Archive

Posts Tagged ‘needs’

Team Needs: Falcons Will Decide DeCoud’s Future at Safety

February 8th, 2014 Comments off

The safety position for the Atlanta Falcons is potentially in flux this offseason as the team has a decision to make in determining whether or not to keep starting free safety Thomas DeCoud.

That decision will need to be made by March 15, as that is the day in which $2.25 million of his $4.2 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed. If that day comes to fruition, the team will lock in DeCoud for one more season as the starter and hope he bounces back to the form he showed in 2012 when he made the Pro Bowl with a team-leading six interceptions. But it doesn’t seem likely given that in the majority of his five seasons as the team’s starting free safety, DeCoud has rarely risen above mediocrity. And he’s also coming off a 2013 campaign that was by far the worst of his career. Instead, the Falcons could opt to cut ties with DeCoud and free up $3 million in cap space for 2014 (per Over The Cap).

Factoring into that decision will likely be the Falcons’ determination on whether they can find a better replacement this offseason. As it currently sits, the team is unlikely to find that upgrade already on the roster. Rookie Zeke Motta replaced an injured DeCoud for two games this past year and struggled. He looked a step slow in coverage, a no-no for any potential starter at free safety. Fellow 2013 draft pick Kemal Ishmael appeared in only a handful of games solely on a special teams, a role he may be ideally suited for. But it’s unlikely the team would give a serious nod to an untested player like him.

Thus if the Falcons are going to find an upgrade, it will have to be either in free agency or the draft. There should be plenty of options in free agency with some promising younger players as well as older veterans that could solidify the position. Given the Falcons are likely to go young at cornerback, it might be smart to add a more experienced hand at safety. But the team could easily decide that the youth trend should continue on the back-end of the secondary as well and look for a draft pick to try and solidify the position long-term.

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.

Read more…

Team Needs: Falcons Need More Athletes at Linebacker

February 6th, 2014 1 comment

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Joplo Bartu

The adversity the Atlanta Falcons faced at linebacker in 2013 should benefit the team in 2014.

The team was without stalwarts Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon for much of last season. Nicholas dealt with injuries in training camp, and ultimately lost his job as the team looked at younger, more athletic options in Joplo Bartu at strong-side linebacker position. Weatherspoon missed most of the regular season with an injury, and it thrust Paul Worrilow into the limelight after a promising summer.

Both undrafted rookies, Bartu and Worrilow, got a wealth of experience playing significant roles with the team in 2013. So much so that it is very likely that both will open up this offseason in starting roles with Bartu manning the strong side and Worrilow starting in the middle as Weatherspoon resumes his duties at weak-side linebacker.

Now Nicholas has since been released, and the team is searching to upgrade their depth at linebacker. Particularly in Bartu, the Falcons finally got another “plus” athlete on the roster besides Weatherspoon, and needs to continue that trend into 2014. Nicholas could once be described that, but time and age really started to catch up to him in 2012 where he was continually abused by opposing tight ends. Despite the upgrade in terms of athleticism from Bartu, the Falcons still struggled to check opposing tight ends in 2013. But one hope is that with a year’s worth of experience under his belt, there will be improvement from Bartu moving forward.

Worrilow was so good as Weatherspoon’s replacement at weak-side linebacker that he eventually replaced Akeem Dent as the team’s starting middle linebacker roughly a third of the way through the season. While Dent did show improvement after a lackluster 2012 season, his limited speed, range, and coverage ability just proved to be too much of a liability. While not the world’s greatest athlete himself, Worrilow proved an upgrade in those areas. But more importantly, he was a far more instinctual defender in his first season in Atlanta than Dent had showed in three years. But Dent is expected to return and help out on special teams, an area where he’s excelled at in the past, and add depth in the middle.

Read more…

Team Needs: Defensive Tackle A Priority Due to Injuries and Free Agency

February 4th, 2014 1 comment

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

The potential is high for turnover at defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. Mainly because the team has all three of its primary players headed towards free agency.

It is likely that the Falcons will be able to retain at least one of the guys, with Corey Peters topping the list. Peters suffered a torn Achilles tendon at the end of the season, and while that might put the start of his 2014 in jeopardy, it probably enhances the chances that the Falcons re-sign him. The injury will likely eliminate a number of potential suitors in free agency and thus allow the Falcons to bring him back at a more modest salary than previously expected. Peters had a strong 2013 campaign prior to his injury, standing out as a run defender and occasionally as a pass rusher. He really found a home as the team’s nose tackle in their hybrid defensive scheme, due to his ability to hold leverage at the point of attack. While his injury may limit his effectiveness in 2014, there is good reason to believe that the 25-year old Peters still has plenty of good years ahead of him.

The player that is likely to be next on that priority is Jonathan Babineaux, although there could be complications in his return, namely salary. At 32 years of age, Babineaux is nearing the end. And similar to the situation with John Abraham a few years ago, the Falcons don’t want to be in a position to overpay a player that may only have one or two more years of solid production left. But everything suggests that the Falcons are definitely open to re-signing Babineaux, and the only potential sticking point is compensation. Babineaux once again seemed to defy time by having a solid, but unspectacular 2013 season. He is still the team’s best interior pass rusher due to his disruptive capabilities. There is good reason to believe that with a reduced role, his production should stay steady if not improve. Babineaux simply was forced to play too many snaps in 2013 and his ideal role would be a situational player with half the workload.

Read more…

Team Needs: Searching for the Next John Abraham at Defensive End

February 4th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Massaquoi

The pass rush of the Atlanta Falcons has been a problem area for a number of years.

Expectations were reasonably high that the Falcons could potentially upgrade their pass rush with the switch from defensive end John Abraham to Osi Umenyiora last year. Unfortunately, Umenyiora’s production wasn’t in the same ballpark as Abraham from the previous year. Falcon fans had to watch as Abraham put together a Pro Bowl season with the Arizona Cardinals, while the Falcons finished second-to-last in the NFL in sacks.

Upgrading that pass rush will likely be one of the team’s biggest priorities this offseason, alongside their needs on the offensive line. While the Falcons could opt to release Umenyiora due to the disappointing 2013 he had, it’s more than likely that they’ll retain him and move him into a situational role similar to what he had with the New York Giants prior to his arrival in Atlanta.

One reason to release Umenyiora is due to the presence of Jonathan Massaquoi, who midway through the year arguably started to play at a level on par with Umenyiora. Massaquoi wasn’t ready for the starting role that was thrust upon him last year due to the injury to Kroy Biermann, but as a situational player he could be a solid fit, and a much cheaper and younger one than Umenyiora. Of the young defensive ends on the roster, Massaquoi possesses the most upside and the teaching that new defensive line coach Bryan Cox could provide, could help bring that out of him in 2014.

Biermann is another player that the Falcons can count on to bolster their pass rush in 2013. He is coming off a torn Achilles that sidelined him for practically the entire season. While never a great pass rusher, his production as a pass rusher in previous years was pretty consistent and frankly, any little bit will help the Falcons.

Read more…

Team Needs: Re-signing Hawley Key at Center

February 1st, 2014 Comments off

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Hawley

Unlike most of the positions along the offensive line, at center, the Atlanta Falcons can say that time healed some wounds in 2013.

That elixir came in the form of Joe Hawley, who assumed the starting spot at center in Week 11. While Hawley was by no means outstanding in that role, he proved to be an immediate upgrade over Peter Konz, who had struggled throughout 2013. Konz moved to right guard, where he did not fare any better.

Hawley is now an impending free agent, but one that the Falcons are likely to re-sign. His market isn’t expected to be huge given his limited experience at center. Prior to starting the final seven games in 2013 at the position, he had logged just three starts at center in three previous years in Atlanta, all coming as injury fill-in for Todd McClure in 2011.

Despite Hawley’s solid play at the position this past season, it doesn’t mean he’s entrenched there. His lack of experience makes him a somewhat unknown commodity moving forward. Essentially, his play in 2013 only gives him the leg up in any competition and means it should be considered his job to lose in 2014. But the Falcons shouldn’t be thinking that seven games is enough to give Hawley a lucrative, long-term deal, a mistake they’ve made too often in recent years based off limited sample sizes.

If the team does manage to successfully re-sign Hawley to a modest contract, it’s possible he could be in for a camp competition with Konz this summer. The chances of Konz returning to center increase if the Falcons are able to add a potential starter to replace him at right guard.

Were that to happen, it would be reasonable to believe that the competition between the two would likely produce a competent or possibly good long-term option. The team also has Harland Gunn on the roster, who has experience playing center and has a similar skillset as Hawley.

The Falcons could also opt to add other players this offseason, particularly if Hawley finds a way to depart via free agency. If that were to occur, adding a veteran on the open market would make the most sense given Konz has done little to merit the team’s optimism and faith.

Even if Hawley is retained, the team could still seek to bolster the position in the draft with a developmental player in the latter rounds.

But the key remains re-signing Hawley, as letting him walk would open up a can of worms. And given the team’s needs at other positions along the offensive line, that’s a can best left alone.

Categories: News Tags: , , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Must Expand Options at Right Guard

February 1st, 2014 Comments off

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz are on the outs

Unlike the offensive tackle position, it is not safe to say the Atlanta Falcons roster currently features both starters at guard. While left guard Justin Blalock is coming off arguably his best season and is a lock to return as a starter in 2014, right guard remains wide open.

Peter Konz and Garrett Reynolds split the majority of snaps there in 2013, neither performing at a high level. Reynolds started the season well, but as things wore on he became less effective. When Konz was benched at center in favor of Joe Hawley in Week 11, the bottom seemed to fall out for Reynolds, who logged significant reps in just two more games before finding a permanent seat on the bench. He was inactive for the Falcons final game of the year, a significant drop from being the team’s second-best blocker on opening day.

Reynolds’ star may have fallen so much that he may find himself unemployed this offseason. The Falcons could free up close to $1.4 million (per Over The Cap.com) in cap space by releasing Reynolds. Reynolds got his first opportunity to run away with the starting right guard position in 2011 and then again in 2012. But both years were marred by inconsistent play and injuries. Ostensibly, 2013 represented his third strike and the Falcons could opt to move on this offseason given the moderate cap savings.

Konz replaced Reynolds and got the majority of those reps at right guard down the stretch, but did little with them as he looked like a liability for much of it. By year’s end, I was ready to give up on Konz after just two seasons but it doesn’t appear the Falcons share that mindset.

Read more…

Categories: News Tags: , , , , , ,

Team Needs: Falcons Tackles Could be Shuffled Around

January 31st, 2014 Comments off

 Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Questions surround Sam Baker’s future

The issue the Atlanta Falcons face in terms of their offensive tackle position isn’t necessarily about whether certain players will return, but rather what roles they might return in.

Although some had the foresight to question it, it’s become abundantly clear in hindsight that the contract the Falcons gave left tackle Sam Baker last March was a bad one. The team is faced with the scenario of paying him an option bonus which likely will lock him to being a Falcon for the next two seasons. While it’s possible the Falcons could decide to get out of the contract, it does not appear that is their plans, likely due to the significant cap penalties they would face over the next year or two. So it seems that Baker will return next season and open up the offseason as a starter. The only real question is whether that will be playing left tackle or another position.

It’s likely that Baker will man the left tackle position once again in 2014. But it’s possible that dependent on what moves the Falcons make this offseason, he could be switching positions. Baker’s brief stint at right guard did not go well in 2011, making a possible switch to right tackle more doubtful. If that happens, then it will be due to the Falcons spending on a free agent or using a high pick on another left tackle. The latter seems more plausible of the two scenarios, since it’s doubtful the Falcons are willing to dole out another large contract that it would take to entice such a free agent to Atlanta given their investment in Baker. And drafting a tackle will depend on whether or not the Falcons like the premier prospects at the top of the draft, whether they are on the board on May 8, and if the Falcons can shore up other needs across the roster in free agency. All of which are unknown quantities to date, making it doubtful that is planned path moving forward.

Read more…

Team Needs: Falcons Need Upgrade of Size and Speed at Wide Receiver

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas

The Atlanta Falcons offense was limited in 2013 due to major injuries suffered at the wide receiver position. The Falcons two most prominent weapons in Julio Jones and Roddy White essentially played five games each this year. Jones played in the first five games before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. And White was nursing various injuries throughout the year and didn’t appear close to healthy until the final games of the year. That left the team without a true No. 1 weapon for the middle third of the year.

Harry Douglas did his best to try and fill those shoes, but it became abundantly clear throughout the 2013 season that the task was far too much for the six-year veteran. Douglas was able to put up very good production this past year, catching career-highs of 85 catches, 1,067 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading the team in the two former categories. However, a lot of Douglas’ production came at points in games where the outcome was already decided, resulting in “hollow” production. Dropped passes, inconsistency and turnovers seem to follow Douglas throughout the season. Roughly half (eight) of Matt Ryan’s 17 interceptions were initially targeted at Harry Douglas.

Douglas will likely return to his role as the third receiver in 2014 with the healthy returns of Jones and White. But in reality, Douglas is probably better suited to being the team’s fourth receiver. Jones has missed time prior to 2013 due to injuries, and while Douglas has been a capable short-term fill-in for him, the lack of long-term value was exposed this past year. Douglas simply doesn’t do any of the things that Jones provides to the offense. Very few receivers do, but the Falcons could at least attempt to find someone that is in the same area code as Jones.

Read more…

Team Needs: Toilolo Would Benefit from a Running Mate at Tight End

January 30th, 2014 Comments off
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Levine Toilolo

The Atlanta Falcons will be attempting to move on from the greatest tight end of all time this offseason in Tony Gonzalez, which is rife with challenges.

Obviously the team will struggle to replace the production that Gonzalez has given that position over the past five years, where he combined to catch 409 passes and 35 touchdowns, resulting in the Falcons losing roughly a quarter of their passing production.

While the return of a healthy Julio Jones, and retention of veterans Roddy White and Harry Douglas at wide receiver can help fill some of that void, it will likely lead to a net loss for the Falcons offense with Gonzalez’s departure. Backup Levine Toilolo got limited snaps during his rookie season and it will be a tall order for him to try and fill the void as the starter.

Toilolo during his days at Stanford shined in a two-tight end offense, where a combination of him and players like Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener would attack the seams in Stanford’s run-oriented, vertical offense. Toilolo’s height and length can make him an effective downfield threat because he can extend to catch high passes that most defenders cannot. That height also serves Toilolo well in the red zone, where he was underutilized as a target this past season. Toilolo was targeted six times this past season in the red zone, scoring a pair of touchdowns which was the highest percentage of touchdowns to targets on the Falcons. The underutilization becomes apparent when compared to White and Douglas, who scored just once on 26 combined targets in the red zone in 2013. But Toilolo is by no means a dynamic weapon, since he is more an outlet option than someone that can be the centerpiece of an offense much like Gonzalez was.

That is why the Falcons will need to bolster this position in some way this offseason, whether via the draft or free agency, or both. Chase Coffman is an impending unrestricted free agent and his return at this point is negligible. Coffman has had a few brief moments during his short stint with the Falcons, but essentially is a third tight end and should not be expected to carve out a significantly bigger role in 2014 than he currently has. Instead, the Falcons must turn to other options if they intend to try and fill some of the void left by Gonzalez.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,