Now that the NFL draft is over, it’s time for all the columnists, bloggers, and journalists to make mea culpas for all of our incorrect prognostications…and folks, I wasn’t even remotely close on the Atlanta Falcons picks. Probably one of the reasons I sit at a desk writing about what the Falcons do instead of getting calls from Arthur Blank asking for my advice. That said, let’s take a look at how the Falcons did in the draft, as well as some undrafted free-agents which have already signed agreements with Atlanta.
First Round: It’s now well documented that the Falcons did not have a first round pick this year as a result of last year’s draft day deal to land wide receiver Julio Jones. But that didn’t mean that GM Thomas Dimitroff wasn’t going to make some pre-first-round noise. Just one day before the start of the 2012 draft, the Falcons pulled off a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for star cornerback Asante Samuel. Atlanta gave Philly a seventh round draft pick for the Pro-Bowl cornerback, and was able to restructure Samuel’s deal to actually save the Falcons money on what he would have been due. Atlanta had been given a compensatory pick in the seventh round this year, so essentially they got Asante Samuel for nothing. In my book, that tops any first round pick Atlanta would have been able to make. Grade: A+
Second Round: The Falcons held the 23rd pick in the second round (55 overall), and the majority of “draft gurus” out there figured Atlanta to go offensive line with this pick. Dimitroff didn’t disappoint, but the name that came up was one that few folks had Atlanta targeting when they picked center Peter Konz out of Wisconsin. The reason so few people had Atlanta even thinking about Konz is that he wasn’t expected to be on the board as late as 55. Most figured Konz to be picked up late in the first round or at worst early in the second round. He was the number one rated player at the center position, and will be a huge asset to Atlanta by eventually taking over for veteran Todd McClure. The only knock on Konz has been injuries, and hopefully as he works with the Falcons trainers, he’ll be able to curtail them. In any case, this pick was a no-brainer for Atlanta when they saw him sitting there. Grade: A
Third Round: (Pick Traded to Baltimore on Draft Day from 21 to 28) The Falcons traded down in the third round, but got another fifth round pick in the process from Baltimore. So it was time for another offensive linemen, right? And it was going one of the big tackles from Auburn or FSU, right? Guess again. The Falcons dropped a lot of jaws when then took the 20th ranked tackle out of Southern Mississippi, Lamar Holmes. Most predicted Holmes to be a late round developmental type player (I had them taking Holmes in the seventh round), and with the immediate needs that the Falcons have at tackle, this one was a real stretch. His tall frame and long arms give him great strength against the pass rush, but he’s pretty raw, and will take some time to develop. Grade C+
Fourth Round: (Pick Traded to Cleveland in 2011)
Fifth Round: Atlanta ended up with two picks in the fifth round after the trade with Baltimore, the number 22 and 29 picks (157 and 164 overall). With the 22nd pick in the round, the Falcons surprised once again by going back to Wisconsin and taking fullback Bradie Ewing. I had the Falcons taking a fullback on my draft card, but it wasn’t Ewing. Although Ewing was the third rated player at his position, he wasn’t projected to be picked until the sixth or seventh round. He does fill a big need for Atlanta, but I think he might have still been available for a later pick. Fifth round seems a bit of a reach. The knock on Ewing is that he was used more as a power runner rather than a traditional blocking fullback, and that he lacks the strength to push back big defenders. Still, Atlanta likes to use their fullback as a receiver out of the backfield, and blocking techniques can be taught. A lot of time in the weight room will definitely be needed for Ewing. Grade: B-
The Falcons next pick in the fifth round could also be considered a steal, in fact, it’s surprising that Atlanta didn’t take Troy outside linebacker/defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi with their first pick in this round. If the name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the cousin of former University of Georgia and current Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Masaquoi. The Falcons wanted to add depth to the linebacker and end position, and Massaquoi will fill that role nicely. He’s a bit of a diamond in the rough, but his raw skills and size had many thinking he’d be taken by the fourth round. Playing at a smaller school like Troy in the Sun Belt Conference, he didn’t get as many looks as he might have, but those who saw him realized what a talent he is. He was the Sun Belt Conference defensive player of the year in 2010 and had a stellar career while at Troy. He’s definitely a “project” and will require some coaching on pass rush techniques and discipline in defending the run game. Grade: B+
Sixth Round: Atlanta again followed suit what I thought they might do, taking a safety in this round. But I can’t say I agree with the pick they made. Taking strong safety Charles Mitchell out of Mississippi State was a gamble, especially given that my pick, San Jose State’s Duke Ihenacho, was still sitting there. Mitchell was ranked number 11 in his position, and wasn’t projected to be picked (if picked at all) until the seventh round. He had some good individual games as a Bulldog, but never showed any real consistency. Still, the Falcons must have seen something they liked, and my pick (Ihenacho) ended up signing a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos. This is one I’ll keep my eye on as training camp and the pre-season get going. Grade: C
Seventh Round: Atlanta used their final pick in the 2012 draft on South Carolina defensive tackle Travian Robertson. His upside, he’s a 300 pound, 6’4″ space-eater on the defensive line, with quick feet and a good burst at the line. His downside, he’s very sloppy and unrefined fundamentally, and he’s not an every down player. But when you are at the 249th overall pick, you go ahead and see if you can’t pick a nice surprise. Robertson could be just that. Grade: C+
Undrafted Free-Agents: The following UDFA’s have signed agreements with Atlanta –
Tyler Horn: Miami (Florida), OL – Named to second team All-ACC in 2011
James Rodgers: Oregon State, WR- Brother of Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Strong receiver who also can return kicks.
Cody Pearcy: Huntingdon, WR – 4.3 forty time and a 44-inch vertical leap. Even in Div. III those stats raise eyebrows.
Dominique Davis: East Carolina, QB – Davis backed up Matt Ryan at Boston College for one season. He also has an NCAA record for consecutive completions in a single game.
Adam Nissley: Central Florida, TE – All-Conference USA Honorable Mention in 2011.
Phillip Keith Manley: Toledo, OL – Huge 6’5″ 300 pound frame. Third team All-Conference USA
Jerrell Harris: Alabama, LB – Yes, there was actually a member of the Crimson Tide defense that didn’t get drafted in the first round.
Chad Faulcon: Montclair State, S – Fast, hard hitting young man who will no doubt make a big splash on special teams.
Overall I think given the picks that Atlanta had to work with, and the immediate needs they were looking to fill, they did a pretty good job. They took steps to upgrading the offensive line, and defensive backfield. They got a fullback to replace Ovie Mughelli, and they added some depth to the pass rush. Many thought they might try to grab a premier tight end to take over for Tony Gonzalez after he retires this season, but it wasn’t an immediate need and is a position that can be addressed via free agency or next year’s draft. They grabbed a couple of projects who may or may not work out, but that’s true in just about any draft class. The important thing for Atlanta was trying to improve on last season’s weaknesses, and they did accomplish that goal. Overall Grade: B