Here is my breakdown of the Falcons final pick in Duke quarterback Sean Renfree:
Height: 6-3 1/8
Speed: 4.76 (estimate)
Was recruited by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, but ultimately chose Duke when Andrew Luck landed there. Became the starter as a redshirt sophomore. Showed improvement with his production every year, culminating in career highs in completions, completion percentage, and touchdowns as a senior. Posted his best record as a starter that year, leading Duke to a 6-6 record and their first bowl appearance since 1994. Nearly led the Blue Devils to a win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, but a last minute touchdown pass lifted the Bearcats over them. Wound up injuring himself on the last play of the game, getting hit and tearing his pectoral muscle. That torn pec led to him not throwing in the off-season and not working out at either the Combine or his pro day. Is expected to begin throwing at some point in May before training camp begins. Renfree was coached by David Cutcliffe, a noted QB guru, at Duke. Pretty much every starting QB that has played under Cutcliffe since 1991 has played in the NFL: Heath Shuler (1991-93), Peyton Manning (1994-97), Tee Martin (1998), Romaro Miller (1999-00), Eli Manning (2000-03), Brady Quinn (2005), Erik Ainge (2006-07), Thad Lewis (2008-09), to Renfree. He was a three-time Academic All-ACC selection as well as served as Duke’s team captain his final two years.
Here’s a look at the second safety the Falcons selected in the seventh round in Zeke Motta.
Height: 6-2 1/4
School: Notre Dame
Speed: 4.71 (Campus)
He split reps with Jamoris Slaughter during his sophomore and junior seasons at strong safety, playing opposite Harrison Smith. After Smith was drafted in 2012, he moved to free safety as a senior in his lone season as a full-time starter. He had career highs in tackles. Not a great coverage guy, Motta has good size and is an active run defender. But like many of his Notre Dame brethren, Motta’s stock was hurt by the fact that he had an underwhelming game against Alabama in the National Championship. He did lead the team with tackles in that game, recording a career-high 16 but many of those were made several yards downfield after successful Alabama runs or throws. Then his stock was hurt even more with a slow 40 time at the Combine (4.83). His first name is short for Ezekiel.
I have to be honest, when the Falcons made Kemal Ishmael the first of three seventh round picks, I didn’t have a clue who he was. But I went back and watched tape of him while he was at Central Florida, and here is what I came away with…
Height: 5-10 3/4
School: Central Florida
Speed: 4.63 (Campus)
A four-year starter that started 49 consecutive games over his career at UCF at free safety. Ishmael was a highly productive run-defending safety that was a tackling machine during his days in school. He led the Golden Knights defense in tackles in his last three years, culminating in a senior year where he had career highs in every statistical category. He had a knack for making plays, including a total of 6 turnovers (3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles). He set the school record for career tackles among defensive backs. A player that lacks ideal NFL measurables, but managed to get by with toughness, work ethic, and leadership. He hails from the same high school in Miami as Louis Delmas, currently with the Detroit Lions.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go back and watch more than one game from Maponga this past season. But I had broken down last year’s bowl game, so I will also factor in my notes from that game as part of this evaluation.
Height: 6-1 7/8
School: Texas Christian
Speed: 4.81 (Campus)
Maponga was born in Zimbabwe, but moved to the United States when he was a child. His career path to the NFL mirrors that of Falcons teammate Jonathan Massaquoi. Massaquoi, a native of Liberia came to the U.S. at a young age as well. Massaquoi shined at Troy during his sophomore year, but his production fell off as a junior. But he wound up declaring for the NFL draft and probably not going as high as he initially envisioned (fifth round). Maponga had a strong sophomore campaign, emerging as one of TCU’s top pass rushers with 9 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He looked much more pedestrian as a junior, although he was somewhat limited by a broken foot in October. But he only managed 1 sack and 2.5 tackles for loss in the six games prior to the injury. His production actually went up over the final 5 games with 3 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. Maponga opted to declare for the draft. TCU has been a school that has produced a steady line of productive pass rushers at the collegiate level, but not as many have translated well to the pro game in recent years. Jerry Hughes has struggled in Indianapolis since being a top pick, and players like Chase Ortiz, Tommy Blake, and Wayne Daniels are recent players that produced at TCU, but could not translate at all to the NFL level. If Maponga does find success at the next level, he will be the first former Horned Frog since Aaron Schobel (2001-09). Maponga was primarily used as a left defensive end while at TCU, able to exploit the slower feet of many right tackles.
Let’s look at what I thought was an underrated tight end prospect in this year’s class in Levine Toilolo.
Height: 6-8 3/8
Speed: 4.86 (Combine)
Toilolo continues the trend that the Falcons apparently adopted in 2013 by selecting a player with NFL bloodlines. Three of his uncles: Dan Saleaumua (1987-98), Edwin Mulitalo (1999-2008), and Joe Salave’a (1998-2006) all played in NFL. Toilolo comes from an athletic family of Samoan Americans. A top recruit for Stanford, he started as a redshirt freshman back in 2010 in the season opener, but tore his ACL which lost him for the year. He came back the following year mixing in the rotation with Zach Ertz and Coby Fleener. He had a solid year, putting up slightly better production than Ertz. But as junior, Ertz would take off while Toilolo would sort of languish at the status quo. Didn’t have the breakout year expected, and had basically the same production despite the uptick in opportunities with Fleener in the NFL. He is primarily a blocking tight end, but possesses the length and athleticism to create matchup problems and wreak havoc in the secondary. He continues a strong tradition of Stanford tight ends in the NFL, with Ertz being taken in 2013. Fleener was the top TE drafted in 2012. Jim Dray and Evan Moore each were backups this past year, while Alex Smith was a productive starter in Tampa Bay before becoming a backup in Cleveland. His name is pronounced La-Veen Toy-lo-lo.
Here’s my take on defensive end Malliciah Goodman, the first of a pair of fourth round picks by the Falcons in 2013.
Height: 6-3 5/8
Speed: 4.87 (Combine)
Goodman was a highly recruited prospect at Clemson, and finished his career strong with a 3-sack effort against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. In that game, he was working against a true freshman who began the season as a backup and dominated him early before LSU made adjustments. He began his career as the backup to Da’Quan Bowers, recording 3 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. In his first year as a starter, he had 2 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. As a senior, he was shut out in terms of sacks for the first four games of the season. But finished the year with 7 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in the final 6 games, including the 3-sack, 3-TFL performance in the finale vs. LSU. Goodman transitioned to the Combine where he impressed again with his long arms. They were measured 36 and 3/8 inches, making them the longest of any of the prospects in Indianapolis. Those long arms give him a lot of developmental potential as a defensive end where they can be highly valuable as an edge rusher. He played exclusively at left end at Clemson.
Robert Alford at the Senior Bowl
After the Falcons selected him, I went back and took a look at Alford for the first time by watching some archived games on WatchESPN.com
Height: 5-10 1/8
School: Southeastern Louisiana
Speed: 4.39 (Combine)
Alford is a small school corner prospect hailing from the FCS subdivision (formerly Division I-AA). He earned a bunch of accolades during his final season, being named a Buck Buchanan Award (given to top defender in FCS) finalist, 2nd team FCS All-American, and 1st team All-Southland Conference performer. That production earned him a Senior Bowl invite, where he was among several corners that impressed observers. He had a standout performance in the actual game, returning a kickoff 88 yards and also picking off a 2-point conversion attempt. He was able to show that he could match up with some of the top athletes around the nation from larger programs. He then transitioned easily to the Combine, where he was among the elite performers this year at the cornerback position. His speed, vertical jump, broad jump, and bench press were all among the Top 4 guys in Indianapolis. Alford was so explosive that he even got some reps on offense as a scenario, working on reverses (2 carries) and being a vertical threat on occasion (4 catches for 52 yards). His older brother Fred Booker was journeyman corner out of LSU in 2001 that bounced around the Arena League and NFL Europe before finally landing with the New Orleans Saints in 2005 where he played in 12 games as a reserve and special teams player.
Most years I will break down anywhere between three and six games during the course of the year for scouting draft prospects. This year, I did not do that much. In recent weeks I did go back and watch a pair of games that Trufant played this past season, and also did scout him in three games as a junior. But here’s my take on Trufant as a player:
Height: 5-11 5/8
Speed: 4.38 (Combine)
Trufant was a productive, high-character, four-year starter at Washington. He comes from an NFL family, as his oldest brother Marcus played a decade with the Seattle Seahawks (2003-12), earning a Pro Bowl bid in 2007. He has another brother Isaiah, who has spent the past three season as a reserve and special teams player with the New York Jets. Trufant had a solid senior year, but probably entered the off-season considered to be a second day pick. But after a strong week of Senior Bowl practices, where he showed he was comfortable against top competition, his stock began to rise. He coupled that with a strong performance at the Combine, and ultimately was able to push his stock up into the latter part of the first round, earning consensus first round grades from most experts. He earned the starting job within the first month of his true freshman season. He started 45 straight games until missing 1 game late in his senior year with a hamstring injury. Finished his career as the school’s all-time leader in pass deflections with 38.
Asante’s ‘G Stance’
Last week, I started things with scouting Sean Weatherspoon. Now it’s time to look at the Falcons only major pre-draft off-season addition still with the team: Asante Samuel, and what skills he brings to the table in 2012.
Pros: Samuel is an instinctual cover corner with good ball skills, awareness, and excellent anticipation. Does a good job challenging throws when he’s in position, and makes quarterbacks have to work to complete passes against him. Will jump slants and outs, able to make the big play. Does a solid job working in both man and zone coverage. Plays balanced and has good hips to match up man to man. He’s comfortable playing in space. Hard to beat deep due to his ability to play deep zones. Does a nice job covering crossing routes as well. Does his best work when he’s allowed to play off coverage, which allows him to keep things in front and read the quarterback.
Cons: Is lacking and lazy in run support. Is a poor tackler with bad technique, as he tends to duck his head and rarely wraps up. Relies too much on chopping legs of defender in open field, which is effective at times but very inconsistent. Doesn’t work to get off blocks, and tends to shy away from run support assignments, letting the other 10 guys on the field do most of the work. Too often gives up too much cushion when working in off coverage. Can be attacked on the deep posts for those reasons. Will get caught looking in the backfield at times, and give up the easy completion. Can get burned due to his gambling ways, biting on double moves. At times will leave his safety out to dry because he’ll bite on the underneath pattern and leave his safety on an island deep. Can be effective in press, but not good when asked to try and jam receivers at the line.
2012 Outlook: Samuel is a ball-hawk that has earned a strong reputation over the years for his ability to create turnovers and make the big play. While he’s not always the most disciplined corner, that reputation has allowed him to get away with things that lesser corners probably could not. This means he’s a “field-tilter” because opposing quarterbacks tend to shy away from him, and effectively takes his man out of the play, allowing his teammates to channel things to the opposite field. His struggles in run support are well-known and well-documented, but the Falcons are hoping that limiting his exposure there by playing him in the nickel will streamline his production.
As has been the case the past two summers, I will look at evaluating some of the Falcons current players. Will be looking to assess their strengths, weaknesses, and what fans can expect to see from them in 2012. Let’s kick things off with the player that anchors the defense in Sean Weatherspoon.
Pros: Spoon possesses very good range and speed, able to make plays anywhere on the field from sideline to sideline. Does a good job as a “run and hit” linebacker, able to flow to the football and make plays in pursuit. He has good instincts when it comes to reading and reacting to plays, and does a good job taking good angles to the football. Packs some power and pop as a tackler, and will lower the boom to deliver a big hit to the ballcarrier. Has very good athleticism with good flexibility and hips, making him an ideal coverage linebacker. Capable of matching up with some of the league’s better tight ends. Is a very effective blitzer due to his speed and short-area burst, able to explode upfield and into the backfield to disrupt the pass. Has a loquacious and jubilant personality that makes him effective in a leadership position.
Cons: Not always a reliable tackler and can be overpowered at the point of attack. Doesn’t do a great job getting off blocks at the point of attack, causing him to get caught up in traffic against the inside run. Also has some difficulty getting off blocks in space, particularly when it comes to screens. Despite his natural skillset, still needs to develop better awareness when in coverage. Aggressive play can get him in trouble at times by bordering on being overaggressive.
2012 Outlook: Weatherspoon was arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last season, joining the ranks of players like Lance Briggs, Daryl Smith, and Chad Greenway in a position group that has largely dominated by 3-4 players that get nationwide recognition. It’s one of the reasons why Weatherspoon is still a bit under the radar from a national perspective. With new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan calling the shots, the Falcons will continue to look at Spoon as being one of the lynchpins of their defense. He was good enough last year to earn defensive MVP honors from this site and was overlooked in Pro Bowl voting. But this upcoming season, those things hopefully will change as Weatherspoon should be poised for his first Pro Bowl appearance.