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Team Needs: Fullback Has Diminished Value

January 30th, 2014 Comments off

The role of the fullback in the Atlanta Falcons offense has diminished over the years. But even in that diminished role, there are still unanswered questions that need to be solved in 2014.

Bradie Ewing has had two injury-riddled seasons in his brief NFL career. After missing his entire rookie season in 2012 with a knee injury, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the team’s second game of 2013. Ewing needs to show that he can come back strong and make it through an entire season healthy. If he can, then he’ll answer one of two question marks surrounding him: durability.

The other question centers on just how good a player Ewing can be. He showed some promise this past summer in the preseason before being injured. But in his absence over the past two years, the Falcons have gotten decent production at fullback from Mike Cox in 2012 and again Patrick DiMarco this past season. Ewing, being a fifth round draft choice, needs to prove not only that he can stay healthy but also that he can be an upgrade over either player.

Otherwise, it is indicative of the diminished value this position has taken over the years. As noted previously in discussion of the team’s need at running back, the Falcons may be looking to beef up their ground game in future years. And this season will be pivotal for Ewing to showcase he’s capable of helping them in that regard. If not, then the team will need to start looking elsewhere in 2015.

Because the team is likely going to give Ewing the opportunity to prove he’s capable of filling that niche, it is unlikely that the Falcons will make any major additions to the roster at this position. With DiMarco also still under contract, the team has a viable option in case Ewing struggles or re-injures himself. Outside adding an undrafted free agent or two that can compete in training camp and push DiMarco for the reserve spot, it’s doubtful the Falcons pay serious attention to this position. Also, the presence of Jason Snelling on the roster gives them added depth. However, Snelling’s status may be up in the air for 2014 and thus the Falcons could lose a versatile backup if they choose to make him a cap casualty this spring.

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Team Needs: Fresh Legs Could Improve Falcons at Running Back

January 28th, 2014 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Snelling may be the most expendable back on the roster

Running back, a position that once was a veritable strength for the Atlanta Falcons, has now fallen on hard times and has been one of the more unremarkable groups on the roster.

Over recent seasons the Falcons have relied much too heavily on older, declining running backs due to the greater emphasis the team has had on the passing game. Essentially the team seeks players that complement their passing game, as opposed to a player that can be the centerpiece of an offense much like Michael Turner was when he first arrived in Atlanta in 2008.

Current incumbent starter Steven Jackson embodies that mentality. While Jackson is the rare sort of runner that has managed to avoid the menacing clutches of Father Time, he no longer is a back that can carry an offense. And the value that Jackson brought in the passing game in 2013 wasn’t great given too many breakdowns in pass protection and dropped passes.

The goal of the Falcons when they signed Jackson as a free agent a year ago was to get an upgrade over the version of Turner that played in 2012, a version which was on its last legs. And the Falcons can proudly say that mission was accomplished. Despite missing several games at the start of the season, Jackson showed over the final two months of 2013 that he was a much more adept lead back than Turner. And it gives the team some optimism that Jackson could be poised for an even stronger 2014 if he can remain healthy and get improved blocking along the offensive line.

But in reality, the Falcons goal with adding Jackson was about as low as one gets. The 2012 version of Turner was among the league’s least effective starting running backs and the Falcons were arguably the worst rushing attack in the league that season. One analogy would be to compare it to the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback version, which was arguably the worst in the league in recent years with failed draft pick Blaine Gabbert as the starter. Chad Henne is a better option than Gabbert, but he’s by no means a good option.

Essentially, the Falcons new goal should become to find not just a better option but a good one. Jackson, at this point in his career, is not that.

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Categories: News 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: , , , ,

Takeaways from Last Week – January 27

January 27th, 2014 Comments off
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame’s Zack Martin was one of the bright spots of the Senior Bowl

This past week represented a big one for the Atlanta Falcons, as they are fresh off coaching the North team in the Senior Bowl, the premiere college all-star game, in Mobile, Alabama on Saturday.

As mentioned in last week’s column, direct access to the Senior Bowl players should help the Falcons get a leg up on their evaluations of individual prospects for the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft.

You have probably heard or will be hearing a lot about particular players the Falcons may have liked while spending time down in Mobile last week, but in reality it’s really inconsequential for the time being. At least from my perspective, it won’t be worth paying attention to until we get into March and April when the Falcons start traveling to pro days and working out individual players where any Senior Bowl connections will be significant.

I suspect the Falcons will be looking hard at several of the players they coached in the Senior on the second and third days of the draft. As noted a week ago, the Falcons have historically gone heavy on Senior Bowl players in the first round of the draft, but that doesn’t seem likely this May. Simply because there were no real prospects that merit as high a selection as the No. 6 overall pick. Perhaps Notre Dame’s Zack Martin will piggyback a strong Senior Bowl week and tear up the combine similarly to Eric Fisher did a year ago, prompting his rise from the latter portion of Round One to the No. 1 overall pick. But I doubt it, since Martin will struggle to overcome his subpar stature and short arms to climb into the top 10 picks. Perhaps if teams like Buffalo or Detroit, who pick ninth and tenth respectively this May, see him as an elite guard prospect he might be able to climb that high. But if the Falcons are looking to take Martin with their first pick, it almost certainly will necessitate a trade back.

It does seem that the Falcons are open to such a move. Although it’s very easy to say you’re open to a move in January, as I’m sure all 32 NFL teams are open to trading up or back at this point in the calendar. It’s still very early in the process and would be silly for any team to be eliminating options by saying they are against trading at this point in time.

Whether the Falcons should trade back remains to be seen. I’ve been contacted by many Falcon fans that seem to be of the mindset of “Jadeveon Clowney or Bust,” meaning that unless Clowney is there at No. 6 or the Falcons try to move up to get him, their next best strategy would be to trade back in the draft.

Firstly, I think it’s far too early to start to pigeon-hole yourself for one prospect or the other. A lot of things can and will happen between now and May 8 that can affect that opinion. And secondly, I think it’s overlooking two potentially excellent prospects in Matt Kalil Jake Matthews and Von Miller Khalil Mack.

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Takeaways from Divisional Playoff Round 2013

January 13th, 2014 Comments off
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

A player like Jadeveon Clowney could revitalize the entire Falcons team

If the Atlanta Falcons want to improve their chances of winning games in January, they must improve their defense.

Everyone knows the Falcons sport one of the better home-field advantages in the NFL today. The Falcons have the sixth best winning percentage of any team in the past six seasons (including postseason games) in their home stadium.

It’s then obviously to their advantage if they are able to get a top seed in the playoffs and be able to host opponents in the Georgia Dome come January. But what happens if adversity strikes as it did this past season, and the team is unable to rack up all those regular season wins to get a high seed?

And given an already tough NFC South might have gotten tougher with Lovie Smith becoming the new head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the chances have increased that the Falcons may have to “settle” for more wildcard playoff berths in future seasons. And thus defense becomes their best asset if the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome are no longer part of the equation.

History Shows Strong Link between Road Playoff Success and Defense

All one has to do is look over the past several years at teams that have managed to win multiple playoff games on the road and you see a commonality among them: good defense.

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Takeaways from Week 17

December 30th, 2013 4 comments
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Harry Douglas

The 2013 season is over for the Atlanta Falcons and what a disappointing season it was.

The Falcons finish the year with a 4-12 record, when most (including myself) were expected a record that was closer to 12-4 after their trip to the NFC Championship Game in 2012. What is the narrative for the year that was 2013 in Atlanta?

First off, injuries were a factor, particularly the two injuries to wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. White suffered a high-ankle sprain at the end of the preseason, and rather than rest him for the start of the season the Falcons and White himself pushed to play. Hindsight tells us that was a mistake. Because after the fifth game of the year, Jones went down with a season-ending foot injury. Had White been rested, it’s likely he would have been able to suit up and pick up the slack by then. Instead, White would miss the next three games with a hamstring injury and would be largely ineffective for three more following that.

Essentially, the Falcons got only five games worth of solid production from each wideout this year: Jones for the first five, and White for the final five. In the first five games, the Falcons averaged 24.4 points per game, while they averaged 25.2 in the final five. During the six in between, they averaged 17.5 points per game. It’s not a coincidence that the Falcons offensive production dropped by a touchdown when they lacked a comparable playmaker at wide receiver.

And while he had led the team with a career-high 85 catches and 1,067 yards, Harry Douglas proved he was not that playmaker. The stat that is most-telling about Douglas’ 2013 season is his two touchdowns despite playing the entire season. Prior to this year, there were only five receivers that exceeded 80 catches, 1,000 yards, and did not exceed a pair of touchdowns in a season.

Wide Receiver an Underrated Need for Falcons

The lack of a reliable wideout is one those subjects I’ve harped on throughout this season, mainly because most will focus on the play of the Falcons in the trenches as the root cause of their woes this year. And while those people aren’t necessarily wrong in thinking that upgrading those areas should be the top priorities for the Falcons this offseason, I believe it was really the diminishing returns from the passing game that doomed the Falcons season.

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Takeaways from Last Week – April 22

April 22nd, 2013 Comments off

Scott Olmos-US PRESSWIRE

Dion Jordan

Last week, I promised that I would go over the Falcons Day 3 draft plans. But of course news and rumors picked up steam that the Falcons were planning on moving up via trade in the draft. I do think the two issues are somewhat related, which I will delve into later. But for now, let’s talk about the Falcons potential third day draft possibilities.

The meat of the Falcons draft lies on the third day of the draft, where rounds four through seven will be selected. The Falcons hold eight of their eleven total picks during this stretch of the draft. The third day of the draft is typically where teams try to build their depth. A few players will emerge as starters, but they are few and far between.

Using previously discussed draft grades, only 14 of the 153 players selected in the final four rounds in 2008 earned C grades or higher (i.e. became solid starters after five seasons). That number is 22 out of 156 players from the 2007 class. In 2008, five of those 14 starters were fourth rounders, while that number was 12 in 2007.

Because the Falcons draft for need, they are going to lean towards targeting players that have a high probability of making the roster. Basically operating under a simple principle that there’s no way you can help the team if you don’t make it. So to determine what areas and positions the Falcons might target on the third day of the draft, you have to take a closer look at the team’s current roster. Here’s a quick breakdown position by position, with the number in parentheses indicating the current number of players at the position that have a strong probability of making the final roster:
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Takeaways from Last Week – April 15

April 15th, 2013 3 comments
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Is DeCoud in danger?

It’s now less than two weeks until the 2013 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday night, April 25. In past years I would have for the top prospects in the draft. I have not done that this year. My job had me traveling a lot in the fall, so I didn’t watch as much college football as normal. Once the winter hit, and now that we’ve rolled into spring, I have a lesser workload but not by a huge margin. And since I typically do a poor job managing my time anyway, I did not get to make up for lost time as much as I would have liked.

So this year, there aren’t going to be many scouting reports on draft prospects. At least not before the draft. After the draft, I intend fully to dive into breaking down the players that the Falcons draft. Although again, because my workload is likely to be hectic that might take a month or so especially if the Falcons wind up making eleven picks.

But I do hope that in the next ten days that I will put a few scouting reports online of some of the players that the Falcons are potentially targeting in the early rounds of the draft. I really want to look at some cornerbacks as well as some pass rushers because I feel that these are the most likely players the Falcons will come away with in Round One.

We have five years of drafts under Thomas Dimitroff to gauge in order to try and guess who the Falcons are taking with their top pick this year. Frankly, that’s all it really is: educated guessing, because none of the many bloggers around the interweb that cover the Falcons really know what is going to happen.

To be honest, I’m not very good with guessing who the Falcons will take with their top pick. In 2008, I was split on Glenn Dorsey and Matt Ryan. That was understandable to a degree because it was Dimitroff and Mike Smith’s first draft, and their tendencies were unknown. In hindsight, it’s obvious why they ultimately chose Ryan but at the time it seemed like a toss-up. Mike Smith was a defensive coach, and Dorsey was widely hailed as the best interior pass rusher since Warren Sapp. And many weren’t high on Ryan. I can proudly thump my chest, and say I wasn’t one of them. I wrote this about Ryan in that 2008 draft guide:
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Takeaways From Last Week – April 1

April 1st, 2013 Comments off
Andrew Weber- US PRESSWIRE

Brent Grimes

Brent Grimes is gone. Falcon fans should lament, although I’ve seen quite a few that are not. Are the Falcons defense doomed without Grimes? No. But they will miss him. How much remains to be seen. It seems very likely that cornerback will be one of the team’s top two picks in this year’s draft.

Will that mean that the Falcons won’t sign another player between now and then to help them at cornerback? No. I think it is possible, although I’m not sure I’d say it’s a likelihood. What is a likelihood is that the Falcons will let the market come to them. We haven’t received the details of Osi Umenyiora’s contract yet. But it was reported that $5 million of his deal was guaranteed, and according to other reports that encompassed his first-year salary. Given the way that the Falcons usually negotiate their contracts, it’s likely that guaranteed money includes his first-year base salary as well as an initial signing bonus. How that breaks up is unknown, but more than likely it will result in a cap hit in 2013 that is between $3 and $4 million. Regardless of where it falls on that spectrum, it means that the Falcons cap situation is relatively tight. I’ve calculated that if the Falcons don’t trade any of their picks, they will need roughly $5.65 million to sign all of them. From the cap numbers I have, if Umenyiora’s 2013 cap hit is $3.5 million, that gives the Falcons roughly $3.5 million in cap space for the season. Not enough to sign the rookies.

Now after the draft the Falcons will almost certainly get to work on extending Matt Ryan’s contract. When that deal is done, that should give the team at least $5-6 million in cap space, giving them them enough to sign their rookies and also have some room left over as insurance in the event of injuries. But in the mean time, the Falcons will likely be frugal with their spending. And that will likely result in the Falcons letting the cornerback market come to them. They probably won’t make huge efforts to pursue any free agent corners between now and the draft. But if some come to them at the right terms, then I believe we should see the Falcons add a veteran stopgap at cornerback before the draft. The right terms likely will be a one-year, veteran minimum deal that will include a very modest signing bonus (less than $100,000). If a veteran corner is willing to accept such terms, then he may be a Falcon. If not, then the Falcons will be content to try and answer their problems at the position solely via the draft.

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FalcFans Podcast – Ep. 26 “IHateDuntaRobinson.com”

March 30th, 2013 Comments off

On this week’s episode, I am joined by Allen Strk and Tom Melton to recap the Falcons free agent moves as well as look forward to what the team could do in April’s draft. You’ll hear our thoughts on the acquisitions of Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson, as well as the team re-signing players like Sam Baker and William Moore. You’ll also hear our opinions on what are the chances that Brent Grimes and John Abraham suit up for the team in 2013. As we venture into the draft, you’ll hear opinions on whether the Falcons should prioritize improving the pass rush or their coverage on the back-end. You’re hear opinions on a couple of first round targets such as Datone Jones, Desmond Trufant, and Johnthan Banks. The conversation then returns back to the Falcons, and whether players like Tyson Clabo, Jonathan Babineaux, and Stephen Nicholas’s days as Falcons might be numbered. We debate whether Peria Jerry or Jamaal Anderson proved to be a better pick. Thoughts about what options the Falcons may have at improving their linebacker and wide receiver play will also be discussed. We pine over the memories of Eric Weems, and shed no tears for the departed Dunta Robinson.

Ep. 26: IHateDuntaRobinson.com [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 14 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk.

Tom Melton writes for his own blog at Tom Melton Scouting, as well as NFL Draft Monsters and the newly formed DraftFalcons.com. You can find him on twitter: @TMeltonScouting

 

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. You can also subscribe directly to our feed at the following URL: http://feeds.feedburner.com/falcfans/LXSt