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Scouting Report: Stansly Maponga

May 20th, 2013 Comments off
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Stansly Maponga

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
Weight: 251
School: Texas Christian
Class: Junior
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.

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Falcons FA Focus: Defensive End

February 16th, 2013 2 comments

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Can Paul Kruger succeed without Suggs?

The expectation is that the Falcons will be looking to upgrade their pass rush this off-season. John Abraham had a productive year, but did not quite blossom under Mike Nolan in the second half of the season when he basically worked exclusively as a stand-up edge rusher. Kroy Biermann was able to carve out an important role in the nickel package, with his versatility to rush the quarterback and drop into coverage to help the Falcons disguise their blitzes and coverages. Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews are expected to carve out bigger roles. Massaquoi will have most of the attention, as he has good athleticism and burst to be an effective pass rusher off the edge and could push for time behind either starter.

There is talk that the Falcons could opt to part ways with Abraham who turns 35 in May. If so, then they will have to definitely replace him with another player that can anchor the pass rush. The Falcons would then like to replace something old with something new, more than likely leading them to find Abe’s replacement in the draft. But they could have potential options in free agency. But cutting Abraham seems unlikely given his status on the team as the best pass rusher. If anything, he might be asked to take a paycut and will be expected to serve primarily as a third down pass rusher this year in the nickel subpackage. That will mean that the Falcons may seek to find someone that can also play on run downs, rather than someone that is purely a pass rusher.

The first decision the Falcons will have to make at this position in regards to free agency is whether or not to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury has flashed nice pass rushing skills, and arguably is only behind Abe in terms of who are the best rushers on the team currently. But Sidbury is not great at defending the run and has a minimal impact on special teams, which has made it harder for the team to justify him being active on Sundays. The Falcons have so few good pass rushers, it’d be hard to let Sidbury walk. But it probably comes down to price tag. If he’s willing to accept a modest deal in line with backup ends, then the chances he returns to Atlanta are higher. In that case, we’d be talking something along the lines of deals for one or two seasons that average less than $3 million per year. But if he’s looking for something that matches or exceeds the roughly $9 million that Kroy Biermann got over three years, then he’s likely gone.

There are a number of good pass rushers that should be available this off-season, although not sure if there are any great ones. Several big names will jump to the top of the list. Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Osi Umenyiora (Giants) are both free agents. Neither player is the dominant pass rusher they once were, but still effective at getting after the quarterback with good speed. But both players, like Abraham, at this point in their careers probably need to be protected in terms of reps. Neither player seem to project well into the hybrid defense that Nolan employs. Freeney played in a similar scheme last year in Indianapolis, and didn’t take quite well to it. But Freeney’s spin move is still one of the most deadly moves in the league which means if the Falcons were going to opt for a more traditional 4-3 look, he’d be an option. Umenyiora essentially became a situational rusher for the Giants last year with Jason Pierre-Paul taking over the full-time starting spot at right end. He’s still quick speed rusher, but has never been known for his enthusiasm for playing the run, nor is he versed into dropping into coverage. If the Falcons try to do with him what they did with Abraham last year, it’s likely going to be a very rocky relationship.

Some names that might become available if their respective teams opt to cut them are Justin Tuck (Giants), Jason Babin (Jaguars), and Will Smith (Saints). Tuck isn’t the same player he was a few years ago. He still has something left in the tank, but he’s no longer an impact pass rusher that you can rely on making multiple plays per game. Babin could have been an option for the Falcons late in the year. He’s still a competent speed rusher, and unlike the others has experience playing in the 3-4 so he wouldn’t be a true square peg in Nolan’s scheme. But Babin isn’t known for his great locker room presence, which probably prompted the Falcons to pass on him initially. And he did little in Jacksonville to suggest that decision was a mistake. Smith has had good performances against the Falcons over the years going up against Sam Baker, but overall is just nothing special as a pass rusher. He too would probably be miscast in a Nolan scheme.

The problem with many of the names I’ve mentioned already is age. Even if the Falcons could get production from some of them, all are on the wrong side of 30, and would essentially be lateral moves in regards to replacing/complementing Abraham. If the Falcons are going to go after free agent pass rushers, it makes much more sense to target players with much more youth.

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Falcons Needs: Defensive End

February 6th, 2013 Comments off

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Falcons may have big plans for Jonathan Massaquoi in 2013

Normally I would have followed up my needs assessment of the offensive line with a look at several of the offensive linemen that the Falcons could target. But due to the sheer amount of linemen I need to watch on film, I’m just going to skip ahead to other position needs and get to those free agents at a later date. So now it’s time to start to take a look at the Falcons needs on defense, beginning with the defensive ends.

The Falcons have their starters for next year already on the roster in John Abraham and Kroy Biermann. Abraham did not take to his new role in Mike Nolan’s defense as cleanly as hoped, but it would be an shock if he’s not retained. He is the Falcons best pass rusher by far. Biermann proved to be a valuable commodity in the team’s nickel subpackage that for much of the year became predominantly their base package due to his versatility. But the Falcons certainly need to upgrade their pass rush, as it was rarely affected the outcomes of games in 2012.

Both starters are signed through 2014, but the team probably will want an heir apparent under fold before then to succeed Abraham. Thus the Falcons will be looking for developmental talent in the draft more than likely. The ideal situation will be finding a young pass rusher in the draft that can make Abraham more of a part-time player and split reps with both ends. Due to the versatility of Nolan’s scheme, that will likely be a player that is comfortable playing both with his hand on the ground and off it. Abraham primarily played as a stand-up end with his hand off the ground. Biermann did both, but as a pass rusher mainly put his hand on the ground. When he stood up, Nolan often asked him to drop into coverage. The ideal player for the Falcons is someone that can do all three: rush like a linebacker, rush like an end, and also be fairly effective dropping into coverage. The prototype for this type of player would be Von Miller. An obviously, there are very few Von Millers that exist in the world, so the Falcons will probably be looking to settle for “Von Miller Lite.” A big part of the Falcons plan moving forward may rest in hoping that Jonathan Massaquoi develops into this type of player. But if they come across another player early in the draft that also fits this description, they should definitely pull the trigger.

The Falcons may seek free agent options as there will be a few that could come in and become immediately valuable starters. But given the failure that was Ray Edwards, the Falcons may be a bit hesitant to dive headlong into the free agent waters.

Another decision the Falcons will have to make is whether to re-sign Lawrence Sidbury, who will be an unrestricted free agent. Sidbury has flashed potential as a pass rusher, but his struggles against the run and his inability to perform on special teams have caused him to be inactive more often than not in his four-year Falcon career. While the Falcons do have nice backup options in Cliff Matthews and Massaquoi eagerly waiting for extended reps in 2013, it may be hard for the Falcons to justify letting a good pass rusher like Sidbury walk given their issues in that area. It may all boil down to price tag. If Sidbury is willing to accept a short-term deal that commits a minimal amount of guaranteed money, then the Falcons probably will be willing to keep him. If not, then he’ll likely be able to find greener pastures elsewhere.

Given the likelihood that the Falcons will add a pass rusher early in the draft, it means that they may not ultimately miss Sidbury as five ends certainly should suffice. Especially if the Falcons continue to rotate defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux at left end as they often did in the latter half of 2012.

FalcFans Podcast – Episode 22 – Parts 1 & 2

December 16th, 2012 Comments off

Aaron is back and is joined by Allen Strk and Scott Carasik for a lively conversation on a wide range of Falcons-related topics. You’ll hear their thoughts on many of the current Falcon players and what sort of seasons they are having in 2012 and what they could be expecting in the future. You’ll also hear them opine on some past Falcon players as well. Scott shares many of his thoughts on what the Falcons could be looking at in the draft and this upcoming off-season. They give their insights on what the upcoming playoff picture could look like for the Falcons. This episode does contain EXPLICIT content, so be forewarned.

Part 1:

Episode 22 Part 1 [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 2 minutes

Part 2:

Episode 22 Part 2 [Download]

Duration: 1 hour, 6 minutes

Allen writes for TJRSports.com as well as the Bleacher Report. His twitter handle is: @Allen_Strk. Scott also writes for Bleacher Report and ScarDraft.com. You can also hear Scott on his weekly radio show: “Kvetching Draftniks Radio.” His twitter handle is: @scar988.

 

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

Jones, Spoon questionable against Cardinals

November 16th, 2012 Comments off

Today, the Falcons released their injury report for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. On it, wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) were listed as questionable. Neither player practiced during the week, and according to head coach Mike Smith will be game-time decisions. Jones suffered his injury during the first half of last week’s loss to the New Orleans Saints, but later returned to the game in the third quarter. Weatherspoon has missed the past two games with his injury.

Wideout Kevin Cone (groin) and safety Charles Mitchell (calf) also missed the week of practice nd were listed as out for the Cardinals game. It’s the third consecutive game missed for Cone, while the second for Mitchell.

Also listed as questionable were defensive end John Abraham (back), running back Michael Turner (groin), and defensive tackle Vance Walker (ribs). All three players were limited in practice for all three days of practice this week. Listed as probable on this week’s report were defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (thigh), wide receiver Harry Douglas (ankle), tight end Tony Gonzalez (shoulder), linebacker Stephen Nicholas (groin), and linebacker Mike Peterson (foot). Peterson fully participated in all three days of practice, while Babineaux, Douglas and Gonzalez were full participants on Thursday and Friday. Nicholas was upgraded on Friday and fully participated in practice for the first time all week.

Douglas and Peterson will likely replace Jones and Weatherspoon in the lineup, respectively if the pair sit. The injury to Abraham plus the release of Ray Edwards this week could mean a significant increase in reps for Lawrence Sidbury, Cliff Matthews, and/or Jonathan Massaquoi at defensive end. Turner’s injury could lead to the team giving increased reps to Jacquizz Rodgers and/or Jason Snelling at running back.

Falcons dump Ray Edwards

November 12th, 2012 Comments off

In what is a surprising move, NFL insider Jay Glazer tweeted that the Falcons would be cutting ties with defensive end Ray Edwards earlier this evening. The move comes as a surprise due to the fact that it is a mid-season release of a player that was the team’s top free agent addition following the lockout of last summer.

Edwards came to the Falcons after several seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, earning a reputation as one of the league’s up and coming pass rushers. In five seasons in Minnesota, including four as a starter Edwards tallied 29.5 sacks. Last year with Atlanta, after coming off a knee injury, Edwards had a disappointing 3.5 sacks. This past off-season, now healthy and with the introduction of Mike Nolan as the team’s defensive coordinator, greater production was expected of Edwards. What resulted was the loss of his starting job to Kroy Biermann and very limited playing time, predominantly serving as a run defender. In 9 games and 4 starts this season, Edwards recorded no sacks and just 9 tackles.

More than likely, Edwards’ release will lead to increased reps for Lawrence Sidbury, as well as Cliff Matthews and rookie Jonathan Massaquoi. Both Matthews and Massaquoi have been inactive for the majority of Falcons games this season.

Categories: News Tags: , , , ,

5 Keys if the Falcons Want to Improve in 2012

September 7th, 2012 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

Often when people look to see if a team has improved, they will measure it with wins and losses. And while that is not a bad way to do so, it is not a true measure of a team’s ability. Because you’re not playing the same schedule year to year, and even the teams that you do play annually aren’t always the same quality as they were in previous years. Every NFL season brings a new and different set of challenges, and to simply measure them by how many games you’ve won or lost doesn’t accurately gauge whether you rose to meet those challenges.

Here are five areas that I think the Falcons need to improve in if they want to be able to say they have improved as a team from 2011 and previous years. These are five areas that you could set apart as mini-goals for this team. And if they were to accomplish all five by the end of the year, I believe this will result in more regular season wins for the Falcons as well as a greater chance of winning in the postseason. And not just winning one game in January, but potentially many multiple so that they could possibly be winning come February.

1. Matt Ryan Needs to Take the Next Step as a Passer

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Camp Battles 2012: Defensive Line

July 17th, 2012 Comments off
Thomas Campbell-US Presswire

Lawrence Sidbury

Relative to many positions on the Falcons roster, the defensive line won’t see a lot of shakeup during training camp. The four starters are pretty much settled and the majority of the reserves are fairly secure in their roster spots. The brunt of the competition will be based around many of those reserve players trying to carve out larger niches in the Falcons rotation.

The four starters that are likely to open the season include John Abraham and Ray Edwards at defensive end and Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters at defensive tackle. As far as the starters go, the issues to watch are how much improvement both Edwards and Peters make, and whether Babineaux can bounce back after a subpar 2011.

Edwards was hampered by an injury last summer, but also never seemed to mesh with Brian VanGorder. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan hopes to fix that issue, and it seems that Edwards has already warmed up to him and his new scheme. Last season, Peters flashed top-level playmaking skills, but still has yet to develop the sort of consistency to put together a complete season. It will be interesting to see whether or not the fact that he won’t have to look too much over his shoulder will drive him for greater success this season. Babineaux was hampered by an injury early last year, and the Falcons are hopeful that his production will return to a level where it was prior to 2011 when he was one of the most disruptive interior players in the league.

For bench players like Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury, both won’t have to worry too much about not collecting a check from the Falcons this year. Last year Biermann stole reps in nickel situations from Edwards. He’ll be competing to show that the new deal he signed this past off-season was money well worth spending. Biermann likely benefited to a degree from the relationship with VanGorder, and will have to find a way to similarly impress Nolan that he is worthy of being the top backup in the rotation. Sidbury was no sure thing to make the roster last summer, so a year has made a world of difference. Sidbury flashed potential last season and will be working to carve out a larger spot in the rotation. He’ll push Biermann to be the team’s top reserve. He’ll need to show improvement as a run defender, where Biermann has the edge. Abraham’s playing time is stream-lined so that the majority of snaps he comes off the field will be in running situations. And if Edwards can bounce back and earn Nolan’s trust on passing situations, then there may not be as many opportunities there as well. Becoming a more all-around player will be the key to Sidbury taking the next step.

Outside those six, the roster spots aren’t solidified. The Falcons will likely keep at least nine, but potentially ten players to beef up their rotation. A big part of the competition will be at tackle, where Peria Jerry, Vance Walker, and rookie Travian Robertson will all be competing for playing time. Jerry’s roster spot is probably the safest because his contract is structured so that cutting him doesn’t help the Falcons cap situation to a significant degree. And Vance Walker has proven himself over the years to be a valuable rotation player, making him less likely to be cut. Robertson will need a strong summer to move up the depth chart, but should be kept as a potential fifth tackle. The Falcons carried five tackles for much of last year with Carlton Powell in that role. That makes undrafted rookie Micanor Regis on the outside looking in as far as the roster goes, since he’s unlikely to leap frog all three players to make the team. But with a strong summer, he definitely can be a candidate for the practice squad.

At end, one of the big battles will come in the competition between Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews for the fifth defensive end spot. It’s unlikely that the Falcons will try and carry six defensive ends. It’s not impossible that the Falcons may opt to carry six defensive ends, particularly if they try and work either Massaquoi or Matthews at outside linebacker. But given only four ends will likely be active on game days, carrying a sixth player will mean that the roster could be depleted elsewhere. Massaquoi has the edge given that he has a bit higher upside as a pass rusher. Most years the Falcons have only seen their fifth defensive end as a special teams player, which may limit Massaquoi’s contributions as a rookies. But if he has a strong summer, he could push for playing time during the regular season comparable to Sidbury back in 2009. Even if the Falcons part ways with Matthews, he is still a prime candidate for the practice squad. He will need to have a strong summer to make the roster.

Also competing will be Louis Nzegwu, who is in a similar boat as Regis in facing long odds to make the roster. But he has the sort of athletic talent that can make him a nice project to carry and develop on the practice squad for a year or two.

Overall the issue along the defensive line won’t about shuffling around the roster, but more about Nolan trying to get more out of the current slate of players.

2015 Falcons: Defensive Line

June 18th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Bjoern Werner

The Falcons defensive front has undergone some notable changes in the years leading up to 2015. Gone is defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who helped revamp the Falcons front into an improved unit. Replacing Nolan in 2015 is Joe Danna, formerly the Falcons secondary coach. Nolan helped bridge the gap from the Falcons 4-3 days to a 3-4 scheme. But the Falcons still implement a hybrid scheme, being able to switch easily between schemes depending on the situation.

The anchor of the front is no longer John Abraham, as he and the Falcons parted ways after 2013. They used their top pick the following spring on Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner. Werner’s combination of size and quickness made the team see him as a potential Justin Smith-type of player, capable of playing at a high level in either scheme.

When the Falcons employ their 4-3 set, on the opposite side of the field from Werner, the team has used both Lawrence Sidbury and Jonathan Massaquoi in a rotation. Both players over the years have learned how to drop into coverage, and can freely move from playing with their hand on the ground or off it when the need arises.

On the inside, the team parted aways with Jonathan Babineaux after his contract expired in 2014. The team replaced him by signing former Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu. Alualu’s experience playing in a 3-4 at Cal, and a 4-3 in Jacksonville made him an excellent fit in the Falcons hybrid scheme. Playing alongside him in their four-man front is still Corey Peters who signed an extension the same off-season Babineaux was let go. When the Falcons need to beef up their front, Peters gives way to a rotation of Sylvester Williams and Travian Robertson. Williams was the team’s fourth round pick in 2013 out of North Carolina. Williams has the bulk (320 pounds) and motor that in conjunction with Robertson, they form a nice pair of nose tackle for their three-man fronts in the middle.

As has been the norm under Mike Smith, the Falcons make a heavy use of a rotation to get the job done up front. The Falcons hope that with Danna taking over for Nolan, that the team can elevate their front to a new level. There are no superstars on the Falcons front, but they think Werner has the potential to develop into one of the better defensive linemen in the league, and they hope he starts to live up to those expectations come 2015.

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Scouting Report: Jonathan Massaquoi

May 5th, 2012 Comments off
US PRESSWIRE

Jonathan Massaquoi

I wanted to get this up sooner, but I finally gone back and looked at tape of the Falcons newest fifth round pick on the defensive side of the ball. Massaquoi was a player that first came to my attention in the 2010 New Orleans Bowl, where he utterly dominated Ohio’s offensive line to have 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks in that game. From that game he looked like he had the potential to be a stud pass rusher at the next level.

But after watching four games of his from this past year, I’m not nearly as impressed with him. Here are some of the things I saw on tape:

Pros: Has nice straight-line burst off the edge. He plays with a high motor and continues until the whistle. Does a good job timing snaps and getting a good jump to get the offensive tackle off-balanced. Will use his hands at times to keep blockers off him and get extension. Flashes ability as a bull rusher, able to get his hands inside and jolt the tackle off the snap. Can make the quick inside counter move to collapse the pocket from the edge. Has experience dropping into coverage on zone blitzes, and does a nice job with his backpedal and footwork.

Cons: Doesn’t have the first step or burst off the edge to really wow you. His first step is really only effective against the lesser tackles he faces. If he cannot win with his first step, he struggles to disengage and win battles. Gets pushed around too easily and knocked off his rush when tackles get their hands on him. Struggles to get leverage at the point of attack and tends to get swarmed under when you run directly at him. He doesn’t show great recognition to maintain the edge. Not a very good open field tackler because he doesn’t do a great job breaking down and ducks his head. Doesn’t change direction well when you get him in space, and can get caught out of position against the run there. Doesn’t show great hips when he drops in coverage, and is very straight-line.

I think part of hte reason why Massaquoi shined in 2010 vs. Ohio was because he was much lighter than he was in 2011. He was listed at 252 back in 2010, but appeared to play much closer to 260-265 range as a junior in 2011. That additional weight seemed to make him lose a step. While he does have decent burst, it didn’t look good enough where he was going to really beat starting-calber NFL tackles with it. The hope for the Falcons is that the burst can return once he gets a bit more used to playing at the additional weight.

Another reason is that Troy’s defense doesn’t really take full advantage of Massaquoi’s skillset. He plays left defensive end in their defense, and too often I saw him lined up in a 5-technique or over the tackle. Forcing him to use his hands rather than his speed. His hands are by far his weakest aspect. But he still managed to be productive in the four games I saw when he was able to pin his ears back and get after the quarterback. But a lot of his pressures came from him being able to time snaps very well rather than him being able to simply win with his burst alone.

Overall, Massaquoi reminds me a lot of Lawrence Sidbury. Sidbury playing at Richmond also didn’t have a high degree of competition on a weekly basis. Sidbury too could prey on the weakest offensive tackles he faced. Massaquoi and Sidbury’s burst are similar, and like Sidbury I think Massaquoi can be a very good situational/rotational player. But he’ll likley be very limited in a starter’s role because of his lack of size and the fact that he doesn’t have the burst to really be a force off the edge.

And thusly, like Sidbury, I don’t see Massaquoi doing a whole lot his rookie season. And may not be a guy that will contribute until his third year. Unless he can add strength and learn how to use his hands better, it’s hard to see Massaquoi doing much more. One thing I did like about him that could be developed is his bull rush. He could at times get his hands inside and jolt tackles off the ball. He still hasn’t quite mastered the ability to lock on and drive the blocker into the backfield, but that can come in time.

Overall, I believe Massaquoi is a nice depth option for the Falcons that can be developed to help out the rotation in time. His potential to play in coverage might be a little better than the Falcons current group of edge rushers, but it’s probably not a skillset that will be developed to any high degree.