Takeaways from Last Week – April 14, 2014

April 14th, 2014 No comments

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney

It certainly is not the first time it’s been discussed and probably won’t be the last since we still have three-plus weeks to go until the 2014 NFL Draft.

But the biggest question of the Atlanta Falcons’ offseason isn’t whether they are going to be toughened up, but whether or not they are going to pull the trigger and trade for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

And as I wrote back in February, the answer comes down to whether the Falcons feel that they are one potentially dominant pass-rusher away from being back in the Super Bowl hunt versus their desire to plug a number of holes.

But by moving up for Clowney, there is no doubt that the Falcons will suffer some negative consequences in some way, which will be losing the potential to fill multiple roster spots rather than solidifying one.

Ultimately the key to making the Clowney trade worthwhile may not be about what he would bring to the team. From my eyes, Clowney is the “safest” player in this draft.

There is no such thing as a truly safe prospect, as that word connotes a guarantee of success. One just has to look at past “slam dunks” such as Robert Gallery, Trent Richardson or Aaron Curry to know that every draft pick is some form of a gamble.

But Clowney is of such a singular talent, the chances that he busts is pretty low. Certainly not impossible, but low. But there is no guarantee that he will become the dominant player that many expect him to be. Mario Williams is an example of a very good NFL player, but he’s not a dominator. Per premium website Pro Football Focus, only twice in the past six years has he graded out among the top 10 at his position group, either 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, as far as their pass-rush grades go. That’s the same number of times that Ray Edwards has in that span.

I’m not suggesting that Williams and Edwards are on the same level with that statement, just indicating that Williams is not on a level with players like John Abraham, DeMarcus Ware or Cameron Wake in that they consistently dominate over multiple seasons.

Clowney could have a long, productive career and not be the transcendent player that he’s expected to be. Or he could completely blow away all expectations and achieve greatness. And that’s the gamble of the draft.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 13, 2014

April 13th, 2014 No comments

One of the big stories of the week came when Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank appeared on 680 the Fan on Tuesday morning and spoke candidly about how he perceived the team lacking toughness. Blank highlighted the hit that New Orleans Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro put on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the season-opener as a play that bothered him:

“And that play really bothered me, sincerely. It bothered me that none of our players, they all complained, but none of them went to the safety on the Saints and did anything.”

ESPN’s Vaughn McClure has a good recap of Blank’s interview as well as a follow-up piece praising Blank’s candidness. Blank’s comments echoed earlier ones made immediately following the 2013 regular season in which he expressed his desire to toughen up the Falcons.

Blank’s comments were followed up on Friday with a radio appearance by Ryan himself, who was diplomatic in defending his teammates’ inaction while also expressing his own praise for Blank for “having his back.”
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Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 4/12

April 12th, 2014 No comments

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews

This past week was a busy one for the Atlanta Falcons as they attended some of the last few pro days of the year as well as conducted private workouts with several 2014 NFL Draft prospects.

Let’s get to the pro days first…

All 32 NFL teams attended LSU’s pro day this past Wednesday. Most of the eyes were drawn to Baton Rouge to see quarterback Zach Mettenberger throw. Mettenberger tore his ACL at the end of this past season and managed to throw. According to reports, he looked rusty considering he’s only five months removed from a major knee surgery.

Other notable workouts were wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who tried to improve on the disappointing 4.77-second 40-yard dash he ran at the Combine. Landry did manage to improve, clocking a 40 time in the 4.58 to 4.63-second range. Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson slimmed down from his Combine weight of 315 pounds to 302. He managed to run a 40 in the 5.08 to 5.13-second range, but was otherwise unimpressive in other measurement drills. But per NFL.com’s Gil Brandt, he did look good in positional drills.

The Falcons were also reportedly at Bloomsburg’s pro day on Thursday. The biggest draw was defensive end Larry Webster, Jr., who’s father played 11 seasons in the NFL, including years in Baltimore when Falcons head coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan were assistants there.

Webster sat on his Combine numbers, but did work out a defensive end, defensive tackle, and tight end positional drills. Per Webster, he would prefer to stay as a defensive end at the next level. At the Combine, the 6’6″, 252-pound Webster ran a 4.52-second 40 and had a 36.5-inch vertical, which were on par with South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

The Falcons were at Morgan State’s pro day on Monday, according to the Baltimore Sun’s Aaron Wilson. There they got the chance to see cornerback Joe Rankin, who had a 40 time in the 4.4 to 4.5-second range and did 15 bench reps of 225 pounds.
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Falcons Preseason Opponents Announced

April 9th, 2014 No comments

The Atlanta Falcons 2014 preseason opponents were announced this afternoon. Although times and dates will be determined at a later date, the Falcons will open their preseason schedule against the Miami Dolphins in the Georgia Dome. That will be followed up by a road trip to Houston to take on the Texans. The third game will see the Falcons return home against the Tennessee Titans and finishing their preseason schedule on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

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Falcons Sign Lowery and Wilson to Bolster Secondary

April 8th, 2014 No comments

The Atlanta Falcons announced the signings of safety Dwight Lowery and cornerback Josh Wilson earlier today. Lowery spent the past three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, while Wilson played with the Washington Redskins during that same span. Terms of their deals have yet to be disclosed, although Wilson’s deal is reportedly for one year.

Lowery missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion, suffered in the third game of the season on a blindside hit from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. In 2012, he started nine games, missing five during midseason with an ankle injury and missing the final two with a foot injury. Lowery was first traded to the Jaguars at the start of the 2011 season after spending three years with the New York Jets, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. Lowery began his career as a cornerback, but was moved to free safety as an injury replacement for Eric Smith near the end of the 2010 season before making the permanent transition upon his arrival in Jacksonville. He spent his first two years in the NFL primarily playing as the Jet’s nickel cornerback. Through his entire career, Lowery has started 41 games both at cornerback and safety and tallied 178 tackles, three sacks, 10 interceptions, five forced fumbles and six recoveries.

Wilson signed a deal with the Redskins following the lockout in 2011 and started the past 48 games for them opposite DeAngelo Hall. He’s coming off a season where he finished with career-highs in tackles (89), sacks (two) and fumble recoveries (three). Prior to joining the Redskins, Wilson spent one season with the Baltimore Ravens after getting traded by the Seahawks. In both Baltimore and Seattle, Wilson played a lot as a nickel cornerback but still managed to start a combined 33 games between 2008-10.

Lowery is likely to move into the team’s vacant free safety position, while Wilson adds depth at cornerback and can compete for the nickel job or potentially push Robert Alford for a starting job. Wilson has experience playing the slot both in Washington and Seattle.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 63 “That Sort of Weed-Eating Upside”

April 8th, 2014 No comments

I am joined by Tom Melton to go in-depth on the Atlanta Falcons’ options in the 2014 NFL Draft. Tom talks up his affinity for players like safety Dion Bailey and defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Aaron Donald. We also talk in-depth about whether trading up for Jadeveon Clowney is a good move and whether or not the Falcons can motivate him to play well. We discuss whether the crop of prospects on the offensive line and pass rusher is really that deep and whether the Falcons can afford to pass on one group in the early rounds. During that conversation we discuss Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Jake Matthews, and Greg Robinson’s fits with the team. Taylor Lewan, Jeremiah Attaochu and Demarcus Lawrence are other prospects discussed during the show. We close with talking about the Falcons backup running backs including Jason Snelling’s retirement, Antone Smith’s new role with the team, and whether Jacquizz Rodgers fits. Warning: This episode features some borderline PG-13/explicit content.

Episode 63: That Sort of Weed-Eating Upside [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 4 minutes

Tom Melton can be found on twitter: @TMeltonScouting, and also writes for Draft Falcons. You can find the draft guide he contributed to at: The Draft Narrative.com.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Saints Match Bush Offer Sheet

April 8th, 2014 No comments

New Orleans Saints safety Rafael Bush himself tweeted yesterday that he would be remaining with the team, which was later confirmed by his agent according to various outlets. It indicates that the Saints matched the Atlanta Falcons offer sheet to the restricted free agent, meaning he will not be joining the Falcons as previous reports indicated was his desire.

The Falcons had offered a two-year, $4.5 million deal. The Saints had less than $2 million in cap space according to NFLPA documents, but opted to match the deal.

It leaves the Falcons without a clear-cut answer at the free safety position in the wake of the release of Thomas DeCoud earlier this offseason. Zeke Motta is the top candidate currently on the roster at the position, which puts the Falcons in the position where they could sign a veteran in free agency or wait until the draft to address the position.

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Takeaways from Last Week – April 7, 2014

April 7th, 2014 1 comment
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

Last year, I wrote about my efforts to grade past drafts. And given that it’s almost been a year to the day since I posted that initial breakdown, it’s time to give you an update.

The conventional wisdom says you have to wait at least three years to judge a draft. I tend to think that five years gives you a much more accurate picture. Take for instance a player like Jonathan Babineaux, who did not do much in his first three seasons as an Atlanta Falcon.

Babineaux was predominantly a rotation player. But in 2008, his fourth season, when the Falcons cut Grady Jackson midway through the year, Babineaux filled in ably and started to show flashes of why he was a second-round pick in 2005. But it was really in 2009 that Babs really came into his own and become one of the premier defensive tackles in the league. And in the years since, Babineaux hasn’t be quite as good a player as he was in 2009 but he’s been much better than the mediocre player he seemed to look through his first three and a half years.

In the end, the pick of Babineaux is one of the better ones the Falcons have made over the past decade. That would not have seemed the case had we made the cut-off three years.

The way in which I grade drafts is a simple grading system that assigns every player picked an A, B, C, D or F grade based off their entire five-year body of work. I’ve given examples with current Falcon players.

A – An elite or near-elite player. Mike Lombardi would call these players “blue chips.” They are players that are among the very best at their respective positions. Example: Matt Ryan.

B – Lombardi would call these “red chip” players. They are universally considered to be among the better players at their position and definite impact players. Typically these are guys are perennial Pro Bowlers. Example: Roddy White.

C – Solid starters or a premier role player (e.g. Darren Sproles). They are fairly entrenched as starters in the league and should be able to start on a significant percentage of NFL teams besides their own. Examples: Sam Baker.

D – Backups or low-level starters. These are typically role players, but may also be starters that are considered underwhelming or expendable. Examples: Harry Douglas.

F – They are out of the league.

Last year, I posted the numbers for 2007 and 2008 draft classes, as well as a preliminary look at the 2009 draft class.

The eery thing was that the 2007 and 2008 draft classes were remarkably similar in terms of the amount of talent that entered the league. And while initially the 2009 class looked different, that doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case now that we’ve finished the fifth year of that class. Here’s how the three draft classes break down:

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Falcons Pro Day Round-Up 4/6

April 6th, 2014 No comments

The Atlanta Falcons had a pretty busy week, with numerous reports of their interest and workout schedule coming out. You can check out those reports here:

Falcons worked out Vanderbilt tackle Johnson
Lewan Gets Chance to Audition for Falcons
Falcons set to meet with UConn linebacker Smallwood
Towson’s Terrance West Set to Visit Falcons
Falcons Work out Clowney at Pro Day, Schedule Visit
Falcons Work Out Mack, Ealy and Amaro
UAB tackle Kaycee Ike has Workout Scheduled with Falcons

But that’s not all that happened this week for the Falcons in pro day and draft-related news:

Tony Pauline of TFY Draft Insider reports that the Falcons worked out a pair of UCLA prospects in linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and wide receiver Shaq Evans.

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Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller reports that the Falcons have scheduled meeting with Central Florida running back Storm Johnson.

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FalcFans Weekly – April 6, 2014

April 6th, 2014 No comments
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

Potential Atlanta Falcons newcomer and safety Rafael Bush appears very keen on joining the team. The Falcons signed Bush to an offer sheet this week as a restricted free agent, giving his former team, the New Orleans Saints until April 8 to match or let him become a Falcon. Bush is still friends with Falcons safety William Moore, from their days with the team back in 2010-11, and is the strongest candidate should he join the Falcons to replace Thomas DeCoud at free safety.

Blogging Dirty’s Jake Bennett has a nice write-up about how Bush’s addition can benefit the Falcons.

And speaking of Moore, he apparently now has a chip on his shoulder in regards to the contract the Saints gave Jairus Byrd this offseason.

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Vaughn McClure of ESPN has an excellent piece on how defensive tackle Paul Soliai’s contract came to be in Atlanta with a  candid discussion with his agent David Canter.

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McClure also shares insights into center Peter Konz, who has been working hard to improve this offseason. Konz has added some muscle and took to heart the final words of tight end Tony Gonzalez, when he addressed the team before the regular season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

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