C.J. Spiller ran a 4.37 40 at the NFL combine this week, and that’s really fast. That’s not so fast, however, as to convince me he’d be the right fit for the Falcons.
I’d gone back and forth on this one, and last week I asked for your help. Fifty-five percent of more than 2,000 respondents in a quickie poll suggested the Falcons should pass on the fleet Clemson back “only if they’re nuts.” (The Falcons, it should be stipulated, have done nutty things in past drafts, but they’ve been remarkably sane under the Dimitroff-Smith administration.) Many of you made impassioned and cogent cases on Spiller’s behalf, and it was hard for me not to be swayed by them.
Hard. But not impossible.
Having given this weighty matter way more thought than I’m accustomed to giving anything, I’ve reached this conclusion: The team that takes C.J. Spiller in Round 1 needs to be a team solid in the areas where solidity matters. (Meaning: In the running game and on defense.) The Falcons’ running game is fine. Their defense is not fine. Their defense ranked 21st in total yards yielded last season, up from 24th in 2008. That’s better, but it’s not yet good enough.
Against the pass, the Falcons regressed. They ranked 21st in 2008, 28th in 2009. There are only two ways to fix a pass defense: Get better pass rushers or upgrade your coverage crew. With this draft’s 19th overall pick, Thomas Dimitroff will have that chance. (Almost everyone expects him to draft a cornerback, but I’m thinking he’ll take a defensive end.)
The Spiller question arose because of a mock draft authored by Don Banks of SI.com that had Spiller going 20th overall to Houston, or one pick after the Falcons choose. Having monitored the comments on this dumb little blog the past two months, I know there’s a grass-roots moment — almost Howard Dean-like in its intensity — to go against conventional wisdom and take the game-breaker from up I-85. And I, having seen firsthand the havoc wrought by Spiller in the ACC title game, will concede he’s an impressive talent.
But the Falcons have someone under contract who approximates Spiller’s skill set in Jerious Norwood, and he really hasn’t broken many games. Even Reggie Bush, who was even more spectacular as a collegian and who was drafted second overall by the Saints in 2006, is widely regarded as overrated simply because there are many days when he does nothing spectacular.
I likened Spiller to Percy Harvin, the Florida product who was named offensive rookie of the year. But Minnesota took Harvin with the 22nd pick of the 2009 draft, and the Vikings already had Adrian Peterson to run the ball and an above-average D. (Minnesota ranked sixth in total defense in 2008.) The Vikings were solid enough to take the risk inherent in spending a Round 1 pick on a change-of-pace back.
The Falcons, I submit, aren’t there yet. They have clear and present holes on defense. And if they would invest the draft’s 19th pick on Mr. 4.37, they’d have to wait until 65 more players are taken to draft again. (Their Round 2 pick belongs to Kansas City as a result of the Tony Gonzalez trade.) Can a team with the league’s fifth-worst pass defense fail to address that need until the draft’s 84th pick?
No, I say, and I say this only after careful deliberation. As tempting as Spiller would be — and I must concede the chances of him being available at No. 19 probably plunged with reports of that 4.37 — he’d be a temptation best resisted.