The 2010 NFL Draft is drawing ever so closer (35 days, but who’s counting) and the predictions, conversations, and debates are heating up at a rapid pace. The anticipation of the Big Day is almost as much fun as the event itself. Everyone who loves Falcons and football are scanning prospect lists and trying to figure out who would look best in red and black come August. Thomas Dimitroff has proven to be one of the best in the business in scouting players to add to the Birds roster. Only 2 players that Dimitroff has drafted (Wilrey Fontenot, William Middleton) failed to make the roster in their first year, and only one other (Thomas Brown) is not on the current roster or practice squad. The majority of TD’s picks have either become starters (Matt Ryan, Sam Baker, Thomas DeCoud, Curtis Lofton, Chris Owens), heavy contributors (Harry Douglas, Kroy Biermann, Chevis Jackson, Vance Walker), promising rookies (Lawrence Sidbury Jr., Garrett Reynolds, Spencer Adkins), or haven’t had a chance due to injury (Peria Jerry, William Moore). Dimitroff is batting at an 84% success rate of the players he’s drafted making the active roster or practice squad. In short, as you get ready to play Atlanta Falcons General Manager, you got your work cut out for you.
Beginning this Friday and lasting each Friday until the week of the draft, The Bird Cage will offer a new look at what the Falcons might do as the draft nears, culminating with the 2nd Annual Bird Cage Mock Draft Competition. The competition will be a friendly and enjoyable chance for Bird Cage readers and posters to predict what the Birds will do. The next three weeks will not necessarily be the exact prediction of what the Falcons will do, but rather to examine the possibilities they could entertain with various prospects in the different rounds. In other words, research and play around with your practice mocks for the next several weeks, before offering your final version submitted for the actual competition.
Some excellent websites to assist you in your venture (special thanks to these sites for their superb draft research):
NFLDraftScout.com (particularly good with its estimated draft rounds for each prospect)
My Weak Attempt:
The great debate rages about the most important pick the Falcons will make on Thursday, April 22nd. The Falcons have several obvious needs and can go in several directions, but one of the most glaring needs is the lack of production from the weakside linebacker position. Mike Peterson was signed as a stop-gap linebacker and played well early, but quickly wore down as the season grinded on. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Mike Peterson ranked 50th out of 53 linebackers in the 4-3 defense, using cumulative statistics. Peterson had one sack, was very weak in stopping the run, and had major difficulties covering running backs out of the backfield or intermediate routes. Weatherspoon may benefit from being one of the best prototypical 4-3 linebackers (opposed to a 3-4 DE/OLB hybrid), but he’s the real deal. He’s 6’1, 239, and had a superb Senior Bowl followed by an excellent Scouting Combine. He is a natural leader who totaled over 400 tackles, over 13 sacks, and over 40 tackles for loss as a three year starter. Weatherspoon is rated as a top 20 overall prospect by the majority of draft and scout websites and experts. Spoon, as he’s nicknamed, is a great talent that fills one of the Falcons biggest needs. Falcons just had a private workout with Weatherspoon. Other private workouts have included Matt Ryan and Peria Jerry. Other possibilities: DE Brandon Graham, OLB Sergio Kindle, WR Golden Tate, Taylor Mays (OLB)
Many fans may disagree in taking a wide receiver this early in the draft, especially not having a second round pick, but the offense needs more playmakers in the passing attack. Roddy White is a two-time, consecutive season Pro Bowler who is one of the best receivers in the NFL and gets little help from the other side. Harry Douglas was one of the best surprises as a rookie, being able to stretch the field in the slot and make the run after the catch. Michael Jenkins has underachieved as a former first round draft pick and caught only one touchdown in 2009 after having Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Michael Turner on the field. Perhaps the injury to Harry Douglas was much more detrimental than many believed, and Jenkins dipped accordingly, but its time to seriously upgrade the receiving corps (see Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints). Jenkins should definitely be a part of the Falcons receiver roster, but is he a legit #2 WR? Douglas is coming back from major surgery, Eric Weems was ineffectual, and Marty Booker added zero threat. The Falcons can go in two directions for receiver: short, speedy deep threat in the mold of Harry Douglas or tall, possession receiver to compete with Jenkins. Riley Cooper out of Florida might be a perfect fit. Cooper became Tim Tebow’s favorite target for good reasons. He possesses a natural athleticism, excellent hands, and superb speed (4.54 forty) for such a solid frame (6’3, 222). Not afraid to go up for the ball and make runs after the catch. Other WR possibilities: Eric Decker, Jacoby Ford, Jordan Shipley, Mardy Gilyard
One of the biggest areas of need for the Falcons is to continue and build the offensive line through a youth movement. Dimitroff has only drafted two offensive lineman in Tackle Sam Baker and Tackle Garrett Reynolds. Most fans will likely assume that the Birds will take a center this year since Todd McClure will be 33 years old this year and probably on the verge of retiring, but Dimitroff signed Brett Romberg as a backup center who filled in very nicely for McClure last year. The guard position is much more vulnerable. Harvey Dahl will become an unrestricted free agent next year unless he’s signed during the season. Justin Blalock ranks near the bottom of most categories and was the weakest link on the line, at least according to ProFootballFocus.com ranking as the 73rd best guard out of 84. Quinn Ojinnaka provides great versatility in being able to play both guard and tackle. That leads right into the next pick of OG John Jerry. Considered a guard by DraftCountdown.com and listed as a tackle by NFLDraftScout.com. This is the versatility that Coach Smith and Boudreau crave. Excellent size and bulk (6’5, 328) and gets a great push in the run game. Brother of none other than one certain defensive tackle Peria Jerry. Provides great insurance on a very vulnerable line. Other possibilities: OG Mike Johnson, C Matt Tennant, OT Jared Veldheer
Even though Tony Gonzalez is definitely coming back for another year, the fact that he considered possibly not returning should give the Falcons top brass a much needed push to finally draft a tight end to groom for the future. Justin Peele has proven to be an excellent and reliable #2 tight end and could serve as a possible stop-gap if needed, but is over the age of 30 himself. Keith Zinger made the team as the #3 tight end and did improve some in the passing game, but after being assigned to the practice squad as a rookie, its hard to believe he a legitimate number one TE. Many possibilities abound no what the Falcons can do at Tight End, but Graham fits the bill of something Dimitroff desires: superb college production. Graham is not as tall as some would like (6’3), but has good size and speed nonetheless (243, 4.67 forty). His production at Wisconsin is hard to ignore: over 120 receptions, almost 1,500 yards receiving, and 16 TDs in three years as a starter. Not a blazer, but neither is Tony Gonzalez. Other TE possibilities: Jimmy Graham, Colin Peek, Andrew Quarless
This probably will on the board much earlier in the draft, but this year’s cornerback groups seems to be particularly deep and Dimitroff is one of the best in the business at scouting and mining late cornerback talent (Asante Samuel, Chris Owens). The signing of Dunta Robinson seemingly created a logjam of players at cornerback, but Dimitroff quickly traded Chris Houston to Detroit and released Tye Hill, giving the Falcons 5 CBs on the roster, with one of them coming back from major knee surgery. Dimitroff and Coach Smith have stated that they want to add size to the cornerback group and Lewis certainly adds that (6’2, 203) with excellent speed (4.42 forty). Lewis may have some issues adjusting to the quick hip-turn at the NFL level, but is an excellent zone-cover corner who supports the run with authority, wraps up well, and can be an active blitzer. Doesn’t need to come in and start immediately and will have time to develop. Other CB possibilities: Kevin Thomas, AJ Jefferson
Definitely probably the pick that will get lampooned the most by fans, but if the Falcons pass on defensive end with their first overall pick, than its probably a signal that either Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury Jr., or both in rotation could be starting opposite John Abraham in September. Dimitroff mentioned to DOL that they’re happy with their defensive ends and expect the return of Peria Jerry to boost the pass rush. Obviously a risk in waiting, but the talent level dramatically drops off in terms of potential after the first round. Te’o-Nesheim follows the trend of extremely productive college careers that Dimitroff likes: almost 200 tackles, 47 tackles for a loss, and 30 sacks in 4 years. Has nice size (6’3, 267) and speed (4.75) to develop. Other DE Possibilities: Austen Lane, CJ Wilson, Clifton Geathers
Also a pick that will likely receive criticism, but compared to other positions, defensive tackle is one of the more stable on the team. Jonathan Babineaux was one of the best DTs in the game according to ProFootballFocus.com and only looks to improve with more playmakers around him. Peria Jerry basically missed the entire season with a knee injury, but they obviously feel good about his rehab. Jamaal Anderson appears to have found a new home at defensive tackle and could flourish at DT, particularly against the run. Vance Walker and Thomas Johnson both showed promise in the time they played and made starts. There may not have been much of a push in terms of QB rush, but they drastically improved in the run game. Woods adds very good size (6’4, 309) and surprising speed (5.15) to add depth to the line. Would be in direct competition for a 5th spot on the roster and would add the bulk many fans desire. Other DT possibilities: Corey Peters, Brandon Deadrick
The Falcons need more playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, particularly in the aerial attack. After adding a big receiver to complement Roddy White, this might be a good spot to add another speedster to compete for a receiver spot. Once a source of strength, the receiving corps became anemic last season. Sanders speed (4.40) and college production (over 3,700 receiving yards, 34 TDs) may cause him to be gone much earlier than the 6th round, but adding a player like Sanders could quickly give the Falcons some much needed firepower in their air attack. His size (5’11) would make him a perfect fit as a #4 or #5 receiver.
Fire away Ladies and Gentlemen. My attempt will surely take some shots and, frankly, that’s the point in creating discussion about what the Falcons biggest needs are, what some of the best prospects are, and who would fit best in Atlanta. Which combinations would be the best? Which positions are the deepest and can be picked accordingly?
Use the draft sites above to help you with your research. Remember, these next three weeks will be “practice rounds” leading up to a final submission for the 2nd Annual Bird Cage Mock Draft Competition. Have some fun!