The 2011 Draft is in the books and it’s time to take a look at the roster and get primed for free agency and the future.
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, J.P. Wilson
I was actually a little surprised that we didn’t add a QB in the late rounds but the QB talent in the draft was very thin and overrated in my opinion. With Ryan, the Falcons obviously have their starter in place and have no pressing need at the position. While Redman is a more than competent backup, he’ll be 34 years old this summer and signed through 2012, which will probably be his last contract with the Falcons. Wilson enters his third season and is the heir apparent to Redman. However, in order for that to happen, Redman will have to be let go and the financial commitment be made to Wilson. A lot of that will depend on the free agency rules that end up in the new CBA but this would have to happen sooner than later which is why I expected to see another developmental QB added. Maybe I was a year early.
Running Backs: Michael Turner, Jason Snelling, Gartrell Johnson, Antone Smith, Jaquizz Rodgers, Jerious Norwood and Ovie Mughelli
Turner is signed for 3 more seasons and it’s hard to envision him going beyond that with the team. Snelling is the obvious successor in the power role but is entering the free agency years of his career and will command more money. There will be opportunities to either pay the price for Snelling now or trade him for value. I don’t see much of a future for either Johnson or Smith at this point with the addition of Rodgers. With the fifth round selection of Rodgers, we’ve added our new change of pace back which immediately ends Norwood’s stay in Atlanta as he enters free agency. Looking forward, expect the team to draft a big back in the next draft or two to either compensate for Snelling leaving or Turner being cut in favor of Snelling. As for Mughelli, he’s here until 2012 and I could actually see the fullback position being phased out by then and instead going with a two back set of a power back and a speed back or single back/empty backfield formations as this seems to be the way the team and offenses in general are moving.
Tight Ends: Tony Gonzalez, Michael Palmer, Justin Peele, Robby Agnone and Marquez Branson
Gonzalez is back for 2011 and will most likely call it a career after this upcoming season, if not, 2012 is almost certain to be his last season. After scouring reports, I have found nothing pertaining to the Falcons tabbing Palmer as the future replacement for Gonzalez. While Palmer has a similar body type, he’s not as fast or athletic as Gonzalez and is probably the backup solution. Peele is more of a blocker and is getting up in age. Agnone and Branson are not long term solutions and probably no more than camp bodies or practice squad players. I really thought that a future tight end would be selected in the draft but that didn’t happen. What is certain is that a tight end will almost certainly be drafted in 2012 or obtained in free agency.
Wide Receivers: Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Eric Weems, Kerry Meier, Julio Jones, Andy Strickland, Brandyn Harvey and Tim Buckley
Roddy White is the obvious star of the group but will turn 30 this year and is signed through 2014. The drafting of Julio Jones not only adds speed to the #2 receiver spot but also gives us the next #1 when Roddy is done. Jenkins is signed through 2012 and provides a sizeable option in the slot if he returns. There are rumors that he will be traded or cut in the offseason. Douglas is facing a pivotal year being that he will be 2 years removed from a knee injury and is expected to achieve the potential seen in his rookie season. Weems is the consummate returner and also expected to contribute more in the receiving game. Meier is coming off a knee injury and will likely only see time in 4 or 5 wide sets this season. He is largely seen as the replacement for Finneran and as a slot receiver. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Falcons add another receiver via the draft in 2012.
Offensive Tackles: Sam Baker, Tyson Clabo, Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds
I still don’t feel that Baker is a true left tackle but the team must feel comfortable enough with him at the position to proceed without change. Clabo is set to enter free agency this offseason and will most likely be re-signed by the team. Svitek is a competent backup to either tackle position and is signed through 2012. The team is high on Reynolds (either at right tackle or at guard) and is signed through 2012. His future will largely be determined by what happens in free agency this offseason and could very well end up being the starting right guard.
Guards: Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl, Mike Johnson, Jose Valdez and Andrew Jackson
Blalock and Dahl are both set to be free agents and one of the two will surely be elsewhere in 2011 although depending on what happens with the CBA, it’s possible that both could find their way back onto the roster depending on free agency rules. Johnson is the future of one of the guard positions and probably sooner than later. Valdez is an intriguing developmental prospect that the team is high on and could eventually be a factor. Newly added Andrew Jackson is another developmental prospect for the future. Right now, the biggest question facing the Falcons is whether Blalock and Dahl return. It’s hard for me to imagine both being retained or being allowed to leave and again, I have to caveat that with “depending on what happens with free agency rules.”
Centers: Todd McClure, Joe Hawley and Rob Bruggeman
This is McClure’s last year under contract and it’s hard for me to see him playing beyond that. Hawley is the heir at center and appears ready for the job. Bruggeman is a developmental prospect. I don’t expect a lot of movement at this position going forward but you could see a late draft pick added in 2012 as a backup to Hawley.
In summary, the Falcons offense is largely set with only the free agency questions at guard and tackle to answer for 2011. Going forward, expect another developmental QB, power RB, a bona fide replacement for Gonzalez, WR for depth and o-line depth to be added in the next two drafts.
Next blog: The Defense and Special Teams