Friday, June 3, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Atlanta Falcons

You may remember by NFL Draft Rumors post a few days before the Draft. In it, my 3rd rumor was that Atlanta was looking to move into the top 5 for A.J. Green or Julio Jones. I thought that may have been a smokescreen to try and target a defensive end. Well, the Falcons didn't trade into the top 5, but they did land Julio Jones. In the flashiest move of the entire draft, the Falcons traded up from their 27th spot in the draft to Cleveland's 6th spot in exchange for 2nd and 4th round picks in 2011 and 1st and 4th round picks in 2012. Atlanta, the top seed in the NFC last year, is in a serious win now mode and Julio Jones offers an immediate upgrade over Michael Jenkins across from Roddy White. The Falcons offense was already potent, and now Matt Ryan has another elite weapon. That limited the Falcons resources in the immediate future, they still made some solid hits, adding to GM Thomas Dimitroff's impressive record.

1st round, 6th overall) Julio Jones - WR - Alabama
Jones was widely regarded as only a small step behind Georgia's A.J. Green ever since they came out of high school together. Jones blazed a 4.39 40 on a broken foot at the Combine. He already had enough tape to warrant a top 10 selection, and his performance in Indianapolis only raised his stock even more. At 6'3" 220lbs Jones has elite size and is the best blocking receiver to come out since Brandon Marshall went to the Denver Broncos. Jones also offers a unique skillset having taken snaps in Alabama's Wildcat formation.

How he fits in: Roddy White is a top 5 receiver in the NFL already and Tony Gonzalez, despite being in the twilight of his career, is still a very good tight end. However, after those two, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas don't offer as much as Atlanta would like, so they chose to upgrade their weapons around Matt Ryan. Jones should swipe Michael Jenkins' starting spot with his first step onto the field. While he ran a 4.39 in Indy, Jones' tape shows he doesn't play that fast. He's not overly explose, like an Andre Johnson, and he can't break away like Randy Moss can. I think a fair comparison is a cross between Larry Fitzgerald and Brandon Marshall. He's got outstanding hands and leaping ability like Fitzgerald, and is very physical and not afraid to run any route over the middle like Marshall, and he's built similarly to both.

Outlook: The Falcons, whose number one need was probably a pass-rushing defensive end, gambled here on upgrading the offense, much like the Packers have done over time. The Falcons rid themselves of a lot of picks, and with 3 impending free agent starters on the O-line (LG Justin Blalock, RG Harvey Dahl, and RT Tyson Clabo) Atlanta must be hoping for a hometwon discount to at least bring two of them back and still have enough left to sign a DE since they didn't have the picks to make those moves. Jones gives them a ridiculous shot in the arm, but Matt Ryan, who already takes a lot of hits, could suffer if he loses two of those guys in free agency, especially Dahl or Clabo. Jones the player is fine, he'll be great, but this was a high risk, high reward move in executing the trade with the Browns.

3rd round, 91st overall) Akeem Dent - LB - Georgia
The Falcons have two very good players in the linebacking corps in Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon, but veteran Mike Peterson is fading fast, and there's little in the way of depth behind the starting trio. Enter Dent, a 5th-year senior from Georgia. He's a sizeable player for Atlanta's system at 6'1" 243lbs, and is decently athletic. Atlanta may have a move in mind to slide Curtis Lofton from the middle over to the weakside and let Dent play his natural inside position. Playing in the shadow of guys like Rennie Curran throughout his career, Dent finally broke through and had a superb senior year with the Bulldogs notching 126 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks. He's a plugger and won't do a whole lot coverage wise, but Atlanta may envision him as a 2-down middle backer and keep Weatherspoon and Lofton on the field in nickel and dime situations.

5th round, 145th overall) Jacquizz Rodgers - RB - Oregon State
The Falcons landed the BPA here and married it with a need. Jerious Norwood can't stay healthy and is a free agent. Jason Snelling is more fullback than running back and with Ovie Mughelli, the NFL's best fullback, on the roster, Snelling's role is limited. Michael Turner is a workhorse, but Atlanta needed a better compliment. Rodgers, a mighty-mouse player at 5'5" 197lbs, he's very shifty and is thick enough to run between the tackles. A poor 40 time in Indy and his lack of height caused him to tumble down draft boards until Dimitroff snatched him up. Rodgers will be a very good #2 to Michael Turner and may be able to help Eric Weems with return duties. A great value pick that ticked off a need for the Falcons.

6th round, 192nd overall) Matt Bosher - K/P - Miami
K Matt Bryant and P Michael Koenen have both been pretty steady over the years. Bryant's range has diminished some, but he's very accurate, and with the Falcons offense, he hardly has to kick long-range field goals. Michael Koenen's a boomer, but has some accuracy issues. Matt Bosher, who was surprisingly drafted over several other notable kickers, had a pretty good year for the Hurricanes hitting 45 of 53 field goals with a career long of 52 and missing only 3 extra points in 130 tries. I'm not sure how Atlanta plans to use Bosher, as he can punt as well, so I'll just have to scratch my head on this one.

7th round, 210th overall) Andrew Jackson - G - Fresno State
The Falcons needed depth on the O-line, especially if they lose some of their starters. I'll figure Justin Blalock won't be back as the Falcons have Mike Johnson waiting in the wings at left guard. Blalock had lost a step over the past few years anyway. Jackson fits the mold of the long, lean, yet physical guard prospect that they already have in Harvey Dahl. Dahl, their best lineman, will receive big money form the Falcons or someone else, so Jackson was needed as depth. At 6'5" 299lbs he was a 3-year starter at Fresno State, but definitely profiles as a backup in the NFL.

7th round, 230th overall) Cliff Matthews - DE - South Carolina
Jamaal Anderson has been a big-time bust for the Falcons at defensive end and he may be cut outright if they're able to land a big name free agent. John Abraham is still a fierce rusher in short stretches, but he's nearing the end of his career. Kroy Biermann gives them some hope for the future, but even he's iffy as a 3-down player. Matthews provides the Falcons with some depth at the very least, and should be able to take some snaps at strongside DE if he makes the roster. At 6'3" 257lbs, he's undersized, but is a steady player. A team captain who racked up 18.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks the last two years has played in 51 games and is athletic enough to make his mark on special teams, which he'll have to do to stick on the roster.

Overall Grade: B I'd like to give Atlanta something higher as the deal they made with the Browns was nowhere near as bad as many thought it out to be. They still had a good haul this year and they'll be surrendering high picks in rounds 1 and 4 next year for a player that's got a chance to be a potential superstar a year or two down the road. However, the Falcons had a big hole at DE that's still there, and they must be banking on re-signing the likes of Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo on the O-line as they didn't draft any replacements. Akeem Dent and Jacquizz Rodgers were both very good value picks and will contribute in major ways early on and their last three picks all have sticking potential. My only issue is they didn't address their two biggest needs, though Dimitroff knows what he's doing and has a plan in place, so I can't knock them too much.

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