Re-Capping the Falcons Draft

Following up the Arizona Cardinals draft feature, we’re continuing alphabetically with the Atlanta Falcons.

As we get further towards the season, I’ll be adding more information gleaned from camp reports about each and every rookie.

Expect a new feature every Sunday and Wednesday, with completed segments posted on the Team-By-Team Selections page.

Round 1, Pick 22 – Washington CB Desmond Trufant

Senior 6’0″ 190 lbs 4.38 40-yard 16 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Corey Webster

Trufant is athletic and he’s scheme versatile. Like a younger Webster, he can press and will succeed in both zone and man coverage in the NFL.

He lacks top speed (he’s not as fast on the field as his 40 time may lead to believe) while at the same time lacking a fluidity of movement that could be a negative in man coverage at the professional level. All the same, Trufant has the skill set to start outside and versatility to move from side to side of the field.

Trufant should excel given time to learn the game, but he needs to improve as a physical corner if he’s to match up against true no. 1 receivers — Atlanta is reportedly looking to start Trufant opposite stalwart Asante Samuel with the intention of Trufant locking down top receivers. Expect the rookie to struggle at first, but there is talent capable of a starting corner in the first-round pick.

The addition makes sense for Atlanta, as the departures of Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson leave a definitive hole opposite Samuel outside. Slot corner Robert McClain will likely keep his role as a nickel and dime package sub, leaving Trufant with a starting position as a rookie.

Round 2, Pick 28 (60) – SE Louisiana CB Robert Alford

Redshirt Senior 5’10 188 lbs 4.34 40-yard 17 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Alphonso Smith

Alford’s size is an unappealing sight for many when considering a cornerback. However, Alford’s vertical ability is similar to Alphonso Smith in that he plays like a much taller corner than his stature. Even with his height, Alford has a typical slot corner skill set, with burner wheels and ball-hawking abilities (10 interceptions at SE Louisiana — four as a senior).

As the second corner selected by Atlanta, there are less expectations being placed on the small-school product than first-rounder Desmond Trufant. Alford’s selection makes for a very talented corner group in Atlanta, as the starters are shaping up as Asante Samuel and Trufant with Robert McClain and Alford chipping in as nickel and dime backs at the least — there is still a chance that Alford could claim a starting role in camp over the more heavily lauded Trufant.

Round 4, Pick 30 (127) – Clemson DE Malliciah Goodman

Senior 6’4″ 176 lbs 4.78 40-yard 26 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Robert Ayers

Goodman’s assets as a run defender make him an ideal replacement for John Abraham in the long term, as the Falcons are needy in that area. While often criticized for lacking burst off the snap, the Clemson product has both big hands and long arms that give him an advantage gaining leverage on blockers and reaching to swat passes.

Goodman will see little time on the field as a rookie, with the likes of Kroy Biermann and free-agent acquisition Osi Umenyiora blocking his time at end, but will likely be involved in sub packages as an edge-setter in run defense. With some work on technique and time to prove doubters of his on-field motor wrong, Goodman could develop into a valuable defensive end for the Falcons.

Round 4, Pick 36 (133) – Stanford TE Levine Toilolo

Redshirt Junior 6’8″ 260 lbs 4.79 40-yard 17 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Scott Chandler

As the complementary blocking tight end to fellow 2013 NFL Draft selection Zach Ertz in his time at Stanford, Toilolo is known more for his blocking chops than receiving abilities. However, that doesn’t mean the monstrous tight end can’t catch — Toilolo caught four touchdowns in his junior year before declaring for the draft.

Plus height and long arms make Toilolo a threat both as a vertical receiver and at the goal line, with his excellent blocking abilities allowing the Falcons to rely on the veteran Tony Gonzalez as the pass-catching end again this season.

Round 5, Pick 20 (153) – TCU DE Stansly Maponga

Redshirt Junior 6’2″ 256 lbs 4.84 40-yard 30 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Dwight Freeney

Maponga drew comparisons to Freeney in his junior year and leading into the draft because of a fine-tuned spin move, a pass-rushing technique that has made Freeney a household name with football fans.

Teams were scared away from the TCU product after the revelation that Maponga underwent foot surgery in March after playing his junior season with the injury — only managing four sacks after an extremely productive (13.5 TFL, 9 sakcs, 5 forced fumbles) in his sophomore season. With excellent technique and deceptive strength for a finesse end, Maponga makes for an excellent complement to fourth-rounder Malliciah Goodman for the future.

Round 7, Pick 37 (243) – Central Florida S Kemal Ishmael

Senior 5’11” 201 lbs 4.63 40-yard 21 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Derrick Martin

Ishmael was a productive tackler out of the defensive backfield at Central Florida, but athletic limitations place a clear question mark on how much the projected safety can do on the field. It’s tough to find a true comparison for Ishmael, but Martin is a good fit because of his reputation as a special teams stalwart and a hard worker. An above-average tackler, Ishmael will have an up-hill battle to establish a roster spot as a special teams player in camp.

Round 7, Pick 38 (244) – Notre Dame S Zeke Motta

Senior 6’2″ 213 lbs 4.75 40-yard 11 bench reps

NFL Comparison: Craig Dahl

Motta is a converted linebacker who’s tackling chops and overall lack of lateral ability made the Notre Dame coaching staff consider moving him to safety. Well-sized, yet a bit on the weak side for an in-the-box safety, Motta’s tackling abilities may earn him a special teams berth — if he can beat out the likes of fellow seventh-round rookie Kemal Ishmael.

Round 7, Pick 43 (249) – Duke QB Sean Renfree

Redshirt Senior 6’3″ 219 lbs 4.76 40-yard

NFL Comparison: Matt Hasselbeck

Renfree became a bit of a buzz-worthy prospect after quarterback guru Mike Mayock picked the Duke product as his sleeper quarterback of the draft due to his natural abilities under center — notably above-average anticipation and timing in combination with excellent work ethic and passion for the game. Essentially, Renfree has many of the ‘quarterback intangibles’ that draftniks like Mayock look for in sleeper picks.

With endorsements from many analysts and the coaching of Duke’s well-known quarterback coach David Cutcliffe, Renfree has high expectations for a compensatory pick, but will have plenty of time to mature behind Falcons starter Matt Ryan.

Renfree has little competition for the backup spot to Matt Ryan, with 2012 undrafted rookie Dominique Davis and 2013 undrafted rookie Seth Doege as the only other quarterbacks on the roster.

FINAL DRAFT GRADE: B

This draft class is a bit of hit-or-miss for the needs of the Falcons — while they did get the starting corner (or corners) they needed, the team didn’t manage to find a linebacker or starting defensive end to shore up positions of need. As of now, it looks as if the team is counting on Tony Gonzalez to put up another starter-caliber season before retirement and Osi Umenyiora to perform better than many teams expect out of the 31-year-old veteran. Atlanta managed to pick up an underrated signal caller in Renfree late in the draft along with a duo of defensive ends and corners that should contribute in the future.

Atlanta has a very well-off squad, and this draft class should help bolster the defensive backfield in the short term and several spots on the defense in the long-term, with Toilolo making for an interesting prospect at tight end.

Next up, Baltimore Ravens! Check in Wednesday for our next draft feature!

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Friday Football: How do the Patriots Replace Aaron Hernandez?

The story of Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace has seemed to add on another chapter every day over the past week. New England’s decision to release Hernandez, a formal charge of murder and further investigation of a previous double homicide are only the latest events in the ongoing saga.

Hernandez’s departure means the Patriots have yet another hole to fix with both Wes Welker and Hernandez missing on the offensive side. The injury situation of Rob Gronkowski makes matters worse — the Patriots have gone from a lethal tight end duo to the possibility of having neither on the field to start the season.

In late June, teams are aware that the free-agent market has dried up at many positions, as is the case with tight end. As such, it’s important that New England identify who to take snaps with the starters before the preseason begins.

Bill Belichick pulled a move on the Giants in 2012, when they claimed Jake Ballard off of waivers when New York expected no team to claim the injured two-year pro only months after Ballard helped to defeat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. In 13 starts in his sophomore season, Ballard put up respectable numbers — 38 receptions, 604 yards and four touchdowns — as he was only surpassed in yards and touchdowns by the receiving duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

The addition of Daniel Fells last season was at the time an end of the roster move — with Gronkowski and Hernandez established as offensive weapons, Fells saw very little playing time — but now it seems he could play a more visible role in 2013. Fells has a similar skill set to Ballard as a blocker with some receiving work in past seasons. At 29 and with six NFL seasons under his belt, Fells offers the Patriots much more experience than Ballard. A capable starter who hasn’t received much of a shot to play outside of a one-year stint in Denver a couple seasons ago, it would prove interesting if New England chose to start Fells over the more newsworthy Ballard.

The difficulty here is that both veteran players are more suited to in-line tight end positions. While either would make a suitable replacement for Gronkowski in the short term, Hernandez always served more of a receiver role than a tight end — seen when looking at his snap counts on offense this past season, over 50-percent of which were at wide receiver in the slot (only accessed with a premium account at Pro Football Focus).

The only other tight end on the roster is undrafted rookie Zach Sudfield. A 6-foot-7 behemoth of a receiver, Sudfield only started one year of college ball at Nevada without injuries as a senior in 2012, tallying 45 receptions and 598 yards with eight touchdowns. With an athletic skill set suitable to playing a pass-catching role at the professional level, Sudfield is very similar to Hernandez in play style and is a player to watch in camp.

Sudfield’s inexperience could lead to an opening for a former division rival receiver in Donald Jones as a potential replacement for Hernandez on the offense. Jones, still young at 25-years-old, played three years in Buffalo after signing as an undrafted rookie in 2010. Although not incredibly productive as a slot receiver with the Bills (82 catches in 35 games), Jones could be used as a bigger slot target to complement the smaller, quicker former-Rams receiver Danny Amendola — much like the Patriots offense utilized Welker and Hernandez in past seasons. Jones’ pairing with Sudfield could allow the Patriots to gradually integrate Sudfield into the offense rather than throwing the rookie to the wolves.

With the influx of receivers this offseason — including rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce — it’s entirely possible that Belichick gives a different look in 2013 utilizing a combination of Amendola, Julian Edelman and any number of the fore mentioned players rather than sticking with the tight end dual attack.


Jacksonville’s Quarterback Dilemma

When the Jacksonville Jaguars traded up to select Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert 10th-overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, then-coach Jack Del Rio and former general manager Gene Smith could not have predicted a Jacksonville franchise with such a question mark at quarterback.

The biggest news out of camp concerning who’s playing under center revolves around a former first-round bust (Gabbert) and a second-round bust (Chad Henne). Gabbert’s woes are well documented in Jacksonville — a disastrous rookie season that garnered the label of “the fifth-worst season we’ve ever measured” by Football Outsiders along with league lows in yards per attempt (5.4), passer rating (65.4) and quarterback fumbles (14), while ranking second-worst in completion percentage (50.8).

In 24 starts in the past two seasons, the Jaguars have gone 5-19 with Gabbert under center. Henne’s poor play to finish out the season (1-5 record, 7:10 TD:INT ratio) following Gabbert’s torn labrum in week 11 may be the only reason why Gabbert still has a shot at beating out the former Dolphins veteran.

Henne had an up-and-down four-year stint with Miami following a 57th-overall selection in the 2008 NFL Draft, never once managing a passer rating of 80.0 or throwing more touchdowns than interceptions in a season. Henne played sparingly as a rookie behind starter Chad Pennington, and only started in 2009 following a season-ending pair of injuries to Pennington in week three. In four seasons Henne started only 31 games (13-18 record) and was not re-signed by the Dolphins after his rookie contract ended.

This offseason marked the addition of two undrafted free-agents following the 2013 NFL Draft — Matt Scott (Arizona) and Jordan Rodgers (Vanderbilt), the brother of star Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Both Scott and Rodgers are lauded as project quarterbacks with plus arm strength and athleticism that need work in both decision making and picking up an NFL-style offense. While Rodgers may be out of luck following a sports hernia surgery that has kept him sidelined, Scott looked to have the third quarterback spot locked up until the addition of another young quarterback — ex-Eagles 2010 fourth-round pick Mike Kafka.

Originally selected by Philadelphia to learn behind Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb as the third quarterback, Kafka was displaced following the third-round selection of Nick Foles out of Arizona last year. Kafka spent 2012 searching for a job, only to find his first offer in the form of an a reserve/future contract in early January from the Patriots — who would later cut Kafka to make room for media hype Tim Tebow in early June.

Kafka offers the Jaguars very little in the way of arm strength, but is a smart passer with excellent accuracy. This polish could appeal to coach Gus Bradley for the third quarterback role over either project players Scott and Rodgers, and general manager David Caldwell stated that Jacksonville had interest in Kafka as a player to push Gabbert prior to his addition by the Patriots.

As of now, the camp battle is up for grabs between Gabbert and Henne. Kafka’s addition is more of a sideshow at this point in the quarterback competition, but preseason struggles by either Gabbert or Henne could change the coaching staff’s perspective on Kafka.

This doesn’t mean that Jacksonville is standing pat with their talent under center. Caldwell has made it clear his staff is looking into the 2014 quarterback crop, including the likes of Tahj Boyd (Clemson) and Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville). While every team will look into the upcoming draft class’ quarterbacks, regardless of talent on their roster, this is a very important indication that Gabbert is in a make-or-break season — if he can’t prove on the field that he’s worthy of the time and money Jacksonville has invested, he’ll likely be getting a one-way ticket out of town after the 2013 campaign.


Gabe Carimi Trade Example of Recouping Value

Gabe Carimi is a name that many draft aficionados may remember from the 2011 NFL Draft.

The former Bears 29th-overall pick was sent packing yesterday on a one-way flight to Tampa Bay only two seasons removed from his selection in return for a 2014 sixth-round pick.

Carimi started only two games as a rookie before suffering a right knee subluxation in week 2 of the 2011 season. Kept on the roster while rehabbing, Carimi was placed on injured reserve in November. Scouts had previously red-flagged Carimi coming out of Wisconsin for concerns about the durability of his right knee — but that didn’t stop the Bears from using their first-round pick on the athletic blocker.

This past season wasn’t much of an improvement, as Carimi was ranked 73rd out of 80 qualifying tackles by Pro Football Focus in his ten starts at right tackle — with an even worse ranking of 78th in pass protection. Carimi was removed from the starting lineup after facing San Francisco phenom Aldon Smith in week 11 — where he was jointly responsible (with left tackle J’Marcus Webb) for 5.5 sacks by the second-year pass-rusher.

New Bears head coach Marc Trestman was hesitant to name Carimi as a starter during the offseason, but he did state that Carimi wouldn’t be playing any tackle for Chicago in 2013. Over the past weeks leading up to Carimi’s trade to the Buccaneers the team was unsure whether Carimi would attend minicamp following his voluntary skipping of organized team activities.

Tampa Bay already has a solid offensive line group, so Carimi will have an uphill battle to crack the final roster. His experience as a tackle and passable play as a guard towards the end of last season must have given Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik hope that Carimi can contribute as quality depth.

This is not the first we’ve seen of a team attempting to get some value out of a perceived draft bust like Carimi. The Broncos similarly sent 2009 second-round cornerback Alphonso Smith to the Lions in return for reserve tight end Dan Gronkowski. Aaron Curry, the 2009 fourth-overall pick, was also jettisoned by the Seahawks after a disappointing two-plus seasons with Seattle.