. Calvin Ridley beat Marshon Lattimore on a deep cross and was stripped while being tackled at the two-yard line, which the Saints recovered. If he holds onto the ball, the Falcons likely score. Another loss of potentially seven points.
  3. With the Falcons lined up at the Green Bay Packers 19-yard line, Ryan fumbled on a backward pass to a wide-open Tevin Coleman. That pushed the Falcons into a long field goal, which resulted in a missed 53-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, his only miss of the season. Even if that Coleman pass was incomplete, it would have resulted in a 46-yard kick which almost certainly would have been made by Bryant, resulting in a loss of three points.
  4. Mohamed Sanu, while going in motion, accidentally kicked a snap from center Alex Mack, which led to the Packers recovering the loose ball at their own seven-yard line. Loss of seven points.

Those four “fluky” turnovers resulted in a potential loss of 24 points. And if you add 24 points to the team’s 414 season total, you’d wind up 438 points, which would have surpassed the New England Patriots’ 436 points for the fourth highest output of the 2018 season.

Basically, I don’t think Koetter himself matters all that much. He’s inherited an offense that should have been a top-four unit last year.

Assuming improvements to the running game, offensive line and continued growth of playmakers like Austin Hooper and Calvin Ridley, the Falcons offense should have little to no problem being one of the league’s best in 2019. And that assumes nothing in whether Koetter is an upgrade over Steve Sarkisian as a play-caller.

If Koetter is a 15 percent better play-caller than Sarkisian, that means the Falcons should have an offense capable of producing 500 or more points this year, a feat that only 23 teams in NFL history have achieved.

The chances of Sanu getting cut?

Much to my chagrin, the chances of Sanu being released are zero.

Also will you be joining as a guest on Lt. Dan podcast soon?

Yes, the plan is that I’ll be making my debut appearance on Unintentional Grounding sometime in the next few weeks. Dan appeared on Locked on Falcons podcast several months ago, so it’s only a matter of time before I show up on his show.

Where’s the Beef?

Hey Aaron,

I have been a Falcons Fan since 1998 and the dirty bird dance was the thing to do in the end zone. I would like to get your take on Danny Shelton as a free agent prospect? He hasn’t made much noise since he was drafted but I think he could be a good complement next to Jarrett or even in a rotation position. He has the size and he is young which could work out if we offer a “proof it” 1 year deal. We could and should still look for a young prospect through the first or second round in the draft for a DT or DE, but I think if we could finally have a strong front, we could finally do some damage. Something we haven’t really seen since John Abraham. What are your thoughts?


J. Cain

Thanks for the question, J.

Danny Shelton is an interesting option in free agency. After getting traded to the Patriots last year, Shelton had a solid year helping plug the run for that team. Shelton is a natural fit as a nose tackle in the 3-4 defense.

That was also said about Dontari Poe before he signed with the Falcons back in 2017. Part of me thinks that the Falcons may be looking to duplicate that move again this offseason, by having a widebody lining up in their base defense as a three-technique rather than the nose position, which is currently manned by Deadrin Senat. The Falcons did this in 2017 with Poe at the three and Jarrett at the nose.

While Shelton is not nearly the athlete that Poe was, he is one of the few young, talented widebodies available in free agency this offseason.

Another candidate that I’m also intrigued by is 340-pound Jordan Phillips, who actually spent the bulk of his time this past season with the Buffalo Bills playing the three-technique. Phillips definitely is the more athletic specimen between him and Shelton, and more closely resembles a player like Poe.

It also would not shock me to see the Falcons target a player like this in the draft if they can’t find anyone in free agency. Some potential candidates include Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence or Central Florida’s Trysten Hill, as both would be plus-sized movers to help plug the middle.

Mocking the Draft

I’d ask you to hold on Zamir since I’m going to be dropping a seven-round mock draft projection shortly!

Devonta Freeman’s Return

I expect Devonta Freeman to have a nice rebound season. The injuries and durability are definitely a concern, but they cannot be helped at this point.

When healthy, Freeman has been one of the best backs in the league in recent seasons. His extended presence in the lineup in 2018 would have likely led to an improved running game for the Falcons.

His vision and ability to gain yards that aren’t always blocked for him was sorely missing from the team a year ago, especially given the team’s inconsistencies up front. His injury history shouldn’t diminish that skill.

The only concern really is health. Yet I also believe Ito Smith is vastly underrated and poised to ably fill Tevin Coleman’s shoes as Freeman’s primary backup. And if the Falcons are forced to play without Freeman again, I’m not too worried about Smith or Brian Hill’s ability to step up after displaying promising flashes last season.

And despite Dan Quinn’s insistence on being physical and more balanced in 2019, this past season proved that even a one-dimensional, pass-heavy Falcons offense is extremely hard to stop. So I’m not losing any sleep over the possibility of Freeman missing games again in 2019 having a dramatically negative impact on the team.

Best Player Available?

First, I’d like to say the term B.P.A. or “Best Player Available” is a bit misleading term. It should be always considered the best player available at a position of need.

Wide receiver Calvin Ridley might have been a “BPA” pick last season, but the Falcons did have a need at wide receiver. One that they were widely expected to fill on the second day of last year’s draft. They just took a receiver a round earlier than most expected.

Likely due to the fact that the Falcons had a very high grade (top 10?) on Ridley and the Falcons couldn’t pass up the value of drafting him with the 26th selection.

So with that said, the scenario is one in which the Falcons are able to fill any pressing needs they have across their roster via free agency. So what are those pressing needs?

Truthfully, they don’t really have any as of this writing if you’re willing to make some assumptions.

One of which is that the assortment of Jake Matthews, Wes Schweitzer, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ty Sambrailo and/or any addition(s) the team makes in free agency along the offensive line are good enough to get the team through the 2019 season.

That certainly is debatable, but if the Falcons add a starting-caliber veteran at guard come March, then it’s possible to make the case that the Falcons won’t have a pressing need to take a starter with their top pick in April. They can certainly find depth and developmental starters later in the draft.

Another assumption is that the pass-rushing combination of Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford and/or any addition(s) the team makes in March are good enough to get through this season.

I’ve heard many speak of the team’s need to find defensive ends and tackles that are able to play in the team’s base defense, but the truth is that players that usually get drafted in the first round are the guys that bring the juice as pass-rushers. Nobody fondly looks back on past first-round picks to talk about how great they are stopping the run.

The aforementioned Shelton is a great example of that. He’ll likely be joining his third team only five years into his NFL career because smart teams don’t place premiums on run stoppers.

So if the Falcons take care of business in free agency along the offensive and defensive lines, there’s reason to think that they could take the best player available among their other positions of need.

Those would potentially be cornerback and linebacker. Yet it should be noted that since the Falcons are picking 14th this year, any player that possesses comparable value to what the team found last year with Ridley would likely have to carry at top five grade.

It’s debatable whether such a corner exists in this draft. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah’s highest-rated corner ranks 30th on his top 50 draft board.

At linebacker, LSU’s Devin White is a popular possibility. White is 10th on Jeremiah’s board and possibly could be higher on the Falcons board. The Falcons could also like Michigan’s Devin Bush too, who is 17th on Jeremiah’s rankings.

That’s it, the fridge has been cleaned out! Thanks to everyone that submitted questions over the past few days.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com