Took a break on Saturday, and I’m coming back with a scouting report on an up and coming defender in the Falcons secondary: free safety Thomas DeCoud.
Pros: Has good speed which allows him range to make plays in centerfield. Shows ball skills to make a play on the pass and break up an errant throw over the middle. Has good closing burst to deliver hit to ballcarrier.
Cons: A bit undersized, and tends to rely on hitting rather than wrapping as a tackler. Doesn’t have great hands, and can be prone to dropping interceptions.
2010 Outlook: DeCoud had a breakout 2009 season, after doing very little in 2008. The Falcons are hopeful that he can show similar improvement from 2009 to 2010.
Now it’s time to break down a defensive lineman, starting with perhaps the Falcons most infamous player: Jamaal Anderson
Pros: Has good size and has the ability to get leverage vs. the run. Can make the stop at the point of attack. Shows some burst upfield, to press the pocket and make plays in the backfield. Showed more maturity and intensity as the 2009 season wore on. Has a nice motor. Can line up inside or outside. Does his best in the former when he plays in the 3-technique over the guard’s outside shoulder, which allows him to use his quickness better. When playing end, does a decent job holding the edge.
Cons: Doesn’t have good short-area burst or quickness to close on the ball and make plays as a pass rusher. Lacks flexibility, so he can whiff on some stops when he does manage to get penetration. Is lacking in terms of hand use and technique. Has trouble disengaging from blockers as a pass rusher and shows very few moves. Tends to rely on his quickness, which isn’t great. Too often gets a poor jump off the snap. That also causes him to lose some battles vs. the run and get pushed off the ball.
2010 Outlook: Anderson is a valuable member of the Falcons rotation because he can play the run, as well as take reps inside on. He has disappointed as a high first round draft pick, and isn’t likely to live up to those expectations. But he has the ability to prove himself a key role player in the Falcons front rotation.
It’s time to look up front at the blockers, starting with left guard Justin Blalock.
Pros: Has good strength and able to get position as a run blocker. Shows ability to get inside seal block to help create running lanes. Works best in a short area. Is effective when asked to get downfield and make blocks on the second level. Uses his strength and good punch in pass protection so that he does well defending the bull rush. Shows a nice mean streak.
Cons: Doesn’t have great footwork or technique. Doesn’t always stay square in pass protection and can struggle with quicker interior pass rushers. Not great when he’s left on an island. He needs to improve his balance as he spends too much time on the turf. Needs to do a better job with his footwork, particularly as a drive blocker which prevents him from getting push. Not that effective when asked to pull, missing assignments.
2010 Outlook: The term that would most aptly describe Blalock is “effective.” He is capable of doing anything you ask him, but he doesn’t stand out in any area or way. Blalock enters a contract year and it will be a pivotal year both for his future in Atlanta as well as in the league. He has shown improvement each year, but in order for the Falcons to bring him back for another season he is going to have to put everything together and make significant strides forward.
I already looked at one of the Falcons potential starting corners, and now I will look at the team’s top off-season pickup Dunta Robinson. I should note that I didn’t watch every Texan game from a year ago, but I did watch six games. I watched three games in which the Texans gave up the most passing yards (vs. Arizona, Indianapolis, and Miami), games where they gave up a bunch of rushing yards (vs. Jacksonville and Tennessee), as well as one game picked at random (vs. Oakland). I thought such a sample would allow me to see how Robinson impacted against some of Houston’s tougher defensive matchups.
Pros: He’s a scrappy, physical defender that isn’t afraid to mix it up in run support. Has good burst on the football and can make stops in the open field. Will lower the shoulder and deliver a hit to the ballcarrier. Shows ball skills to break up the pass. Comfortable working in zone coverage and does a nice job keeping things in front of him. Can work on an island and shows nice quickness and speed. He’s hard to beat on the deep pass. Does his best work in press coverage and does a good job getting the jam at the line.
Cons: Needs to polish his technique and footwork, which can be sloppy at times. Has a tendency to get beat on crossing routes and on the comeback because he doesn’t always show good burst out of his breaks. At times too willing to give up plays underneath. Doesn’t have great instincts to jump routes. Lacks good hands and won’t create a lot of turnovers.
2010 Outlook: Robinson comes to Atlanta hoping to bounce back after some down seasons in Houston. He injured his knee in 2007 when many felt he was on the verge of becoming a perennial Pro Bowler, and just hasn’t been the same corner since. He brings the right type of physical persona the Falcons like on the outside and they think he can help them against some of the better wideouts they will see this year.
It’s time to get the skinny on the Falcons franchise player and quarterback, Matt Ryan.
Pros: Has good size and a quick trigger which makes him a natural pocket passer. Has a good arm with good zip and capable of making every throw. Has nice mobility and does a good job when he’s working outside the pocket as a passer on rollouts and bootlegs. Has good accuracy and knows how to put the ball in a position where receiver can best make the play. Shows good smarts and awareness and does a nice job anticipating throws and reads. Is a natural leader that thrives in competitive situations which is why he does some of his best work late in games as well as in the no-huddle offense. Also doesn’t get easily rattled against the blitz. Understands accountability which only drives his competitive nature and desire to improve.
Cons: Situational awareness needs to be more consistent and has room to improve. Will at times give up on a play too early, showing a lack of trust in his supporting cast. But at other times will show too much trust when he forces passes into double and triple coverage. Doesn’t have a howitzer-sized arm, meaning he won’t be able to throw the ball on a frozen rope 40 yards downfield off his back leg across his body. That means he needs to rely on a consistent footwork and mechanics in the pocket more than other top quarterbacks. Which means that pressure can be a bit more effective against him than others if he’s not allowed to step into his throws. Needs to improve touch and accuracy on deep throws, as well as a willingness to challenge downfield.
2010 Outlook: Ryan will be entering his third season in the Mike Mularkey-run offensive system. And that third year is often cited as the critical one where things start to click for most young quarterbacks that wind up having long, productive NFL careers.
Tony Gonzalez (AP)
Now that I’ve dealt with two defenders, now it’s time to turn the focus and scout an offensive player. Who better to start with than the future Hall of Famer on the roster: tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Pros: Has excellent hands and has good concentration to secure the ball firmly almost every time. Has a knack for getting position against the defender and making the catch in traffic. Does an excellent job adjusting to the thrown ball and making the catch. Will come down with most jump balls and plays the ball very well in the air, attacking it. Knows how to find the soft spots in the zone. Does a nice job as a runner after the catch when he has a step on the defender and not afraid of contact. An extremely hard worker that has an eye for detail, which makes him an excellent leader by example.
Cons: Not a great blocker. Will give effort, but not strong or physical enough to maintain his blocks for long and is a bit of a liability when teams run behind him. Will miss some assignments both as a run blocker and in pass protection. Doesn’t have great speed or burst to get great separation from the defender as well as making plays downfield in the passing game. This can force passer to fit throws into tighter windows.
2010 Outlook: Gonzalez transformed the Falcons offense a year ago. Mike Mularkey has never really had a tight end that can be a featured weapon in the passing game, and Gonzalez was exactly that. He provided a ton of value on third downs and was among the league leaders in converting on third downs. He also was a valuable asset in the redzone because his presence could free up other receivers. When the Falcons needed a play to be made in the passing game, they usually turned to Gonzalez. The Falcons hope Gonzalez can continue to add similar value on third downs and near the goalline in 2010.
I started things off with a report on Curtis Lofton, but now I want to move onto another defender: cornerback Brent Grimes, the small but scrappy undrafted free agent from a Division II school that has developed into a key contributor and potential starter.
Pros: Has good speed and athleticism. Has good leaping ability which means he can challenge bigger receivers for the ball. Shows good ball skills and plays the ball well in the air. Does his best work when he’s allowed to keep things in front of him, and rarely lets defenders get behind him. Shows good, consistent tackling technique because he breaks down and wraps up and is able to make stops on the edge and in space.
Cons: Lacks ideal size and despite athleticism, he is fairly easily outmuscled in traffic by bigger receivers. Lack of size also makes him a non-factor in press coverage, forcing him at times to give up too much cushion. This causes him to give up a lot of completions underneath. His lack of size also means that if his tackling ever gets sloppy, he’s prone to missing tackles.
2010 Outlook: The bottom line on Grimes is that most of his issues are due to his less than outstanding size, but he makes up for a lot of it with toughness, work ethic, and playmaking ability, all the intangibles necessary for success in this league. This makes him a coach’s favorite and even if he goes through some struggles or begins to slump, eventually he will bounce back. At worst that makes him a valuable role player, and at best a capable starter.
If not every day, but every few days over the course of training camp I plan to post some scouting reports of some of the Falcons top (or at least more notable) players. I’m kicking things off with the centerpiece of the Falcons defense, middle linebacker Curtis Lofton.
Pros: Is physical, hard-hitting run defender that shows nice range in the middle of the field when defending the run because he has a good nose for the ball. Does his best work when he’s allowed to attack upfield at or near the line of scrimmage. Shows good passion and exuberance for a physical defensive style, making him a natural for a team leadership role.
Cons: Needs work in coverage, and lacks awareness when playing in space. Will lose sight of some of his assignments, and doesn’t consistently get good depth when working in zone coverage. Doesn’t have the hips or quickness to match up with opposing receivers over the middle and is rarely in position to make a play in the passing game. Despite good range, doesn’t have great speed and doesn’t make many plays vs. the run outside the hashmarks.
2010 Outlook: Lofton has already begun distinguishing himself as one of the up and coming run-defending middle linebackers in the league. But he still has a ways to go in coverage, and how much improvement he shows this season will be a huge indicator of his long-term success in both Atlanta and the league.