The meat of the Falcons draft lies on the third day of the draft, where rounds four through seven will be selected. The Falcons hold eight of their eleven total picks during this stretch of the draft. The third day of the draft is typically where teams try to build their depth. A few players will emerge as starters, but they are few and far between.
Using previously discussed draft grades, only 14 of the 153 players selected in the final four rounds in 2008 earned C grades or higher (i.e. became solid starters after five seasons). That number is 22 out of 156 players from the 2007 class. In 2008, five of those 14 starters were fourth rounders, while that number was 12 in 2007.
Because the Falcons draft for need, they are going to lean towards targeting players that have a high probability of making the roster. Basically operating under a simple principle that there’s no way you can help the team if you don’t make it. So to determine what areas and positions the Falcons might target on the third day of the draft, you have to take a closer look at the team’s current roster. Here’s a quick breakdown position by position, with the number in parentheses indicating the current number of players at the position that have a strong probability of making the final roster:
QB (2): Ryan, Davis
RB (5): Jackson, Rodgers, Snelling, Smith, Ewing
WR (3): Jones, White, Douglas
TE (1): Gonzalez
OL (7): Baker, Blalock, Konz, Reynolds, Holmes, Hawley, Johnson
DE (4): Biermann, Umenyiora, Massaquoi, Matthews
DT (3): Babineaux, Peters, Robertson
LB (4): Nicholas, Dent, Weatherspoon, Schiller
CB (2): Samuel, McClain
S (3): Moore, DeCoud, Mitchell
ST (3): Bryant, Bosher, Harris
If you do the math, that adds up to 37 players, which means that the Falcons are likely to go into camp with about 16 spots on their roster being up in the air. Eleven of those sixteen spots could be draft picks.
I should also review that from last week’s column, I suspect that the Falcons will use four of their first five picks on the following positions: cornerback, defensive tackle, outside linebacker, and tight end. I also think safety and defensive end become strong possibilities for targeted positions on the third day and the Falcons could draft another developmental offensive lineman (either a swing tackle or guard). I also believe that the Falcons depth at cornerback and linebacker is so iffy at this point, that it’s a good bet they could double up on those positions.
That amounts to nine picks, leaving two left over. Those two leftovers are essentially toss-ups that could be used at any positions besides kicker, punter, and long snapper. Where those picks could be spent could be an indicator on how much confidence the Falcons have in young players at current positions. For example, if the Falcons were to draft a quarterback late in the draft, it would indicate that they don’t completely buy into Dominique Davis’s potential. If they draft a second tight end, then it means that Chase Coffman and Tommy Gallarda aren’t considered key assets moving forward.
This is where the potential trade-up comes into play. I think the Falcons realize that they don’t really need all eleven picks. They really don’t need the nine I’ve laid out before. In fact, the only positions where they have to draft a player is probably just cornerback and linebacker. I think not drafting a potential starter at either defensive tackle or tight end wouldn’t be a good move given the likelihood of the glaring holes that will be at those positions next spring, but they could make due with their current rotation for this season and hope they’re in a position next year to solve those other potential issues. At tight end, it makes a ton of sense to draft Gonzalez’s heir apparent. But such a move has made sense in each of the past three drafts, yet the Falcons have not pulled the trigger. They could go into this season hoping that between Coffman, Gallarda, Adam Nissley, and Andrew Szczerba someone emerges as a solid role player and then find a starting tight end next spring.
So I think the Falcons realize that they can afford to move some picks as part of a draft day trade. Because all eleven guys aren’t locks to make the roster. In 2008, when the Falcons had eleven picks, only seven of them made the opening day roster. Wilrey Fontenot was cut outright, while Robert James and Keith Zinger both made the practice squad. Thomas Brown started his career on injured reserve. And the Falcons roster heading into 2013 is a lot stronger overall than it was five years ago, so late round rookies will have larger hurdles to leap.
The possibility of the Falcons moving up in the draft is both exciting and perplexing.
The excitement comes with the possibility that the Falcons get one of the top players in this draft. Rumors swirl that the Falcons want to move into the Top 5 picks and are targeting either Dion Jordan or Dee Milliner. Both are very good players. Jordan has unique traits for an edge rusher in that his flexibility and athleticism give him excellent potential in coverage as well as coming off the edge. Milliner is a polished, solid corner that could replace some of that physicality lost on the outside with the departure of Dunta Robinson.
But that leads to the more perplexing parts of it. While I think both Jordan and Milliner are excellent prospects, are they the sort of once-in-a-lifetime-caliber prospects that would merit such a leap up?
With Jordan I see the upside. I think his movement and flexibility remind me quite a bit of Aldon Smith. But I think a key difference is that Smith was a bit more natural and polished pass rusher coming into the league. So while I think Jordan can eventually get there where he’s a dominant edge rusher, I’m not sure he’s going to hit the ground running to the same level that Smith did as a rookie. Another question that must be asked is where would Jordan have been taken in some recent drafts. Would Jordan have been significantly more highly-rated than Melvin Ingram in last year’s draft, who went 18th overall? Is he a better prospect than Robert Quinn, who was drafted 14th overall in 2011? Would he have had significantly higher grades than Brandon Graham, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Derrick Morgan in 2010, all of whom were selected between picks No. 13 and 16?
And you have to ask similar questions about Milliner and how he compares to Joe Haden (7th overall in 2010), Patrick Peterson (5th overall in 2011), Prince Amukamara (19th overall in 2011), Morris Claiborne (6th overall in 2012), Stephon Gilmore (10th overall in 2012), and Dre Kirkpatrick (17th overall in 2012).
If neither Jordan nor Milliner stand out among these groups of recent prospects, then why give up what you need to give up to get them?
Now, we have to broach the Julio Jones trade. I’ve heard many state that because the Jones trade worked out for the Falcons, Dimitroff & Co. deserve the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this or any trade-up scenario. Generally, I would agree, but I also think people need to be a little wary of saying the Jones trade “worked out.”
I think a more accurate way of describing it is saying that it did not not work out. I was down on the Jones trade when it happened. I thought the Falcons gave up too much for what was essentially a complementary piece on offense. But with the way that Jones played this past January, I began to see the light. Without him, I don’t believe the Falcons would have come nearly as close to a Super Bowl berth as they did. His performance against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game was particularly awe-inspiring. Jones ability to tilt the field and be a nightmare matchup for most teams added a special element to this roster that was lacking pre-2011.
But I also don’t think it was a slam dunk. Ultimately the Falcons did lose that game to the 49ers, and I think a big part of that was because the team was lacking in other areas of their roster, particularly on defense.
The Falcons gave up a second round pick in 2010 as part of the previous year’s Tony Gonzalez trade, and then gave up the second rounder in 2011, first rounder in 2012, and a pair of fourths for Jones. That amounts to basically five players that aren’t on the Falcons roster today that would be if those trades never happened. And likely five good players. The Falcons lost to the 49ers largely because of their inability to run the ball, stop the run, or prevent big plays in the secondary. So I also believe that at least a few of those five missing bodies could have helped out in all three areas, and certainly enough in at least one to help push the Falcons over the edge.
So one can argue that it’s a bit of a Catch-22. A major reason the Falcons made it to the NFC Championship Game is because of the Jones trade. But a major reason why they did not make it beyond is because of the Jones trade.
The other perplexing aspect of it is that the Falcons have a GM that stresses building through the draft, yet has given up all of these high picks over the years, which suggests that they aren’t really that interested in building via the draft.
I’m a firm believer that you don’t give up future first round picks in draft-day trades unless it’s for a franchise quarterback. I just don’t really believe that any other position impacts the game enough to be worth two first round picks (i.e. two solid starters).
The other trade-up scenario is not a huge climb up the boards, but perhaps the Falcons moving up 5-10 spots to get a player they covet. I wonder if all the talk of the Falcons moving up into the Top 5-10 is due to the Julio Jones trade. And because of the huge leap made two years ago, media members and insider sources are quick to speculate on another big jump, as opposed to a more grounded, and dare I say realistic move.
A “micro-jump” up the boards makes a lot more sense to me in wake of the Jones trade. Because when you look back at that trade, hindsight tells us that had the Falcons stood pat and taken Torrey Smith and kept those other three picks, that might have worked out better. I was fairly high on Smith back in 2011, and had you asked me would I have rather had him and the 2012 first rounder or Jones, then I would have opted for Smith and the future first round pick.
I think one must ask the question about this year’s class. Would you rather have just Milliner or one of those second-tier corners and next year’s No. 1?
D.J. Hayden is a player that is “rising up the boards.” I say that term facetiously, because in truth he’s not rising at all. That is a media-created term. NFL teams did their homework on Hayden months ago, and probably thought then that he was a mid-first round player. It’s all the media members and draftniks that are just finally getting around to breaking down Hayden that are discovering him and now pegging him as a potential Top 20 pick, when I’m sure several NFL teams had that grade on him six months ago.
There are some that think Hayden is on par with Milliner as a prospect. And if the Falcons have a similar assessment, it makes way more sense to keep next year’s No.1 pick and give up a third or fourth round pick this year to move up to get a guy like Hayden. Whether it’s Hayden or somebody else, if the Falcons have a Top 20 grade on another cornerback that they feel will be drafted in the 18-25 range, then it makes more sense to try and move up to get that guy rather than trying to move up 25 or so spots for Milliner.
Well one thing is for certain, it should be an exciting and interesting draft. I’m looking for to recapping everything that happens in next week’s column.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a big move on Sunday night, sending this year’s first round pick (13th overall) and a conditional pick next year to the New York Jets in exchange for cornerback Darrelle Revis. The conditional pick will be a third or fourth round pick, dependent on if Revis is on the team at the start of the 2014 league year. Presuming that Revis isn’t a disaster that puts Albert Haynesworth to shame, it’s a safe bet to assume that he’ll be with the team next March and that pick becomes a third rounder.
The Bucs also signed him to a six-year, $96 million contract that has no guaranteed money. Revis’ base salaries each year will be $13 million, and he’ll receive $1.5 million roster and workout bonus each year. It’s a smart deal for the Bucs. It gives them an easy out should they want to part ways with Revis because there will be no dead money as is. It also allows them cap flexibility because they can easily convert parts of his base salary in signing bonus money should they desire to slash a few million dollars quickly from their budget.
The Bucs gave up considerably less than I was expecting, and I think it’s a pretty good deal for them. It gives them a realistic option in the secondary to help slow down offenses like Atlanta and New Orleans. I also am starting to expect that Tavon Austin is going to wind up in Carolina and if he becomes the Percy Harvin-caliber player that many think him capable of, Carolina may not be that far behind. The Bucs secondary was bad last year. And this off-season, they’ve added Revis and DaShon Goldson. Presumably Mark Barron will improve in his second year. They appear to want to part ways with Eric Wright via trade, which probably means Leonard Johnson is the best bet to line up across from Revis on opening day.
I wrote six weeks ago that I didn’t expect a Revis deal to get done before the draft. Well, clearly I was wrong. The interesting that about this deal is the health of his knee. It’s not really a question of whether Revis has a successful return from the torn ACL. To me, it’s more a question of how successful. Will he be the Darrelle Revis that we all respected and feared from before?
If I was placing a bet, I don’t think so. But at the same time, does he really need to be? Even if he’s only 70% of the player he was prior to the knee injury, that’s still going to be better than most cornerbacks in the NFL. Dunta Robinson had a similar injury in 2007. Prior to his injury he looked like he was going to be one of the premier corners in the league. Afterwards, he was still a quality starter in Houston before coming to Atlanta and quickly becoming less than that beginning in 2011.
Robinson was 25 when he suffered his knee injury. Revis 27. But there is a key difference. Robinson’s game really revolved around his great athleticism and his ability as a matchup corner. Revis is a bit more fundamentally sound, so whatever he could lose in burst he can potentially make up for with instincts, discipline, and technique. Similarly, I don’t think Brent Grimes’ Achilles injury is going to be as detrimental to him moving forward because corners that don’t rely on their abilities from the neck down tend to have very long careers (see Ronde Barber) despite losing a step.
Many probably fall into two camps when prognosticated how this trade works out for the Bucs: Nnamdi Asomugha or Charles Woodson. Nnamdi was a disaster in Philadelphia, signed for a contract not that far below Revis’ new deal, and expected to be a foundation piece to a revamped and formidable defense there. Asomugha looked old and slow and could not adjust to the Eagles system. Woodson was six months from his thirtieth birthday when he signed with Green Bay in 2006, and has had arguably one of the best post-30 careers of any defensive back in NFL history, and solidified him as a sure-fire Hall of Famer when his career is over. I think Revis winds up being much closer to Woodson than Asomugha on that spectrum.
This isn’t a move that is going to push the Bucs over the hump. But I do think it solidifies their defense for the most part. They need to get better up front with more pressure off the edge, but overall their roster is pretty solid except for one glaring question mark: quarterback.
Their 2013 season will ride on the coattails of Josh Freeman. Freeman is entering his contract year, and the current regime is rightfully unwilling to commit long-term to the very inconsistent Freeman. Freeman has all the tools to be a top-flight quarterback, but I don’t think he’s quite a student of the game or a natural leader that you want in some of the “true” franchise passers around the league. What I think you ultimately hope for with Freeman is that he is Jay Cutler. When he’s on, he’s very good. When he’s not, you just hope the rest of your team can step up. And with Revis, the Bucs should now have a defense that should keep them competitive against top offenses, coupled with a running game spearheaded by Doug Martin that can take pressure off Freeman to be good each week.
If you basically break it down like this: if Freeman can give the Bucs eight good games, and the rest of the team can pick up the slack for the remaining eight they are in good shape. If they can go 6-2 or better in Freeman’s good half of the season, and go 4-4 or better in the other half of the season, they should be in the playoff mix every year. Then, their issue becomes how do they take that and become a legit Super Bowl contender year in and year out. But that’s a bridge that they can deal with down the road.
It’s going to be an interesting battle this year in the NFC South. Talk about parity. The Falcons went 3-3 last year, and even in those three wins, you change a handful of plays, and the Falcons probably lose them.