Monday, May 18, 2009

2009 NFL Draft Grades: Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons - much like the next two teams - surprised everyone with their drastic turnaround from '07 to '08. The team could do nothing without Vick and with an unmotivated Bobby Petrino for 13 games in 2007. Under Mike Smith - and rookie QB Matt Ryan - the team went from worst to first, a theme that runs deep in the NFC South. Can they break the cycle of the last place team from the year before becoming division champs? Possibly, but I'd be on the lookout for the Saints.

Atlanta went from 23rd in yards per game to 6th, 29th in points per game to 10th, 18th in passing yards per game to 14th, and 26th in rushing yards per game to 2nd. Those are some drastic jumps in total yards, rushing yards, and points. If they can just hover around those ranks in 2009 - and slightly improve their defense - you'd think a divisional crown could be had. The defense is the problem, however. The team was 21st or lower in passing yards, rushing yards, and total yards allowed per game. They must have used the "bend-but-don't-break-defense" perfectly; they were 11th in points allowed per game despite letting teams walk all over them. The offense controlling the clock helped, as did timely turnovers. For Atlanta to make noise in the NFC South and in the playoffs, the team must improve their run defense above all else.

Mike Smith is back for Year 2 and is ready for more. The team got rid of an aging veteran or two leaving the defense relatively bare. Since that unit wasn't particularly stout it may not matter. Rookies and young players will assume large roles. If they drafted talent ready to performer immediately, this team could break the worst-to-first cycle. Atlanta isn't a flash in the pan; they have the coaching and foundation needed to succeed annually in the NFL. Who would have thought that a year ago?

1/24/24 - Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi
2/23/55 - William Moore, SS, Missouri
3/26/90 - Christopher Owens, CB, San Jose State
4/25/125 - Lawrence Sidbury, DE, Richmond
5/2/138 - William Middleton, CB, Furman
5/20/156 - Garrett Reynolds, OT, North Carolina
6/3/176 - Spencer Adkins, ILB, Miami
7/1/210 - Vance Walker, DT, Georgia Tech

  • DL - Check!
  • S - Check!
  • OL - Check!
  • CB - Check!
They successfully determined their needs, which lined up with the "experts", and filled them throughout the draft. They doubled up at DT and CB plus added a big hitting SS plus a developmental OT - the only offensive player they drafted. They got a steal or two and din't reach badly. This could turn out to be a great class. Find out below.

GRADE: 100/100

Pick 1 - This is a match made in gridiron heaven. Jerry is the perfect DT for the Falcons defense and fills a position of huge need. He'll be called on to play a lot his rookie season and don't be surprised if he is talked about as a potential DROY candidate. Grade: 10

Pick 2 - Another solid pick. Moore was once considered a first round prospect but concerns over his speed and coverage abilities dropped him like a rock. The Falcons were more than pleased to grab him at the end of round two to replace Lawyer Milloy. Moore does have his limitations in space but is a great in-the-box safety to help stop the run. His safety partner and the CBs better be on their game at all times however. Grade: 9

Pick 3 - Oh, first mistake. Chris Owens was a late riser and was actually only noticed because of teammate Coye Francies. Owens did go before Francies, who went in round six to the Browns, but he shouldn't have. This is a reach for need but there were plenty of prospects more talented and ready to go than Owens. Keenan Lewis, Donald Washington, D.J. Moore, and Victor Harris all would have been better choices. They must have really liked Owens because many thought he'd go where his former teammate went. Grade: 5

Pick 4 - What a way to rebound! After reaching a lot for Owens, they get HUGE value in Sidbury. Sidbury is an undersized DE, one that is poised to be a situational pass rusher until he bulks up. However that works perfectly for Atlanta since they have underachieving, run-stuffing DE Jamaal Anderson also on the roster. Sidbury opposite John Abraham will cause teams to leave a back or TE in to protect the QB, allowing DBs and LBs the chance to block throwing lanes. This was a great pick. Grade: 10

Pick 5 - OK, maybe Mike Smith and Co. should just stay away from CBs. This is the second one this draft taken too early. Middleton was another 6th or 7th round prospect taken too soon. Many other more polished options were available. Grade: 4

Pick 6 - For the round he was taken in Reynolds wasn't much of a stretch. However, based on what was available (Tupou, Meredith, Gardner, Murtha) this was a definite loss of value pick. They needed some depth along the OL and Reynolds can become a swing tackle and even play some OG. But he needs time to fix his footwork and build strength. Grade: 5

Pick 7 - The team has MLB pretty much covered so I don't see the need for Adkins unless he shifts outside and is a standout special teams performer, which he may be. Adkins has the speed to play OLB so they won't get hammered for overkill here. He adds some depth to a position of need. My only gripe is that there were some better options available, such as Zach Follett. Grade: 6

Pick 8 - This was a nice, in-state pick. Walker was a great performer at Georgia Tech and, had he had a better Senior Bowl week, may have been a fourth round pick. They can bring him along slowly, giving him some reps here and there. I think he makes the roster outright because he has more talent than your average seventh round pick. With their lack of depth at DT this was another nice pick. The only better player available was Jean-Francois from LSU. Grade: 7

GRADE: 56/80


Needs are all filled, how much can you really complain? The choice of CBs is the real gripe I have. Owens and Middleton were each reaches with some pretty good talent still left at the time of the picks. You can't argue with Jerry, Moore, and Sidbury however. I also like Reynolds more than some others; I think he can become a solid RT by 2011.


WHY: That's a solid grade right there and is mostly from filling all their needs with some solid guys. They don't get an A because of passing on some quality CBs with their two picks at the position. If they had taken better talent there this was easily a class worthy of an A. Regardless it was still a strong class with some high value at positions of need.

NOTE: My "final grade" is weighted and is not a simple combination of "needs" and "talent".

Best Pick: Sidbury
Worst Pick: Middleton
Sleeper: Walker
Instant Impact: Jerry
Developmental: Reynolds

OTHER DRAFT GRADES - Atlanta Falcons
CBS Sports (Prisco): B+
CBS Sports (Rang): B
ESPN (Kiper): B (Brooks): B+ (Fan's): B
Walter: A-



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