>\n\nWorst to First: 19. Atlanta Falcons \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 19. Atlanta Falcons

Written by Ben Morgan on 04/14/2010

After a quite stunning 2008 the Atlanta Falcons slipped back some in 2009. Mostly you can put it down to key injuries but considering this franchise is only 2 seasons removed from being the worst in the league a 9-7 record in an increasingly tough division is nothing to be sniffed at. Pass Defense was the big achilles heel last year and most other departments just not quite firing on all cylinders. Still the Falcons top brass have been smart and shelled out some cash (probably too much) for a top line Cornerback in Dunta Robinson. But there's still things that need to be sorted. There are a lot of major elements of their Offensive Line headed to uncertain futures in 2011 which could spell disaster, so how the Falcons play long term deals and this upcoming draft could have huge implications for a relatively young team on the cusp of being great.

I don't think Atlanta is too far away from major success but these things always have windows, and it may even close in 2011 If they can draft well and some of last year's picks play up to hype and draft position I firmly believe this is a team that could be in the shakedown to be Superbowl champs next year. So let's take a look at why I'm optimistic for them

2010 Free Agent Losses 2010 Free Agent Additions
Tye Hill CB (Titans,UFA-cut)
Dunta Robinson CB (Texans,UFA), Matt Giordano DB (Packers,UFA-cut)

2010 Unsigned Free Agents 2011 Potential Free Agents
Marty Booker WR (UFA), Tyson Clabo T (RFA), Harvey Dahl G (RFA), Jamaal Fudge DB (RFA), Tony Gilbert LB (UFA), Antoine Harris CB (RFA), Verron Haynes FB (UFA), Michael Koenen P (RFA), Jerious Norwood RB (RFA), Quinn Ojinnaka OG (RFA), Charlie Peprah DB (RFA), Mike Schneck LS (UFA), Jason Snelling FB (RFA), Aaron Stecker RB (UFA)

Justin Blalock OG (RFA), Matt Bryant K (UFA), Brent Grimes DB (RFA), Trey Lewis DL (RFA), Stephen Nicholas LB (RFA), Brett Romberg C (UFA), Eric Weems WR (RFA), Brian Williams DB (UFA), Coy Wire LB (UFA), Keith Zinger TE (RFA). Mike Peterson OLB (UFA)
Quarterbacks No Need
Matt Ryan couldn't play the whole season and missed just enough games for the Falcons to find out Chris Redman is a valuable backup. 3rd QB John Parker Wilson beat out D.J. Shockley in camp last year and the 2 of them will compete again for the final roster spot. With a young franchise QB, a solid vet backup and a couple of developmental types the Falcons are pretty set at QB.

Runningbacks Minimal Need
Injuries hit the Falcons talented RBs in 2009. And perhaps some of that was due to their expensive free agent rushing a massive 377 times in 2008. Turner the Burner is in risk of becoming Turner the Burnout if they don't reduce his carries. Long term backup Jerious Norwood could stay healthy last year and the big plays he's noted for were pretty much absent as a result. The bright side was Jason Snelling who ran for a pretty handy 4.3ypc 30 receptions and  total TDs. So it looks like they have the necessary ammunition to reduce Turner's carries some. Assuming Turner and Norwood return at full health. Probably not much need here for another RB but I'm sure there'll b a rookie or 2 brought to camp. Could be undrafted free agent types or possibly a late round choice.

Wide Receivers Minor Need
Most people would call this a Big need for the Falcons. Roddy White is one of the best WRs in the NFL and one of the most consistent. Michael Jenkins had his usual season, around 50 catches. By this point he's probably hit his ceiling as an NFL player. Underneath those 2 there's Harry Douglas to return from a knee injury. He started to make some plays in the slot before that injury so they could have their #3 WR sewn up there. Douglas is probably too lightweight to be anything more than a slot type and returner though. This doesn't sound like too good of a situation, so why isn't this a Major Need? For the most part I'll assign Major Need if there's an obvious starter missing and Minor if there's a lack of depth or a starter is iffy for the near future (free agency or age). The thing is the Falcons are a run first team. And their second option in the passing game is Tony Gonzalez. In addition to that Jenkins is a really good blocker and that's important for a run heavy offense (and often overlooked). 50 catches from the 3rd option in your offense isn't so bad. Would the Falcons be even better with some speedy, sticky fingered rookie WR? Sure they could be. Who wouldn't? I just don't think it's as big a need as some might.

Tight Ends Minor Need
As I mentioned Tony Gonzalez is the second passing option in this offense. Despite being the second receiving option for, oooh about the first time in his career Gonzo didn't show his age much with a good season. Not as great as most of his Chiefs work, but still good. But in his 14th year (and possibly last) this could be the right draft to go after his replacement. There's good options available and I'm sure most of them would kill to study under the master for a year as well. It's not like the Falcons are stacked with talent under Gonzo either. Could they look at Jermaine Gresham in round 1? I doubt it, but in the mid rounds they may find themselves looking at a TE they didn't expect to fall that far. Ultimately the Falcons need to be looking at replacing Gonzo's production pretty soon, they could do that with a WR, or a pass catching TE. I think it's a good year for TEs...

Offensive Line Major Need
One advantage the Falcons have over most of the other 31 NFL Teams is a guy who's name most people don't know. Paul Boudreau. He gives a draft prospect a better chance to succeed in this league than most line coaches do. The Falcons have one of the best Offensive Lines in all of football but obviously even the best can be broken down when injuries mount up. Which is something like what happened last year. Harvey Dahl was lost long term, Sam Baker struggled with injuries too. Add in Todd McClure's fast advancing years and they did hit the skids at points last year. I would think finding a replacement for Todd McClure has got to be in their plans and they will also shortly have to make some decisions on who, if any, they opt to re-sign long term. Clabo and Dahl are both set for free agency in 2010 so they could be on the cusp of a major overhaul next year. Right now though, I'd say they could certainly use a guy who can come in and maybe play Guard right away and shift to Center in 2011. As you'll see from the Player Visits below they've had a few guys in who might fit the bill, and I'm sure they'd consider Maurkice Pouncey and maybe Mike Iupati at #19 but guys like Matt Tennant and J.D. Walton may still be there in round 3 for them. They have some decent depth in guys like Quinn Ojinnka and they've drafted a few young players the past few years for Boudreau to work his magic on too so maybe the replacement is already buried on the roster... Overall the Offensive Line is in good shape, extremely good shape when healthy. There's just that concern for 2011 that makes me call it a Major Need. They have a good opportunity to get their Center of the future in this draft, ahead of immediate need.

Defensive Tackles Minor Need
There's no escaping the fact that Jonathan Babineaux is a very good Defensive Tackle. Sadly there's no escaping the law.. and even if there is there's definitely no escaping Roger Goodell. Babineaux figures to be suspended multiple games in 2010, and could potentially be facing jail time too (though I expect he'll plead down to a lesser offence ultimately). Even with Babineaux the Falcons couldn't defend the run too well early in the season but they sharpened up and by the end of the year were just about a Top 10 run defense. Against the pass was not such a pretty story but the return of Peria Jerry from an early season injury should make opposing QBs think a little quicker in 2010. Curt had Jerry pegged as the best pass rushing DT in the draft last year but injuries saw him fall to the Falcons. Getting hurt 1 and a half games into your NFL career couldn't have helped allay those fears and there's a big question still hanging over him because of it. With the questions about Babineaux's liberty (and availability) and ongoing concerns about Jerry being able to stay healthy, plus something of a lack of depth this is definitely a position they could look to improve in the draft. The best case scenario looks like Jerry comes back and improves the pass rush and Babineaux only misses 4 games, in which case you'd be looking at this being a Minor Need. The worst case is they can't count on either probable starter and it's  major Need. As they've brought in a couple of first round level DTs for visits, Brian Price and Jared Odrick, both of whom figure to be more like Jerry than Babineaux, it doesn't speak volumes for their confidence in Jerry's long term health. But with just 1 pick in the first 2 rounds can they really go DT again? I think not. Let's assume a best case scenario and call this a Minor Need for now.

Defensive Ends Major Need
Firstly I think John Abraham still has something in the tank, there's no doubt he's on the downslopes of a great career but he's still better than his 5.5 sacks last year would indicate. He's not as good as his 17 sack 2008 would indicate either. The truth probably lies somewhere between the 2. There's also no doubt in my mind that with a better bookend opposite him he'd be getting more pressure on the QB. It's pretty clear by now that former first round pick Jamaal Anderson is not that bookend. So there's a big need here right? Well maybe. And the catalogue of Defensive Ends who've been through Atlanta for private workouts would indicate the Falcons are looking. Brandon Graham and Everson Griffen (maybe Jerry Hughes too) would all fit into that #19 pick, Hughes and Griffen maybe being available with a trade down. Let's not completely rule out Lawrence Sidbury Jr. here though. He was a mid round pick last year and comes from a small school so he needs some development time but he had a pretty good preseason last year. Kroy Biermann is capable of getting to the QB too. So it's not a dead loss situation. Anderson may ultimately have to move inside and Abraham is near the end so there's still good cause to call this Major Need, but I don't think it's quite as bad as a lot of folks make out.
Linebackers Major Need
I'll sum up the messageboard buzz for you: WEATHERSPOON AT #19! And it may very well happen. Curtis Lofton's great, Mike Peterson is pretty good still and Stephen Nicholas is, well he's not bad either but the strong side LB slot isn't a big draw for tackles in Atlanta. So why Weatherspoon (or one of the many other LBs who've trouped through Hotlanta this offseason)? Well it boils down to 2 things: 1) Peterson is old and 2) Peterson is a free agent next year. I mentioned Peterson is old right? Peterson did a decent job last season but there's still some room for improvement there. Maybe Peterson could play strong side for a year or maybe he just gives them the luxury of not having to start a rookie immediately. Either way, I think this could be the #19 pick. Some might say #19 is a little early for a 4-3 OLB likw Weatherspoon and they may be right. But if there's a guy who fits your team perfectly there's nothing wrong with reaching a bit. Calling it a Major Need if only because of Peterson's age and contract situation.

Cornerbacks Minor Need
The signing of Dunta Robinson significantly reduces the need the Falcons would have had at Cornerback. It instantly upgrades a poor Falcons pass defense too. Robinson may not be a guy who's going to pick off 7+ balls in a season but he's a good cover guy and teams often shy away from throwing on him. It's a nice pick up, though a pricey one. Brian WIlliams is coming off an ACL injury that coincides somewhat with the Falcons pass coverage struggles last year. On the bright side, though they struggled most of the year Brent Grimes and Christopher Jackson got a bit better at the end of the year and now have some starting experience to fall back on. They could be pretty good depth. Grimes got picked on but finished the season with a very respectable 6 Interceptions as well. Between them Grimes and Owens picked off 6 passes in the last 3 games alone. With all that said Williams was only signed to a 1 year deal which means the Falcons could still be casting an eye over the CB prospects left on the board in round 3, where they have 2 picks. We've got 1 good starter, decent depth but one iffy starter so I'm gonna call this Minor Need.
Safeties No Need
When you win your coach's Defensive MVP award on a poor passing defense you must be doing something right. So Thomas DeCoud's position as starting Free Safety is ummm safe. Between Erik Coleman and last year's second round pick William Moore there should be enough depth at Strong Safety to not have to worry too much about the position in this draft.

Specialists No Need
Whilst there's no definitive starter nailed down at Kicker the Falcons already have Steve Haushka and Matt Bryant on the roster. They're unlikely to be looking at a kicker in the draft. Michael Koenen didn't really live up to his price tag last year as a franchise player. But the Falcons obviously think more highly of him than me. They've tendered him as an RFA this year meaning they have to give him a 10% pay hike.

Return Game Minimal Need
Eric Weems did a pretty good all around job as a returner last year but taking a couple the distance wouldn't go amiss.

Dream Day One
1.19 Sean Weatherspoon OLB Missouri
Player Visits

Jamar Chanay LB Mississippi St
Sean Lee LB Penn St
Rolando McClain LB Alabama
Eric Norwood LB South Carolina
Vuna Tuihalamaka LB Arizona
Daryl Washington LB Texas Christian
Sean Weatherspoon LB Missouri
Jermaine Cunningham DE Florida

Brandon Graham DE Michigan
Everson Griffin DE Southern California
Jerry Hughes DE Texas Christian
Brandon Lang DE Troy
Jared Odrick DT Penn St
Corey Peters DT Kentucky
Brian Price DT UCLA
Maurkice Pouncey C Florida
Joe Hawley C UNLV
Matt Tennant C Boston College
J.D. Walton C Baylor
Damian Williams WR Southern California
Ryan Wolfe WR UNLV
Mike Iupati OG Idaho
Mike Palmer TE Clemson
Jermaine Gresham TE Oklahoma


Last Edited: 04/13/2010

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