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Stacking the Draft Board: Wide Receiver

March 5th, 2011

As previously discussed in the post about what running backs the Falcons could potentially be looking at, the Falcons want to get more explosive on offense. And what’s the best way of diong that by improving your options on the outside at wide receiver.

Roddy White put together a very impressive season, one that simple blew away previous great Falcons receiving seasons. After all, when Andre Rison, Terance Mathis, and Eric Metcalf were putting their names in the Falcons record books, they were doing so in a Run N’ Shoot offense that was designed to put up big passing numbers. Not the case with the Falcons current offense, which is a much more run-oriented attack. So it’s clear that Roddy White is not the problem.

On the opposite side of the field, Michael Jenkins had a relatively good year considering he missed a big chunk of the beginning of the year with a shoulder injury, and was coming off one of his worst seasons as a Falcon. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the Falcons need an explosive option in the passing game that can make teams pay when they double Roddy, something that teams did to a good degree of success in the second half of the season.

Harry Douglas failed to step up when he had the opportunities, but he did flash some explosive potential in the latter half of the season when the Falcons made better use of him on the shorter routes and trying to get him in space to use his ability after the catch. If the Falcons can continue to do that, they should be able to improve their explosive offensive potential somewhat.

But it’s probably not going to be enough. So adding some more explosive options in the draft makes a ton of sense for the Falcons going forward.

They can start with options in the first round. And the player topping the Falcons draft board is likely to be Maryland wideout Torrey Smith. Smith is a fast, explosive playmaker that grades highly as far as character goes, making him a very attractive first round option if available. Smith appears to be everything the Falcons want in a wideout opposite Roddy. He blocks, he plays hard, he’s fast, and has been getting glowing reviews by many in terms of his character and reportedly wowed many at the combine.

Also projected by some as a first rounder is Jonathan Baldwin (Pittsburgh). Baldwin is big and fast and should do a good job on the vertical routes because of those traits. But Baldwin has some character red flags, particularly with his effort this past season at Pitt, and whether or not the Falcons want to go down that path with a player that may be hard to motivate.

Also getting some looks in mocks is Boise State’s Titus Young. While Young is fast and explosive, he’s also very small, no bigger than Douglas, and has been widely reported as having some serious character deficiencies. That likely means Young won’t be highly prized on the Falcons board, and certainly not a potential first round pick.

Leonard Hankerson (MIami) has been moving up draft boards with solid performances at the Senior Bowl and Combine. The tall, lanky receiver with speed would be a nice asset on the outside on the vertical routes, and is comfortable playing in the slot. But is the 27th overall pick too high for a player that a few months ago was projected more in the third round range?

If the Falcons address their defensive end need in the first round, then they will probably target a wideout at some poitn in the second to fourth round range. Hankerson may not last all the way to pick No. 59 in the second round, and the Falcons may have to trade up from that spot (or trade back from No. 27) to get in position to draft him. If the Falcons do do some wheeling and dealing, they could put themselves in a position to add Troy’s Jerrel Jernigan or Kentucky’s Randall Cobb, both of whom have the potential to be Percy Harvin-like players in the slot as well as performing on special teams. But there will be other options.

Abilene Christian’s Edmond Gates has been rising due to an outstanding Combine performance. The fact that former teammate Johnny Knox has been a hit the past two years in Chicago isn’t hurting his stock either. He could potentially be had in the late second/third round range. Nebraska’s Niles Paul is a thickly built, but fast receiver. Indiana’s Tandon Doss, who missed Combine workouts due to a groin injury, could also be on the team’s radar. Tennessee’s Denarius Moore is another burner with the ability to stretch th efield.

At some point the Falcons will need to decide whether they want to target a player that can help out in the slot, or someone that projects better to play outside. Because if the team is after slot receivers, they should have a solid choice of guys in the middle rounds including: Ronald Johnson (USC), Dwayne Harris (East Carolina), Cecil Shorts (Mount Union), Jeremy Kerley (TCU), Aldrick Robinson (SMU), and Ricardo Lockette (Fort Valley State) to name a few.

The Falcons have already been reportedly interested in Lockette. Johnson, Harris, and Shorts are probably the most polished of the trio, and all should are projected to go off the board sometime between the third and seventh rounds.

Topping the Board:
1. Torrey Smith, Maryland – The Falcons would love it if they found a way to wind up with Smith.
Next Best Things:
2. Leonard Hankerson, Miami – Big, fast, and a senior, a great mix for the Falcons.
3. Jerrel Jernigan, Troy – The explosive wideout clocked a 4.3 at his Troy pro day and could be a dynamic option in the slot.
4. Randall Cobb, Kentucky – Like Jernigan, he can be a dynamic asset in the slot as well as on special teams.
5. Denarius Moore, Tennessee – Good explosive option on the outside.
Possible Early Considerations:
6. Jon Baldwin, Pittsburgh – He does have character issues, but has the potential to be a Vincent Jackson-like asset on the outside, so it may be worthwhile for the team.
Later Consoliaton Prizes:
7. Cecil Shorts, Mount Union
8. Ronald Johnson, USC
9. Dwayne Harris, East Carolina
10. Ricardo Lockette, Fort Valley State

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