At this point, we are now entering the "all speculation, all the time" phase of the NFL offseason. The tiniest of details are dissected, analyzed, and ultimately make their ways into columns that so often tell a small fraction of the truth.
Rumors blow up and become full-fledged fact. Players rise and fall based on everything from 40 times to height to hand size. What better way to determine the talent of a football player than by dissecting every inch of his body?
With that said, let's analyze what we could have learned about the Atlanta Falcons throughout the NFL Combine. While Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons' front office are never going to tip their hand, they have given us a hint at the direction they could be going this offseason. I love hypocrisy.
The Falcons will look hard at defensive end, tight end, and offensive guards
The Falcons interviewed Stanford tight end Coby Fleener at the combine, and this is after interviewing fellow TE Ladarius Green at the Senior Bowl. With Tony Gonzalez confirming that 2012 will be his last season in the NFL, the Falcons will look to provide Matt Ryan with another weapon for the future. I approve this as fact.
Defensive end is another obvious position of need for the Falcons. Remembering that John Abraham apparently wants a three-year deal somewhere in the $10M/year range, I think it's safe to say Atlanta will find another pass rusher. Vinny Curry had a nice Combine. Let's go with that. I approve this as fact.
The Falcons probably will not draft a cornerback, as Brent Grimes could get the franchise tag
I'm a bit surprised by this, but the infallible Adam Schefter (among others) has already hinted at Grimes being tagged by the Falcons. That's a one year, $10.6M deal mind you.
With almost $16M worth of cap space tied up into the cornerback position, I'd be really surprised if the Falcons choose to add another one this season. I approve this as fact.
Curtis Lofton is a two-down player? Akeem Dent will be the team's new MLB?
First off, there have been rumors circulating that Mike Nolan considers Lofton to only be a two-down player, and that he'd prefer Sean Weatherspoon on the field for three downs.
With Cleveland's D'Qwell Jackson (another above-average linebacker) just signing a five-year extension worth $42.5 million, some believe Lofton will become too expensive for the Falcons' liking. Dimitroff has already said that he feels comfortable with Akeem Dent as the team's mike backer.
As much as I dislike this, I could definitely see this happening. With so much money tied up into cornerback and the potential to sign a big-name OL/DE in free agency (along with several other key free agents to re-sign), Lofton may be another starter that leaves Atlanta. Dent is the obvious replacement. I approve this as fact.
Does Sam Baker still have a starting job in Atlanta?
Coach Mike Smith said the team would be "very comfortable" with Baker starting at left tackle in 2012. Cue the "whaaaaat?" face.
James Rael over at the Falcoholic has two great tidbits (as seen here and here) that should explain in no uncertain terms why I am absolutely not comfortable with Baker protecting Matt Ryan's blind side: he cannot pass block. While we're at it, let's start wide receivers that can't catch or quarterbacks that can't throw as well.
Sure, Baker was never really healthy for the entire year, but for Will Svitek to take over the starting job Baker must never have impressed the coaches at all that year. I claim falsehood.
With Michael Turner having a "reduced role," will the Falcons actually draft a running back?
From the mouth of Dimitroff himself:
It's a fine running back class and I think there is some speed and versatility there... As it stands, compared to other running back classes, this is one where throughout the draft you can [select] some very significant players
At one point, Walter Football's four-round mock draft had the Falcons taking V-Tech RB David Wilson, a pick I completely disagree with (it has since been changed to DE Vinny Curry). With Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers both inked for at least the next two seasons, the thought had never really crossed my mind.
Again, I think this is one of those cases where fans and columnists alike read into these comments a little too much. There are way too many other question marks on the team for the Falcons to consider a running back with their first draft pick. I claim falsehood.
**Disclaimer: I have no actual authority to approve or veto rumors.