Second Round Targets
Previously, I discussed some players that I thought the Falcons should target in the first round in order to maximize their value. Now, it’s time to look at some potential second round options.
The second round is typically the last round in which impact playmakers are usually drafted most years. The other thing that makes second round picks very beneficial is that you can often get first round talent (particularly in the first half of the round) for a fraction of the price.
Maximizing how many picks you have in the Top 50 is usually a very good strategy for most teams. Here is a look at some of the offensive players that the Falcons can target late in the round and find premium value:
Williams is not going to be a lead back in the Mularkey offense, but he’s about as good a No. 2 option as you’re going to find in this draft. The main drawback with Williams is his durability. It remains to be seen if his slighter frame can hold up to NFL punishment. A positive is that he’s bulked up some this off-season, but it may not be enough. He’s not a guy that is going to reliably carry the ball 15-20 times per game. But what he can do is spell Turner for 5-10 snaps per game and be an explosive outside runner. Williams offers excellent burst and speed with the ability to bounce plays outside, which makes him an ideal complement to the more physical, methodical nature of Turner.
The Falcons want to upgrade their slot receiver position. Jernigan and Cobb potentially do that. The only problem here is to maximize Jernigan and Cobb’s impact in the offense, there are going to have to be significant changes to the play-calling. The Falcons did not use a ton of three-wide receiver sets last year, relying fairly heavily on the double tight end set, at least relative to most NFL offenses. That would have to change if the team were to add Jernigan or Cobb on the roster. The Falcons would also have to try and maximize their abilities by having them run a lot of shorter routes in the Welker-mold rather than the vertical routes down the seam that the team struggled to complete to Harry Douglas last year.
The added value of both Jernigan and Cobb is their abilities to contribute in the return game. Jernigan is probably the more natural receiver of the two, but both would add versatile weapons to the Falcons offense. But whether they are great value here will depend heavily on whether Mike Mularkey will significantly adjust the offense to suit their strengths.
WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami
Hankerson on the other hand really doesn’t really require much tweaking to the offense as it currently stands. Hankerson is much closer to the Marques Colston mold, in that he is comfortable playing in the slot, and has the size and speed to challenge the vertical seam much like Colston did. He’s a potential upgrade over Douglas in that way because of his ability to be able to attack the vertical seam, rather than relying on the team to get him dump-offs in the 5-10 yard range and get yards after the catch that way. Hankerson also has the potential to develop as an outside threat down the road to replace Jenkins, allowing the team to still keep and develop Douglas going forward in the slot.
Baldwin offers similar tools as Hankerson, but is even better on the vertical routes. The issues with Baldwin are that he has that sort of high-cut physique similar to Jenkins that makes it hard for him to be sudden in and out of his breaks, limiting how much separation he can get, coupled with some questionable character. The good thing about Baldwin is that he is huge with good ball skills and body control, so he doesn’t really have to separate all that well to be effective. Unlike the other prospects, Baldwin has the potential to be a No. 1 receiver in the Vincent Jackson mold due to his combo of size and speed, but again there are some obvious drawbacks. But in terms of value, there probably isn’t a better option on the outside than Baldwin due to his first round talent level to be had in the latter part of the second round.
Had Rudolph not been plagued by injuries throughout his junior campaign this past Fall, he would probably be considered a strong bet to go in the first round. But since he isn’t quite 100%, like Rob Gronkowski a year ago, he will likely fall into the second round. That means that the Falcons are potentially getting good value if they snag him at the end of the round. Like Gronkowski, Rudolph is a natural receiver. He’s not the most explosive option, but has good hands, and is a natural fit in the Falcons offense because of his ability to play both inline and split out wide much like the Falcons use Tony Gonzalez currently. Rudolph can be a reliable chain mover on third downs as well as a dangerous target in the redzone, which is exactly the same role that Gonzalez has filled the past two years in Atlanta.
Williams is one of the more underrated tight ends in this class because he doesn’t have dynamic speed or great size, but he has natural hands and ball skills. The reason however why Williams is not a great fit in the Falcon offense is because he’s more of an H-back that benefits from being split out wide rather than lining up on the line of scrimmage. While Williams can contribute in that way, it’s not his natural position. So if the Falcons were to draft Williams, they would have to use the tight end more as a slot receiver rather than an inline blocker that the Mularkey offense is used to be. But if done, Williams can potentially reward the Falcons because he has Dallas Clark-like potential due to his excellent hands, ball skills, and be a capable chain mover over the middle.
Hudson is one of the few interior line prospects that stand out in this draft class as potential upgrades over what the Falcons currently have. The team drafted Mike Johnson and Joe Hawley last year to groom as future starters, but Hudson potentially has both of them beat. While playing mostly left guard at Florida State, Hudson projects best as a center in most NFL offenses, including the Falcons. There his ability to dominate in a short area, good strength, and scrappiness make him an ideal fit to play the pivot. While he is not well-versed at the center position yet, playing behind Todd McClure for a year should help him get up to speed. And presumably if McClure retires after the 2011 season, then the Falcons can have an open competition between Hawley and Hudson next season. Hudson would likely be the favorite to win the job, but even if he doesn’t, his versatility to play guard gives him added value. Versatility is key with early round picks along the offensive line.
Now let’s look at some value on the defensive side of the ball…
The issue with Austin has always been character and work ethic. His physical tools are as good as any defensive tackle in this class, but during his time at UNC, he rarely dominated games. But if he is coached up a bit more at the next level, he has the potentail to be one of the top defensive tackles in the game. And in the second round, that’s very good value for not a whole lot of financial investment. Austin is a good fit in Atlanta because of his ability to play either 1 or 3 technique, and certainly helps their depth. He might not be an immediate impact player, but certainly an upgrade in the rotation over Vance Walker, and going forward has as much if not more potential than either Corey Peters or Peria Jerry alongside Babineaux.
Nevis probably hasn’t gotten the love he’s deserved this off-season. Early in the season, he was a dominant force, although his play and production tailed off a bit at the end of the year. But all one has to do is look at his early season performance against Florida to see how dominant he can be inside. He was a one-man wrecking crew for the LSU defense. A natural nose tackle in a one-gap scheme, Nevis is a good fit to play beside Babineaux (a natural 3-technique), with his disruptive capability. Nevis is not going to be a sack artist, but in a healthy rotation such as the Falcons can be a guy that can get consistent pressure on the quarterback on passing downs as well as beef up the team’s run defense. If Nevis was a few inches taller, we’d probably be talking about him as a late first round pick.
Carter has first round potential, but if not for a torn ACL, he would probably be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Martez Wilson and Akeem Ayers to be the second linebacker off the board after Von Miller. Because of that knee injury, it’s unlikely that the team that drafts Carter will get much of him as a rookie. But in truth, the Falcons should not be too worried about that. If they can keep Nicholas for one more season as the starter, then they can plug Carter into the lineup in 2012. Carter isn’t a great cover guy, but he’s super physical and fast, and would be a very good fit playing beside similarly hard-nosed defenders in Weatherspoon and Lofton, giving the Falcons one of the hardest-hitting trio of linebackers in the league. He is a significant upgrade over Nicholas going forward because of his ability to improve and become a competent matchup in coverage.
If the Falcons want to seriously upgrade their slot corner spot, then Burton is probably the best option they can find in the second round. Burton has experience playing in the slot at Utah, and this past year drew responsibilities of handling some of the better wideouts in the country such as Pitt’s Jon Baldwin, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd, and Boise State’s Titus Young. Burton held his own against all three showing he’s capable of going up against size as well as speed. Burton has the potential to win the nickel job right away as a rookie, and as mentioned when discussing first round corners, a guy that can come in right away and earn 25-30 snaps per game is good value, especially in the second round.
It’s probably not likely that Moore will be around when the Falcons second round pick rolls around. But he is probably the lone safety in this class that is worthwhile for the Falcons to draft. The value of Moore is his skills as a ballhawk and ability to cover slot receivers. He’s a natural cover safety that is at home in the centerfield. But he also contributes in run support, as well as one could expect out of a 200-pounder. Moore isn’t going to come in right away and beat out DeCoud for the starting free safety job, but he gives the team a very good incentive to not keep DeCoud after the season, especially if DeCoud doesn’t ascend to that Pro Bowl level. The facts are that DeCoud is a more run-oriented free safety that didn’t shine once William Moore was introduced into the lineup because Moore is a very run-oriented strong safety, limiting the number of impact plays that DeCoud could make going to a much more pass-heavy responsibilities. Rahim Moore on the other hand is much better suited to handle those coverage duties and be a ballhawk in the center field. One should remember that DeCoud had only 1 career interception during his four-year career at Cal. As a sophomore, Moore led the nation with 10.
In the end, the ideal candidate to find in the second round is a player that can come in right away and contribute. One of the receivers or a corner like Burton certainly fit that mold. All of those guys should be able to contribute significantly as role players and hopefully develop as starters down the road. If not, then trying to maximize your talent and potential for 2012 makes sense. Taking someone like Hudson, Carter, or Moore would certainly do that for you. Most would make minimal impact in 2011, but in 2012 and beyond could be big-time playmakers for the Falcons. Either method works, as one hand you get the Curtis Lofton-type of immediate value, or you get the William Moore-type of long-term value. At the end of the day, value is value and no one is going to care whether your guy contributed in Year One or Year Two, as long as he’s contributing in the end.