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:
♦ 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.
♦ 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
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