Time for Falcons to open offense (and defensive fix coming)

Minnesota defensive end Ray Edwards is one player who could help Falcons' defense. (AP photo)

Minnesota end Ray Edwards could help Falcons' defense. (AP photo)

One pick into the NFL draft and some Falcons fans already are apoplectic over the decision to trade a bunch of picks for the chance to select Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. Sorry, I don’t get it.

Obviously, there’s a gamble element to the move. But as I wrote last night, I like it for two reasons: 1) This team needs a few more playmakers — and, yes, that includes the offensive side of the ball; 2) There was no difference-maker available to draft for the defense. The only defensive player the Falcons were enamored of in the first round was Texas A&M defensive end Von Miller, and he went second overall to Denver.

Drafts are all about player evaluation — sometimes accurate, sometimes inaccurate. But if a team identifies a player it believes can make a difference, I’m all in favor of going for it. That’s what Thomas Dimitroff did.

With that brief rant out of the way, here are five things to keep in mind moving forward:

It's time for the Mikes (Smith and Mularkey) to get a little creative. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Smith and Mularkey need to get creative. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

♦ 1.) UNLEASH THE FURY! Coach Mike Smith says he is excited about the Jones. But I have to admit, the look on his face reminded me of a parent the first time they throw the car keys to the teenager. Smith is a terrific coach but he can be a little conservative and predictable with his offensive philosophy. With Jones and Roddy White now starting at wide receiver, Smith needs to throw offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey the keys and let him open up the offense. That doesn’t mean it has to be a bombs-away attack. But Mularkey can be a creative guy and we haven’t seen enough of that. Calls plays that allow Matt Ryan to get the ball to the playmakers in space. Keep defenses off-balance.

♦ 2.) GOODBYE, JENKS: I’ll be stunned if Michael Jenkins is back. He’s a decent option as a third receiver but he makes too much money ($3.5 million in 2011; $4.25 million in 2o12) for what he brings to the table. The Falcons can find a less expensive option in free agency if they feel they need to bring another body in, but they might be fine with Harry Douglas, Kerry Meier (who missed his rookie year with a knee injury) and Eric Weems as the Nos. 3-4-5 receivers. Most likely, Jenkins will be traded (possibly for a pick next season).

♦ 3.) HELLO, DEFENSE: Dimitroff will not ignore the defense the rest of the draft or in free agency. Here are two names to keep in mind when it comes to improving the pass rush: Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson. Both are left defensive ends (opposite side of John Abraham). Edwards (6-5, 268) had eight sacks last season for Minnesota and is affordable (he made $2.521 million in 2010). The Falcons like him a lot. Johnson you may remember from his Georgia days. He was a disappointment his last season in Athens and started slowly with the Carolina Panthers. But he jumped up to 11.5 sacks last season and he’s also an unrestricted free agent after making $2.375 million last year.

That's Julio Jones on the right with some other guy who felt need to get in picture.

Julio Jones on right. Some other guy felt need to get in picture.

♦ 4.) MORE ABOUT JULIO:  The two knocks on him are injuries and drops. The Falcons’ aren’t concerned about either. Alabama coach Nick Saban will tell you Jones played through injuries at Alabama, missing only one game, and that’s a trait coaches sometimes don’t see with elite wide receivers. Dimitroff said, “Looking into his injury background, they weren’t injuries that were of concern to us.” As for dropping passes, here’s Dimitroff’s take: “There are going to be drops at every level. A lot of receivers are competitive, they’re turning up field to try to make plays or they’re thinking about the next step. Some of the best receivers in the league have drops. He’s got 10-inch hands, exceptional hands. He’ll continue to work on his concentration. That was not a concern for us.”

♦ 5.) EVEN MORE ABOUT JULIO: Wide receivers have a reputation of being divas. That’s not the case with Jones. He’s known as a team guy who loves to block, which should please Smith. But here’s something else: Jones sent this message out on Twitter this morning: “Atlanta is my new home life’s GREAT and I want to ask all of my fans to send prayer up to the big man for everywhere that the tornados hit.”

Feeling any better about Jones and the Falcons moving forward now, or do you still have doubts?

By Jeff Schultz

Last few posts

Falcons pick right time to make big move, get Julio Jones

Playoff hangover driving Dimitroff, Falcons

Cam Newton will succeed, Tim Tebow won’t

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

185 comments Add your comment

vmguru

April 29th, 2011
11:24 am

First (just because I could)

allan in texas

April 29th, 2011
11:25 am

vmguru

April 29th, 2011
11:26 am

I like the offensive pick in this case and think Julio will be a good pro. Once free agency starts there should be defensive help available. Based on all the draft predictions, I just never got the sense there was a true dominant defender available – especially not at the 27th pick.

allan in texas

April 29th, 2011
11:26 am

allan in texas

April 29th, 2011
11:27 am

Ok Falcons lets work on that defense!

Chi Town

April 29th, 2011
11:28 am

Julio is the man.

Mutt fans need to get over him owning the Bulldogs.

Winston

April 29th, 2011
11:28 am

Love the move, despite the risk

Paul H

April 29th, 2011
11:29 am

Nervous about giving up all those picks but it’s hard not to be excited!

allan in texas

April 29th, 2011
11:29 am

I am a Bulldog fan for life but if we couldn’t get Green then Julio will have to do. Go Falcons!!!!!!!!

Brandon

April 29th, 2011
11:29 am

If we sign Johnson, Kiwanuka, or Edwards I’m ok with it. We get a great young receiving threat, an experienced younger DE, and then can add depth the rest of this year and next. Wouldn’t mind seeing a little money thrown Reggie Bush’s way either! Adding one of those DE’s would make this move great!

PMC

April 29th, 2011
11:29 am

Lots of good places to fish here Julio, Welcome to Georgia!

Tech Fan

April 29th, 2011
11:30 am

I love this pick!!! Somebody asked Julio according to Colin was “do you like to Block?”, Julio responded, “no, I love to block!!”

Tide Rising

April 29th, 2011
11:30 am

Jeff, sounds like you were the voice of reason on the Julio pick. Everybody was whining about needing defensive picks but looking at the last few super bowls the packers, the cardinals who came within 1 play of winning it a couple years ago, the saints, the colts, none of these recent super bowl teams had great defenses- mostly average defenses.

Bryan G.

April 29th, 2011
11:31 am

I can see both sides, but my gut tells me that we gave up a lot of picks for one player. We need him to be more like Roddy and less like Jenkins.

vmguru

April 29th, 2011
11:31 am

The true test of this pick being a good one or not is just not likely to happen in the first couple of years. Most college players are going to rake a couple of years before they come into their own. And I am sure the list of “can’t miss” picks over just the last 10 years includes way more “they sure did miss” players than the ones complaining about this pick will make. Let’s give the experts that get paid for doing this some credit for being far better at talent evaluation than even most ardent fans.

Falcons Fan in Spain

April 29th, 2011
11:31 am

First time to write.

Hopefully TD and Smith will now focus on defense. We seriously need help on D.

garrett

April 29th, 2011
11:31 am

I have to agree schultz, the falcons like where they are at now, we needed a WR to stretch the field and go vertical and i think we got him. Dimitroff is no fool, he will go get a good pass rusher and the D will be just fine

PMC

April 29th, 2011
11:31 am

Fear the Dreaded Duo!

allan in texas

April 29th, 2011
11:31 am

Is there any chance that the Falcon will pursue the cornerback from Oakland whenever free agency starts?

Chi Town

April 29th, 2011
11:32 am

Julio is a tough SOB.

He is a good dude too. On way back to Tuscaloosa to help out.

joe

April 29th, 2011
11:32 am

Didn’t really consider Johnson a disappointment in Athens his last year – led the team in sacks,TFL, passes broken up, and qb pressures. Would love to see him in ATL

Tide Rising

April 29th, 2011
11:32 am

4 first round draft picks including 2 of the first 6. Roll Tide!

Tech Fan

April 29th, 2011
11:33 am

Tide Rising, its simple, the NFL is a passer league now, with the rules softening up defenses abilities to cover aggressivley, Wide Receivers rule the roost!!

Tide Rising

April 29th, 2011
11:34 am

Chi Town,

Tell Gene Stallings to keep them burgers and hot dogs cooking for the relief workers.

kingsx7

April 29th, 2011
11:34 am

GREAT PICK !!!

allan in texas

April 29th, 2011
11:35 am

Reggie Bush would be a good look if for no other reason than to keep him away from Saints! Also, draft Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State if he is still on the board.

vmguru

April 29th, 2011
11:35 am

It is going to be hard to figure out a way for me to cheer for Mark Ingram (who I think is a terrific running back and person) now that he is with the dreaded ‘Aints!!!

Tide Rising

April 29th, 2011
11:36 am

Tech fan,

I understand that, you understand that, and Schultz understands that. The majority of fans on Jeff’s blog last night whining about not getting a defensive pick don’t understand that. They may also not understand the recent rule regarding contact with WRs- opening the game up even more to become more of an offensive game.

bamaguy

April 29th, 2011
11:37 am

Finally a reason to buy Falcons tickets rather than just watching on TV. Julio is an unselfish player and he loved to block for Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson when he got the chance. I hope the NFL stardom doesn’t turn him into the diva and reverse all of Coach Saban’s work.

GTBob

April 29th, 2011
11:37 am

If we get Ray Edwards in free agency and Peria Jerry starts playing like a first rounder then I will like this pick a lot more. As for now I still don’t think Julio is better then the 5 players we could have gotten that could have improved our team in areas where we really need help.

Tech Fan

April 29th, 2011
11:39 am

Tide Rising, you think about it, you really don’t need to focus on getting shut down corners, cause you can’t shut down receivers anymore.

Can’t wait for football!!

Richham

April 29th, 2011
11:41 am

I like the pick. If we pick last next year and Jones has just a good rookie campaign, it will be worth it. As much as the defense needs more help along the line, our offense was sorely lacking a receiver opposite White. You get a guy who not only is a big physical receiver, but also a deep threat.

I hope we invest some money along the defensive line and bring in some guys hungry and with starting ability. A good young running back with some speed would also be a great addition.

Dirty Bird

April 29th, 2011
11:46 am

Love the pick. Wouldn’t mind a RB that can hit the edge quickly, TE, LB(2), OL and having my seats relocated to row1 next season.

chem

April 29th, 2011
11:48 am

Wide receivers like Julio are a rarity. If the Falcons have a glaring need, Blank will go buy a guy in free agency. That’s been the precedent set lately, so why is everyone so worried about this? Falcons have won their way out of good draft picks. It’s time to add pieces and make a push for the Super Bowl this year or next.

enz

April 29th, 2011
11:52 am

I love the ballsy-ness of this pick…Ready to win now…Hope Mr. Blank will spend a little bit of cash for a DE in Free Agency when eligible…Thanks for making things exciting TD.\

Rise UP!

Sweet Old Buck

April 29th, 2011
11:52 am

Let’s hope the Falcons have a Plan B, like aggressive free agent market activity. That’s the only way the defense is going to be upgraded. Open your pocket book, Arthur.

Matt

April 29th, 2011
11:52 am

If he produces anywhere close to the expectations it will be worth it. The D wasn’t THAT bad last year. The Falcons offense is not exactly an exciting offense, or an offense built to play from behind. Turner is a grinder and gets most of his yards in the 4th quarter. Gonzo is solid but is nothing but a possession guy. Jones adds a legit 2nd threat option and gives teams someone else legit to worry about.

As far as no game changers on D. I think Fairley would’ve been a great pickup. Dude was the most dominant defender in college football last year. Having him and Abraham on the same line would’ve been pretty nice but I like the Jones move.

tonyb

April 29th, 2011
11:53 am

Jeff, you hit the nail square on the head.

This team has needed that second explosive WR for years. Now they finally have it. This will allow Roddy to see more single coverage, as well as open up the short game. As the Falcons are a run first type of offense, Julio’s down field blocking skills will be extremely valuable. I think Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony G. have to be the happiest guys in Flowery Branch with this move. Way to go management. You keep showing us why we have the best front office in all of sports.

I would love to see the Falcons get Charles Johnson. Not only do you remove him from a division rival, but you are getting the best thing the Panthers had on their roster last year. He had a breakout year, and would make an excellent addition.

Go Falcons. Time to take that next big step.

enz

April 29th, 2011
11:53 am

I’m almost more excited we get to punish Cam Newton twice a year, though.

Tim in B'ham

April 29th, 2011
11:55 am

First I’m a big Dawg & Falcons fan, living in B’ham I got to see alot of Julio. This guy is a stud, he played hurt, broken hand…cracked bone in foot and never missed a beat or a game. He can return kicks and doesn’t mind blocking. He plays receiver like a bad a$$ safety looking to take someones head off! We will not be disappointed in this move! He is a TO without the big head & attitude.

Matt Skole

April 29th, 2011
11:55 am

Trading up for a receiver who cant catch?

Brilliant.

BTW I was the guy racing D Lowe last night. We were bombed.

Dr. Warren

April 29th, 2011
11:56 am

Reggie Bush’s Saints days are over. If he weren’t so ridiculously expensive, I’d say we should grab him. He’d be a good 3rd receiver, and a high-speed, around the end running threat that we don’t have. That said, nice case for Julio, Jeff. Let’s hope Arthur won’t mind writing some checks for free agents, though.

El Bravo

April 29th, 2011
11:59 am

My problem with this gamble is the fact that receivers take a while to develop. This pick was made with the believe that next year’s number one will be in the 27 to 32 range, however, if he does not develop quickly this may end up being a pick in the high teens. It is a huge gamble that depends more on what we do on free agency now than Julio’s contributions during his first year…

honest_abe

April 29th, 2011
12:00 pm

just hope and pray the falcons don’t get hit by the injury bug this year and somehow end up with #1 overall pick next year……………. horrible move.

Patrick

April 29th, 2011
12:01 pm

Why did you leave out kiwanuka? I doubt Panties let Johnson go, so it’s between Ki and Edwards.

Dave

April 29th, 2011
12:01 pm

The Falcons had pick after pick after pick used on WRs in the past before we got a good one in Roddy White who turns 30 in November.. If we have got another good WR in Julio Jones and don’t have to pick another one for awhile that is what is important. Too many times you don’t get a good player if we did that is what is important. EX NFL GM Charlie Casserly just said on the NFL network this is the worst second round group of players he has ever seen. He also said after the Boise State WR Tyson he thinks the WR position is very thin. I think this is the year we do turn Matt Ryan the passer loose a lot more it is year four for him now the training wheels will come off.

sam

April 29th, 2011
12:02 pm

Before you complain about this pick, think about the Packer loss in the playoffs. We ran into a hot QB and the game turned into a shoot out. Last year we couldn’t hang in a shoot out, but now we should be able to. Maybe giving up all those picks isn’t that big a price after all?

El Bravo

April 29th, 2011
12:02 pm

Also, I guess it also tells me that Dimitroff and the coaching staff feel much better about our current defensive players than we fans. They must believe that Kroy Biermman, Chauncey Davis and Lawrence Sidbury will be better ends than any kid we could get on the draft at 27.

Paul From Milton

April 29th, 2011
12:03 pm

I love this pick. No longer can defenses roll coverage toward Roddy White every play. In addition, Jones can get YACs, which Jenkins was unable to do. Finally we can throw the ball downfield.

**Frederick(Bailey)Douglass**

April 29th, 2011
12:04 pm

This was the best year to make this kind of move. If actual players could have been included in the trade…it would NOT have happened. Cleveland would have wanted Snelling or some player that we don’t want to part with thrown in. Perfect storm for a bold decision.

Look for Jenkins and Norwood to be traded individually for 3/4 round picks or together for an extra second round pick next year. In the end, it will be that we gave up our 2nd and 4th round picks this year (WE DID PICK IN THE FIRST) and first round pick next year. In my mind that is meager given what Jones will provide for Matt Ryan and Roddy White.

My only concern is…when we start trading for picks NEXT YEAR, I truly hope we keep Snelling OFF the market. While he is the asset that we would trade and get the most back…he is the X factor in this scheme that includes White, Jones, Douglas, and Gonzo. Forces him to go one on one with a Linebacker in passing situations. He has generally won that match-up consistently. Keep him.

FBD