Prepping for the Draft

NFL: CombineWith the draft less than two weeks away, lets recap some common themes we may see the Falcons hone in on throughout the four day spectacle.

  • Look for the team to focus in on adding much needed depth to the cornerback position
  • Defensive end is still an area of need
  • Will the team trade up to secure a top-level pass-rusher?
  • With the entire right side of the 2012 offensive line gone, lets see if the Falcons attempt to secure at least one new starter in the draft.
  • Drafting a tight end is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities, but is the first round  too early?

My gut tells me that things will play out like this: the Falcons will draft a starting-caliber cornerback with the 30th overall pick (Desmond Trufunt or Xhavier Rhodes). In the second round, the team will snag a DE, a group that offers plenty of depth this year. The third round will be a pivital pick, in my opinion. I feel the team will either go with an offensive guard or continue to bolster the secondary. The fourth round, in which the Falcons have two picks, provides some flexibility. I believe the team will look at some TE’s and continue to address the weak pass-rush. The remaining picks will most likely be used on best available player available, a tactic the Falcons use each year with great success.

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The Brian Banks Story

brian-banksEarlier this week, it was announced that the Falcons signed LB Brian Banks, who spent five years in prison after an old class mate fabricated a story claiming Banks had raped her.  After coming clean that she had made the story up, Banks was exonerated.

This is truly a heart warming story. Originally committing to play at USC in 2002 prior to the  false conviction, Banks’ football dreams seemed to be dashed forever. Last year he attended a host of NFL training camps before eventually playing with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL.

The Falcons have revived Banks’ dreams of one day playing in the NFL, and from a competitive standpoint, the opportunity is there. The Falcons have a noticeable weakness at the linebacker position and Banks can add some much needed depth.

Regardless of the outcome of his tenure with the Falcons, Brian Banks is a guy that I will be rooting for. Stories like his are truly an inspiration and really reflect the human side of the sport that is often lost in the shuffle.

Below are a few links that will provide you with some more knowledge and insight into Brandon Banks’ hard fought road to reclaiming his dream.

 

 

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Tony Discusses His Return

http://www.atlantafalcons.com/media-lounge/videos/Gonzalez-Speaks-on-His-Return/dd50d6f7-7ba7-4ee5-8baa-ced70230d15c

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Re-considering the Draft?

lineeThe recent shuffles on the offensive line have led me to begin that an offensive lineman may be in play with the Atlanta Falcons 30th overall pick in the draft.

Throughout the entire off-season I have been deadest on the Falcons going defense. But it seems as though that logic may be fading away. I understand that the Falcons have some guys waiting in the wings, but these players – Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, and Lamar Holmes—have been back-ups for a reason. It certainly would make sense for the team to bring in a guy that could compete for a job at the RG or RT spot.

Defense, however, is still a major need. Signing Osi Umeniyora has certainly lessened the need but the cornerback position is still a major concern. If a mid-round offensive lineman falls to the Falcons I can see them pulling the trigger. If not, I believe they will select the best corner available to step in and fill the role as the number two corner in the secondary.

With the draft rapidly approaching, the Falcons are faced with a lot of needs considering they were four yards from the Super Bowl a year ago.

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Re-shuffling the Offensive Line

9554_10151404074712842_604337040_nWith the release of veteran RT Tyson Clabo earlier this week, the Falcons’ off-season needs have quietly shifted from the defensive line to the offensive front.

I have to imagine it was a tough decision for Thomas Dimitroff and the rest of the Atlanta Falcons front office to let go of Clabo, especially considering the fact that long-time starting center Todd McClure decided to hang it up earlier this off-season. This means that there are two voids along the offensive line. One of these voids will be filled by 2nd year pro Peter Konz, who will take over as center. But the RT position seems to be open for competition.

There are currently three players on the roster who could wind up taking over at the open tackle position. Mike Johnson, Garrett Reynolds, and Lamar Holmes are some possible candidates. I also expect the team to explore some options in this year’s offensive lineman-heavy draft class.As for the right guard position, it appears that Joe Hawley has the spot concreted but like the tackle position, I expect the team to also explore options in the draft.

It’s apparent that the Falcons have some work to do in re-assembling Matt Ryan’s wall of protection. Ryan is due for a hefty contract later this off-season and with that comes some sacrifices. Turner, Robinson and Abraham were among these sacrifices. Now add Clabo to the list.

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Remembering Brent Grimes

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Examining the Cornerback Prospects

NFL-Draft-LogoDee Milliner, Alabama:

Scout’s take: (Dane Brugler, CBS Sports)

STRENGTHS: Built well for the position. Plays with excellent coordination and smooth hips, using his arms and hands to knock down throws. Excellent awareness and read/react ability, getting his head turned and uses his eyes well to quickly find the ball.

Attacks the run and is a very good tackler, never backing down. He is a bruising hitter and does a nice job separating ball from receiver with terrific timing. Plays tight bump-and-run and enjoys pressing with little cushion. Closes quickly and baits throws, looking to make a play on each snap.

Smart and disciplined, but not shy about coming off his man to make a play. Physical striker and does a nice job avoiding blocks while keeping his eye on the ball. He processes information quickly and looks comfortable in space.

WEAKNESSES: Lacks elite speed and quick-twitch ability. Plays too aggressive at times and will take himself out of the play, missing some tackles. Has just one full season as a starter. Needs to refine some of his cover technique, most notably his backpedal.

My take:

Clearly won’t be available when the Falcons pick at 30 overall. If Atlanta wants him bad enough, it will have to trade up, kind of like they did for a different Alabama player a few years ago.

Desmond Trufant, Washington:

Scout’s take: (Rob Rang, CBS Sports)

Strengths: Athletic with fluid footwork, flashing the foot agility to drive quickly on the play. Looks natural in space, staying balanced with the hips and transition skills to redirect in any direction. Physical and fights for the ball when it’s in the air, showing an excellent competitive nature. Doesn’t shy from contact and will get his nose dirty in run support. Very good job tracking and highpointing with a top vertical to get his hands on the ball. Good bloodlines and understands the NFL process. Good experience as a four-year starter (47 career starts), spending time both inside and outside and in both man and zone coverage.

Weaknesses: Narrow torso, lean muscle tone and only average length. Opens his hips too early to protect against speed and needs to stay under control in his movements. Streaky technique once the ball in snapped and reverts to bad habits, relying on his natural athleticism over fundamentals. Lacks elite top-end speed and can be beat vertically. Inconsistent tackling technique, hitting too high and lacking the strength to consistently finish. Plays close to the line of scrimmage but doesn’t make much contact and needs to improve his body position downfield. Too much of a grabber. Nagging hamstring injury late in 2012.

My Take:

I would love for the Falcons to draft Trufant if he is available at 30. Even if it means trading up to leapfrog other cornerback-needy teams, I think the value would still be there. I think having him play opposite Samuel would create a compelling duo at the position. Whereas Samuel likes to sit back and play zone, Trufant is more versatile and can man up with the best in the game. This would be a solid pick, I like this prospect.

Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

Scout’s take: (Dane Brugler, CBS Sports)

STRENGTHS: Rhodes is strong for the position with a solidly-built frame and excellent arm length. He loves to jam and get physical in press coverage, getting in the face of receivers at the line of scrimmage and staying aggressive through the whistle.

Rhodes has very good click-and-close ability with strong plant-and-go burst to drive on plays in front of him, undercutting routes and knocking down passes. He does a nice job getting his head around to locate and high point with very good leaping ability and timing. Rhodes can flip his hips and easily change directions with a near-effortless transition, showing the ability to adjust and contort his body.

WEAKNESSES: Rhodes tends to get too physical in tight coverage, playing too hands-on and grabby, which will attract pass interference penalties. He plays very aggressive with the ball in the air, but makes too much contact and needs to pay more attention to body position.

Rhodes needs to show better discipline and is susceptible to play fakes and misdirection. He lacks elite long-speed and isn’t a quick-twitch type of athlete. Rhodes needs to stay assignment-sound holding contain against the run. He needs to eliminate the penalties and stay focused, controlling his intensity.

My take:

Considered by many as the second best corner in the draft, Rhodes would provide a sense of physicality to the cornerback position—something the group will now be lacking with the departure of Dunta Robinson. He would be an exciting option for the Falcons to consider and would compete for the starting position immediately.

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Farewell to Brent Grimes

GrimesI want to start by recognizing that Brent Grimes is one of the great corners in this league and when healthy, he could be a top 5 corner. Unfortunately he will no longer be putting his talents on display in a Falcons uniform.

On Friday, Grimes was snatched up by the cornerback-needy Miami Dolphins, who extended their off-season shopping spree.

I think I speak for most Falcons fans when I say I was holding on to every last bit of hope in terms of Grimes re-signing with the Falcons. Unfortunately, his time has, pre-maturely so,  expired in Atlanta. He really only had one true season to prove his worth as an Atlanta Falcon. And in that one year, he played great and put together a leaping highlight reel of plays which included his memorable interception on Drew Brees in which he practically leaped the height of the Georgia Dome to pluck the ball out of thin air.

I was looking forward to seeing the trio of Grimes, Samuel, and Robinson last season, with Robinson finally getting the opportunity to play in his desired nickel position. Instead, Grimes ruptured his Achilles on opening day, shuffling the entire cornerback group.

Moving ahead, the Falcons now have just two starting-caliber corner’s on the roster. Samuel, who is climbing the age ladder, and Robert McClain, who came on strong last year in the nickel. This means that the need for a cornerback is now almost equal to that of a defensive end. The Falcons, I would have to imagine, will comb the remainder of the free agent corners on the market and analyze the possibility of selecting a CB with the 30th overall pick in the draft.

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Mock Monitor 2.0

NFL-Draft-LogoI presented an initial Mock Monitor prior to the combine to see what the most prominent sports sites were saying about who they think Atlanta will take with the 30th overall pick in Aprils NFL Draft.

Now, let’s take a look at what these same sites are sating today.

Mel Kiper (ESPN) has the Falcons pursuing DE Bjoern Werner out of Florida State. Here is Kiper’s explanation:

 “John Abraham was released, and this pass-rush looks pretty bleak without an addition. Werner’s stock has taken a recent hit, but he was extremely productive at Florida State as a pass-rusher and can step into a 4-3 ready to contribute. The key for him will be whether he continues to develop and adds wrinkles to his repertoire because he was late to football. But Atlanta needs a pass-rusher, period.”

My thoughts:

I like this pick a lot. I’ve said over and over that the Falcon’s biggest weakness is on the defensive line. Adding a high-motor guy with a plethora of upside to the roster will pay huge dividends early. It is unclear if Werner, who was once considered the top DE in this class, will still be around by the time Atlanta picks but, if he is, it will be a great addition. Sign a veteran DE (Osi Umeniyora?) to take him under his wing and the Falcons could hit a home run on this one. Lot of upside.

Eric Galko (optimumscouting.com) has the Falcons selecting TE Zach Ertz out of Stanford. Here is his take:

“Even with Tony Gonzales returning, the Falcons need to find his eventual replacement. Zach Ertz is a Top 15 talent on our board, and is worth grabbing here and sticking behind the best tight end in NFL history for a year.”

My thoughts:

Certainly makes sense. In today’s pass-heavy game, the best teams typically have two solid tight ends to line up inside or outside. Tony is coming back, but only for one season. The birds will eventually need to think about a long-term solution to the position. Ertz certainly fits the bill. Big target with exceptional hands. This would be a valuable pick.

Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) has the Falcons selecting Alex Okafor, DE out of Texas. Here is his take:

“The Falcons have done many things to make another run at the Super Bowl but they have a glaring need at pass rusher. Okafor is a high character guy in the mold of the Falcons’ roster. He can play all down and distances and is talented enough to stand up and drop when defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan gets creative with the scheme.”

My thoughts:

Alex Okafor blew my mind in the bowl game this past season when he recorded 4 ½ sacks against Oregon State. Since that game I feel like he has burst onto the radars of many scouts around the league. Okafor would be a great addition to the pass rush. He is a typical 4-3 pass-rusher who can add what the falcons have been lacking: sacks. Overall, this would be a great pick and a solid addition to the defense.

Conclusion:

With the draft a little over a month away, mock drafts will continue to fluctuate as pro days come to a close around the country. One thing is certain; many analysts believe the Falcons need to add a pass-rusher. I think it is almost a foregone conclusion that Atlanta will bulk up the pass-rush department with the 30th overall pick.

 

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Osi Headed Back Home?

Philadelphia+Eagles+v+New+York+Giants+qJz9FIdPDwelSince the Atlanta Falcons let go of John Abraham about a month ago, it has been no surprise that the team has been faced with a glaring weakness at the defensive end position.

The Falcons may be taking a step toward addressing this hole by reportedly “heavily pursuing” veteran defensive end and Atlanta native Osi Umenyiora, who previously won two Super Bowl’s with the New York Giants.

I have said all along that I’ve wanted the Falcons to sign Umenyiora. This is because I knew they could get him for a discounted rate. In my opinion Umenyiora provides the best value at the position in the free agent market. At age 31, Umenyiora will provide an instant veteran presence to the lackluster Atlanta defensive line. This will also allow the Falcons to draft a young defensive end, who Osi can take under his wing and mentor.

It isn’t final yet, but all signs seem to be pointing to an Atlanta Falcons-Osi Umenyiora partnership. If so, I look forward to seeing what he has left in the tank and if he is the answer to the Falcons getting over the hump. Osi certainly thinks he has a lot in the tank, saying on NFL Total Access “wherever I go, I will win defensive player of the year.” In this league confidence goes along way, let’s hope Osi is right.

http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/giants/post/_/id/23847/osi-atl-a-better-place-to-win-than-n-y

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