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Posts Tagged ‘Top 33’

Ranking the Falcons: No. 1 Matt Ryan

July 28th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Ryan

To hopefully no one’s surprise, quarterback Matt Ryan is the Falcons top-ranked player. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.

Total Score: 96

Player Grade: 87 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 27 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 27 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +5
Positional Bonus: +5

The main reason why Matt Ryan manages to top Julio Jones as the Falcons top player is because of the position he plays. The extra points he receives in this ranking system by playing quarterback is enough to top the young receiver as the Falcons top player.

Ryan recently got an extension, the size of that contract is indicative of his ranking. Ryan is not the best quarterback in the league, and probably never will be. But he’s just a notch below those that are, and is a player that I consider among the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. What puts Ryan on that tier is the fact that a team can build an offense entirely around him and be successful with that. There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the league that can be tasked with throwing the ball an excessive amount of times every Sunday, and still expect that team to be a playoff team by the end of the season.

That requires a great amount of skill, which Ryan put on full display in 2012. Ryan doesn’t have a strong arm relative to most starting NFL quarterbacks. There are probably only a handful of quarterbacks that have measurably weaker arms than him. But Ryan more than makes up for it with his ability to play the position from the neck up. He’s on par with elite quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in that regard, or perhaps a half-step below. But considering Ryan has played less than half as long as either of them indicates the special quality within Ryan that the Falcons just paid $103 million to retain.

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Ranking the Falcons: Recapping the Top 33

July 28th, 2013 Comments off

In case you missed any of the rankings, you can see how the best 33 players on the Falcons stacked up. I am looking forward to doing this again next summer.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 2 Julio Jones

July 27th, 2013 Comments off
Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Julio Jones

The second-best player on the Falcons is wide receiver Julio Jones. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.

Total Score: 95

Player Grade: 82 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 28 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +5
Positional Bonus: +3

Jones is a special receiver, justifying why the Falcons opted to leap frog the rest of the league to draft him in the 2011 draft. He likely will take that next step this season to become the Falcons No. 1 receiver. Last year, he was ostensibly the third option of Ryan in the offense evidenced by the number of times Jones converted on third downs: 15 times last year. Tony Gonzalez (22) and Roddy White (25) outpaced him, but he will likely close the gap in 2013. And at the point where Jones surpasses them, he’ll truly be a complete No. 1 receiver. And that point should come in the very near future.

Already Jones is the Falcons’ primary asset for big plays, with a steady mix of vertical throws to him, as well as short throws designed to get him in space to make plays after the catch. Something he excelled at last season, as he alongside Michael Crabtree was the only receiver in the NFL to average 6 or more yards after the catch with at least 75 receptions (per Pro Football Focus).

Jones is the complete package, and thus will draw the majority of the attention from opposing defenses. Gonzalez and White are both very steady receivers, but they are largely possession guys. Evidenced by their third down conversions, they fit the bill more as chain movers, although White made his fair share of big plays last year. Jones being the playmaker will draw more of the coverages because of the fear he instills in defense. But that will lead to continued success by Gonzalez and White, alongside Matt Ryan who will continue to be efficient.

If there is any weakness to Jones, it is the fact that he has yet to stay healthy for an entire season. While he missed no games in 2012, he was limited in roughly a quarter of the Falcons games due to nicks and scrapes. A key to Jones’ ascension in 2013 will be staying healthy for the entire season, something that White has done to great success. Jones has changed up his diet, taking some tips from Gonzalez to potentially impart some of his teammates’ trademark longevity.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 3 Tony Gonzalez

July 27th, 2013 Comments off
Icon Sports Media, Inc.

Tony Gonzalez

The third-ranked Falcon player is none other than tight end Tony Gonzalez. Click here to see how this ranking system was devised.

Total Score: 90

Player Grade: 82 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 30 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 30 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3

Gonzalez had an uncannily good 2012 season. At age 36, he managed to put together the best season he’s had since joining the Falcons in 2009.

Gonzalez has always shined on third downs and in the redzone. His size, athleticism, hands, and ability to get position against defenders makes him virtually impossible to cover in these “money” situations. He’s ostensibly the NFL’s equivalent of a power forward, who goes down to the low block and posts up defenders.

The big question about Gonzalez going into 2013 is whether or not he can have a repeat of what he did in 2012. He’s well past his peak seasons, as only he and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe were able to be productive tight ends up to age 35. For most other tight ends, even very good receiving ones, they don’t really make it past age 32. It’s why conventional wisdom suggests that Gonzalez could see a dip in his production due to the belief that at some point his age will catch up to him.

But he should still manage to defy the odds in 2013. Considering that it will be his final season, he’ll be highly motivated to succeed in order to help the Falcons win a title. He also should get plenty of opportunities with Roddy White and Julio Jones lining up on the outside of him to draw coverages away from him. And no one takes care of their body better than he does. It all means that Gonzalez could be in store to even top his production from a year ago and become the first Falcon tight end to ever top 1,000 yards in a season. If he manages to get 1,031 yards this year, he’ll become the team’s all-time receiving yards leader at the position, doing in five seasons what it took Jim Mitchell more than a decade to do in the 70s.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 4 Roddy White

July 26th, 2013 Comments off
Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Roddy White

Wide Receiver Roddy White finishes fourth on the Falcons. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.

Total Score: 89

Player Grade: 80 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 26 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3

With another 1000-yard season, that will give White seven consecutive, a benchmark only achieved by six other receivers in NFL history. That is not only a mark of skill, but also an indicator of durability.

Durability has been one of the keys for White’s success. He’s never missed a game in eight seasons with the Falcons, with Reggie Wayne (182) being the lone active wide receiver in terms of consecutive games played to rank above White’s 128.

While White may take a slight ding to his workload this year due to the potential emergence of Julio Jones, he is still expected to play at a high level. The Falcons were able to incorporate White more as a slot receiver last year than in previous years, which could help continue to benefit him. Being able to utilize his separation skills against what are often lesser cornerbacks in the slot could be a good way to create similar matchup problems to what Jones does on the outside.

Thanks to the coverages that Jones and tight end Tony Gonzalez often can draw, White got many more one-on-one opportunities on the outside. White exploited those to more big plays down the field. After three seasons (2009-11) where he combined to average 12.8 yards per reception, White’s average jumped to 14.7 last year. And given the likelihood that defenses will be even more focused on Jones this year, it will give White a lot more one-on-one opportunities that he can exploit to great effect. And if that results in even better production from White, that could ultimately be a key difference to allow the Falcons to get further in 2013 than they did a year ago.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 5 Asante Samuel

July 26th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Asante Samuel

Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel ranks 5th among the team’s players. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.

Total Score: 87

Player Grade: 77 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 32 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 25 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +4

At 32 years old, Asante Samuel continues to defy the odds. The Philadelphia Eagles practically gave him away last year for a seventh round pick in a trade with the Falcons. Then the Eagles watched their pass defense struggle while that unit for the Falcons proved to be the strength of their defense thanks in large part to Samuel.

Samuel isn’t the biggest corner around, and it shows in run support. While he’s not afraid to every now and then lower his shoulder and deliver a blow to a receiver or ballcarrier, he’s going to pick and choose his spots. And he’ll create more headaches than highlights when it comes to run support. Per Moneyball, he had 9 missed tackles in 2012 that led to either first downs or touchdowns, which was second-most on the team behind only Thomas DeCoud. That was one of the reasons that the Eagles opted to ship him out of town.

But he more than makes up for it with his awareness, anticipation, and ball skills in coverage. Samuel is so good at jumping routes, that it typically leads quarterbacks to shy away from him. Using Pro Football Focus‘ targets per coverage snaps metric, he ranked in the Top 10 among the least targeted corners every year between 2009-11. He was targeted a lot more last year in Atlanta (ranking 36th by that metric), but he only allowed 53% of the passes thrown at him to be completed. That low percentage of completed passes was thanks largely to his ability to break up passes (14.5 passes defended) and create turnovers (5 interceptions).

His gambling got him into trouble a couple of times last year, as he would leave his own assignment to try and jump underneath routes, and give up some big plays. But the scales tip heavily in favor of Samuel, making more of those plays than giving up. The Falcons hope to see that continue to be the case in 2013. With the likelihood that a rookie in Desmond Trufant starts opposite Samuel at right cornerback, Samuel should see less work. But he needs to be steadier with whatever he does see and continue to take full advantage of those opportunities. The key will be staying patient, something he wasn’t always last year. If Samuel can be a touch more disciplined, then there is little reason to not expect the Falcons pass defense to once again be among the better groups in the league.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 6 Sean Weatherspoon

July 25th, 2013 Comments off
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Sean Weatherspoon

Finishing sixth in these rankings is linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.

Total Score: 86

Player Grade: 74 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 31 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 23 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3

Weatherspoon looked like a monster in 2011, considered alongside Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs as the league’s preeminent 4-3 outside linebacker. But he was not quite the same in 2012. The change in defense presented by defensive coordinator Mike Nolan seemed to take Weatherspoon away from what he did best, which was being able to play in space and make stops in pursuit. Last year, with the Falcons using more nickel defenses, Weatherspoon functioned much more like an inside linebacker that was asked to play in the box and attack downhill. Weatherspoon isn’t the biggest linebacker nor is he great taking on blockers and playing at the point of attack. He’s not poor at those things, but it certainly isn’t the strength of his game. Not to mention playing beside Akeem Dent didn’t help because of his struggles with being out of position.

But going into his second season under Nolan, the hope is that Weatherspoon will be more comfortable. He’ll be asked to take on more of a leadership role on the defensive side of the ball. Gone is mentor Mike Peterson, as well as other veterans on defense. While veterans like Jonathan Babineaux and Asante Samuel remain, it’s no doubt that they aren’t going to be sticking around forever. This defense eventually is expected to morph into Weatherspoon’s team where he may be the rock they lean on. And in order to fulfill that role, the team is going to need more production out of him in 2013.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 7 Jonathan Babineaux

July 25th, 2013 Comments off
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Babineaux

Coming in as the 7th-ranked player is Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. Click here to read about how the scoring system for these rankings was devised.

Total Score: 82

Player Grade: 72 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 31 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 23 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +0
Positional Bonus: +3

Babineaux finishes just a notch above Osi Umenyiora mainly because there is far less clutter at the top of the defensive tackle position around the league. So much so that there is only one team in the league, the Buffalo Bills, that has a pair of tackles that would force Babineaux to come off the bench.

Babineaux is not the player that he was a few years back. His 2009 season was one of the better seasons a Falcons defensive lineman has had in recent memory. But Babineaux is still a very good player, that shines at being disruptive. He was moved around a lot more last year in Mike Nolan’s defense, playing a lot of reps at defensive end. And unlike John Abraham, Babineaux adapted fairly well to his role. While the monster games from Babs are coming fewer and farther between, he still gives a relatively steady level of production each week.

Most of his production last year came during the middle portion of the year, an 8-game stint between Weeks 5 and 14 where Nolan started to use Babs more as an end in 3-man fronts. During that stint, he recorded 11 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 pressures, and 3 quarterback hits. It should be noted that Babineaux finished with 14/3/7.5/4 in those categories, indicating he was very quiet in the other eight games he played last year.

The hope for the Falcons is that with a second year in Nolan’s system, the Falcons can get that higher level of production out of him for all sixteen games, or as many as possible. The Falcons will likely employ a steady mix of Babineaux playing end when they utilize a 3-man front, and kicking inside in 4-man fronts. Babineaux is entering the final year of his contract, and potentially his final year in Atlanta because of it. He’ll turn 32 in October and it’s going to be difficult for the Falcons to justify a long-term contract for him, comparable to how they dealt with Abraham following 2011. But if Babineaux can put up the sort of high-level of production he’s capable of doing this year, it will certainly make the Falcons think twice about letting him walk next season.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 8 Osi Umenyiora

July 24th, 2013 Comments off
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Osi Umenyiora

The 8th-ranked Falcon player is new defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Click here to review the scoring system devised to create these rankings.

Total Score: 81

Player Grade: 73 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 28 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 19 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +4

Incoming defensive end Osi Umenyiora immediately steps in among the eight best players on the Falcons. Osi isn’t the player that he was a few years ago, but he’s still one of the better edge rushers in the league. He still has the capacity to take over games, particularly when he’s working against a subpar tackle. Just ask Marshall Newhouse and Aaron Rodgers.

He joins the Falcons to help provide pressure off the edge. Osi isn’t a young man, but if John Abraham is any template, he probably can give the Falcons another two or so years of peak production. And while Osi isn’t the most well-rounded defensive end due to his lacking production against the run, he plays a position where the premium is placed on pass rushing. And that’s what Osi does best, which is why he would start on all but a few NFL squads. At his worst, Osi is still one of the best situational pass rushers in the league

How the Falcons utilize Osi will be interesting this year. If their usage of Abraham last year is the template, then it will likely involve Osi playing with his hand off the ground and dropping into coverage a lot more than he did with the New York Giants. And he’ll likely be asked to be a more consistent run defender as well, given the Falcons issues there a season ago. How Osi adjusts to that change in role will be a big storyline for the Falcons 2013 season. But simply put, Osi was brought in to bring heat off the edge and as long as he shows he’s capable of doing that, whatever other tasks Mike Nolan has in store for him are secondary.

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Ranking the Falcons: No. 9 William Moore

July 24th, 2013 Comments off
F. Medina-US PRESSWIRE

William Moore

The 9th-ranked Falcon player is safety William Moore. Click here to review the scoring system devised to create these rankings.

Total Score: 79

Player Grade: 70 out of 100
Teams he could start for: 28 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 21 out of 32
Teams he could find role on: 30 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +1
Positional Bonus: +3

As I mentioned before with Thomas DeCoud, William Moore is probably not going to be one of the new up and coming elite safeties to take over for players like Troy Polamalu and Adrian Wilson as big stars in the NFL. But Moore is a very good safety that ranks highly, and is only a notch below those players.

While Moore wouldn’t be considered a great coverage safety, he does manage to impact there. He is very opportunistic in coverage despite not having great man-to-man cover skills. In fact, when put in situations where he has to play man to man, he often struggles. But he makes up for it by consistently being in the right place at the right time, and when he has an opportunity to pick off a pass on a tipped ball or the like, he almost always does.

But Moore really grades highly with his ability to impact in run support. He’s one of the hardest-hitting safeties in the game today. And his ability to play the run is better than many linebackers. An interesting question that will be raised for Moore moving forward is the league’s new rule against spearing. Moore has shown no problem with lowering the crown of his helmet and driving it into ballcarriers thus far in his four-year Falcon career. Now those instances will draw a lot more penalties, and it remains to be seen how Moore adjusts. It shouldn’t be too hard since Moore is an excellent wrap tackler. But his craving for those bone-jarring highlight-making hits might have to subside somewhat with refs more willing to throw flags.

One of the things that prevents Moore from being higher-ranked is the position he plays, and the fact that the shelf-life of NFL safeties isn’t very good. Moore just turned 28 in May, but may only have another two or so years of peak potential because of the wear and tear that comes with playing the safety position, especially when you play it as physically as Moore does. He has missed a quarter of each of the past two seasons due to injuries. The Falcons hope that with his new contract, Moore can be a bit more durable moving forward due to his high value to the team.

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