Thursday, May 05, 2011

2011 NFL Draft; The Atlanta Falcons

It's a funny old thing, the draft.

Traditionally there is a spectrum, somewhere upon which most people fall, with "draft for needs" at one end and "take the best player on the board" at the other.

Normally speaking, teams tend to flirt with both ends of the scale at some point, usually drafting the best player available early and filling needs later on. Take my 49ers for a moment, who kicked off their draft with a DE in Aldon Smith, even though the big need was at corner. They then filled this need later on with lower picks.

Some teams will just purely live and die by their boards, taking whatever comes up. The Raiders are a prime example; if it's fast in the 40-yard dash, they'll pick it.

Very rarely however do you see teams go balls to the wall in the first round and draft a pure need, especially if it means sacrificing a lot to get it. Such teams often believe that overall their team is fine, they're just missing one or maybe two pieces that will complete the puzzle.

This is where the two ends of this thread link together and we get around to talking about the Falcons. They swapped first rounders in this draft with the Browns, but also gave Cleveland their second and fourth round picks in 2011, plus their first and second rounders in 2012.

All in all, that's a hell of a gamble. Your losing two picks this year you could use to make your team better. A team that I would hasten to suggest isn't quite as good overall as the Falcons seem believe it is. Now the future picks is an up in the air question. The league warned teams that future picks might be in jeopardy due to the labor dispute and so many would argue that the Falcons might not be giving up as much as we all think.

But that depends on whether you seriously believe that the league and players wont come to some agreement by next year, or whether indeed you believe like me that all of this back and forth bullshit in the courts is nothing more than a game of chess designed to earn the best possible negotiating position for when the parties finally sit down and hash out the deal.

Come next year then, the Falcons are going to have to hope that their strategy in 2011 brought them a Super Bowl, because their next draft class sure as hell isn't going to.

Now all of this might lead you to believe that I don't like Julio Jones who they traded up to get. And the answer to that is; I don't. For some reason I keep mentally confusing him with A.J. Green but that's another story entirely not relevant to this post. But even if Jones was a great player, was trading away all that lovely pickage worthwhile?

My immediate thought is; no. Wide receivers have a notoriously difficult transition to the NFL, where suddenly they find their route tree has expanded from a few simple quicks and intermediates plus the odd deep pattern and some screens, to a list as long as your arm combined together into a series of plays that make a playbook of inhuman size.

Also, the demands on receivers become much greater. They're expected to run routes with a very high degree of precision and to make potentially one of multiple decisions mid route based on the coverage presented, which at this level can get very complex, very quickly.

Thus I personally feel that wide receiver is just about the last position (except maybe running back) that I would be happy to chuck a haul of picks at in order to fill. And even if I did, Julio Jones would not be my man.

I just find him a little... underwhelming. I turned on the first game expecting to see this super wide receiver who everyone has been saying is pure first round potential, and what I saw was Mike Sims-Walker of the Jaguars; not a bad receiver, but not exactly a franchise player. And not really a first rounder.

Given the amount of picks that were sacrificed I really don't have a good feeling at all about this pick. I understand that the Falcons are a little short at the position, but there were other players who could have been snagged later, and for much better value. Obviously the team in Atlanta disagree.

Next up is LB Akeem Dent, taken in the 3rd round. From what I've seen..... meh.

The first time around that I watched one game I was quite pleased and thinking "this is looking good". At which point I realised that I'd been watching the wrong guy (Christian Robinson). When I went back again I already knew what the answer was going to be because I'd spent the entire game the first time around (still with me?) moaning about, "Jesus, if only that other kid would get off his arse and do something! Nice stance though..."

As you've probably already guessed, that other kid was Dent. And yep, he does take a good, low stance, ready to burst away and make a play. The trouble is he comes out of said stance rather lethargically and then has a tendency to run around the field at half speed and distinctly looking like he's trying to avoid getting his kit dirty.

We can surmise that this is half speed simply because anytime he's asked to rush the QB he promptly gets on his horse and comes flying downhill like a bullet out of a gun, sniffing the glory of a sack. Unfortunately his block destruction skills are about as developed and well honed as mine, i.e. not at all. Occasionally he makes a tackle when the play cuts back into him.

All in all, the Falcons draft is so far looking distinctly rubbish from the viewpoint of my pompous mountain here behind a keyboard.

Whose next? Jacquizz Rodgers? Now we're getting somewhere!

Taken in the fifth, Rodgers is quite a handy player to have in your backfield. Vision is questionable at times if I'm completely honest, but speed, agility and balance are very good. Luckily for Jacquizz, the Falcons tend to play very much an old school style "follow the Fullback into the hole" type running game, where bad vision is less of a problem. Note I said "less" of a problem not "no" problem.

He should make a useful change of pace to Michael Turner. The trouble the Falcons have had with their running game is that trying to beat teams down with Turner every game has proven a successful tactic, but also leads to him spending more time on the bench in the future than they would like as he nurses various injuries.

Rodgers offers them a legitimate alternative runner who isn't just there to take pressure off Turner, but is actually a threat to go the distance in and of himself. With that breakaway speed and cutting ability, Rodgers has something of the Chris Johnson about him. He's not quite that fast, but one on one with a safety I can see him being just as deadly.

On to round six and it's time to take a punt (chortle, chortle) on Matt Bosher, the punter/kicker from Miami. At which point I have to stop, laugh, and then recompose myself. I have nothing against punters and kickers and in fact I accept, probably more than most, how valuable a decent punter/kicker can be.

But I also live in a country where two of the main sports are Association Football (otherwise known as Soccer) and Rugby Union Football (otherwise known as... Rugby Union). Therefore I can confidently tell you that while good kicking is by no means a widely possessed skill, it's also really not that hard to develop with a bit of good coaching and a healthy dose of practice.

No really, it's not that hard.

For the cost of using a draft pick and the associated salary on a Punter/Kicker, you can instead invest in a half decent kicking coach (I'll take $50,000 a year which is less than a practice squad player, ) and just train some undrafted kid to get a bit better.

Onwards and upwards then, like a line drive punt with plenty of hang time, into round seven where the Falcons had two picks. First up is offensive guard Andrew Jackson from Fresno State, another player that I had to go back and have a look at.

Except I can't, because for the life of me I cannot beg, borrow, steal, find, stumble across, unearth or otherwise get hold of anything that might be remotely considered "film" of the Fresno State offense.

So it comes down then to Cliff Matthews, Defensive End from South Carolina. Who I think Atlanta have done well to pick up. He's not a bad kid, pretty quick with good technique. His tackling is usually pretty good and he works hard to chase the play.

Take those attributes and put him on a D-line with guys like John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, who can spend the next year or two teaching him how to be a professional and how to develop himself as a Defensive End, and you have a recipe for a good shot at a half decent career.

Overall then, I'd say the Falcons kind of arsed this draft up, unless of course Jackson turns out to be beast, Rodgers runs for 2,000 yards as a rookie and Matthews starts trucking people from day one. I just can't see it myself.

Now I promised myself I wouldn't do the redundant A, B, C thing, not least because most analysts don't even seem to understand what separates a C from a B on their own grade rankings. Instead I'm going with more of the verbal, generalisation type approach.

That is to say, I personally believe that the Falcons had a great chance to get better in this draft and build the foundation of a perennial playoff team, but instead have sold this and next years draft down the river while making very little discernible impact in the short term, and probably not a huge deal more in the long term either.

And yeah, I would rate this as being worse than the Seahawks draft. Much worse. Next up, the Carolina Panthers, probably some time over the weekend. I'm hoping to string this series out a little, so as to give both you and me a meaningful source of football to talk about in the next long month or two.

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