Roster Talk: Five Falcons on the Bubble

July 24th, 2014 No comments
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson

After examining the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons roster, that still leaves 50 players that did not get such in-depth looks. Most of those top 40 players will wind up making the Falcons 53-man roster this year, leaving little more than a dozen roster spots for the remaining 50.

Let’s examine several of the players “on the bubble” that may struggle to make the cut. All five of the following players have been counted among contributors in the past, but may not be any longer. In examining each, I’ll break down what exactly are their best avenues of making the team.

Darius Johnson, Wide Receiver

Johnson played well last year considering he was an undrafted rookie, leapfrogging both Drew Davis and Kevin Cone on the depth chart, two third-year veterans. But that won’t earn him lingering credit if he doesn’t perform up to task this summer.

He’ll face steady competition from a group of young, explosive receivers like Bernard Reedy. What hurts Johnson is that he won’t be able to help himself much on special teams. Given his smaller stature, he’s not shown that he’s very effective when asked to cover punts and kicks.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: Recapping the Top 40

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

In case you missed any of the ongoing series of articles ranking the Top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons in 2014:

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 4 Desmond Trufant

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Desmond Trufant

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with fourth-ranked player: cornerback Desmond Trufant.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 85/100

Last year’s rank: 18
Player Grade: 70/100
Teams he is starter: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 19 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +4

Trufant was a player that I was not super high on when the Falcons drafted him with their top pick. While seeing him as a “solid” player, I never really suspected that he would be more than an above average to good corner, but certainly had no illusions that he’d step in and be great as a rookie.

Then his play last preseason did not exactly inspire me to change that opinion, and I expected Drew Brees to feast on him during the 2013 season-opener against the New Orleans Saints. That prediction proved wrong.

While Trufant did have his fair share of early struggles, at no point last year did he look out of his element. It was perhaps Trufant’s game against Vincent Jackson in Week 7 that most impressed me. While he got beat several times in that game, he never backed down at any point. It reminded me of Brent Grimes’ performance against Anquan Boldin in 2010. Up until that game I had never really bought into the Grimes “hype,” but despite giving up several big catches to a very physical Boldin, Grimes was always in position but just couldn’t make the play.

Soon thereafter, I became one of the biggest champions of Grimes and while I’m not sure I could say the same in regard to Trufant, he’s right on the brink. Trufant will get several more big tests early in 2014, with potential matchups against A.J. Green, Jackson and Brandon Marshall, all of whom are top 15 if not top 10 wide receivers in the NFL currently. And of course that could culminate in London in Week 8 against none other than Calvin Johnson.

So Trufant will be tested early and often, but if he picks up where he left off last year then there is every reason to believe he will prove himself as one of the league’s premier corners. Over the final six games last year, Trufant only blew three coverages (per Moneyball) despite being targeted 31 times (per Pro Football Focus). Comparatively speaking, over the first six games, Trufant blew nine coverages on 38 targets. It was visible on tape at the end of the season that quarterbacks were purposefully shying away from throwing at his side.

That’s the mark of a true No. 1 cornerback, which we’ve seen for stretches with Grimes and Asante Samuel before in Atlanta. I’m not quite ready to place Trufant on that level yet. But due to the tough matchups he’ll face this season, it may only take a few solid performances early on before I do put Trufant on that pedestal.

The main concern with Trufant is a “sophomore slump.” That may not mean that he plays poorly this year, but his performance this season could be more reminiscent of the player that he looked like through the first half of the season than he did in the latter half. It won’t mean that he won’t be a better player than he was then, but simply given the level of competition, it would only be reasonable that he could be a little more inconsistent to start 2014 than he was when he finished 2013. And another reason why sophomore slumps occur, is the much higher expectations that come after a strong rookie campaign. It may be that some will put Trufant on an even loftier pedestal than Grimes or Samuel, and those may be expectations he’s not prepared to live up to.

But regardless, it’s clear that Trufant has the ability and potential to be one of the best corners in the league. It’s only a matter of whether his play on the field will bear that out this season.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Cornerback

July 23rd, 2014 No comments
Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (left) and Desmond Trufant

The Atlanta Falcons seem pretty secure as far as their starting cornerbacks go heading into the 2014 season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of questions surrounding the position.

The first questions do center on their starters and how effective they’ll be now that the team lacks a true safety net at the position. A year ago, the team had long-time veteran Asante Samuel in that role. Now Samuel is gone and the team will be reliant upon starters Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to rise to the occasion.

There is less question on whether Trufant can accomplish that task. Trufant is coming off a very promising rookie season where his play particularly down the stretch has many considering him one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Trufant regularly displayed his ball skills and disruptive capabilities at the cornerback position, breaking up or intercepting a pass in 13 out of 16 games last season including nine consecutive games to open the season.

If there is any concern, it’s the fear against a sophomore slump for Trufant. Such slumps can be precarious because they typically are not caused by a significant downturn in play, but by the much higher expectations placed on a player after a successful rookie season. There’s no doubt that expectations are high for Trufant this year, and his play in camp will likely determine whether or not he’s set to meet them.

Opposite him will be Alford, who has a few more questions to answer. Alford supplanted Samuel down the stretch last year thanks to the team’s abysmal record leading the coaching staff to install a youth movement on defense. Alford had his fair share of bright spots, but also several head-scratching ones. A talented athlete, Alford still needs to refine the technical aspects of playing the cornerback position. He certainly has the talent to impact this year, particularly if he can balance some of his inevitable mistakes with big plays.

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Julio Jones Cleared for Training Camp Practices

July 23rd, 2014 No comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Julio Jones

D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has been cleared medically to participate in training camp practices. Camp commences on Friday for the Falcons. Jones is recovering from a foot injury that sidelined him for the final 11 games of the 2013 season. Per Falcons head coach Mike Smith however, Jones will be kept on a strict snap count with the goal of him remaining healthy until the Falcons regular season starts in September.

Last season Jones broke the screw that was placed in his right foot back in 2011 prior to his entry into the league as the Falcons’ No. 1 pick. Jones originally broke the foot during his days at Alabama.

He has been limited throughout the offseason after undergoing an experimental procedural to help promote healing in the affected area. Jones had bone marrow removed from his hip and injected into his foot coupled with the insertion of another larger screw.

Jones is the Falcons’ top offensive weapon, as he was the league leader in receptions (41) and second in receiving yards (580) at the time of his injury last season. His continued good health may be the biggest factor in the Falcons success in 2014.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 5 William Moore

July 23rd, 2014 No comments

Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with fifth-ranked player: safety William Moore.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 82/100

Last year’s rank: 9
Player Grade: 69/100
Teams he is starter: 30 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 25 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3

Moore gets a slight bump in the ratings thanks to the departures of Asante Samuel and Tony Gonzalez, coupled with the slips of Sean Weatherspoon, Jonathan Babineaux and Osi Umenyiora.

But expectations should be that Moore’s performance should improve from a year ago. Coming off a Pro Bowl year in 2012, Moore fell well short of that standard in 2013. He should be poised for a rebound year if he can get improved play at the free safety position from Dwight Lowery. If Lowery can be a stabilizing force in coverage and against the run, then it should allow Moore to get back to what he was best at in 2012: being aggressive.

Moore isn’t blessed with great coverage ability. In fact, under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, the Falcons have gone out of their way to mask Moore’s coverage flaws by limiting the number of opportunities he’s matched up in man coverage against quality receivers and tight ends. This has put added stress on the free safety position to pick up the slack in coverage, which is why Lowery’s performance is important.

Instead, Moore excels as an enforcer against the run. He’s one of the hardest-hitting strong safeties in the league and has made his fair share of highlight-reel hits over the years. Many of those hits have also led to a number of forced fumbles over the years. His eight forced fumbles over the past four seasons is tied for the sixth-most among NFL defensive backs.

He’s also very opportunistic when he’s playing in coverage over the top, with a knack for intercepting tipped passes. In fact, nine of Moore’s 14 career interceptions have been as a result of tipped passes or overthrows.

Although already a defensive leader, Moore will take on a heavier burden this season given the injury to former collegiate teammate and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Moore will have to find a balance between aggressiveness and discipline given a young, relatively unproven group of Falcons linebackers in front of him.

It’s an important year for Moore and how he performs could solidify him as one of the league’s premier safeties and be a critical factor in any Falcons defensive resurgence in 2014.

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Peters and Motta Will Open Falcons Camp on PUP List

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Getty Images from Yahoo! Sports

Corey Peters

The Atlanta Falcons made additional moves today in conjunction with their earlier signings, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC reports that defensive tackle Corey Peters and safety Zeke Motta will begin training camp on the team’s active/Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list. The pair will join wide receiver Drew Davis, who was announced earlier this month to be headed to the list when the team’s training camp begins later this week on Friday. As part of their designation, Peters and Motta will be held out of practice until medically cleared by team doctors. If/when that occurs they will be removed from the PUP list and resume practicing.

This news is not surprising given a report last month that indicated both Peters and Motta’s statuses for the start of training camp was in doubt. Peters tore his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2013 season and has been rehabbing. He targets Week 1 of the regular season for his return.

Motta is suffering from a fractured neck sustained also at the end of the 2013 season and has been held out of workouts all offseason long. It was reported in June that he was set to see a specialist this month in order to indicate if he can return to the field. Presumably his status on the active/PUP list indicates that the Falcons have yet to rule him out for the remainder of the 2014 season, giving some optimism. However, ESPN’s Vaughn McClure indicates that this news may not be as promising, tweeting that Motta still should not be expected to play this season.

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Falcons Sign LB Angerer and WR Ebert

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Angerer

The Atlanta Falcons have filled the last two spots on their 90-man roster ahead of Friday’s opening of training camp by signing linebacker Pat Angerer and wide receiver Jeremy Ebert. Both players worked out for the Falcons today. Terms of their respective deals are unknown at this time, but are likely one-year contracts.

Angerer spent the past four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted him out of Iowa in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. With the Colts, he started 39 of 54 career games mainly at 4-3 middle linebacker and 3-4 inside linebacker, but also played on the strong side in their 4-3 scheme during his rookie season. For his career, Angerer recorded 312 career tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Reports first indicated the Falcons interest in Angerer back in June, shortly after the season-ending injury to Sean Weatherspoon was announced. Angerer has suffered a number of injuries himself over the past few years, requiring offseason surgery in each of the past three years. It was a knee that required surgery following the 2011 season. He then broke his foot during Colts training camp in 2012, forcing him to miss the first five games of the year. He then had surgery on that foot following the year, which limited him last summer. A concussion forced him out of the Colts’ 2013 season-opener, and his season was cut short by a knee injury that required offseason microfracture surgery.

If fully healthy, Angerer could figure into the competition between Joplo Bartu and Prince Shembo for the starting spot at inside linebacker vacated by Weatherspoon.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Ebert was originally a seventh-round draft pick by the New England Patriots out of Northwestern in 2012. Ebert spent his rookie season on the practice squads of the Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. After being waived by the Patriots the following spring, he was picked up by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He alternated between the Jaguars practice squad and active roster several times during the first several weeks of the 2013 season. He finished the season on injured reserve after suffering an ankle injury, but managed to appear in five games with the Jaguars, catching three passes for 18 yards. He was waived by the Jaguars this past May, and had been out of football until the Falcons picked him up today.

Ebert likely gives the Falcons another candidate to compete for a reserve role on special teams given the recent injury to wide receiver Drew Davis that will keep him out for the first few weeks of camp.

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Ranking the Falcons 2014: No. 6 Jon Asamoah

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

I’m counting down the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, and let’s continue with sixth-ranked player: offensive guard Jon Asamoah.

To read the methodology I devised to rank the Falcons players, click here.

Total Score: 82/100

Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 70/100
Teams he is starter: 30 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 20 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +3
Positional Bonus: +3

Of the Falcons prominent offseason additions, Asamoah is the most talented. He has the potential to immediately step into the starting lineup at right guard and become the team’s best blocker.

Asamoah comes from Kansas City where he spent the past three seasons as one of the better guards in the league. He ranked among the top 21 among premium website Pro Football Focus’ grades in each of the past three years, with 2013 being his weakest thanks in part to injuries and changes in scheme.

Asamoah missed the 2013 season-opener with a calf injury, but came back to start the next nine games for the Chiefs and played well. Then a shoulder injury in Week 11 sidelined him for the following week, and his replacement, Geoff Schwartz, played well enough that the Chiefs’ coaching staff opted to go with the “hot hand” for the remainder of the season.

But here in Atlanta, the expectations are that a now healthy Asamoah should pick up where he left off and solidify a problem spot for the Falcons at right guard.

The Falcons have featured a revolving door of ineptitude at right guard since opting to let Harvey Dahl walk in 2011. Garrett Reynolds and Joe Hawley struggled at the position that year, followed by Reynolds and Peter Konz the past two years.

Asamoah certainly will be a stabilizing force over his predecessors, and hopefully that will have positive impacts on linemates beside him in Hawley at center and right tackle Jake Matthews. Asamoah certainly offers an upgrade in pass protection, which will definitely benefit quarterback Matt Ryan.

The only concern about Asamoah is in essence how good he will be this year. Asamoah shined in the zone-blocking scheme of Kansas City over the years, using his superior mobility and athleticism to open up creases for the likes of running back Jamaal Charles. However, the Chiefs under Andy Reid last season began to gear themselves more towards a power, man-blocking scheme. That was one of the reasons why the team swapped in Schwartz, who was a much better fit in that particuar style of blocking. But even with the changes the Chiefs still managed to run a large amount of zone-blocking runs, a larger percentage than the Falcons have traditionally run over the past six seasons.

It remains to be seen if the Falcons will adapt their blocking scheme to feature Asamoah’s strengths more. At 305 pounds, Asamoah is not especially cut out to be a pile-mover at the guard position, which is what Dahl was and what the team hoped Reynolds and Konz could develop into. Such an adaptation to the scheme may also benefit left tackle Sam Baker, as well as Hawley and Matthews, who are lighter players that aren’t known for their “road-grading” abilities. Coupled with the team’s running back personnel in Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman, quicker backs that need adequate spacing, several signs point to the Falcons utilizing more zone-blocking in 2014 and beyond. It’s just a matter of how much.

If the Falcons make that switch in blocking scheme then it’s likely that Asamoah will have equal if not greater success in Atlanta as he did in Kansas City. If not, then it shouldn’t lead to Asamoah struggling since he should still be able to impact in pass protection, but it could make him a less effective all-around player and fail to meet the lofty expectations that his high ranking merits.

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Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Preview 2014: Linebacker

July 22nd, 2014 No comments

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Atlanta Falcons linebacker position, with a number of unproven players being asked to contribute larger roles in 2014.

For the Falcons, things took a turn for the worse when linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the unit’s leader and best player, was injured in June with a torn Achilles. Weatherspoon’s loss has forced the team to look in the others’ directions to compensate.

Much of the void left by Weatherspoon is expected to be filled by middle linebacker Paul Worrilow. Among the three projected starters, Worrilow is the most solidified in his role. As a second-year player, he will have to take on a much larger mantle, becoming the unit’s top playmaker and leader on defense.

While Worrilow possesses the necessary traits for leadership, it remains to be seen if he can perform up to them. Worrilow came out strong last summer as an undrafted free agent to make the team, and this summer will need a similar emergence to lead the team.

Strong-side outside linebacker Kroy Biermann is expected to return from his own Achilles injury to flank Worrilow on the edge. After using Biermann as a bit of a “joker” player in his first season under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in 2012, the team moved him fully to linebacker last summer. But Biermann was injured too early in the season to know if that transition was successful. Thus, he’ll have to prove himself again this summer.

Beside Worrilow at the other inside position that is expected to replace Weatherspoon is Joplo Bartu. Bartu, a 2013 undrafted free agent like Worrilow, also quickly impressed the coaching staff last summer with his range and athleticism. He quickly carved out a role in the sub-packages due to his coverage potential, and relative to his undrafted status as a rookie, played well in 2013. But there have been recent concerns over whether the coaching staff is ready to place the same amount of trust in him this year.

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