Thanks to Big Ray, WR, & Paddy O for their inspiration on this new post. Before diving into each of the Falcons soon-to-be free agents and whether they should sign or ship them, thought it an interesting idea to see how the Falcons have done with developing the players that have been drafted the last four years.
Has the coaching staff done a poor job of developing players, or at least failed to give them a legitimate change? Or have the draft picks simply been below par. It’s obviously a hard thing to figure out with limited knowledge for us fans, but it’s been frustrating never knowing if the Falcons had some quality players that were never given a chance to shine or if the picks just weren’t that good.
On one side of the coin is the belief that this Falcons coaching staff, led by Smith’s hyper-conservative philosophy on all fronts, have been entirely too cautious and slow in their player development. It seems that the Falcons have drafted some seemingly good prospects who have shown flashes of ability, only never to be seen or heard from again.
They also have had a maddening tendency to keep some of the same players on the practice squad for several years in a row, giving the illusion that they like something about them, but never giving them a legit chance to make the team or prove their worth. They have rarely put in rookies for clean-up time to get live snaps and experience. There have also been instances of players having good rookie campaigns only to completely regress and sometimes not even make the roster.
Perhaps it’s simply a case of Thomas Dimitroff and his staff just making less-than-stellar draft picks that either had a limited ceiling, wasn’t a good fit, or just couldn’t progress for whatever reason. For instance, there’s no way you can blame the coaching staff for Sam Baker or Peria Jerry’s injury issues. They were well-documented when Dimitroff selected them. Although doing a pretty good job overall, the Falcons GM has certainly had his share of head-scratchers.
Sometimes, no one’s necessarily at fault and it’s just a case of bad timing, the player’s work ethic, or having established starters already on the roster. Maybe the draft picks progression just hit a wall or an injury sidelined an otherwise bright future.
**The idea is to look at draft picks known more for their developmental value which tend to be draft picks 3rd round and later**
This one obviously still has a chance to turn out well for the Falcons, but there’s a chance HD could go somewhere else and realize his true potential. The coaching staff surely can’t be blamed for Douglas getting injured in his 2nd year and he had a fantastic rookie campaign due to the Birds giving #83 chances to make plays.
That being said, though, the Falcons, in particular Mike Mularkey, did an extremely poor job of integrating Harry Douglas into the offense and definitely under-utilized Douglas when he was healthy last year and especially this season with him to go along with Roddy White and Julio Jones. Two examples here: Douglas looked fantastic in preseason and almost single-handedly brought back the Birds to win the game against the Saints at home. Those were only a few examples because otherwise he was non-existent in Mike Mularkey’s offense. Sure will hate to see him go elsewhere and be great.
Jackson is one of the more puzzling players to figure out. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL Draft from LSU and had a very good rookie year. Jackson essentially became the Falcons nickel cornerback and recorded 31 tackles, 5 passes defensed, and returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown, making it the second longest interception return in franchise history. Jackson even had an interception in the playoffs against Arizona that season.
Even though the future looked bright, Jackson just couldn’t replicate his rookie form and had limited playing time in 2009 and was cut the following season. Jackson never caught on with any other team and was cut by the Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, and Denver Broncos in 2010 and the Carolina Panthers this year. The coaching staff surely doesn’t seem at fault on this one since 4 other teams passed on him as well. Hard to think it was a terrible pick since he did have some decent success as a rookie. This one’s a puzzle.
This is an example of the Falcons wanting to hang onto a guy, but evidently never progressing enough to warrant a serious look on the big stage. Part of James issues including him receiving a ban for illegal substances, but even then he’s been hanging around the practice squad forever. He can either play or he can’t and the Falcons have had 4 years to gauge that, but yet he still remains on the practice squad.
Biermann has obviously become a mainstay on the Falcons roster and he’s done everything the Falcons have asked of him. Thought by many of being a potential 3-4 type outside linebacker at 240 lbs, the Falcons evidently saw him as a pure 4-3 DE. He answered by adding almost 20 lbs and even had 2 sacks as a rookie and then 5 sacks in year 2. Biermann started 14 games at DE in 2010, but only came away with 3 sacks.
Biermann only recorded 2.5 sacks with limited sacks this year. Biermann has shown that he has athletic ability, taking two interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive years and both of them came on pretty spectacular plays. Biermann is potentially poised to leave the Falcons this year and perhaps have success as a 3-4 OLB elsewhere. The coaches shouldn’t take all the blame for a player regressing, but their rigidity in not being creative or trying players at different positions or trying different looks is their fault.
No one has taken more flack than Owens after the Debacle in the Dome, where he became a scapegoat for many in what was a complete team and coaching meltdown. It was a shock when Dimitroff selected him in the third round and many thought him a major reach. Owens eventually took over one of the starting cornerback positions and played pretty darn well, nabbing two interceptions and stabilizing the secondary down the stretch for the Falcons to break the back-to-back curse.
Owens was relegated to the nickel role with the signing of Dunta Robinson and was eventually beat out by veteran Brian Williams. Owens skill was on display this year where he ran down several players with pure heart and speed. He can hit and tackle very well and seemed to play well in the playoff game in New York. Owens definitely has a future in Atlanta and may have been a victim of the ultra-soft zone defense. If he does much better under Mike Nolan, than coaching and schemes will have been the fault. If not, he probably was a reach after all.
Sidbury is the biggest example of questions regarding this staff’s development of players. Sidbury was a unquestionably great pick for the fourth round and many draft experts thought he was a steal. He saw limited action as a rookie, but managed to collar a sack and even scored a touchdown against the Bills. The future looked very bright for Mr. Sidbury.
Than he evidently became a ghost in 2010, only appearing in 6 total games and even then he was relegated to special teams. Most of the times, he was on the inactive list. No injury was ever disclosed and fans were absolutely perplexed. Many thought he was on the bubble to even make the team in 2011. So what does he do this season? He nabs 4 sacks in very limited snaps. Sidbury always had ability and it’s just very strange what has happened with his development. How do you go from showing flashes and promise as a rookie to rarely seeing the field to showing great promise again in year 3 getting 4 sacks in limited time?
On the surface, it’s easy to say that this was just a bad pick, one of Dimitroff’s famous head-scratchers. Many fans thought it was a reach, even for the 5th round. Even draft junkies hadn’t even heard of Middleton and they had just drafted Chris Owens a few rounds earlier. He didn’t even make the team as a developmental player and that’s saying something considering the fluidity and shakiness of the Falcons secondary since 2008.
However, he caught on with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has played in 39 games for the Jaguars, including starts. Middleton even nabbed an interception to go along with 38 combined tackles. Now, the Jaguars secondary shouldn’t be considered the pinnacle of excellence, but they were one of the better statistically ranked defenses in the NFL. Middleton could start for one of the better defenses, but couldn’t make it as the #5 cornerback to develop in Atlanta?
Reynolds got his big chance this year and couldn’t hold the right guard position. Reynolds was always a project anyway, but if you’ve ever gone to see him up close at Flowery Branch, you’ll quickly see him as he is a giant among men. He played right tackle exclusively in college at UNC and in high school, so his best chance seemed to be at RT. It never made that much sense him working at right guard with his height and frame and inexperience at guard, regardless of their affinity for cross-training.
Reynolds is obviously still on the roster and may still figure into the Falcons future, but this kind of goes into the Falcons rigidity in philosophy. With the problems on the offensive line, could the offensive staff not have tried Tyson Clabo at right guard and allowed Reynolds to play his natural position at RT? The coaching staff shouldn’t get most of the blame, but their limited flexibility should be called into question and like most players, could Reynolds not got some live snaps in 2009 and 2010? It is encouraging that all OL spots are open for competition for 2012.
Adkins was always a project, but Dimitroff loved his speed and upside for the future, while earning his living on special teams. Adkins has been around for 3 years and has never gotten any legitimate snaps at OLB in all those years. He was even in doubt of making the roster in 2011. Adkins only received his first start after all other options had been exhausted.
While only getting limited action, Adkins looked pretty darn good with few snaps. One play in particular against Tampa Bay, he took on and fought off several blocks to get to the running back for a tackle-for-loss in the backfield. Luckily, the Falcons still have him, but chalk this one up as a failure in development and chances to get this guy some live snaps.
If the coaching staff gets criticism for not developing certain players correctly, they should get proper credit for the ones they do well with. Vance Walker has been one of the most pleasant and surprising picks under Dimitroff. Taken in the 7th round, Walker has worked his way to be a very solid player in the Falcons defensive line rotation and looks to continue to be that way in the future.
Like Vance Walker, the coaching staff deserves credit for the development of Peters as a bona fide starter at defensive tackle to go alone with Jonathan Babineaux. Although a big shock to fans when drafted, Peters has been one of the best and most consistent picks of the Dimitroff Era. He has even fought off former 1st round pick Peria Jerry to retain his starting role and only looks to get better as his career continues.
One of the more disappointing picks to develop so far. Many though Johnson was a future starter on the offensive line, only to get injured early on in training camp and never recover. Certainly, the coaching staff can’t help him getting hurt, but they also likely knew they wouldn’t keep Blalock, Dahl, and Clabo all together in 2011.That’s another failure of getting younger guys playing time with real minutes.
Hawley had his lumps for sure this year, but did fairly decent considering he was moved from starting center on opening day to taking over right guard for Garrett Reynolds. Hawley did get some snaps as a rookie and maybe that helped him some this season. It never appeared that Hawley would be anything other than the Falcons future center, but maybe his talent led the coaches to move him to RG. Either that or the coaching staff were in desperation.
The Falcons appear to have played this one right with Franks being ready to take over a potential opening at one of the cornerback positions with the likely departure of Brent Grimes in free agency. Franks was always thought to be a good pick in the 5th round, but found his chances extremely limited as a rookie, even after he took in one interception in only two appearances. It looks as though it will work out, but its also another strange disappearance of a player that showed a lot of promise.
The coaching staff doesn’t get blame on Meier since he’s struggled to stay healthy as a pro, but even when he was healthy he never got any chances. Meier is yet another player to look really good in preseason only to disappear during the regular season.
No fault on the coaches staff here as Schillinger appears to not been the greatest of picks and only seemed to have special teams ability and not much more. Looks to be on the outside looking in when roster cuts come down this fall.
Still one of the most puzzling picks of the Dimitroff Era. Like Julio Jones, there’s not questioning the player they selected, only where he was taken. The Falcons were set at the time with Curtis Lofton being the stalwart at MLB and the idea was that Dent would be a special teams maven. It was hard to believe the Falcons were so set with their roster that they could afford to spend 3rd round draft picks on special teams players alone. There’s a thought going around that Dimitroff was hedging his bets on Lofton seeking a maximum contract. In that case, there would be no downside for Dent getting snaps at middle linebacker. There were no such chances and we wonder again…..why?
Rodgers had a very good rookie campaign, but many wonder how much more successful he could have been if he had been integrated properly and more often in the running and passing game. Like several other players, Rodgers would have several great runs or catches in a game only to never be heard from again. Seems like a pattern.
The coaching staff get credit for Bosher’s development for no other reason than sticking with him during his initial struggles. There was no other option after they parted ways with Michael Koenen.
Yet another one of the mysteries regarding the offensive linemen development. Even though Jackson did have an injury history in college, many thought he could challenge for playing time and certainly a roster spot especially after reports of a good training camp. Jackson was initially put on the practice squad and than elevated to the 53 man roster due to injury. Coaching staff shouldn’t get too much criticism on not immediately developing a 7th round pick, but this adds to the long list of curious OL developments.
Matthews has the potential to have a great future with the Falcons and even though he’s a 7th round draft pick, he looked pretty darn good in preseason. And of course since he looked so good in preseason, he was never heard from again during the season. This continues a similar pattern with defensive ends: see Lawrence Sidbury.
The Falcons traded Houston to the Lions for a sixth round draft pick and at the time seemed like a great deal. Problem is that Houston just had an excellent year in Detroit and verged on a potential Pro Bowl year. Hard to understand how the coaching staff doesn’t get some blame here.
Valdez was a practice squad hero that many fans were just waiting for him to not only break into the 53 man roster, but challenge for playing time. He looked really good in preseason, but was never selected to the gameday roster, but rather held on the practice squad for 3 years. He was recently taken by the Minnesota Vikings and added to their gameday roster. Now, there’s no sense in claiming he was a big loss, but it belies the point on this coaching staff deciding whether the guy can play or not. If you like his potential than coach him up and if you don’t then replace him with someone who can develop.
Smith has made the Falcons roster two years in a row, but has been specifically limited to special teams where he’s done well. Smith has shown in preseason to have excellent speed and agility, but of course he’s seen no carries whatsoever during the regular season. Again, either the guy can play and is worth developing or get someone who can.
-So, does this coaching staff have a player development problem or were many of the players simply poor or mediocre draft picks?
-What’s your thoughts on each of the above candidates: coaching issues, poor picks, or other?