With news that the Buffalo Bills plan to place the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward of the Cleveland Browns becomes the consensus top safety potentially available in free agency come March.
The Atlanta Falcons are a team that could be in the market for a safety if they decide to dump free safety Thomas DeCoud before the start of the league year on March 11. DeCoud is set to have $2.25 million of his $4.2 million 2014 base salary become guaranteed on March 15, which could prompt the Falcons to dump him and target a player like Ward to replace him.
Ward played mostly strong safety the past few years with the Cleveland Browns. With the introduction of defensive coordinator Ray Horton this past year, he saw a lot more time playing up in the box where he was essentially used as a sub-package linebacker. In previous years, he spent a bit more time on the back-end playing in more Cover-2 looks.
The Browns have plenty of cap space to re-sign Ward, and may also opt to franchise tag him if need be. He’ll be competing for that distinction alongside center Alex Mack. Both players are ones that the Browns strive to re-sign.
But if Ward manages to hit the open market, NFL teams are going to find a steady, reliable safety that can do multiple things. He missed half of the 2011 season with a sprained foot. He was well on his way to being one of the highest-rated safeties in the league that year by Pro Football Focus, rating as their 13th-best safety. He’s rebounded the past two years to earn top six safety grades from PFF.
- Good speed and range to make plays in zone coverage
- Has a good nose for the ball in run support and comfortable playing in the box
- Able to cover tight ends and does a good job keeping things in front of him
- Steady all-around safety that can blitz off the edge
- Undersized and will miss some tackles due to being overpowered
- Will tackle too high at times and doesn’t consistently break down and wrap up
- Lacks top speed or hips to be left on an island in coverage
- Doesn’t make a ton of big plays
How He Fits in Atlanta…
Jadeveon Clowney speaks at the Combine on Saturday
Discussion of the possibility of the Atlanta Falcons trading up made headlines this past weekend following general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s press conference on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And of course the dots are being connected to the possibility that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the primary target.
But I’m going to pump the brakes on getting too “icky-balooky” over Dimitroff’s revelation. Because frankly, it wasn’t much of one. Dimitroff said nothing in his presser that he hasn’t said leading up to the past two drafts. The only real difference is that Dimitroff made these comments not in April but in February at the Combine, a place where a record number of media members have gathered. Of course it’s going to create headlines and generate buzz when you have such a magnified media presence.
It’s no different than the revelation that Clowney is interested in being a Falcon. Of course he is as Clowney should be interested in any team that is going to take him very high in the draft.
Does this mean that a Clowney-Atlanta marriage is one made in heaven? Perhaps, but there is still a long way to go in the draft process before we reach that fateful evening on May 8.
I indeed hope the Falcons find a way to get Clowney, as he is a once in a generation sort of prospect. I can recall three times in the past where I have been exuberant about a Falcons draft selection. The first was in 2001 when the team’s move to trade up for Michael Vick was first announced. The second came when the team selected Matt Ryan in 2008. And the third was when the team traded up for Julio Jones in 2011. While I didn’t initially approve of that trade, Jones’ talent was to a degree that had me excited about the potential he could bring to the team.
But it is that Jones trade that has me currently hesitant about another move to climb the boards to get Clowney. Unfortunately, when revisiting the Jones trade, there is a tendency to draw a line in the sand with people on either side suggesting that it was all good or alternatively all bad for the Falcons. It’s much more complicated than that, with both costs and benefits to the trade.
I have little doubt that the Falcons would not have achieved the highs of 2012 without making the move to acquire Jones. But at the same time, I don’t think the lows of 2013 would have been quite as bad in the absence of the trade either.
With my first mock draft done roughly two weeks ago, it was carefully thought out but utterly pointless. As I’ve noted before, mock drafts done before free agency are nothing more than a shot in the dark because free agency is a big part of the process. A team like Kansas City, that I predict takes a safety with their first-round pick could easily go out and sign a free agent like Jairus Byrd, thus nixing that notion.
This time I won’t say that I didn’t give it careful consideration, but I made a concerted effort to mix things up. I didn’t want to just shuffle a handful of picks and act like I had given you something new to consider. So I made a significant effort to not have any of the teams select the same player that I projected in my first mock draft. However, I didn’t fully succeed, as four teams wound up picking the same player again.
But here’s my second mock with a second-round projection added on to give you something even more to consider.
I also wanted to post this before this weekend’s Scouting Combine because it probably will help illustrate my point later on how many moving parts there are to the draft process. I’m not sure if I’ll do another mock before free agency or wait until after, but it’s going to be interesting to see how much shakeup in draft prognostication occurs from now until then.
1. Houston Texans – QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida*
New Texans head coach Bill O’Brien was beat by Bortles and UCF in State College this past year, which is one link many are drawing to why they believe the team will prefer Bortles over the other quarterbacks in this draft. In that game, Bortles did play very well. I simply don’t see the Johnny Manziel links given O’Brien’s system since he needs a pocket passer to run his system, not a scrambler like Manziel. And I could understand why somebody might look at Bortles and favor his upside due to his mobility and size over Teddy Bridgewater, who is by all accounts more polished.
2. St. Louis Rams (from Washington) – WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson*
It would have been easy for me to switch up this pick from Greg Robinson to Jake Matthews, but I went with a bit more of a left-field selection. Ultimately because the Rams really need a player like Watkins. GM Les Snead has said the team doesn’t need a No. 1 receiver, but they really do, if they have any hope of salvaging Sam Bradford’s career. He has shown himself to be the sort of quarterback that won’t elevate average receivers, but needs at least one dynamic weapon like Watkins that can help elevate him.
I was joined by long-time Atlanta Falcons fan and season ticket holder Danny Lanier to discuss whether quarterback Matt Ryan is elite and if he’s not, then what he and/or the team need to do in order for him to take that next step. We discuss the lack of signature moments for Ryan as a pro and Danny questions whether the team needs to refocus its identity around improving the defense by acquiring a trascendent star. I wonder if Ryan is too cerebral and compare the Falcons’ 2013 season to their playoff loss to the New York Giants in 2011. Danny weighs in on his thoughts on the Falcons planned personal seat licenses (PSLs) at the new stadium, as well as whether Ryan could benefit from the departure of Tony Gonzalez. We both give our expectations for the upcoming season at the end of the episode.
1 hour, 18 minutes
Danny wrote a pair of articles for the Falcholic which can be found here:
Feb. 4: Has the Super Bowl Window Already Closed on Matt Ryan and the Falcons?
Feb. 10: So…What Does Matt Ryan Need To Do To Become an “Elite” QB?
And don’t forget Allen Strk writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier this evening
that guard Garrett Reynolds was released from the team. Reynolds’ departure was expected
given his finishing the 2013 season on the team’s inactive list coupled with the recent signing of Gabe Carimi
, who potentially fills the same niche. Per Over the Cap.com
, Reynolds’ release frees up nearly $1.4 million in cap space for the Falcons in 2014.
Reynolds started the first nine games of 2013 at right guard, but was benched in Week 11 when the team inserted center Joe Hawley into the lineup and moved Peter Konz from center to right guard. But Konz performed poorly early in that game, and Reynolds finished the game at right guard. He would resume his starting position the following week against the New Orleans Saints, but would not finish that game due to his own struggles. He was reduced to a backup role with hardly any playing time for the next four games, before being inactive in the team’s season finale against the Carolina Panthers.
Reynolds was originally a fifth-round pick by the Falcons out of North Carolina in 2009. He spent his first two seasons as a backup to right guard Harvey Dahl, before getting first crack at replacing him in 2011. But he was benched after making seven starts that year in favor of Hawley, who finished the season as the starter. Reynolds would again resume the starting position in 2012, making six starts before injuries sidelined him for the remainder of the year. He was then replaced by Konz for the rest of the season.
The Falcons have had a revolving door at the right guard position since the departure of Dahl before the 2011 season. That has been partly due to the fact that Reynolds has not shown the consistency to hold the position long-term. However, Reynolds did make steady progress each year. Per the site Pro Football Focus, he graded out better each subsequent year as a starter finishing with a career-best +2.8 grade this year. That grade rated second-best on the Falcons behind left guard Justin Blalock in 2013.
The Atlanta Falcons announced the signing
of free agent offensive lineman Gabe Carimi today. Carimi was recently released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was traded to the Buccaneers last June after two unsuccessful seasons with the Chicago Bears, where he was coached by new Falcons offensive line coach Mike Tice. Per multiple reports, Carimi signed a one-year deal.
Carimi was the Bears’ top selection in the 2011 out of Wisconsin, and according to Michael Holley’s book The War Room, would have been the likeliest target of the Falcons had they not opted instead to trade up for wide receiver Julio Jones. Carimi suffered through an injury-plagued rookie season with the Bears, starting just two games before landing on injured reserve. He returned in 2012 to start the first 10 games at right tackle before poor performances led to his being benched. He would be re-inserted into the starting lineup two weeks later as an injury replacement for right guard Lance Louis, and started three games there where he fared better. He would start one more game at right tackle before the season was done. However, when the Bears fired their coaching staff following 2012, the new regime decided to trade him after making several moves in the offseason to upgrade their offensive line.
This past year for the Buccaneers, he started the first two games of the regular season at left guard as an injury replacement for Carl Nicks. Nicks returned to the lineup for two games before his season was finally over. Instead of putting Carimi back into the lineup as a starter, the Buccaneers decided to shuffle around their offensive line, putting center Jeremy Zuttah at left guard and backup Ted Larsen at center. Eventually, the Bucs settled on Jamon Meredith at left guard, with Carimi serving out the remainder of the 2013 season as a sixth offensive lineman and tight end.
Carimi could potentially help the Falcons at multiple positions, but will likely be asked to play either right guard or right tackle in Atlanta. Click here to read a scouting report on Carimi from 2011.
Auburn’s Greg Robinson is becoming more popular as a potential Falcons target
The offseason is here and it is time to look at the many mock drafts that have been published around the internet’s top draft websites focusing on what the so-called draft experts are projecting the Atlanta Falcons to do with the sixth overall pick.
This is the third update with a total of 93 mocks munched from the beginning of January through mid-February. Anthony Barr still holds the lead, appearing in 27 total mocks. But Greg Robinson is starting to close the gap by appearing in 21 total, 12 of which have come in February. That latter figure is tied for the lead for the month with Jake Matthews, who has appeared in 24 total mocks thus far. Robinson is also tied for the lead in “unique” mocks with Barr with a total of 16. There’s more on what constitutes a unique mock after the jump.
2.17 – NFL.com (Pat Kirwan): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.17 - Walter Football (Charlie Campbell): OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2.17 – NFL Draft Geek: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2.17 – FF Toolbox (Users): OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2.13 – Draft Daddy (Glenn Bernardi): OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2.12 – Walter Football: OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2.12 – Draft King: DE Kony Ealy, Missouri
2.12 – Ourlads: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
2.12 - Draft Tek: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
2.12 – Draft Season (Lomas): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.12 – FF Toolbox (Rob Warner): OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2.11 – NFL.com (Daniel Jeremiah): OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2.11 – CBS Sports (Rob Rang): OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2.11 – CBS Sports (Dane Brugler): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.11 – CBS Sports (Pete Prisco): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.11 – TFY Draft Insider: OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.11 – FF Toolbox (Matt De Lima): DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
2.10 – NFL.com (Charles Davis): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.10 – Blogging Dirty: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
2.10 - Draft Season (Onebar): OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
2.09 – Draft Ace: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
2.07 – FOX Sports (Joel Klatt): OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
2.07 – Draft Season (Ultimate): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
2.06 – ESPN Insider (Todd McShay): OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (subscription required)
2.06 – ESPN Insider (Mel Kiper): OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA (subscription required)
2.06 – Football’s Future: OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA
2.06 – SI.com (Doug Farrar): OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
Eric Fisher’s strong Combine workout benefited him greatly in 2013
This week, the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis. Next to draft weekend and the first week of free agency, this week represents one of the more pivotal points of the NFL’s offseason.
It’s the first time that all 32 NFL teams are going to be in one place. Sure, all NFL teams sent representatives to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl in January, but that is primarily for scouts. Not to mention, two teams were busy with their Super Bowl preparations, limiting their ability to have a large presence in Mobile. That is not the case for Indianapolis, where the Combine signals that the beginning of free agency is right around the corner (March 11).
This is where teams can really start to talk shop about potential moves that are forthcoming in the offseason. While trades won’t become official until March 11, teams can start to sniff around about possible moves at the Combine. I’m sure that with the trades that sent Alex Smith to Kansas City last March and the rights to Robert Griffin III to Washington the year before, talks began in earnest or picked up steam during the week of the Combine.
Agents are also putting out feelers for their respective clients that are on the verge of hitting free agency. It’s that sort of furtive tampering that resulted in the NFL adopting the three-day window before the start of the league year that allows teams to openly negotiate with prospective free agents.
It’s also during this period that NFL teams can begin to designate certain free agents as franchise or transition players. That also means that negotiations for players and teams that want to avoid using the franchise or transition tag really pick up in earnest during the week of the Combine.
All in all, it’s a big week for NFL teams with a lot of things that go on behind closed doors that fans like you and me aren’t privy to and can only guess at. But that doesn’t mean that the Combine doesn’t have value to the everyday fan like ourselves.
Over the coming days and weeks leading up to free agency, I want to look at some of the top free agents that will be available that could be linked to the Atlanta Falcons.
I want to start out with Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson, where rumors emerged during Senior Bowl week that he was on the Falcons’ radar. Johnson played his college ball in Atlanta at Georgia Tech and signing with the Falcons would represent a homecoming for him.
He’s been a regular starter for the Bengals since midway through his second season (2010). He only started five games in 2011, losing snaps to Frostee Rucker on run downs, but he still logged the second-most snaps of any defensive lineman that season behind only Geno Atkins.
Johnson has grown a lot over his time in Cincinnati, beginning his career as a talented, but raw third-round pick in 2009. He’s steadily improved each year, and having just turned 27, he has developed into a solid, all-around defensive end.
Johnson is coming off a down year in terms of his sack production. After tallying 11.5 sacks in a breakout 2012 campaign, his total fell to 3.5 in 2013. But per Pro Football Focus, he saw an increase in his combined hits and hurries, improving from 42 to 58. But Johnson has not consistently shown he’s a sack artist throughout his career, suggesting that 2012 was the outlier rather than the norm. Over the past 55 games where he’s logged starter’s reps, Johnson has tallied a total of 23 sacks, which extrapolates to about 6.5 for every 16 games.
- Has a good first step to provide effective speed rush off the edge
- Athletic with long arms and ideal frame and build for NFL DE
- Can play with his hand off the ground, as well as drop into coverage vs. TEs
- Can make plays against the run, particularly when working in pursuit
- Lacks elite speed to be an effective edge rusher against top-level OTs
- Limited array of effective pass rush moves. Bull rush is largely ineffective and tends to overly rely on speed and first-step quickness
- Despite athleticism, not overly comfortable or natural when working in space
- Can get pushed around at the point of attack when playing the run
How He Fits in Atlanta…
Tony Gonzalez points to the fans in his final game in Atlanta
You think like a fan, not like a man.
And I’m referring to the portion of the Atlanta Falcons fanbase that became critical of tight end Tony Gonzalez in light of the excerpts from Seth Wickersham’s article that appeared in this week’s ESPN the Magazine.
That article shed a light on the frustration that Gonzalez felt during the course of the Falcons 2013 season. It was supposed to be a year where the team was in contention for the Super Bowl. Instead, it became a year in which the Falcons were contending to be the worst team in the NFL.
Any man (or woman) would be frustrated in that scenario. Nothing Gonzalez expressed in Wickersham’s article was any more negative than what I myself have vocalized about the Falcons this year, or heard a litany of other fans say. Thus, being upset with Gonzalez probably makes you a hypocrite.
Gonzalez came out of retirement to win a Super Bowl, not for the glory of the Atlanta Falcons. And his venting over not being able to win that Super Bowl doesn’t make him a villain, but simply a human like the rest of us.
Frankly the only negative thing I can say about Wickersham’s piece is mistaking Jarrett Bush for Morgan Burnett.
I recommend picking up a copy of the magazine and reading it if you can. If not, Gonzalez went on CBS Radio with Doug Gottlieb on Friday and expressed the same sentiments during that interview.
Now if you read or listen and still come away upset with Gonzalez, then so be it. But the issue probably isn’t Gonzalez, it’s probably you.