The Atlanta Falcons haven’t invested very highly in the defensive back from the draft since 2009 when they selected hard-hitting SS William Moore. The Birds top brass have poured in tons of money to their cornerbacks ($57 million contract to D-Rob, $10+ million franchise tag to Grimes) and even re-upped Thomas DeCoud to a decent deal this off-season, but have failed to invest through the draft recently. Will the Falcons go defensive back @ #55 this year?
Its hard to imagine that cornerback, specifically your prototypical fast and usually smaller nickel back, is one of the Falcons biggest needs. While Chris Owens maybe more suited for the outside, both Dominique Franks and Darrin Walls fit the mold of what Mike Nolan seeks in a big, physical safety type of nickel back.
It seems to many as though taking a defensive back, specifically a traditional cornerback, before seeing what Nolan can do with the current crop of cornerbacks may be jumping the gun a little early. Taking a cornerback early risks potentially under-cutting an already deep position or wasting a vitally important draft pick with not many in tow.
Safety is a different story, however. The Falcons have zero depth behind their projected starters of Thomas DeCoud, who has under-achieved the last two years, and oft-injured William Moore. Former versatile backup safety James Sanders recently signed with the Cardinals and backup Shann Schillinger may even be in a fight for a roster spot. Problem is, this isn’t the deepest safety class in memory. A look at a few candidates…
(*)Statistics represent entire collegiate career
(**) Round draft projections vary widely depending on scouting sites
Thanks to the following websites for great scouting information:
Harrison Smith – SS
Notre Dame – 6′2 – 213 – Forty: 4.56 – Bench: 19 – Vertical: 34
51 Games – 309 Tackles – 28 Passes Defensed – 7 INTs
Smith had a very productive career while at Notre Dame and seemed to really help his stock with good performances at the Senior Bowl and at the combine. Some sites have him listed as a free safety, while others have down as a strong safety. Smith is very good against the run, as evidenced by his 309 career tackles, and has excellent size. He was very fluid in drills at the combine and ran better than expected, even though he’ll never be confused as a blazer. His versatility to play both positions and coverage ability may be appealing to the Falcons, and Mike Nolan in particular.
Trumaine Johnson – CB/S
Montana – 6′2 – 204 – Forty: 4.5 – Bench: 19 – Vertical: 35.5
47 Games – 173 Tackles – 35 Passes Defensed – 15 INTs
Johnson has become a favorite of many Bird Cage Faithful thus far with his excellent size and speed to go along with his superb production out of Montana. His measurables seem the perfect fit to go along with Mike Nolan’s “Big Nickel” idea, putting in a safety that can cover and come up strong in run support. Johnson is listed by many as a cornerback, but he also seems to be an exceptional fit for a hybrid player. Johnson is also a ballhawk who loves to get his hands on the ball, another bonus for Nolan looking to add speed, agility, and takeaway ability to his defense. Dimitroff has gone to the Montana well twice during his tenure with Kroy Biermann and Shann Schillinger. Of those looking at the “Big Nickel” candidates, Johnson appears to be the frontrunner and should be available @ #55.
Brandon Boykin – CB/KR/PR
Georgia – 5’9 – 182 – Forty: 4.42 – Injury @ Senior Bowl
53 Games – 159 Tackles – 18 Passes Defensed – 9 INT
2,663 Kickoff Return Yards (UGA Career Leader – 2nd All-Time SEC History)
Although Boykin doesn’t fit the idea of a big safety, he’s a fan favorite due to him being a Georgia Bulldog and having playmaker written all over him. He definitely fits more as a standard nickel and is a little undersized to be thought of as a shutdown cornerback, but it’s impossible not to at least consider the former Dawg and local product. Boykin ranks 2nd all-time in SEC history in return yards and one of the biggest playmakers in the entire draft. He is lightning fast and is a true homerun threat to score every time he gets his hands on the ball, whether on defense, offense, returning kickoffs, or punts. He would immediately fill the openings on special teams and either work his way in as nickel or be ready to take over for Grimes if contract negotiations go south. I’m sure Matt Ryan would love him as a weapon on offense as well.
Brandon Taylor – SS
LSU – 5’11 – 209 – Forty: 4.5
49 Games – 71 Tackles – 5 Passes Defensed – 2 INTs
Taylor is kind of rated all over the map depending on which site read. Some have him rated as high as going in the 2nd or 3rd round, while others have him being more of a 4th round type candidate. Taylor doesn’t necessarily have the height as your typical cover safety, but he is physical and attacks ball-carriers with violence very fast for someone with his size. His stats won’t blow you away, especially in terms of interceptions. While he may not be worthy of a 2nd round pick, if the Falcons pass on defensive back @ #55. Started 33 games over 3 years for one of the best programs in the country and certainly one of the best defenses in all of college football. The thought having both William Moore and Brandon Taylor in the same backfield would have to delight fans.
George Iloka – FS
Boise State – 6’4 – 225 – Forty 4.59 – Bench: 20 – Vertical: 34.5
53 Games – 232 Tackles – 14 Passes Defensed – 7 INTs
Like Taylor, Iloka is inconsistently ranked according to various scouting reports. Some believe Iloka to be the very best free safety prospect and worthy of a 2nd round pick, while others have him ranked as going as low as the 4th or 5th round. In terms of measureables, you won’t find a prospect with more potential. He has excellent height, weight, strength (20 bench reps), and a vertical leap. While not the fastest safety prospect, he has an excellent frame to cover the new trend of big and tall receivers. He earned Freshmen All-American honors at just 17 years old. His stiffness at the combine will likely make him a low priority for the Falcons looking for a player to take over the “big nickel” role, something he isn’t really suited to do.
Markelle Martin – FS
Oklahoma State – 6’1 – 207 – Forty: 4.58
48 Games – 178 Tackles – 36 Passes Defensed – 3 INTs
Martin is considered a free safety, even not the tallest prospect in the draft. He raised his stock with a good performance at the Senior Bowl, but did not participate in the combine due to knee injury concerns which may hurt his stock some. Could be a good candidate for the Falcons if they decide to pass on taking a defensive back early on. Injury concerns will surely make Falcons fans nervous.
Antonio Allen – SS
South Carolina – 6’2 – 210 – Forty: 4.62
38 Games – 197 Tackles – 8 Passes Defensed – 4 INTs
Allen is ranked to go as high as the 3rd round by some, while slotted to go as low as the 5th by others. The lack of speed is definitely a concern, but he’s shown to be one of the better safeties in the SEC the last two years. Has very good size and weight and can possibly add more muscle to his frame. Could be a possibility in the 5th round, even though considered a reach for the Falcons in the 3rd round.
San Jose State – 6’0 – 213 – 4.68
Oregon – 5’10 – 4.63
Arkansas State – 6’2 – 202 – 4.54
Vanderbilt – 6’3 – 216 – 4.52
Oregon State – 6’2 – 216 – 4.5
Wisconsin – 6’0 – 203 – 4.52
South Carolina State – 6’0 – 211 – 4.5
McNeese State – 6’0 – 188 – 4.64
Presbyterian College – 6’0 – 200 4.58
Illinois – 6’0 – 205 – 4.52
Washington – 5’11 – 204 – 4.40
1) Your thoughts on the defensive back candidates?
2) Should the Falcons take a defensive back early?
3) Is the value there for taking a D-Back in the 2nd rd? 3rd rd?
4) Can any of these candidates come in and immediately start at nickel?
5) Should the Falcons wait to the later rounds for a D-Back?