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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 30, 2014

June 30th, 2014 No comments
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Johnson could be a factor in Atlanta’s future

The Atlanta Falcons made a move this past week, signing wide receiver Courtney Roby. But Roby should instead be referred to as a special teams player, because that is what his role, if any, will be with the Falcons this season. Roby is basically a direct challenger for Drew Davis’ roster spot.

Davis has gotten by over the past few years on his ability as a special teams player. While Davis has made a handful of plays at the wide receiver position, he’s clearly shown to any that are paying attention that he is not a viable candidate to be a significant contributor on offense.

The most important skill that an NFL wide receiver can possess is the ability to separate from coverage. And the simple truth is that Davis has rarely done that in his few years with the Falcons. Most of his catches are the result of broken coverages rather than instances where he simply beat an opposing corner and made a play.

Frankly, that important skill-set has been missing from the majority of Falcons receivers over the years. In truth, only Roddy White and Julio Jones have possessed it in abundance. Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas are decent at it, but by no means special in that regard. Both can do separate, but not on a consistent enough basis that makes them more than quality reserves.

Brian Finneran, Marty Booker, Eric Weems, Darius Johnson and Kevin Cone have also all struggled with this issue during the past six seasons. This issue isn’t helped by the fact that besides Jones, the Falcons have invested very little in terms of the draft in the wide receiver position. Since drafting Douglas in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Falcons have drafted just two wide receivers since: Jones and Kerry Meier. That is a league low when the average NFL team has drafted roughly six (5.8 to be exact) wide receivers over the past six drafts.

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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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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – June 9, 2014

June 9th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Smith

It is June and this is usually the dead time in the NFL’s offseason, and often is the time when I become the most pessimistic in my outlook on my favorite football team, the Atlanta Falcons.

I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Once the NFL Draft is done, there is a sizable gap of downtime before the start of training camps in late July. Typically there is a couple of weeks of continued offseason fervor as rookies and veterans come together to work out in mini-camps and offseason team activities (OTAs) in earnest.

But usually once June hits, most of the buzz on the incoming draft class and the first looks at the veterans dies down and there’s basically six to eight weeks of waiting. It’s really the only time of year where coverage of the NFL takes a back seat to NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, Major League Baseball, and other sports in America. Football takes a break, and this period from early June to late July is the true offseason of the league.

I myself also took a bit of a break last week. One of my relatives passed at the end of May and I was traveling to go to their funeral last weekend. That did not allow me much time to contemplate the Falcons to any degree worth writing my normal takeaways column to be published on Monday.

And I decided to take a bit of a break over the rest of the week to decompress before getting back to the grind this week.

It’s going to be an interesting summer because it’s the first time since 2008 that there is really any strain of real pessimism within the fan base. It’s a relatively foreign feeling when considering the Mike Smith Era overall. The Falcons streak of five consecutive winning seasons was snapped last year to the tune of a 4-12 record.

This offseason, the Falcons wound up with a high draft pick and serious questions about their ability to compete for a playoff spot in 2014. This offseason became one that is all too familiar for long-time Falcon fans like myself.

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Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Tyler Starr

May 29th, 2014 2 comments
Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE

Tyler Starr

A breakdown of Atlanta Falcons’ 2014 NFL Draft seventh-round pick, former South Dakota edge-rusher Tyler Starr.

BIO

Height: 6’4″
Weight: 250
College: South Dakota
40 Time: 4.95 (Combine)
Three-Cone: 6.64 (Combine)

He was born on January 25, 1991 and attended George-Little Rock High School in George, Iowa.

He redshirted his first year at South Dakota, and then sat out the next year due an academic problem where he did not have enough credits. When he finally got on the field as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, he broke out with a 14-sack season while starting 11 games at defensive end. He also had 51 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, one pass breakup, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He would earn first team All-Great West Conference honors that year. During his junior season he moved to outside linebacker where he started 10 of 11 games. He finished the season with 74 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. He would earn second team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors and received one vote as one of 20 Buck Buchanan Award finalists (award given to top defensive player in FCS sub-division). He also earned MVFC honor roll, showing his academics had gotten in good standing. As a senior, he started 11 of 12 games at outside linebacker, recording 71 tackles, 15 for loss, nine sacks, one interception, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He placed ninth in voting for Buck Buchanan Award finalists, earned MVFC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a first team all-conference selection. He was also named second team FCS All-American by the Associated Press. Starr finished his career tied for the school’s all-time lead in sacks with 27.

He participated in the East-West Shrine All-Star game at the end of the year, where he had an impressive week of practice. Known for his aggressive play, he was ejected during a game as a senior for a targeting penalty. He launched himself into Missouri State’s quarterback with the crown of his helmet. He also worked hard to improve his academics over course of his career, but had reputed bouts of immaturity at a young age that led to his struggles to get on the field until his third year at South Dakota.

Had an impressive Combine performance, as his three-cone time was the best posted by a true linebacker since 2006. Possesses 32.5-inch arms and 9.5-inch hands. He had a 32-inch vertical, 9-foot, 8-inch broad jump, and the fourth-fastest short shuttle of 4.15 seconds at the Combine.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
Sack
Press
Hit
FF
Miss Tkl
Key Blkd
Pen
Pen. Type
Sep-07Kansas012201210N/A
Nov-02Youngstown St.00.51401030N/A
Date
Opponent
Tgt
Rec.
Yds
YAC
TD
UC
YPT
INT
PD
Sep-07Kansas2153002.5001
Nov-02Youngstown St.1140161040.0001

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (6.5) - Starr’s speed looks better on tape than his timed speed. He shows good ability in pursuit and can make plays by chasing down slower backs from the backside. Can collapse the edge quickly to get penetration and make stops in the backfield. Has good speed to run with tight ends down the seam when asked to don so. Clocked a 4.85-second 40 time at his pro day.

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Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Yawin Smallwood

May 28th, 2014 Comments off

Michael Ivins-US Presswire

Yawin Smallwood

A breakdown of Atlanta Falcons 2014 NFL Draft seventh-round pick, former Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood.

BIO

Height: 6’2″
Weight: 246
College: Connecticut
40 Time: 5.01 (Combine)
Bench Press: 18 (Combine)

Yawin Alexander Smallwood was born on Christmas Day, 1991 and attended Doherty Memorial High in Worcester, Massachusetts. His first name, pronounced “Yah-win,” is a mash-up of his mother (Yasa) and father’s (Winston) first names.

He redshirted his first year at UConn, but as a redshirt freshman he started all 12 games at middle linebacker, a role he would not relinquish for the remainder of his career. His first year in the starting lineup, he was second on the team with 94 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He also had an interception and three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a pair of recoveries, one of which he scored on a 64-yard touchdown. As a sophomore, he started 12 games again and earned first team All-Big East honors. He led Huskies with 120 tackles, 15 for loss, four sacks, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one recovery. As a junior and team captain, he started 12 games with a team-leading 118 tackles, 9.5 for loss, four sacks, one interception returned 59 yards for a touchdown, nine pass breakups and two forced fumbles. As a junior, he earned All-AAC first team honors and was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker. He declared early for the draft following his final game due to his feeling that he was ready to make transition to NFL.

Was limited in his off-season workouts due to a strained hamstring he suffered while running his 40 at the Combine. Did not participate in his collegiate pro day a few weeks later.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
Sack
Press
Hit
FF
Missed Tkl
Key Blkd
Pen
Pen. Type
Sep-14Maryland040000210N/A
Sep-21Michigan12.51201200N/A
Nov-16SMU01.50100000N/A
Nov-23Temple021301110N/A
Nov-30Rutgers12.50210110N/A
Date
Opponent
Tgt
Rec.
Yds
YAC
TD
UC
YPT
INT
PD
Sep-14Maryland2000000.0002
Sep-21Michigan0000000.0001
Nov-16SMU32130004.3300
Nov-23Temple324119016.6710
Nov-30Rutgers2110500503
UC - Uncatchable pass

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (3.0) - Struggles to cover ground in space with only adequate straight-line burst. Lack of closing speed will lead him to miss a couple of tackles and will struggle running with the quicker backs, tight ends and receivers at the next level. Doesn’t make very many plays outside the hashmarks unless he can flow freely to the ball due to lack of range. While his Combine 40 time is probably not a completely accurate reflection of his speed, I would estimate that fully healthy, his 40 time would probably be at best in the 4.85-4.9 range, which is still significantly slower than the NFL average for a linebacker: 4.75 seconds.

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Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Marquis Spruill

May 27th, 2014 2 comments

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Marquis Spruill

A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 fifth-round pick, former Syracuse linebacker Marquis Spruill.

BIO

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 231
College: Syracuse
40 Time: 4.53 (Campus)
Three-Cone: 7.33 (Campus)

He was born on May 14, 1991 in Newark, New Jersey and attended the adjacent Hillside (NJ) High School.

He did not receive any scholarship offers following high school and went to Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. The following year he would enroll at Syracuse, where he would start 13 games at strong-side linebacker. He finished the year with 51 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two sacks and a pass breakup. He moved to middle linebacker as a sophomore, starting 11 of 12 games. He had 62 tackles, 8.5 for loss, three sacks, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. He would also earn 2nd team All-Big East honors. As a junior, he moved back to strong-side linebacker where he started 12 of 13 games, recorded 64 tackles, nine for loss, two sacks, and a pass breakup. He moved again to middle linebacker as a senior, starting all 13 games there but missing a bit of playing time late in the year due to a neck stinger. He finished with career-highs with 66 tackles, 14.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. He would earn All-ACC honorable mention honors. He finished his career second in school history with 41 tackles for loss.

In December 2012 at the end of his junior season, he was arrested for disorderly conduct. He was involved in an altercation with police that saw him try to intervene at a party where he thought a teammate was going to get arrested.

A durable player that started 49 games and played in a total of 51 games. He took on more of a leadership role this past season alongside his role as team captain, becoming a stronger voice in the locker room at the linebacker position.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
Sack
Press
Hit
Missed Tkl
Key Blkd
Pen
Pen. Type
Aug-31Penn State02110120N/A
Oct-05Clemson13120110N/A
Nov-16Florida State00002010N/A
Dec-27Minnesota00110001roughing QB
Date
Opponent
Tgt
Rec.
Yds
YAC
TD
UC
YPT
INT
PD
Aug-31Penn State1153005.0000
Oct-05Clemson0000000.0000
Nov-16Florida State1192009.0000
Dec-27Minnesota0000000.0000
UC - Uncatchable pass

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (7.5) - In a straight line, he covers a lot of ground with good closing burst on the ballcarrier. He has good range in pursuit and is able to chase down ballcarriers with the potential to go sideline to sideline.

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Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Ricardo Allen

May 26th, 2014 Comments off

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Ricardo Allen

A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 fifth-round selection, former Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen.

BIO

Height: 5’9″
Weight: 187
College: Purdue
40 Time: 4.61 (Combine)
Three-Cone: 6.90 (Campus)

Ricardo Jamal Allen was born on December 18, 1991 and attended Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Florida.

He immediately earned playing time as a true freshman at Purdue with 12 starts as a freshman. He recorded 73 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, three interceptions and four pass breakups. Two of his interceptions went back for scores, helping him earn second team All-Big Ten honors. He followed that up with honorable mention honors as a sophomore, starting 13 games with 81 tackles, three for loss, 3 interceptions, four pass breakups and a blocked field goal. He had another interception returned for a touchdown that year as well. He would once again be considered an all-conference honorable mention player as a junior with 11 starts in 13 appearances. He finished that year with 45 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, one interception returned for a touchdown and four pass breakups. As a senior he started all 12 games with 53 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, six interceptions, three pass breakups and a forced fumble. He also earned second team All-Big Ten honors for the second time in his career. During his career at Purdue, he also returned a pair of punts for a combined 32 yards. He finished his career second in school history with 13 career interceptions and tied for Big Ten record with four interceptions returned for a touchdown.

Noted as a hard working, football-first player that was without a doubt the best defensive player on Purdue’s defense last year. He played in East-West Shrine All-Star Game this past January and fared relatively well. Also had an impressive 37-inch vertical at his pro day.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
FF
Press
Miss Tkl
Key Blkd
Pen
Pen. Type
Sep-14Notre Dame11.500100N/A
Sep-21Wisconsin0000110N/A
Nov-02Ohio State0001000N/A
Date
Opponent
Tgt
Rec.
Yds
YAC
TD
UC
YPT
INT
PD
Sep-14Notre Dame32109441136.3301
Sep-21Wisconsin31120004.0010
Nov-02Ohio State2120101.0010
UC- Uncatchable Pass

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (5.5) – Allen is by no means a blazer and will have difficulty keeping up with the fastest NFL receivers, but his speed is more than a capable of making him a competitive player at the next level. He can get beat on the deep pass, but less due to being slow rather because his technique can be shoddy when trying to turn and run.

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Atlanta Falcons Takeaways from Last Week – May 26, 2014

May 26th, 2014 Comments off
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Ra’Shede Hageman

Last week, I discussed some of the reasons why I liked the Atlanta Falcons’ selection of Jake Matthews with their top pick in the 2014 NFL draft. This week, I believe it’s only fair if I talk a little more in-depth about the next Falcons selection, defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman.

I consider “defensive lineman” to be Hageman’s position because I’m not sure exactly how the Falcons will use him. And that is what gives me some of the trepidation about his ability to immediately translate as an impact player in Atlanta.

If my scouting report on Hageman wasn’t clear, it’s not that I doubt his impact potential. Hageman could be one of the more dominant defensive linemen in the NFL if he fully reaches that potential. But I think that belief also creates problems for him in the form of  lofty expectations.

I remember back in 2007 when expectations followed Jamaal Anderson to Atlanta. And yes, I apologizing for invoking that very painful memory for you.

Personally I had not seen Anderson play at Arkansas, because the period between 2005 and 2007 were years that I had cut back on watching college football due to focusing on and handling team needs and free agency for the draft website, The Huddle Report.

But after watching one of those ESPN’s SportsCenter the week of the draft and seeing the Atlanta Journal-Constution’s Terrence Moore say that the Falcons the Falcons were going to select Anderson with the eighth overall pick, my reaction was, “Who?”

That offseason, most of what I had been hearing were three names for the Falcons with the eighth overall selection: running back Adrian Peterson, safety LaRon Landry and defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. My heart was set on Peterson, but felt Landry was a worthwhile consolation prize.

I never really gave Anderson much thought before Moore’s proclamation. I knew the Falcons needed another pass-rusher to team with John Abraham due to the departure of long-time leader Patrick Kerney that offseason. But I guess I figured that we could target an end in a later round where pass-rushers like LaMarr Woodley and Charles Johnson could be found rather than using it on our top pick for someone that throughout the process I hadn’t been hearing a ton about.

But we got Anderson and I can still recall all the message boards and online, post-draft stories touting Anderson’s potential to be a double-digit sack artist with comparable skillset to Mario Williams. And despite knowing little about Anderson, I bought into the hype.

But I decided to start watching college football again that fall, so that I could never be blindsided by a pick again. Because despite the post-draft, summer hype, what occurred with Anderson during the fall was tough to stomach.

It was like his pass-rush ability never existed. He was just so slow and so poor at fighting off blocks.

Again, I did not see Anderson play at Arkansas. I can only really guess to what he looked like, but I see similar red flags with Hageman.

Comparison of Hageman and Anderson Not Meant As Knock

Does that mean that I think Hageman will be a bust? No.

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Falcons Sign Fourth-Round Pick Freeman

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

The Atlanta Falcons announced earlier today that 2014 fourth-round running back Devonta Freeman has agreed to terms on his rookie deal. Terms of his contract were undisclosed, but as per league rules it is a four-year deal. Freeman is the second to last of the team’s nine draft picks to sign, leaving just their third-round selection, safety Dezmen Southward, as the only remaining unsigned rookie.

Freeman comes from Florida State and is expected to compete for a backup role at running back behind Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. As a senior, Freeman was the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn in 1996 to rush for over 1,000 yards.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

Atlanta Falcons 2014 Rookie Scouting Report: Prince Shembo

May 22nd, 2014 Comments off

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Prince Shembo

A breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 fourth-round draft pick, former Notre Dame outside linebacker Prince Shembo.

BIO

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 253
College: Notre Dame
40 Time: 4.71 (Combine)
Three-Cone: 7.29 (Combine)

He was born on Christmas Eve, 1991 and attended Ardrey Kell High In Charlotte, North Carolina. His father is a Congolese national that emigrated to the U.S. in 1986.

A highly touted recruit out of high school, he played in 13 games as a reserve freshman at Notre Dame. He made 15 tackles, five tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and had a forced fumble that season. As a sophomore, he started eight games in 12 total appearances, recording 31 tackles, 3.5 for loss and two sacks. As a junior, he became a permanent starter, starting all 13 games. He had career-highs of 51 tackles, 10.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also broke up a pass and had a fumble recovery, while leading the team with 12 hurries. As a senior, he once again started 13 games, finishing the year with 48 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He once again led the team with 17 quarterback hurries on his way to earn FBS All-Independent team honorable mention honors. He played both linebacker and defensive end for the Irish in their 3-4 scheme and would be more accurately dubbed an “edge-rusher” in their scheme.

As a freshman, had an encounter with an female undergrad student at St. Mary’s College, in which he was accused of sexual assault. The alleged victim would commit suicide 10 days later, and no charges were ever filed against Shembo. There have been accusations that Notre Dame was very negligent in their investigation. More information on the matter can be found at this link as well as it was discussed in a recent FalcFans podcast.

Tested relatively well at the Combine, with an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump and 10-feet, 2-inch broad jump. Also has 33 1/8″ arms and 10.5″ hands, which is good for a player at his height.

2013 GAMES WATCHED

Date
Opponent
TFL
Stop
Sack
Pressure
Hit
Miss Tkl
Key Blkd
Sep-14Purdue02.502000
Sep-28Oklahoma0000100
Oct-05Arizona State0032000

SKILLS
The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (5.0) - Displays average speed when put in space that is more than adequate for the collegiate level, but will struggle to make the same plays in pursuit at the next level. Not a guy you want matched up in coverage against a quick back or tight end and doesn’t have ideal range for a linebacker.

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