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Why NFL Teams Are Dumb to Draft Fullbacks

April 15th, 2014 Comments off

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The “failure” of Bradie Ewing should be a lesson for the Falcons

It’s been for some time that I’ve held the belief that NFL teams are foolish to use draft picks on fullbacks. That’s largely because it’s a dying position in the NFL and teams are better served trying to draft a player that has a much greater chance of adding value to the roster.

That doesn’t mean that fullbacks lack value, but there is little evidence that teams gain additional value by using a draft pick on the position as opposed to waiting until signing a player in undrafted free agency or off the street.

The Atlanta Falcons have been a good example of this in recent years, utilizing a fifth-round pick on Bradie Ewing in 2012. Ewing was drafted the year after the team was forced to play Mike Cox at the position following a season-ending injury to long-time lead blocker Ovie Mughelli in 2011. Cox performed ably, although he was a far cry from a fully healthy Mughelli. But the Falcons decided that they wanted to utilize a pick on Ewing the following spring, and it did not pay off for them.

Ewing missed his rookie season with an injury, and the team was forced to go with Cox for another year. He did a solid job, but the team decided to part ways with him again to give Ewing another shot. But Ewing had another injury-riddled season in 2013, and the team brought in Patrick DiMarco to replace him. Like Cox, DiMarco filled in ably for the Falcons.

Now the Falcons are potentially in the same position in 2014 to try and address their fullback position in the draft. With ten picks slated for the team in 2014, it would seem the odds are pretty good that one of them will be a lead blocker given that DiMarco is the only player on the roster.

So I’m writing this as a warning to the team. Don’t do it! Don’t draft a fullback!

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Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , , ,

Falcons Needs: Fullback

January 31st, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bradie Ewing

The Falcons made a commitment to retain this position in their offense by drafting Bradie Ewing last April in the fifth round. Ewing missed all of his rookie season with an ACL tear, suffered in the preseason opener. While fullback won’t be a pivotal position in the Falcons offense, the team would not have deemed it necessary to draft Ewing if it wasn’t going to offer some value.

The team began the 2012 season with Lousaka Polite at fullback, but he quickly proved inadequate. The team brought back Mike Cox, who lost the competition to Polite during camp, and Cox played fairly well. Cox is by no means a great fullback, but he’s a competent lead blocker. He will be a free agent, and the Falcons will have to make a decision on whether to re-sign him or just to simply hand the keys over to Ewing.

If they opt to re-sign Cox, it should not require a significant investment, as he’s likely to be amenable to another one-year, minimum-level contract. That way the Falcons have an insurance policy in place if Ewing isn’t completely recovered from his knee injury or quite ready to be an NFL starter. More than likely the team would bring both players to camp and Ewing would be the favorite to win any competition between them.

The team can also tinker with moving Jason Snelling to the spot full-time if Cox is not retained. Snelling played well early in the year, when he was filling in for an injured Polite. If Snelling was again to be buried on the depth chart as the No. 3 running back in 2013, mixing him into the lineup at fullback would be a good way to get some production from him.

Overall, the Falcons need at this position isn’t very big due to the presence of Ewing, and the fact that the team has an in-house candidate in Snelling and an easy-to-retain free agent in Cox.

Categories: Features Tags: , , , , ,

Moneyball 2012 – Week 13 Review

December 4th, 2012 1 comment

This was a very bad game for the offense as the passing game never got into sync. The Falcons went nearly the full game without converting a third down and the lack of big plays was stark. I don’t think Ryan played poorly, but he certainly did not play well. He looked rattled early, as the Saints were effective pressuring him early. It caused him to be off on some throws and reads. Towards the latter part of the game, he seemed less willing to sling it downfield, and was going more for the easy completions in an effort to keep the offense on schedule. They attempted to take some shots early in the game, but they failed. Obviously when this offense is settling on 6 or 7-yard completions on a lot of dumpoffs to the running backs, then it is not potent at all.

The running game started strong, and one criticism could be that the team abandoned it during the middle portion of the game where the offense was struggling to move the ball. I don’t really adhere to that criticism. Everyone knows this team offensively is carried by its passing attack. The running game was on point against the Saints, but I don’t think you could believe it would be sustainable throughout the night.

One thing I did notice in terms of the backs was that I think Rodgers could be more potent with Mike Cox blocking for him. Cox has been an upgrade at the fullback position in recent weeks. And while he’s no Ovie, he’s at least competent to good for the most part. Traditionally, the Falcons like to use Cox in conjunction a lot with Turner, but I think Rodgers might be a better match. Turner’s late fumble was partially his fault for fighting for yards, but also it did seem that the refs were fairly lethargic on blowing the whistle for forward progress. But in the end, you still have to secure the football, which Turner did not, and ultimately the blame still falls squarely on him. After recent games, it’s going to be hard for Turner to earn the trust back of the coaching staff in order to finish games. While Turner was superior to Quizz in the early going, it does seem that the Falcons offense seems more effective with Quizz as the closer.

Up front, the line blocked well earning most of their key blocks in the early going. Konz was the weakest of the front, as he along with McClure, Blalock, and Baker all had their troubles blocking Sedrick Ellis. By my count, Ellis had a pressure (vs. McClure), 2 hits (1 vs. Baker, 1 vs. Konz), and a hurry (split by Baker & Blalock). McClure had his ups and downs, missing a couple of blocks (one of which was on a screen), giving up pressure to Ellis and Hicks up the middle. But he also made some very nice blocks in this game, so it also balances out. Clabo had a good game, as it seems like this is the first game in forever that he didn’t give up a pressure/hurry once. But overall, I think the line has been showing some improvement in recent weeks. It’s about time…

PLAYER
PASS
RUSH
REC
BLK
SPEC
PEN
TOTALS
Michael Turner$0$9$0$0$0-$2$7.00
Tyson Clabo$0$0$0$5$0$0$5.00
Sam Baker$0$0$0$4$0$0$4.00
Justin Blalock$0$0$0$4$0$0$4.00
Jacquizz Rodgers$0$3$0$0$0$0$3.00
Todd MCClure$0$0$0$3$0-$1$2.00
Mike Cox$0$0$0$2$0$0$2.00
Julio Jones$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Matt Ryan$2$0$0$0$0$0$2.00
Jason Snelling$0$0$2$0$0$0$2.00
Antone Smith$0$0$0$0$1$0$1.00
Tony Gonzalez$0$0$3-$2$0-$1$0.00
Roddy White$0$0-$1$0$0$0-$1.00
Peter Konz$0$0$0-$1$0$0-$1.00

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Cox replaces Polite at fullback

November 7th, 2012 Comments off

The Falcons earlier today announced the signing of fullback Mike Cox and the release of Lousaka Polite. The team also announced that guard Jacques McClendon was signed to the practice squad. He replaces Phillip Manley, who was elevated to the active roster yesterday.

Cox was cut by the Falcons this past summer after losing a training camp competition to Polite. Cox originally joined the Falcons in October 2011 as an injury replacement for Ovie Mughelli.

Polite signed with Atlanta midway through camp after rookie fullback Bradie Ewing went down with a season-ending injury. In his stint with the team, Polite started 5 of 6 games, catching a single pass for 8 yards.

McClendon originally entered the league as a fourth round pick with the Indianapolis Colts in 2010. He played in four games with the Colts in his rookie season. He was cut the following summer and was picked up by the Detroit Lions. He was inactive for four games before being released. He rejoined the Lions after 2011 but was cut this past summer. He was briefly on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad in October before joining the Falcons. During his college career at Tennessee, he started 26 career games at right guard and earned Academic All-SEC honors twice.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

Falcons cut 19 to get down to the roster

August 31st, 2012 Comments off
Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Dominique Franks, among surprise cuts

The Falcons announced the cuts made today to get their roster down to 53 players. The team released 22 players including running back Dimitri Nance; fullback Mike Cox; wide receivers D.J. Davis, Marcus Jackson, and James Rodgers; offensive linemen Bryce Harris and Tyler Horn; defensive tackles Conrad Obi and Micanor Regis; linebackers Spencer Adkins, Rico Council, Jerrell Harris, and Pat Schiller; cornerbacks Dominique Franks, Marty Markett, and Peyton Thompson; safety Suaesi Tuimaunei; and long snapper Joe Zelenka.  The team also reached injury settlements with tight end LaMark Brown and guard Andrew Jackson, while waiving-injured wide receiver Kerry Meier, and placing safety Shann Schillinger on injured reserve.

Among the cuts, notable ones include Cox, Adkins, Franks, and Zelenka played with the team last season. Cox lost the battle to fullback Lousaka Polite, who was signed three weeks ago for the battle for the starting fullback position. Cox joined the team last October after the injury to Ovie Mughelli. Adkins was a sixth round pick of the Falcons in 2009 that had his best season a year ago, starting 1 game and recording 5 tackles as a reserve linebacker. Franks started 4 games last year at cornerback as a replacement for Brent Grimes, and was considered a front-runner for taking over the punt return duties this year. Franks was originally a fifth round pick in 2010. Zelenka has been the Falcons since 2009, but lost the long snapping job to undrafted rookie Josh Harris.

With these moves, several players made the Falcons roster for the first time. Five of the team’s six draft picks made the final roster, with the sixth player: Bradie Ewing already on injured reserve. Harris joined quarterback Dominique Davis and guard Phillip Manley as one of three undrafted free agents that made the team. Quarterback Luke McCown, signed earlier this week is also a newcomer to the roster. Wide receivers Kevin Cone and Tim Toone also made the team as reserves. Cone spent last year on the Falcons practice squad, but Toone was added earlier this month in camp. Alongside Cone, tight end Tommy Gallarda was able to elevate himself from a practice squad spot last year to a full roster position this year. Free agent pickups in cornerback Asante Samuel, safety Chris Hope, and cornerback Robert McClain are also first time Falcons.

Turner needs a bit more help

August 28th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Turner is stuffed vs. Bengals

Anybody that has been a regular visitor to this site and/or its forums over the past six months probably is aware that I’m one of the biggest doubters of Michael Turner and whether he has a lot left in the tank. I’ve written about him a number of times.

The news that the Detroit Lions are shopping for a running back had my head swimming with scenarios for a few brief moments that could see the Falcons shipping Turner north. Talk that players like Knowshon Moreno, Chris Ivory, and Anthony Dixon are the on the roster bubble also peaks my interest in regards of whether the Falcons should start making some phone calls to discuss trade scenarios. Not to mention last week’s debate about whether should be looking at Maurice Jones-Drew as their starting running back.

I’m not saying the Falcons should be in the market for a replacement for Turner at this point in time, nor am I am saying that the Falcons should not be. But the point I’m inching towards is that even if the Falcons are adamant about keeping Turner, they really seem to be setting him up for disaster.

Okay, disaster might be too strong a word. But they don’t seem to be surrounding Turner with the necessary pieces that he needs to play at the highest level. Last week I thought Turner needed a strong performance against the Dolphins to re-instill outside confidence in his abilities. He did improve, but what became apparent to me as I looked at the tape is that the Falcons don’t have a great supporting cast around Turner.

I’ve mentioned before that I think Turner is a “black hole” in the sense that his skillset requires a certain amount of necessary pieces around him to make him play his best football. When the Falcons had a strong run-blocking offensive line headlined by Harvey Dahl, and the best lead blocker in the biz by the name of Ovie Mughelli, the pieces were there. But by letting Dahl walk last summer and cutting Mughelli this past May, the Falcons appear to purposefully or unknowingly dismantling that necessary supporting cast.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Roster Talk: Offense

August 28th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Lousaka Polite battling for a roster spot

I want to go position by position and discuss which players I believe will make the Falcons final 53-man roster come Friday. For this first part I want to look at the offensive players. Later I will discuss defensive battles.

Typically an NFL roster is going to consist of 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players, and 3 special teams players. Those numbers can be tweaked by 1 or 2 players often given how injuries effect you at that point in the year and other places where you have strong depth.

For example, the past few years the Falcons have kept five defensive tackles on the roster mainly because they’ve had injuries and other issues hit them during the summer. In 2010, Jonathan Babineaux was suspended for the season opener, prompting them to go into the season with a fifth tackle in Trey Lewis. Last year, Corey Peters missed the season opener against the Bears with a knee injury, thus allowing Carlton Powell a chance to make the roster as the fifth defensive tackle. Normally, the Falcons would only keep four defensive tackles as they did in 2008 and 2009, but injuries prompted them otherwise in 2010 and 2011.

Situations like that can affect a player or two making the roster or not as the team is trying its damnedest to get 46 players healthy and active for the first Sunday of the year.

Quarterback

The big question going into this week was whether or not the Falcons would choose to keep two quarterbacks or three, and whether Chris Redman would be among them. Earlier today, the Falcons seemingly answered that question by dumping Redman and replacing him with veteran Luke McCown. It was a move that I thought possible, but not probable. Well, I was wrong. But even with this late addition of McCown, he’s not guaranteed to be on the final 53 on opening day. McCown’s relatively hefty veteran salary of $825,000 would be guaranteed if he is on the roster for Week 1, as are those of any of the other 52 players. The Falcons could cut him prior to the start of the season with the expectation and understanding that they would bring him back in Week 2. Such a money manipulation is not foreign to the Falcons, as they pulled this with Brett Romberg a year ago who also signed a mere 48 hours before their final preseason game as well. McCown could get some reps in the preseason finale, although it’s doubtful given the limited amount of work he’d have to prep for it. Instead, Dominique Davis will likely play the entire game. And if he has another strong performance, then it increases the chances that the team opens the season with him as the No. 2 QB, and subsequently pulls the opening day switcheroo with McCown. If Davis struggles, then McCown will almost certainly get the nine days between the Jaguars game and the season opener to take the No. 2 job.

Best Guess for Final 53: Ryan, Davis,  McCown.

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Preseason Stock Exchange (Week 2)

August 21st, 2012 1 comment

Here is a look at which players increased and decreased their chances of making the Falcons roster this year, as well as which players are setting themselves up for success and others who are not.

Stock Up

QB Dominique Davis – Davis built off his previously solid performance against the Ravens to play at a level where it seems now a forgone conclusion that he has made this team’s roster. He has looked the sharpest throughout the first two preseason games. Which is both praise of Davis, and also an indictment of the team’s other quarterbacks, Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson. Davis has been far from perfect, as he can still struggle at times with his accuracy and mechanics. But he has been significantly better in limited reps than either of the passers ahead of him on the depth chart. While it seemed unlikely that the Falcons would need to keep three quarterbacks on the depth, Davis play means that should be a probability. The big question for the Falcons is whether or not they keep either Redman or Wilson as the No. 2 or address it with a free agent pickup/trade later this summer.

RB Antone Smith – While Smith was the front-runner to land a roster spot as the fourth halfback on the team, his performance against Cincinnati helped solidify his hold. He showed very good quickness and speed in the open field, able to turn in a couple of nice runs and catches in the screen game. Smith was one of the team’s top gunners on special teams last year, and showcasing that he has some ability as a third down back should help keep his job safe.

FB Lousaka Polite – Polite has impressed despite only a limited time with the team. He caught a touchdown pass against the Bengals, but also did a good job as a lead blocker, showing his trademark power and pop at the point of attack. His major competitor, Mike Cox has been solid but doesn’t really have that eye-popping power at the point of attack. If Polite can keep this up, he can take the job right out from under Cox.

WR Marcus Jackson – He ended the game with 3 catches for 40 yards, but Jackson was one of the few highlights among the receivers late in the game, showcasing an ability to get open when Davis was in the game. He was targeted 6 times, all in the fourth quarter, and all of the incompletions to him were the result of poor throws not hiccups on Jackson’s part. While he is probably on the outside in terms of a roster spot, his offensive prowess could potentially give him the inside track on a practice squad spot.

TE LaMark Brown – Brown’s athleticism was his best asset and best chance to make this roster, and against the Bengals he got an opportunity to display it. While listed as a tight end, Brown has basically worked more as a flex player/wide receiver. His combination of size and athleticism does make him an intriguing developmental prospect as a guy that could be put on the practice squad.

DE John Abraham – Abe has been one of the more reliable players and playmakers on this team for the past six seasons, so it’s a bit odd to put him on this list since his stock is always high. But Abe seems to be adjusting well to the Nolan defense, getting quite a bit of work as a stand-up pass rusher. It’s a role he has performed well in the past with the Jets, but hasn’t got a ton of opportunities in Atlanta to do. But against the Bengals, he was consistently giving Andrew Whitworth, one of the league’s premier left tackles some troubles with his speed and burst off the edge.

DT Peria Jerry – Jerry had a good game against the Ravens, and backed it up with another solid effort against the Bengals. Aside from his roughing the passer penalty, he was active and disruptive, able to get some pressure up the middle and stuff the run as well. With Corey Peters out indefinitely, the Falcons will need players like Jerry to step up and be solid in the starting lineup.

Stock Down


WR James Rodgers – Rodgers has yet to really distinguish himself in the return game, and his two critical drops on the final drive against the Bengals may have really killed his chances of making this team. He’s going to really have to step up his game against the Dolphins if he wants to make this roster. The key will be showcasing that he is worthy of the kickoff return duties, because the door is near closing as an offensive skill player.

Falcons Offensive Line – Falcon fans were privileged to see a lot of screens against the Bengals. It seemed as if this team called at least half a dozen screens or shovel passes in the first half. And in re-watching the game, it seemed that was the case because Dirk Koetter was trying to take advantage of the aggressive Bengals pass rush. While a positive for Koetter, it’s not necessarily glowing for the Falcons front who were essentially getting beat. Even without their top pass rusher in Carlos Dunlap, the Falcons front did not give Ryan and Redman a ton of time to throw in the first half of the game. The clocks in both of the quarterbacks’ heads seemed to be going faster than normal due to the pressure they were seeing. And one wonders whether or not this offensive line has really improved from a year ago. And only time will tell, but this game certainly does not inspire me with confidence.

OG Andrew JacksonAfter noting the struggles of Hawley and Johnson last week, this week it was Andrew Jackson that seemed to have problems. Part of could have been that he faced Geno Atkins a number of times, who was even punking Justin Blalock. It looks like seven of the OL spots have been locked up, with the current starting five as well as Konz and Holmes making the roster. The team will likely keep nine or ten blockers. And between Jackson, Hawley, and Johnson, they are all competing for that final two or three spots. And right now, none of them have really distinguished themselves from the pack.

DE Ray Edwards – Edwards stock is not down because he had a bad game against the Bengals. He played well, recording a tackle for loss, a pressure (when unblocked) and a hit on Dalton during the game. What is concerning is that Edwards continue to get pulled off the field in nickel situations. A year ago, his being pulled off the field in those circumstances were chalked up to injury and a less than civil relationship with Brian VanGorder. Neither of those issues should be factors this year, yet Edwards is still being pulled off the field in those situations. The Falcons did not pay Edwards $27.5 million to essentially be a two-down run defender. Hopefully against Cincinnati that was just a case of the team wanting to get other guys reps. But if that continues into the regular season, it’s going to be hard to envision Edwards living up to his price tag in 2012.

Falcons add Polite and Coffman

August 12th, 2012 Comments off

The team announced on Saturday that they had signed veteran fullback Lousaka Polite and tight end Chase Coffman. In addition to the move to place fullback Bradie Ewing on injured reserve, the team waived/injured tight end Adam Nissley and waived punter Dawson Zimmerman to make room for the players. Alongside Ewing, Nissley suffered an injury during Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

Polite, 30, was originally an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh for the Dallas Cowboys in 2004 has bounced around the league with several teams over the years. He played three seasons with the Cowboys, then had a brief stint with the Chicago Bears (2007) before landing with the Miami Dolphins the following year. Three seasons with the Dolphins, and he was cut last summer. He wound up working out for the Falcons in October following the injury to Ovie Mughelli, but ultimately the Falcons settled on signing Mike Cox. Polite finished the year with the New England Patriots, signing with them prior to the final week of the regular season. The Patriots cut him this past March. For his career, Polite has appeared in 76 games over eight seasons, with 27 starts. He has rushed 95 times for 296 yards (3.1 avg) and 1 touchdown, and caught 41 passes for 233 yards (5.7 avg) and a touchdown.

Coffman, 25, was a highly productive tight end when he came out of Missouri, helping him to become a third round pick with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2009. But he struggled transitioning from the Missouri spread system to the pro game, as well as dealt with injuries causing him to only appear in 6 games in two seasons with the Bengals. He spent most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons on that team’s practice squad. Following last year, he was picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but was cut this past Monday. His father, Paul, was a Pro Bowl tight end primarily with the Green Bay Packers from 1978-88. For his career, Coffman has 3 catches for 30 yards, which he achieved in 2010.

Coffman’s addition is interesting in the sense that most of the reserve tight ends competing for the No. 3 spot behind Tony Gonzalez and Michael Palmer are known as blockers, while Coffman is primarily known as a pass-catching tight end. Both Polite and Coffman will attempt to beat the odds of players added during the middle of training camp that can make the final roster.

Categories: News Tags: , , , ,

Questions Remain at Fullback

August 11th, 2012 Comments off

The injury to Bradie Ewing, while not devastating to the Falcons offense, it certainly doesn’t leave it in good shape. The Falcons made the decision to part ways with Ovie Mughelli in May, thanks in large part due to his advanced age and hefty pricetag. They wanted to get younger at the position, and their plans were embodied in Ewing, a player they envisioned growing into a top-notch lead blocker similar to how Mughelli had been the past four years.

But now Ewing is done for the year, and next year will be coming off a more severe knee injury than Mughelli was attempting this year. Mughelli is now with the Rams and they hope there he opens holes for Steven Jackson as well as he did for Michael Turner here in Atlanta.

It’s interesting to gauge how much this will affect the Falcons offense. For the first part of the 2011 season, Mughelli played on a bum knee and it was clear that he was not nearly the same as a blocker. And while Mike Cox was able to fill in competently, it was clear that he was not anywhere close to the Pro Bowl player that Ovie was a year before.

Last year, Cox had 110 total run blocking opportunities (per Pro Football Focus) and ended up with 10 key blocks, making for a percentage of 9.1%. That is essentially equal to the percentage that Mughelli had in 2010, where on 280 run blocking opportunities, he finished with 25.5 key blocks. That was an improvement from Mughelli earlier in the season, who had a key block percentage of around 6.5% (6 key blocks on 93 opportunities). The issue with Cox last year was how often he missed he blocks. He missed a total of 5.5 blocks, for a percentage of 5.0%. That was a decline from Mughelli in 2011 (3.2%), but a huge decrease from Ovie in previous years, where in 2010 his missed block percentage was at 2.1%, and 0.4% in 2009.

The other interesting stat is looking at Turner’s own production when working out of the I-formation. Here are the numbers from the past four seasons:

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,