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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 23, 2014

June 23rd, 2014 Comments off
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons made the somewhat bold move to trade for Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates earlier this week.

It’s a bold move in the sense that the Falcons saw a weakness on their team and went about addressing it. That weakness was their backup quarterback situation where Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews sat behind starter Matt Ryan. Between the three of them, they only have one game and seven pass attempts’ worth of actual NFL experience.

If one was power-ranking the Falcons backup quarterback situation, it would have been in contention for dead last in the league with that of the Chicago Bears.

Following the departure of Josh McCown, who is now expected to start for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bears featured Jimmy Clausen, Jordan Palmer, David Fales and Jerrod Johnson behind starter Jay Cutler. The Bears signed Clausen earlier this month to add some much-needed experience. Clausen played poorly, but at least started 10 games as a rookie with the Carolina Panthers in 2010. Before his arrival, their sole experience came from Palmer, who attempted 15 passes over three years with the Cincinnati Bengals (2008-10).

Johnson was cut this week, as was Davis for the Falcons. Teams don’t often carry five quarterbacks on the roster, and it was clear that Yates’ arrival was going to push Davis out the door.

That’s unfortunate for Davis, who despite my frequent criticism of his skills, did have some potential to develop. Davis’ problems were that the same issues that plagued him during his days at East Carolina did not improve to a significant enough degree to merit the team’s continued investment. Davis’ accuracy and mechanics were erratic during his time in college and were the main reasons why teams passed on drafting him. Davis’ arm strength and athleticism were pluses, two things that helped him shine as an undrafted rookie during the 2012 preseason. But even then he showed the flashes of erratic play that hurt him in college.

In a sense, Yates is his polar opposite. Accuracy, footwork are two of Yates’ strengths, while arm strength is probably his biggest weakness. After the move to get Yates, I went back and looked at his limited play last season and in his playoff loss against the Baltimore Ravens in 2011 to see how much, if at all, Yates had really developed since his days at North Carolina.

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Falcons Waive Dominique Davis

June 19th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

The Atlanta Falcons announced today that they have waived quarterback Dominique Davis from the roster. Davis was pushed out in the wake of the team’s decision to acquire T.J. Yates via trade yesterday. The team was not going to carry more than four quarterbacks into training camp and with the team wrapping up their mandatory minicamp today, it marked the end of their organized team activities schedule until camp opens at the end of July.

Davis was originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of East Carolina in 2012, and had a strong summer to make veterans Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson expendable. Davis sat behind Matt Ryan and Luke McCown that season at quarterback, before being elevated last season to the top spot behind Ryan. Davis garned limited playing time during the 2013 season, and suffered an injury when subbing for Ryan during garbage time in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 11. Davis completed five of seven pass attempts for 34 yards in limited duty in 2013.

Davis’ departure leaves Yates, former 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree, and 2014 undrafted rookie free agent Jeff Mathews competing for what may become one roster spot behind quarterback Matt Ryan. Yates is likely the front-runner, however recent reports suggest that the competition is very much an open one.

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Why the Atlanta Falcons Trade For T.J. Yates Is a Good Move

June 19th, 2014 Comments off
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Yates

The Atlanta Falcons pulled off a trade late last night, acquiring former Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates in exchange for linebacker Akeem Dent. It was a smart move by the Falcons front office for several reasons:

  1. The trade addressed a key area of need: backup quarterback.
  2. It cost very little.
  3. Showed that the team was willing to move on from a move that clearly wasn’t working.

Let’s address each of those things in kind:

Addressing a Key Need

The Falcons backup quarterback situation was one of the weakest in the National Football League. Dominique Davis currently sat atop the Falcons depth chart behind starter Matt Ryan, but Davis has done little over the past year to indicate he deserves such status.

After a promising rookie summer where he unseated long-time backups Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson, Davis seemingly regressed last summer. The areas where he needed to show the most improvement upon: mechanics, touch and accuracy, hardly showed any growth. It’s not to say that Davis can’t eventually get there with more time, but he certainly did not show he was there quite yet.

Davis’ inability to complete intermediate and vertical passes last summer was a major glaring issue. According to premium website Pro Football Focus, Davis completed just 42.9 percent of his 28 attempts of 10 yards or more last preseason, with one touchdown, three interceptions and a passer rating of 46.8.

Frankly, if you cannot reliably complete throws beyond 10 yards, then you don’t really belong in the NFL as a quarterback. Perhaps Davis would have shown the necessary improvement this summer to earn his starting spot, but that was a risk the Falcons should not have been willing to take. Anybody that knows the team’s recent history knows that lacking a backup quarterback is not some trivial issue. This team has had two recent seasons tank (2003 and 2007) because of the lack of an adequate Plan B in the absence of its starter.

Thus enters Yates. Yates is by no means the best option the Falcons could have added to address their need at backup quarterback. Josh Freeman, David Carr and Rex Grossman, all currently free agents, are simply better and more experienced quarterbacks. But Yates is a step in the right direction. With seven career starts (all from his rookie season in 2011), he has legit NFL experience.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

An Early Look at Key Training Camp Battles on Atlanta Falcons Offense

May 31st, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis

June is a month filled with organized team activities, as we steadily inch closer to NFL training camps that open up at the end of July.

Let’s take a look at some of the burgeoning roster battles on offense that will become the key storylines come July and August during the Atlanta Falcons training camp.

Quarterback

The main issue for this position is the backup spot behind starter Matt Ryan. Dominique Davis is the front-runner given his experience, but is far from proven. Davis struggled last preseason, but so did his biggest competition in 2013 seventh-round pick Sean Renfree. Renfree has the draft status backing him up, which means the Falcons have a vested interest in developing him. But he’ll need to prove he can stay healthy, something that has been exceedingly difficult for him the past few years, and also improve his play on the field.

Undrafted free agent Jeff Mathews will also be in the mix, possessing good size and a strong arm that could impress enough to be a serious contender for the job. Normally, Mathews would be competing solely for a spot on the practice squad, but there are so many question marks at the position that if he comes out strong this summer, he could potentially win the No. 2 job behind Ryan.

This is a position that if the performances aren’t up to par, the Falcons may look elsewhere for help as they did two years ago by signing Luke McCown before the start of the regular season.

Running Back

The top of the Falcons depth chart is pretty settled with Steven Jackson as the starter and Jacquizz Rodgers serving as the team’s third-down back. The key issue is whether or not rookie Devonta Freeman can perform well enough to steal significant reps from either player once the regular season begins.

Antone Smith’s special teams ability alone likely will net him a roster spot. Smith has always been productive during the preseason on offense as well, which is why he’s lasted five summers in Atlanta. That leaves the question of whether Josh Vaughan or Jerome Smith can perform well enough to take another spot. The odds are against both as the team is unlikely to carry a fifth back in Vaughan on the roster due to the addition of Freeman, and Smith is likely competing for a practice squad spot even if he has a strong summer.

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Draft Needs: Do Falcons Need Another Backup Quarterback?

April 27th, 2014 Comments off

While it’s clear the Falcons are set at the starting quarterback with Matt Ryan, there is an adage in the NFL that you’re only as good as your backup at that position.

Earlier this offseason, I discussed the team’s need at quarterback, mentioning the possibility that there is significant room for improvement in terms of their backup situation at the position.

Dominique Davis has talent worth developing but is he ready to become a starter in the unfortunate event that Ryan misses significant time?

It would be ironic that given the improvements the Falcons could make to their offensive line with the signing of guard Jon Asamoah potentially coupled with the use of a high pick on an offensive tackle, that Ryan could get injured this year. But that’s often how the cookie crumbles in the NFL as things rarely go according to plan.

Davis has struggled with his mechanics and his accuracy on intermediate and deep passes, which isn’t a great recipe for success if he’s forced to play more than a couple of series. Sean Renfree, a seventh-round pick last season, has struggled to stay on the field due to injuries dating back to his days at Duke. And in his first preseason with the team looked very rusty in limited reps.

I don’t expect the Falcons to draft a quarterback this year given the investments already made in Davis and Renfree. But this summer, if neither Davis nor Renfree show significant growth, then the Falcons may have to look in a new direction come 2015.

If a talented quarterback slips into the late rounds of the draft, given the high number of picks the team may have, they might be able to afford to draft another passer. But it’s likely any such player will still be a developmental guy that will take time to develop. That certainly could pay off down the road, but there is a more immediate concern at the position on whether the current backups are ready to produce if thrust into the lineup.

One positive is that Davis and Renfree remain eligible for the practice squad, along with any rookie added. Thus the Falcons could still manage to retain all three under certain circumstances.

But it still remains a longshot that the Falcons would address this position seriously in the 2014 draft.

Categories: Draft Central Tags: , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Take Risk Without a Backup Quarterback

January 27th, 2014 Comments off

If polled, a majority Atlanta Falcons fans would probably tell you that it was by some miracle that quarterback Matt Ryan made it through the entire 2013 season healthy. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Ryan was hit 90 times, the fifth most allowed of any team in the NFL this past season. That was up from 83 hits he suffered in 2012 over 18 games, and continued the now six-year trend of ever-increasing punishment suffered by Ryan. When Ryan first arrived in Atlanta in 2008, he was hit just 43 times, which was the second lowest number allowed in the league that season. In the time since, Ryan has been put on the turf more with each subsequent season.

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Dominique Davis and Matt Ryan

The time when a quarterback takes a hit that prompts an injury is essentially random. That’s illustrated by the fact that Ryan managed to absorb 90 hits during the course of the 2013 season without being forced to leave the field, while Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo injured his ribs upon taking his first hit of the season in Week 1. But you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the more shots you take, the more exposed you are to injury.

Obviously, the best way to protect Ryan is to improve the blocking up front. But the Falcons as an organization aren’t just tasked with protecting Ryan to the best of their abilities, but also protecting themselves by solidifying their depth at quarterback. Even if the team dramatically decreases the number of hits Ryan takes next season, any one of those shots could be the one that puts him out of the game for an extended period of time.

As it stands, Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree are the team’s lone backup quarterbacks. Davis showed promise as an undrafted rookie in 2012, but showed little progress in his second training camp. Renfree struggled after missing much of the offseason recovering from a chest injury, and then promptly suffered a shoulder injury at the end of the summer which forced him to miss the entire season. That is now three major injuries that Renfree has suffered to his throwing arm in the 12 months: elbow, torn pectoral and now shoulder. One of my major concerns with Renfree when I scouted him last year was his durability. Coupled with a subpar first preseason, it doesn’t bode well for him developing into the sort of competent backup quarterback the Falcons need.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , , ,

Gonzalez Questionable But Expected to Play vs. Saints

November 21st, 2013 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez

Yesterday, the Atlanta Falcons announced their injury report for their Thursday Night contest against NFC South Division rival, the New Orleans Saints. On it, tight end Tony Gonzalez was among several players listed as questionable with a toe injury, but according to head coach Mike Smith (via ESPN’s Vaughn McClure), he is expected to play. Gonzalez did not participate in practices on Monday and Tuesday this week, but did participate on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Also listed as questionable are defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (tricep), quarterback Dominique Davis (knee), and safety Zeke Motta (hand). All three players were limited in all three days of practice this week. Davis suffered his injury in the fourth quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, prompting the team to work out a pair of veteran quarterbacks in Trent Edwards and Mike Kafka this week. Neither passer was signed due to the expectation that Davis will be available against the Saints. Motta has a broken finger and is expected to play with a cast according to an earlier report this week.

Listed as out on the injury report is defensive end Malliciah Goodman, who also missed last week’s game with a calf injury. He was held out of practice again this week.

Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (shoulder), running back Jacquizz Rodgers (ankle), offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood (knee/hip), and linebacker Paul Worrilow (shoulder) were all listed as probable. All three players fully participated on Wednesday, while being limited in practice on Monday and Tuesday due to the shortened week of preparation.

Notable injuries for the Saints include guards Jahri Evans (ankle) and Ben Grubbs (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (back), running back Darren Sproles (knee/ankle), safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), and tight end Ben Watson (concussion). All six players were listed as questionable on the team’s injury report. Both Evans and Sproles were held out of Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices. Also appearing on the injury report as probable are tight end Jimmy Graham (elbow/foot), defensive end Cameron Jordan (ankle), and linebacker Curtis Lofton (hamstring/ankle). Cornerback Jabari Greer was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a torn ACL. He is expected to be replaced in the starting lineup by second-year cornerback Corey White.

Takeaways from Last Week – September 2

September 2nd, 2013 Comments off

ICON SMI

Peria Jerry

The Falcons finalized their roster over the weekend and there were a few interesting moves. If you’ve ready any of my lengthy reaction reviews following the Falcons preseason games, you probably know my opinion on many of the players that made the roster. I want to devote this week’s column to discussing many of the players that were small surprises.

For the record, I would say that I was off on eight players making the roster when I did my initial prediction at the start of training camp. Forty-five out of fifty-three ain’t bad at all. Just to recap, the players I wrongly projected to make the team were: I had Sean Renfree as the third-string quarterback, instead the Falcons kept Josh Vaughan as their fifth tailback. Renfree went on injured reserve, as it’s obviously impossible to predict injuries. Marcus Jackson was on my 53-man roster instead of Kevin Cone as the fifth wide receiver. I picked Phillipkeith Manley as the backup guard, instead it was Harland Gunn. Manley was added to the practice squad. Micanor Regis was my pick for backup defensive lineman, but the Falcons instead opted to keep Peria Jerry. Pat Schiller and Brian Banks were my picks for the team’s backup linebackers, but Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow made it instead. Charles Mitchell and Terrence Johnson were the backup defensive backs, instead Shann Schillinger and Dominique Franks preempted them. Yes, I did pick Ryan Schraeder to make the roster, along with all the teams’ rookie draft picks.

This isn’t meant to toot my own horn (well, maybe just a little) but just as a vector to discuss some of the decisions the Falcons made with their roster. I should preface this by saying that I’m often critical of how the Falcons have managed their roster over the years. I think one of the larger deficiencies of this team is their struggles to develop players, especially undrafted players and guys at the back-end of their roster. When the Falcons kept Brett Romberg as a third center on their roster in 2011, it made little sense to me. What team needs three centers? Todd McClure and Joe Hawley were already on the team and had both proven they could ably play the spot. That same year the Falcons picked up Kirk Chambers at midseason to replace an injured Mike Johnson on the roster. But despite Joe Hawley’s struggles at guard that year, the Falcons never once considered plugging in Chambers there. In my eyes that’s a poor use of a roster spot. Instead the Falcons could have been smart to replace him with a player that they could develop for next year such as Shawn Andrews, Vince Manuwai, or  Leonard Davis. Essentially if a player is not contributing in some capacity by being active every Sunday, or isn’t a player that the team wants to develop for its long-term future, then that player is basically taking up unnecessary space. That might be overly harsh, but I always feel like there is room for improvement as you could replace that players’ spot on the team with someone who does fulfill those requirements.

Take for instance a player like Stansly Maponga, who made the roster as the sixth defensive end, but in truth because the Falcons will use a variety of 3-4 and 4-3 looks this year, he’s essentially eighth on the depth chart. Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, and Jonathan Massaquoi will earn the majority of the reps at end in the Falcons 4-3 looks. But the Falcons also can play Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews there if need be. And in their 3-4 looks, alongside Goodman and Matthews, Peria Jerry and Jonathan Babineaux will get reps at end. And they will get those reps at times when the Falcons employ a four-man front if the preseason is any indicator as to what will happen in the regular season. So the odds are very low that Maponga will play any snaps this year unless the Falcons are hit with several injuries up front. Maponga thus will probably be inactive every Sunday because I don’t think the Falcons consider him to be a highly valuable special teams player either. So the Falcons likely won’t get any value out of him on game days this year. But in the case of Maponga there is a clear long-term value to developing him. I personally didn’t think Maponga was that impressive this year, enough that I thought the Falcons could risk exposing him to waivers with the intent of putting him on the practice squad. The Falcons obviously felt differently, and understandably so because Maponga does have developmental potential. He may not have had a great rookie summer, but he had injury concerns as somewhat an excuse, and he could still be primed to take a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2, as many players do. Lawrence Sidbury did when he was here in Atlanta, and Maponga reminds me a lot of Sidbury, at least as an NFL prospect.

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Waiver Wire Scouting: Quarterbacks

September 1st, 2013 Comments off
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Is Vince Young really an option?

The Falcons have lost quarterback Sean Renfree for the season as he suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder in the preseason finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That leaves the potential for the Falcons to bring in a veteran quarterback given some of the struggles that Dominique Davis has had this summer.

Several players were released or waived by their respective teams over the weekend, and I want to look at those that I feel could help the Falcons.

First we should delineate between a player being released and waived. Players with less than four years of experience are waived. Meaning that they have to pass through a waiver period of 24 hours. During that time teams are allowed to put a waiver claim on them. If multiple teams put claims on that player, the priority is determined by the team with the worst record. If a player is claimed, then his previous salary is absorbed by the new team. If a player goes unclaimed, then he is free to sign with any team he wants.

A player is released if he has four or more years of experience, and will not be subject to waivers. He’s essentially an unrestricted free agent, no different than if this was March. He’s free to sign and negotiate a brand new deal with any team in the league immediately.

Several of the quarterbacks cut over the weekend will be forced to go through the waivers system, including Greg McElroy (New York Jets), Thad Lewis (Buffalo Bills), and John Skelton (Cincinnati Bengals). Other players such as Brady Quinn (Seattle Seahawks), Trent Edwards (Chicago Bears), David Carr (New York Giants), and Vince Young (Green Bay Packers) were released. Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Jimmy Clausen was waived/injured, which means that if he goes unclaimed he will go on the Panthers’ injured reserve list. And no one will claim him because he’s terrible.

If looking at those names, the one that stands out is Carr. Carr has been the consummate reserve in New York over the years, playing four of the last five seasons there. Carr’s experience (79 career starts) makes him the ideal candidate for the Falcons. He has a quick release, generally makes good decisions, and will have more talent at the receiver positions in Atlanta than he’s ever played with. He contrasts with Dominique Davis, as Carr is more effective throwing the intermediate passes than Davis and doesn’t have problems going to his second progression quickly. Carr also is a better athlete than most realize and would at least stand a decent chance of avoiding pressure behind the Falcons questionable front five.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Reactions from Falcons-Jaguars

August 30th, 2013 Comments off

Another thorough and extremely long post of reactions from last night’s game. I’ll give some more firm Conclusions: now that we have all four preseason games to evaluate. I’ll focus mainly on what the backups did and whether or not they managed to earn roster spots.

Quarterback

What I Saw:: Davis once again was very inconsistent. He made some poor decisions, some poor reads, and some poor throws. He struggled throwing accurate balls downfield. He had a few really nice throws that were on the money. But in general, he makes his receivers work much harder than they should because of his inaccuracy. When the 2-minute drill kicked off at the end of the half, he was throwing on time and in a rhythm on the throws that the ball came out quickly. But when he gets time in the pocket a few plays later, he struggled making those throws. I think part of that is because of his footwork/mechanics. When he can just make his drop and then throw off his back foot, he’s fine. But when you force him to have to get his feet under him and/or reset them, he messes up causing some errant throws and balls to sail. I felt sorry for him at the end of the game, you could tell he didn’t want to come back into the game. The pass protection just was subpar at the end of the game with the third stringers in the game. Sean Renfree only got a bit of work before he got injured, suffering some sort of injury to his throwing arm as he landed wrong while trying to throw the ball away. I hate to say it but that injury might wind up being fortunate for the Falcons, as it might force them to bring in another backup that can potentially push/overtake Davis on the depth chart down the road. It’s obviously not good for Renfree, who suffered a major injury to his throwing arm at the end of December. If this is another major one, it will be two major ones in 8 months and puts his NFL future in jeopardy.

Conclusions: Davis has talent, but he needs at least another year of refining before he’s a legit No. 2 quarterback in the NFL. He’s just too inaccurate and stares down his reads too much (almost threw 3 picks because of it). You see the flashes which you like and thus why he still has developmental potential. But the Falcons coaching staff will have to work extra hard to make him effective if he ever gets into a real game this season. Renfree even without the injury is just a project that the team was hoping could carry the clipboard for a year, and maybe in 2014 as he’s more comfortable in the system could start to show some promise. His injury might throw a wrench into that plan. He just did not look good this summer in limited action even before the injury.

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