Archive

Posts Tagged ‘takeaways’

Takeaways from Last Week – April 14, 2014

April 14th, 2014 No comments

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney

It certainly is not the first time it’s been discussed and probably won’t be the last since we still have three-plus weeks to go until the 2014 NFL Draft.

But the biggest question of the Atlanta Falcons’ offseason isn’t whether they are going to be toughened up, but whether or not they are going to pull the trigger and trade for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

And as I wrote back in February, the answer comes down to whether the Falcons feel that they are one potentially dominant pass-rusher away from being back in the Super Bowl hunt versus their desire to plug a number of holes.

But by moving up for Clowney, there is no doubt that the Falcons will suffer some negative consequences in some way, which will be losing the potential to fill multiple roster spots rather than solidifying one.

Ultimately the key to making the Clowney trade worthwhile may not be about what he would bring to the team. From my eyes, Clowney is the “safest” player in this draft.

There is no such thing as a truly safe prospect, as that word connotes a guarantee of success. One just has to look at past “slam dunks” such as Robert Gallery, Trent Richardson or Aaron Curry to know that every draft pick is some form of a gamble.

But Clowney is of such a singular talent, the chances that he busts is pretty low. Certainly not impossible, but low. But there is no guarantee that he will become the dominant player that many expect him to be. Mario Williams is an example of a very good NFL player, but he’s not a dominator. Per premium website Pro Football Focus, only twice in the past six years has he graded out among the top 10 at his position group, either 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker, as far as their pass-rush grades go. That’s the same number of times that Ray Edwards has in that span.

I’m not suggesting that Williams and Edwards are on the same level with that statement, just indicating that Williams is not on a level with players like John Abraham, DeMarcus Ware or Cameron Wake in that they consistently dominate over multiple seasons.

Clowney could have a long, productive career and not be the transcendent player that he’s expected to be. Or he could completely blow away all expectations and achieve greatness. And that’s the gamble of the draft.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , ,

Takeaways from Last Week – April 7, 2014

April 7th, 2014 1 comment
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

Last year, I wrote about my efforts to grade past drafts. And given that it’s almost been a year to the day since I posted that initial breakdown, it’s time to give you an update.

The conventional wisdom says you have to wait at least three years to judge a draft. I tend to think that five years gives you a much more accurate picture. Take for instance a player like Jonathan Babineaux, who did not do much in his first three seasons as an Atlanta Falcon.

Babineaux was predominantly a rotation player. But in 2008, his fourth season, when the Falcons cut Grady Jackson midway through the year, Babineaux filled in ably and started to show flashes of why he was a second-round pick in 2005. But it was really in 2009 that Babs really came into his own and become one of the premier defensive tackles in the league. And in the years since, Babineaux hasn’t be quite as good a player as he was in 2009 but he’s been much better than the mediocre player he seemed to look through his first three and a half years.

In the end, the pick of Babineaux is one of the better ones the Falcons have made over the past decade. That would not have seemed the case had we made the cut-off three years.

The way in which I grade drafts is a simple grading system that assigns every player picked an A, B, C, D or F grade based off their entire five-year body of work. I’ve given examples with current Falcon players.

A – An elite or near-elite player. Mike Lombardi would call these players “blue chips.” They are players that are among the very best at their respective positions. Example: Matt Ryan.

B – Lombardi would call these “red chip” players. They are universally considered to be among the better players at their position and definite impact players. Typically these are guys are perennial Pro Bowlers. Example: Roddy White.

C – Solid starters or a premier role player (e.g. Darren Sproles). They are fairly entrenched as starters in the league and should be able to start on a significant percentage of NFL teams besides their own. Examples: Sam Baker.

D – Backups or low-level starters. These are typically role players, but may also be starters that are considered underwhelming or expendable. Examples: Harry Douglas.

F – They are out of the league.

Last year, I posted the numbers for 2007 and 2008 draft classes, as well as a preliminary look at the 2009 draft class.

The eery thing was that the 2007 and 2008 draft classes were remarkably similar in terms of the amount of talent that entered the league. And while initially the 2009 class looked different, that doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case now that we’ve finished the fifth year of that class. Here’s how the three draft classes break down:

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: ,

Takeaways from Last Week – March 31, 2014

March 31st, 2014 No comments
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Robert McClain

The Atlanta Falcons had a pretty quiet week with no signings or real moves to speak of in free agency. The only move that came down the pipe was that cornerback Robert McClain re-signed with the team.

Losing McClain to restricted free agency was unlikely to happen, but the fact that he got his name on the dotted line is a positive for the Falcons.

McClain is the incumbent nickel cornerback, but could face stiff competition from incoming free agent Javier Arenas. Both McClain and Arenas lack the size to play outside and thus have specialized at playing in the slot. Both are essentially under one-year deals with the likelihood that the player that emerges by year’s end as the preferred option inside will get a long-term deal in 2015. And the player that does not, may be asked to seek opportunities elsewhere.

It’s potentially a make or break year for McClain. However, I personally believe that McClain staying at nickel cornerback may not be in his or the team’s best interests moving forward. McClain is a player that I think could make a successful conversion to free safety if the Falcons were so inclined to give him that opportunity.

McClain lacks ideal size for a safety, but has a thicker frame than your typical cornerback as he weighs 195 pounds on a 5’9″ frame. He would be among the smallest starting safeties in the league, but not too much smaller in size than others including Seattle’s Earl Thomas (5’10″ 202), New Orleans’ Jairus Byrd (5’10″ 203) and New England’s Devin McCourty (5’10″ 195). In fact, both Byrd and McCourty predominantly played cornerback in college. McCourty started his career at cornerback with great promise as a rookie in 2010, but struggled in his sophomore season. He then began playing more safety in 2012 before fully converting to the position in 2013.

McClain’s career in Atlanta has followed a similar path in which he was on the rise after a breakout 2012 campaign as the nickel corner, but followed it up with a lackluster effort in 2013. If McClain were allowed to bulk up this offseason, potentially adding 8-10 pounds, there would be little difference in size between him and some of the better safeties in the league like Thomas, Byrd and McCourty.

Read more…

Categories: Features Tags: , , ,

Takeaways from Last Week – March 24, 2014

March 24th, 2014 No comments
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Hester is an Intriguing Addition in Atlanta

If I’m being honest, I like the idea of Devin Hester in an Atlanta Falcons uniform moreso than the reality.

The idea of Hester donning the black and red is giving the Falcons a legitimate playmaker on special teams, something it has lacked since the heyday of Allen Rossum nearly a decade ago. Yes, Eric Weems was my guy but his abilities as a returner was analogous to a chain-moving wide receiver as opposed to an explosive playmaker.

Hester is not quite as explosive on kickoffs as he is on punts. But anything he can contribute in the former area will be an upgrade over what the Falcons have featured the past few years. Between Weems and Jacquizz Rodgers, the Falcons have just two kickoff returns of 40 or more yards the past three seasons. Hester has nine such big-play returns in that span.

But it’s really the punts where Hester is going to impact. Partially because there’s the potential that a new rule change could further marginalize kickoffs, but also because the Falcons have had a dearth of playmaking ability on punt returns.

Weems had a single punt return of 40 or more yards in both 2010 and 2011. Those represent the only two such big punt returns since Rossum left the team after 2006. That year also coincides with the start of Hester’s NFL career with the Chicago Bears, and he’s had 19 such 40-plus yard punt returns over the past eight seasons. He’s had 11 over the past four years.

The only real issue is that the Falcons are catching Hester on the downward slope of his career. He was able to see his production rebound last year in 2013 by concentrating fully on his duties as a returner as opposed to also moonlighting as a wide receiver. But he’s a far cry from the player that he was just a few years back when he had a combined five punt return touchdowns over the 2010-11 seasons.

But as I’ve illustrated, he still represents a clear upgrade over what the Falcons have featured in recent years.

The other aspect of the idea of Hester that I like is his potential impact on offense. He’s probably not going to be a major element of the Falcons passing attack, but I do think he does represent a potential upgrade over Harry Douglas as the team’s third option.

Read more…

Takeaways From Last Week – March 17, 2014

March 17th, 2014 2 comments
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Tyson Jackson

It’s not fun being so negative.

Which makes my negative reaction to the Atlanta Falcons initial free-agent moves doubly worse.

Are the Falcons a better team after signing guard Jon Asamoah, defensive tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson? Aboslutely.

Are they a significantly better team? No, not really.

At least not in some areas. Sure, they beefed up the run defense. But was the run defense that huge a need? Perhaps it’s selective memory, but outside Bobby Rainey’s Week 11 romp, I don’t recall that many instances where I felt like the defense getting the ball run down their throat.

I do remember the Falcons getting run on and run on a lot, but it never felt like it was something “out of control” to the degree to prompt swift and decisive action at the outset of the free-agent market. I think a lot of the poor run defense had more to do with the fact that they were so young at linebacker, coupled with shoddy tackling in the secondary. It seemed more like long runs were killing the Falcons, evidenced by the 28 runs of 15 or more yards they gave up last season, which was tied for the fourth-highest total allowed in the league.

Not to suggest that upgrading the run defense shouldn’t have been a priority for the Falcons, just not the priority.

I try not to be the guy that acts like the “armchair GM” that all his decisions are the right decisions. I’m very aware that I’m often wrong about things, and that there are several methods to the madness that is building successful NFL teams.

So when looking at the Falcons’ moves, I always try to see them from the team’s perspective. And if I can follow their logic and thinking, then I can usually accept, if not approve their decision-making.

So from the team’s perspective, it’s very clear they wanted to upgrade both lines. They re-signed two offensive lineman in Joe Hawley and Mike Johnson and added Asamoah. They went after defensive linemen by re-upping Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux while adding Soliai and Jackson.

It’s clear that the focus was on the interior of both lines, to add beef and “toughen up” the unit just like they had indicated was their plan all along. I mentioned Soliai as a potential target back in February, albeit with the expectation that he’d be a relatively cheap addition.

So on the face of things, I cannot fault the Falcons. In fact, I applaud them. They correctly identified the two biggest weaknesses of the team in both lines and addressed them with upgrades.

But once you go beyond that superficial layer, things start to fall apart.

Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – March 10, 2014

March 10th, 2014 Comments off
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jon Asamoah

This weekend the NFL instituted it’s second “legal tampering” signing period, allowing free agents to begin negotiating with prospective teams before the official free agency period starts on Tuesday afternoon, March 11.

Already the Atlanta Falcons have been linked to a number of potential free agents, including guard Jon Asamoah, safety Mike Mitchell, and cornerback Champ Bailey.

But the Asamoah linkage seems strongest with multiple outside sources indicating that the Falcons interest in Asamoah is high.

While I like Asamoah quite a bit as a player, I’m not sure that he is a good fit in Atlanta. But apparently it seems like I’m in the minority in that regards.

As for Caplan’s assessment, I would have to respectfully disagree. Asamoah is a player that ideally fits in a zone-heavy blocking scheme because he’s very athletic, but not overly powerful.

The Falcons have incorporated more zone-blocking into their ground attack under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the past two years, but still primarily a man-blocking team.

The Falcons have made an effort to emphasize size with their line acquisitions in recent years, evidenced by additions like Terren Jones, Lamar Holmes, Phillipkeith Manley and Peter Konz the past few years since Koetter joined the team. If you’re trying to be an offense that features a lot of zone-blocking, targeting plus-sized linemen, many of whom weigh in excess of 330 pounds is largely counterintuitive.

And the lines that Mike Tice and Wade Harman coached in Chicago and Baltimore respectively emphasized size and/or man-blocking.

Could the team’s interest in Asamoah suggest a shift in their blocking? Perhaps, but more than likely the answer is no.

Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – March 3, 2014

March 3rd, 2014 1 comment
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Dimitroff addresses the media at the Combine

After hearing general manager Thomas Dimitroff on the Rich Eisen Podcast this past week, I’m thinking that the Atlanta Falcons may not be as intent on upgrading the pass rush as much as they are with other areas of their roster, including their offensive line. Most of their conversation centered on the value of the Combine and how teams assess the things they see or don’t see in Indianapolis in the final evaluations of things.

Here are some interesting excerpts with my commentary. Editor’s Note: Dimitroff’s initial excerpted comments were taken from the middle of his conversation with Eisen, while the latter one was taken from the end. But since they are related, I feel they work together in context.

Eisen: Let’s talk about your Falcons right now. For the lack of a better way to put it, what in the world happened with the Falcons last year?
Dimitroff: Oh wow. 4-12. You think about that, going from 13-3 to 4-12, what an incredible decline. We know that. Someone mentioned that it was an historical decline. I believe there were a number of things that were going on with our season and no one wants to complain about the injuries. Everyone’s dealt with injuries. Interestingly enough we were handling the injuries to a spot and then when Julio went down, we dropped into a pit that we weren’t able to pull ourselves out of. That was unfortunate, that was something that was disheartening to me because I thought our resiliency and our ability to do something like that was much stronger given the five, six, and seven-year talent that we had versus the earlier years when we had first and second-year guys. So that was tough. I’ve also said and I’ve said this publicly, I really believe that it was a mis-assessment and a misevaluation of the readiness of that offensive line to come together for Matt. Because in the end we still have stuff to do on our D-line. But if we’re not protecting the guy spinning the ball, to our point earlier, we’re not going to be a prolific offense and we’re not going to be an elite football team. So we didn’t protect him properly and Matt was not able to step up in the pocket and throw. I thought he did an admirable job dealing with what he had to. He was waylaid many, many times as you know. But he is such a fantastic leader. I’m happy with how he responded.

Eisen: So in reading into your comments about the Falcons…offensive line? I know I don’t want you to show your cards here, because obviously there are many weeks to go before this May draft. Offensive line? Would that be an easy concept to target what you’re looking at in the draft this year?
Dimitroff: You know I looked at many and we have looked at many positions and many opportunities to look at free agency. I’ve always said this, you know that: free agency, look at the draft, see where we can get the best value and the best football player. Again, no mystery that we need to fortify both fronts. That’s going to be important for us. So, you look at O-line, you look at D-line, you look at our linebackers. You can rush the passer as a linebacker as well. You can do certain things that can protect our offensive threat, i.e. Matt Ryan in many ways. But we know as well as anyone if you don’t have stoutness in front of a quarterback and you don’t provide the pocket, you have little chance of being successful in this league.

It’s comments like these that make me think the Falcons using their top draft selection on a pass rusher is anything but a forgone conclusion. It’s very interesting that besides injuries, the first thing that Dimitroff mentioned in response to what went wrong with the Falcons in 2013 was offensive line play.

What that says is that the Falcons may see their pass protection as the bigger priority in regards to upgrading this offseason versus the pass rush. Now, that could manifest in a number of ways. But more than likely, it would appear that the team won’t simply settle on Gabe Carimi as the lone upgrade to the unit this offseason.

Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – February 24, 2014

February 24th, 2014 Comments off
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Jadeveon Clowney speaks at the Combine on Saturday

Discussion of the possibility of the Atlanta Falcons trading up made headlines this past weekend following general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s press conference on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. And of course the dots are being connected to the possibility that South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the primary target.

But I’m going to pump the brakes on getting too “icky-balooky” over Dimitroff’s revelation. Because frankly, it wasn’t much of one. Dimitroff said nothing in his presser that he hasn’t said leading up to the past two drafts. The only real difference is that Dimitroff made these comments not in April but in February at the Combine, a place where a record number of media members have gathered. Of course it’s going to create headlines and generate buzz when you have such a magnified media presence.

It’s no different than the revelation that Clowney is interested in being a Falcon. Of course he is as Clowney should be interested in any team that is going to take him very high in the draft.

Does this mean that a Clowney-Atlanta marriage is one made in heaven? Perhaps, but there is still a long way to go in the draft process before we reach that fateful evening on May 8.

I indeed hope the Falcons find a way to get Clowney, as he is a once in a generation sort of prospect. I can recall three times in the past where I have been exuberant about a Falcons draft selection. The first was in 2001 when the team’s move to trade up for Michael Vick was first announced. The second came when the team selected Matt Ryan in 2008. And the third was when the team traded up for Julio Jones in 2011. While I didn’t initially approve of that trade, Jones’ talent was to a degree that had me excited about the potential he could bring to the team.

But it is that Jones trade that has me currently hesitant about another move to climb the boards to get Clowney. Unfortunately, when revisiting the Jones trade, there is a tendency to draw a line in the sand with people on either side suggesting that it was all good or alternatively all bad for the Falcons. It’s much more complicated than that, with both costs and benefits to the trade.

I have little doubt that the Falcons would not have achieved the highs of 2012 without making the move to acquire Jones. But at the same time, I don’t think the lows of 2013 would have been quite as bad in the absence of the trade either.

Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – February 17, 2014

February 17th, 2014 Comments off

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Fisher’s strong Combine workout benefited him greatly in 2013

This week, the NFL Scouting Combine kicks off in Indianapolis. Next to draft weekend and the first week of free agency, this week represents one of the more pivotal points of the NFL’s offseason.

It’s the first time that all 32 NFL teams are going to be in one place. Sure, all NFL teams sent representatives to Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl in January, but that is primarily for scouts. Not to mention, two teams were busy with their Super Bowl preparations, limiting their ability to have a large presence in Mobile. That is not the case for Indianapolis, where the Combine signals that the beginning of free agency is right around the corner (March 11).

This is where teams can really start to talk shop about potential moves that are forthcoming in the offseason. While trades won’t become official until March 11, teams can start to sniff around about possible moves at the Combine. I’m sure that with the trades that sent Alex Smith to Kansas City last March and the rights to Robert Griffin III to Washington the year before, talks began in earnest or picked up steam during the week of the Combine.

Agents are also putting out feelers for their respective clients that are on the verge of hitting free agency. It’s that sort of furtive tampering that resulted in the NFL adopting the three-day window before the start of the league year that allows teams to openly negotiate with prospective free agents.

It’s also during this period that NFL teams can begin to designate certain free agents as franchise or transition players. That also means that negotiations for players and teams that want to avoid using the franchise or transition tag really pick up in earnest during the week of the Combine.

All in all, it’s a big week for NFL teams with a lot of things that go on behind closed doors that fans like you and me aren’t privy to and can only guess at. But that doesn’t mean that the Combine doesn’t have value to the everyday fan like ourselves.

Read more…

Takeaways from Last Week – February 10, 2014

February 10th, 2014 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Gonzalez points to the fans in his final game in Atlanta

You think like a fan, not like a man.

And I’m referring to the portion of the Atlanta Falcons fanbase that became critical of tight end Tony Gonzalez in light of the excerpts from Seth Wickersham’s article that appeared in this week’s ESPN the Magazine.

That article shed a light on the frustration that Gonzalez felt during the course of the Falcons 2013 season. It was supposed to be a year where the team was in contention for the Super Bowl. Instead, it became a year in which the Falcons were contending to be the worst team in the NFL.

Any man (or woman) would be frustrated in that scenario. Nothing Gonzalez expressed in Wickersham’s article was any more negative than what I myself have vocalized about the Falcons this year, or heard a litany of other fans say. Thus, being upset with Gonzalez probably makes you a hypocrite.

Gonzalez came out of retirement to win a Super Bowl, not for the glory of the Atlanta Falcons. And his venting over not being able to win that Super Bowl doesn’t make him a villain, but simply a human like the rest of us.

Frankly the only negative thing I can say about Wickersham’s piece is mistaking Jarrett Bush for Morgan Burnett.

I recommend picking up a copy of the magazine and reading it if you can. If not, Gonzalez went on CBS Radio with Doug Gottlieb on Friday and expressed the same sentiments during that interview.

Now if you read or listen and still come away upset with Gonzalez, then so be it. But the issue probably isn’t Gonzalez, it’s probably you.

Read more…