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Ranking the Falcons: No. 14 Sam Baker

July 21st, 2013
Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Sam Baker

Falcons offensive tackle Sam Baker ranks 14th among the team. Click here to read about the scoring system devised for these rankings.

Total Score: 63

Player Grade: 61 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 18 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 3 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +4

Baker’s ranking on this list benefits from the fact that he plays a priority position (left tackle), can start on most NFL teams, and could certainly serve as a swing tackle on every NFL franchise. All of those factors give him significant value, even if as an individual he is far from impressive.

I was critical of Baker’s contract when he signed it. The main reason being that given his play over the past five seasons, I don’t think it was a sound bet for the Falcons to make a three-year commitment to Baker. I would have preferred to see the Falcons give him a contract that potentially allowed them an out a year earlier.

No doubt that is somewhat of a nitpick, the difference of a single year. Especially given the fact that I did agree that Baker deserved a new deal from the team based off his improved play in 2012. If Baker can play at that level or slightly above it for the next two or three years, then whatever complaints I have about the deal are moot.

2012 represented the best of Sam Baker we’ve seen so far. While I do think he can make improvements, I doubt he will be significantly better than he was then. The only real difference moving forward for Baker may be just being more consistent. His A game will never match that of the top left tackles, but if he can give an A-level performance most weeks, then there is little room to complain. Baker is not a powerful player, and because of it has been somewhat a mismatch for the team’s blocking scheme over the past five years due to their emphasis on man blocking principles. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has introduced a bit more zone blocking into the mix, something that Baker is better suited for. But with drafting players like Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes, and undrafted additions like Phillipkeith Manley, Terren Jones, Ryan Schraeder, it’s clear that the Falcons still emphasize size, power, and strength that is necessary to be a successful man-blocking team. And that is another reason why I was critical of the Baker contract, committing long-term to a player that is not an ideal fit for your scheme. Holmes is a better long-term fit for that scheme at the position, but it certainly remains a question mark if he’s currently ready for a starting position.

The Falcons aren’t really paying Baker to open running lanes. They are paying him to protect Matt Ryan’s blindside. And he did that better last year than probably anyone has in Atlanta for nearly a decade, since the heyday of Bob Whitfield. Baker has good feet and finally seems to be playing with the sort of polished technique he was known for during his days at USC.

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