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Takeaways from 2014 NFL Draft – May 12, 2014

May 12th, 2014 1 comment
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons 2014 Top Selection: Jake Matthews

Normally I write my weekly takeaways column on Sunday afternoon or evening with the intention of it being posted first thing Monday morning around 8:00 a.m. This week, that was no the case.

That’s partly to blame for the fact that it was Mother Day’s weekend, and instead of doing all the things I normally would have done on a Sunday afternoon/evening to get this weekly column posted, I decided to spend time with my mother, who had driven four hors from Virginia to North Carolina to witness my sister-in-law’s graduation from grad school. In the interest of being a good son, my mother took precedent over this column.

Secondly, I had not watched all of the Atlanta Falcons 2014 draft picks play yet. And the column after the draft is the one devoted to my thoughts on whether I believe the Falcons’ draft was a good one or not.

Because unlike most people, I try to be informed before giving my opinions. If you want to know my take on any of the Falcons undrafted free agents, I don’t have one because I haven’t seen any of them play. Until I do, which will be in the first preseason game, my opinion on them will remain largely non-existent.

I was born in 1983, so I spent a significant portion existing in a world without the internet. That was a world where people couldn’t post their opinions, thoughts or insights with the click of a button on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or in Yahoo! News comments.

Back in those times, the only people that were given a platform to express opinions were people that had earned that right to be called experts in their give fields. There was a filter, and it was one that you had to work hard to break through.

The idea that Courtney Love could be involved in finding a missing plane in that time was laughable at best. Instead of social media, people expressed their opinions to companions and family members in their respective living rooms, kitchen dinner tables or bars.

But that age doesn’t exist anymore, and now people are free to give their opinions with no filter. Today, everything is thrown at the wall, and it’s only a matter of what sticks.

Why am I telling you this? Because one of the things I find fascinating is how everybody, including those least informed, will give their opinions on the draft. Besides watching a YouTube highlight clip and reading a bunch of online scouting reports, most people aren’t informed about most of these players with their own eyes.

It often leads to people have overly optimistic expectations about a particular draft prospect, or overly pessimistic ones. There is no longer a middle ground. And people should know that most things fall into that middle area.

I’m saying all this because I believe it will take time to see how these draft prospects develop. Patience is really the key, and while it won’t stop me from having an opinion today, I’m at least aware of the fact that what my opinion today is relatively meaningless in the big picture. That big picture will be determined by where the Falcons 2014 draft picks are three to five years from now.

What will this column will entail from this point is my best guess on where those players will be at that point. While that guess is an educated one based off informed analysis from watching these guys play a handful of collegiate games, it is still a guess nonetheless.

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Draft Needs: Is Dwight Lowery Enough for Falcons at Safety?

May 2nd, 2014 Comments off
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Lowery

When the Atlanta Falcons decided to cut long-time free safety Thomas DeCoud in March, it created a void at the position. But the thinking may have been that DeCoud’s play in 2013 had slipped so considerably that such a void would be relatively easy to fill.

And while the Falcons made quick moves to help address their weaknesses along the line of scrimmage at the outset of free agency, they stood quiet when it came to concerns in the secondary. But eventually the Falcons addressed their need at the position by signing Dwight Lowery, formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lowery was a forgotten man, having missed most of 2013 nursing a concussion. He was released by the Jaguars midseason after being placed on injured reserve due to that head injury, his second in six years in the NFL. But his inconspicuous exit from Jacksonville should not diminish what he had done for three years, where he was second only to linebacker Daryl Smith as the team’s most consistent defender. And one certainly saw what Smith did in Baltimore last year after leaving behind obscurity in Jacksonville.

Lowery began his career at cornerback, playing three seasons with the New York Jets playing mainly in the slot. That should give him an edge over DeCoud in terms of coverage on the back-end, an area that has been sorely lacking for the team in recent years. Man coverage is anything but a strength for strong safety William Moore (as Jimmy Graham can attest). Not to mention, Lowery should be a vast improvement over DeCoud in run support as he is much less prone to missing tackles. Over the past three years in Jacksonville, Lowery missed a combined 10 tackles (per premium website Pro Football Focus). In 2013 alone, DeCoud missed 12 and combined for 43 over the past three seasons.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 62 “What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush?”

March 31st, 2014 Comments off

Allen and I are back to discuss some of the most intriguing moves made in free agency by the other 31 NFL teams not named the Atlanta Falcons. But before we dive deep into DeSean Jackson’s future and the horror that is the Oakland Raiders offseason, we invited the Falcoholic Dave Choate to share his thoughts on the Falcons offseason moves. Dave and I discuss whether the Falcons pass rush will be improved with the moves so far, as well as what the Falcons can do in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft to fix that problem. We also invite Macon-area Falcon fan Dylan Hoyt to describe an interesting week that saw him embroiled with a controversy on Twitter involving wide receiver Roddy White.

Episode 62: What’s Gonna Happen with the Pass Rush? [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Dave writes for The Falcoholic and can be found on twitter: @TheFalcoholic.

Dylan can be found on twitter: @DHoyt77

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

Takeaways from Last Week – March 31, 2014

March 31st, 2014 Comments off
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Robert McClain

The Atlanta Falcons had a pretty quiet week with no signings or real moves to speak of in free agency. The only move that came down the pipe was that cornerback Robert McClain re-signed with the team.

Losing McClain to restricted free agency was unlikely to happen, but the fact that he got his name on the dotted line is a positive for the Falcons.

McClain is the incumbent nickel cornerback, but could face stiff competition from incoming free agent Javier Arenas. Both McClain and Arenas lack the size to play outside and thus have specialized at playing in the slot. Both are essentially under one-year deals with the likelihood that the player that emerges by year’s end as the preferred option inside will get a long-term deal in 2015. And the player that does not, may be asked to seek opportunities elsewhere.

It’s potentially a make or break year for McClain. However, I personally believe that McClain staying at nickel cornerback may not be in his or the team’s best interests moving forward. McClain is a player that I think could make a successful conversion to free safety if the Falcons were so inclined to give him that opportunity.

McClain lacks ideal size for a safety, but has a thicker frame than your typical cornerback as he weighs 195 pounds on a 5’9″ frame. He would be among the smallest starting safeties in the league, but not too much smaller in size than others including Seattle’s Earl Thomas (5’10″ 202), New Orleans’ Jairus Byrd (5’10″ 203) and New England’s Devin McCourty (5’10″ 195). In fact, both Byrd and McCourty predominantly played cornerback in college. McCourty started his career at cornerback with great promise as a rookie in 2010, but struggled in his sophomore season. He then began playing more safety in 2012 before fully converting to the position in 2013.

McClain’s career in Atlanta has followed a similar path in which he was on the rise after a breakout 2012 campaign as the nickel corner, but followed it up with a lackluster effort in 2013. If McClain were allowed to bulk up this offseason, potentially adding 8-10 pounds, there would be little difference in size between him and some of the better safeties in the league like Thomas, Byrd and McCourty.

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Robert McClain Re-Signs With Falcons

March 29th, 2014 Comments off

Aaron Wilson of National Football Post reports that the Atlanta Falcons have re-signed cornerback Robert McClain, who was a restricted free agent. The team tendered him at the original level, meaning he signed a one-year deal worth $1.431 million.

As an original tender restricted free agent, McClain was eligible to sign an offer sheet with opposing teams with the Falcons retaining “right of first refusal.” That means that the Falcons would have seven days to match any potential offer made to McClain by another team. If not, then the Falcons would receive compensation in the form of the original round in which McClain was drafted. Since McClain was a seventh-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2010, he would net the Falcons a seventh-round pick in 2014.

By signing his tender, McClain is no longer on the market to be signed to an offer sheet and will remain a Falcon in 2014.

After the 2014 season, McClain will then become an unrestricted free agent where he would be free to sign with any team. McClain first joined the Falcons in 2012 and played very well as the team’s nickel cornerback that year. His production and play fell off a bit in 2013, although he remains the incumbent nickel cornerback. He will likely compete with incoming free agent signee Javier Arenas for that role.

Categories: News Tags: , ,

FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 59 “That Bad Taste In Your Mouth”

March 10th, 2014 Comments off

Aaron is back with me to discuss free agency! Allen gives his long-awaited thoughts on the Falcons cuts made in the month of February, which includes a brief history lesson on the team’s free agent history. Later, we get into a discussion on which positions of need and possible targets the Falcons could target when free agency kicks off. During the course of our debate, we bring up Osi Umenyiora’s possible pay cut, Corey Peters and nose tackles, Robert McClain’s restricted free agent status, T.J. Ward’s ability, Champ Bailey’s value, and what are the differences between Lamarr Houston, Michael Bennett and Michael Johnson. In the end, we discuss how Antone Smith will quickly replace Jason Snelling as the team’s most underutilized player.

Episode 59: That Bad Taste In Your Mouth [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Allen covers the Falcons for Pro Football Spot. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

If you have any questions and comments, you can hit us up on Twitter, post in the forums in the podcast thread, or drop an e-mail at: pudge@falcfans.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and be sure to rate us there! You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt

FalcFans Weekly Round-Up – March 9, 2014

March 9th, 2014 Comments off
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Ebron

Publishing weekly round-ups dealing with various Atlanta Falcons news was a regular event during the abyss known as 2011 NFL Lockout. Since then, I haven’t had much need for them but I figure that it is time to dust them off this offseason.

Partially because my day job has me traveling a lot during the week which limits the number of timely updates and posts I can have during the week involving Falcons-related items. So they will be partially house-cleaning for any stories I may not have written during the week.

I will also aggregate some articles, both Falcons-related and not, that I think are worthy of views that were posted during the past week.

***

The Falcons are actively working on retaining some of their own free agents including defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux, center Joe Hawley, and guard Mike Johnson according to reports.

Rounding up news involving Falcons free agents is that defensive tackle Peria Jerry is also unlikely to be retained, prompting some celebration.

***

North Carolina tight end prospect Eric Ebron joins the list of potential draft picks being openly in favor of playing for the Falcons. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney previously voiced his favor for Atlanta as a potential landing zone. Here’s what Ebron had to say:

I would love to play for the Falcons. Julio Jones, Roddy White and Matt Ryan – I would love to play with those guys. Those are big shoes to fill, which I’m not afraid of. I can’t walk into the league expecting to be Tony G. I’m just going to compete as hard as I can as myself.

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Free Agent Focus: Charles Tillman

March 2nd, 2014 Comments off
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Tillman

Next on my list of impending free agents that I want to take a deeper look at is Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

Tillman just turned 33 last weekend and is coming off a rough, injury-shortened season. But that advanced age coupled with his injury makes me believe that Tillman is going to be undervalued this offseason in free agency. It is similar to Charles Woodson a year ago, who missed nine games in 2012 at age 36. It led to Woodson garnering almost zero interest last offseason until the Oakland Raiders scooped him up at the end of May.

The Raiders were rewarded with the 28th-ranked safety in the league last season according to Pro Football Focus on a relatively modest one-year deal. I believe the odds are fairly good that a similar windfall could come for the team that signs Tillman.

It’s also interesting because there is talk that Tillman should move to safety at this point in his career, which centered around Woodson two years ago. Although I’m confident that Tillman will be able to make that transition and extend his NFL career a couple of seasons by doing so like Woodson has, I’m not sure that move is yet needed. Tillman has already indicated his reluctance to move to a new position.

He spent much of last season nursing knee and groin injuries, as he was unable to fully participate in a practice for the Bears between Weeks 2 and 9 last season. Then he tore his triceps once he managed to recover from those injuries, and finished the season on injured reserve.

The injuries definitely limited him. He gave up a couple of big plays when healthy to A.J. Green in the season opener, but also had a pair of interceptions in that game. He then battled injuries and got exposed quite a bit by the quicker Antonio Brown in Week 3. But once he was healthy again, he showcased his stuff against Calvin Johnson in Week 10.

Strengths:

  • Has good size and length, making him a very effective press corner
  • Physical run defender that will deliver hits and make open field tackles
  • Has a knack for creating turnovers with good ball skills

Weaknesses:

  • Diminished speed causes problems when defending the deep routes
  • Has a history of getting safety help over the top due to Bears defensive scheme
  • Durability is a concern due to advanced age

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Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Could Upgrade Special Teams in Return Game

February 9th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Bosher (left) and Bryant celebrate a win

The Atlanta Falcons special teams was perhaps the only aspect of their team that consistently played at a high level in 2013. Thus there won’t be any imperative drive to try to make substantial changes this offseason.

Matt Bryant, at age 38, showed he is still kicking strong. He is entering the final year of his contract and thus the only major concern for the Falcons is thinking about his eventual replacement in 2015 and beyond. It’s doubtful that the Falcons will try to replace Bryant this year since he’s been so effective in clutch situations as well as whenever he’s kicking inside the Georgia Dome. He’s made 21 of his last 22 field goal attempts kicking at home.

But the team should at least give a long look to a young kicker in training camp just to plan ahead to 2015 when it’s possible that Bryant could decide to hang it up. The Falcons tried this strategy over a decade ago when they carried Jake Arians on the practice squad in Morten Andersen’s final season in 2000. Arians was eventually beat out by Jay Feely the following summer for the kicking job, but the strategy is still a relatively sound one. The Falcons need to start prepping for the future and that begins this offseason.

The Falcons don’t have to do such preparation at punter as Matt Bosher is blossoming into one of the better young punters in the NFL. Bosher continues to make strides both as the team’s kickoff specialist and as a punter. His big leg proved an asset several times last year when the team struggled to move the ball offensively, to help flip field position and give the Falcons’ struggling defense a fighting chance. The only real issue moving forward with Bosher is when the Falcons plan to start talking contract extension. 2014 also represents the final year on his contract, and there’s little doubt the team at some point in the next 12 months will lock him up for a lucrative long-term deal.

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Team Needs: Falcons Need Size and Experienced Depth at Cornerback

February 7th, 2014 1 comment

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Alford (23) and Desmond Trufant (21)

The recent release of Asante Samuel has created a hole at cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons when there wasn’t one before. That hole should be filled with a veteran corner that can upgrade the unit with some much-needed size.

As the team sits today, only two cornerbacks are under contract: Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, both entering their second seasons. Well, technically Jordan Mabin and Saeed Lee are both also under contract, although neither are expected to figure significantly into the team’s plans in 2014. Mabin and Lee probably can only be expected to compete for the fifth cornerback spot, indicating that the Falcons will need to add at least two more cornerbacks this offseason.

One of those spots almost certainly will go to impending restricted free agent Robert McClain. McClain is a valuable reserve due to his ability to play in the slot, as well as the fact that he played well as a punt returner late last season. McClain also is the team’s most accomplished cornerback in terms of run support, an area where both Trufant and Alford were inconsistent during their rookie seasons.

But in terms of pass coverage, Trufant certainly was far from inconsistent. By year’s end, his play had become the steadiest of anybody on the defensive roster. Alford had his fair share of ups and downs, but showed enough promise that the team is confident that he can enter 2014 penciled in as Samuel’s replacement in the starting lineup.

The Falcons might opt to keep Dominique Franks, an unrestricted free agent, as the fourth cornerback. However, the team should be able to find a better option than Franks this offseason. While Franks has shown the ability to play in the dime sub package in the past, he would be an inferior option to McClain in such a role, and also is a very limited contributor on special teams. Franks has flashed ability in the past as a reserve on defense, showing the capability that he is at least competent there. That makes his primary value only worthwhile in the event of an injury to one of the starters, where he’d likely be promoted to the nickel role.

Such an injury is likely given the Falcons history, as the team has not had two corners start all 16 games in the same season since Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose did in 2001. If that trend continues, then it’s imperative the team attempt to upgrade their depth in 2014.

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