Well, just as Mel Kiper and Todd McShay and every other “expert” give their draft grades (even though they know a miniscule amount compared to our Bird Cage Family), it’s time for the real Atlanta Falcon experts to give their draft grades. If nothing else, you can’t say this draft was boring and it surely has provided us with plenty to talk about for the next several months (hopefully not longer than normal due to the lockout). Since the letter grades have been played out and then some, we’ll try something a little different this year. Instead of using the letter grades (B-, etc), try using the number scale from 1 – 10. This will give you more options of assessing the Atlanta Falcons draft. 1 would be absolutely Adam Jennings muffed punt terrible and 10 would be Roddy White 3 consecutive Pro Bowl worthy. And with that, here’s the Bird Cage’s take…….
Julio Jones – Wide Receiver – Alabama
The great debate has raged and raged since Falcons fans jaws dropped to the floor with the shocking launch up the charts to grab one of the best receivers to come out of college in quite some time. Many are still outraged for the amount of draft picks that Dimitroff gave up, but most have seemed to settle quite nicely around the fact that Julio Jones will be wearing an Atlanta Falcons uniform likely for the next decade. What many fail to mention in the negative assessment is that we just got our future at wide receiver, and while there are no surefire picks, Jones missed only one start at Alabama playing in the toughest conference in college football. Not to mention the fact that he ran a 4.34 forty yard dash on a broken foot. Big. Fast. Tough. Great Blocker. Excellent Work Ethic. Superb Teammate. A True Deep Threat. What’s not to like?
Many are still upset about what the Birds gave up (officially: 2nd and 4th rounder this year and a 1st and 4th rounder next year). Not too hard rationalizing giving up two 4th rounders (Lawrence Sidbury and Joe Hawley type picks), a 2nd rounder, and a future 1st rounder (Peria Jerry and Sean Weatherspoon have had little production) to grab one of the most talented wide receivers to come out in quite some time. If you’re worried about the pressure, than a comforting fact is that Jones has produced wherever he’s gone and always been highly rated. This one could (and will) go on forever, but it was a calculated risk and sometimes you have to make them to reach your ultimate goals. Grade – 8
Akeem Dent – Linebacker – Georgia
This one is the big head-scratcher of this draft. Dent was a pretty productive linebacker who had the misfortune for playing for a pretty awful defensive coordinator for his first 3 years and then had to undergo a complete change in philosophy his senior year, where he was moved inside to play linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Outside of his tackles (240 career), his career stats weren’t eye-popping in the least: 12.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 5 pass breakups, 0 interceptions. Perhaps having to change positions hurt both his instincts and awareness, but he did manage a career high in sacks as a senior (2.5). There also is the issue of a common problem at UGA being the underdevelopment of players while they are in college, most of which go on to have pretty high and immediate success in the NFL. Many are screaming reach on this one because most draft sites had Dent going mostly around the 6th or 7th rounds or even not getting drafted. It was more shocking than last year’s 3rd round selection because Corey Peters seemed to ranked at least a little higher than Dent and was more productive.
That being said though, the Peters pick should remind fans that although it may make absolutely no sense to us fans, Dimitroff usually has a pretty well-thought out plan. Peters was one of the most productive rookies to come on board immediately in quite some time, beating out veterans Trey Lewis, Peria Jerry, and Vance Walker for many starts. Judging from conversations he seems as though he’ll be ready for major special teams duties and backing up Curtis Lofton, who just underwent surgeries on both of his knees. Either Lofton’s status is way more uncertain than we thought or Dent may eventually challenge for an outside linebacker spot. It’s not that far fetched. Akeem Ayers, regarded as the 2nd best OLB in this draft, had similar measurables and was only a hundredth of a second faster than Dent (4.72 compared to 4.73). As Coop said, it’s hard to believe we’re at a point of drafting pure backups in the 3rd round. Grade – 4
Jacquizz Rodgers – Running Back – Oregon State
Even though Mel Kiper generally didn’t think too highly of the Falcons overall draft, one of his 3 “draft gems” was Rodgers. This was an excellent pick both in terms of position need and value. Rodgers was one of the most productive running backs to come out in the draft this year. His smaller stature (5’6) may have led many teams to pass on him and his somewhat slow combine time of 4.59 (4.47 at Pro Day) may have scared others away. For a change-of-pace back, he may not have blazing speed, but some guys are just great football players and Rodgers production shows that. The guy racked up 3,790 yards rushing in his career, never ran for under 1,000 yards in any one year, had 46 rushing TDs, 1,036 receiving yards, 4 receiving TDs, and only fumbled one time in 766 rushing attempts. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t love this pick.
Rodgers will fit perfectly into the stable of running backs the Falcons have with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling. One of the biggest issues last season was the Falcons inability to attack the edges by throwing to runners out of the backfield. When Turner was in the game, you basically knew he wouldn’t be getting a pass. When Snelling was in the game, getting a pass was very likely and he did very well with it, but he was never really a threat to take it the distance. Rodgers may not be Carl Lewis in terms of foot speed, but his quickness, toughness, agility, and carrying gives the Falcons much more of a threat out of the backfield and very complementary running back corps. Grade – 10
Matt Bosher – K/P – Miami
Oh the agony and pain. When grading this pick, you can’t give negative numbers. The initial shock was the absolute worst because when the Falcons selection came up, it showed Bosher only as a punter and not a kicker. There were so many great potential prospects on the board at the time and we go with a punter in the 6th round? Many are still seeing red with this pick, but some have started to come around to the pick a decent amount after reading about him and seeing where he may fit into the Falcons roster. First of all, he’s one of the only kickers available who was “multi-purpose” meaning he could do it all: kickoff, punt, and place-kick (Alex Henery was the other one who was drafted in the 4th round by the Eagles). The good: Bosher was 97.7% in PAT’s throughout his entire career, he was 84.9% accurate from all the field goals he kicked while at Miami, played in all games throughout his entire career at Miami, very accurate long distance FG kicker, and averaged 44 yards per punt with a long of 62.
The big reason that Bosher was potentially drafted was to immediately replace Michael Koenen, who definitely has been slipping in terms of both punts and kickoffs. Koenen received the franchise tag last year and was one of the highest paid punters in the entire NFL, earning a whopping $2.731 million, which came out to a 110% pay raise. Simply put, Koenen’s time is likely over in Atlanta. Dimitroff also knew that he would have no access to undrafted free agents this year due to the lockout and, even though many know for certain he would’ve been there in the 7th, you can’t really say that with absolute conviction. If the Falcons have found their future kicker and punter, as they lead to believe, than this can be considered a good pick in the 6th round. If, however, Koenen is still wearing red and black come August or Bosher struggles with field goals, than this has to be considered a major reach.Contingency: Grade – 7 – Assuming he replaces Koenen and is productive. Grade – 0 – If he doesn’t replace Koenen and struggles with punts and kicks
Andrew Jackson – Guard – Fresno State
This could be a gem in and of itself. Jackson earned 1st Team All-American as a junior and would definitely have gone much higher if not for suffering an injury before his senior year. Described by Trent Dilfer as “one of the smartest human beings I’ve ever been around,” Jackson has power, size, and the highly sought after versatility that Dimitroff and Coach Mike Smith are looking for in their players. A high effort player described by CBS NFL Draft Scout as a “tough, gritty lineman who loves to get physical and finish plays by driving his opponent into the ground.” He does need to work on his footwork and the injury is a little concerning, but he gives great value and depth at a position that is looking more and more that either Harvey Dahl or Justin Blalock will not be returning next year. Grade – 7
Cliff Matthews – Defensive End – South Carolina
In terms of value, and as silly as it sounds, this may very well be the best pick of the draft. Everyone has been clamoring for pass rush help for several years now. Even though Biermann appears to be on the verge of making the jump, he hasn’t done so just yet. Sidbury hasn’t even made it in for live snaps since he was a rookie, so this was welcome news to Falcons fans and draft experts alike. Matthews was slotted to go way earlier in the draft, somewhere around the 5th round or possibly even before that time. He competed in the SEC and had pretty good numbers: 149 career tackles, 26 tackles for a loss, and 15.5 sacks. Although he definitely has some work to do, Matthews has good size (6’4, 257, 4.82 forty) and with a great work ethic, he may even work his way into a rotation as a rookie. You never know, but Matthews may even become a starter one day. A terrific player who was a captain as a junior and a senior. This pick allayed some fears and ended the overall draft on a very positive note. Grade – 9