MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 1: Montee Ball #28 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates scoring a touchdown against the Nebraska Cornhuskers with teammates Sam Arneson #49 and Peter Konz #66 on October 1, 2011 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin won the game 48-17. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
The Falcons entered the 2012 NFL draft knowing they needed a "back to basics" approach. The offensive line had been a disappointment, and the defense failed to generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They needed to get bigger. And, well, it certainly looks like they've done that much.
Going into this year's draft, the Falcons had two glaring needs: offensive line and defensive line.
And by my count, the Falcons took two offensive linemen and two defensive linemen. Even without a first-round pick, at first glance Thomas Dimitroff looks to have executed another promising draft. The picks weren't sexy, nor flashy, nor even all that exciting.
But the Falcons know they need to protect Matt Ryan and get after the quarterback more consistently, and the players they've added really look to fit that mold. Let's dive in!
Round 2: OG/C Peter Konz, Wisconsin
Like I said earlier, Konz is your typical big-bodied, tough, punishing Big Ten blocker. A "blue collar type of player," as Dimitroff called him. In a post-draft interview, the Falcons GM raved about the Wisconsin center for his versatility, character and football intelligence.
He also noted how Wisconsin offensive lineman are, on the whole "plug and play" type of players. And he's right: the Big Ten and especially the Badgers are great at churning out linemen that are well-prepared to play at the pro level.
The injury concerns, as I mentioned earlier, might have been a little over-hyped in pre-draft scouting. Konz only missed three games to an ankle injury, and himself said how he's fully able to play through any nagging injuries. The blood clots in his lungs were also apparently an anomaly, according to Dimitroff.
All in all, I like the pick. Most projections had Konz- the best center in the draft- going in the first round, so the fact that Atlanta took him at pick no. 55 is actually pretty astounding. He fills a need and should be starting somewhere on the line from day one.
Round 3: OT Lamar Holmes, Southern Mississippi
Here's where the Falcons may have reached. They were able to pick up a fifth-rounder and still able to land the left tackle out of Southern Miss, but he's a "project" lineman by all accounts.
I certainly don't question the need for a left tackle: Baker and Svitek both only have one year left on their contracts, and Matt Ryan needs some protection if the Falcons want him to have a long and prosperous career. I would've preferred a tight end here, and there were still plenty of talented ones on the board.
But the more I read about Holmes, the more he actually sounds like a smart pick. At 6'5 and 323 pounds, he has all the physical tools to dominate at the NFL level. He's incredibly athletic, has some very long arms (this was a weakness of Baker), and his main strength is pass-blocking.
He won't start this year barring injury, but if he pans out, the Falcons could've struck gold in Holmes.
Round 5: FB Bradie Ewing, Wisconsin
If there was one pick that caught me off guard this year, this was it.
Ewing is, by all accounts, a good fullback prospect, either listed as the best or second-best lead blocker in his class by most scouting sites out there, and like Konz was an integral part of Montee Ball's success at Wisconsin. While he won't be running with the ball any time soon, he's an asset in the running game, can catch the ball out of the backfield, and like the others has strong leadership potential.
The only reason I can imagine the Falcons took a fullback this early in the draft, however, is that they're concerned about Ovie Mughelli. Mughelli's season was cut short, if you recall, by a knee injury that required surgery. He is currently owed a $3M salary, and the Falcons need to create some cap space for Asante Samuel. You do the math.
While Ewing won't be able to replace Mughelli's on-the-field production right away, he's at the very least a solid starting option who could get even better if he bulks up his small-ish frame.
Round 5: DE Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy
Probably my favorite pick in this draft, Massaquoi could turn out to be a real diamond in the rough.
While Massaquoi only recorded 6.0 sacks in his junior year, he managed 12.5 sacks as a sophomore and has shown some really strong potential as a pass-rusher. He's got all the athletic ability and explosiveness you want in an edge rusher, and keeping in theme with the rest of the draft he's not undersized in any way at 6'2, 241 lbs.
The main concerns about the Troy product are his ability to read the play pre-snap and overall awareness in the open field in coverage. His run-stopping ability isn't anything special, either.
But as a pure pass rusher, Massaqoui shows enough promise that a few analysts, including Doug Farrar over at Yahoo, had him among their top 50 players in the draft. If my intuition is right, he'll see limited success as a situational pass rusher with the Falcons right away.
Round 6: SS Charles Mitchell, Mississippi State
At another position of need, we have Mitchell, a hard-hitting safety out of the good old SEC. He's another passionate, leader type of player who shows promise as a contributor on special teams.
He's not exactly massive at 5'11 and 205, and in many ways is much like sixth-rounder Shann Schillinger: a thumper in the running game, but real questions about his ability to hold up in coverage.
Personally I would've liked to see someone with more upside as a cover man, given that he's the same type of player as Schillinger and the Falcons could use a replacement for James Sanders. But I'll take what we can get in round six. All in all, Mitchell projects as a quality backup and special teams man this year.
Round 7: CB Asante Samuel
In case you forgot, the Falcons got Samuel in exchange for a 7th-round pick. My initial guess is that Andy Reid was in some sort of food-induced coma when this occurred. Advantage: Dimitroff.
Round 7: DT Travian Robertson, South Carolina
With their last pick, the Falcons get another massive, high-upside player. At 6'4 and 305, a few sites actually had him listed as a nose tackle.
As far as abilities goes, Robertson is strictly a big-bodied run stopper, could for short-yardage and goal line situations. His massive frame also made him useful on special teams at South Carolina, evident in his blocked PAT against Nebraska last season.
Undrafted Rookie Notables: QB Dominque Davis, WR James Rodgers, LB Jerrell Harris, DB Chad Faulcon
The team signed about 20 undrafted free agents following the conclusion of round seven. While I won't go into detail on every single one, there are definitely a few intriguing names to highlight.
Davis, the quarterback, was backup to our very own Matt Ryan at Boston College before he transferred to East Carolina about midway through his collegiate career. Though he runs about a 4.6 40-yard dash, Davis is your typical pocket passer, and spearheaded what was a high-powered offense in college. All in all, someone who could give third-stringer John Parker Wilson a run for his money.
Rodgers is also connected to a current Falcons, being the younger brother of running back Jacquizz Rodgers. Like his bro, James is small (5'7, 188 lbs) but shifty, functioning as a slot-type receiver as well as a dangerous return man. After losing Eric Weems in free agency, I really like his chances of making the final roster.
Harris, a guy who can double as an inside or outside linebacker, is very much an Akeem Dent-like defender: strong against the run and capable of holding his own in the pass. He's also like Dent in that he's an SEC boy, playing for a national championship Crimson Tide team. Harris is a 3-4 linebacker at heart, so Mike Nolan could view him as a "special package" type of player.
Finally, Faulcon is a special case because he comes from D-III Montclair State. He's a bit undersized at 5'11 and 200 lbs, and is mostly a finesse player, someone who can double as a corner or free safety. Also, his last name is Faulcon, which is fantastic.
That just about does it. I'm not going to grade this draft, because that's nothing more than a practice in futility. But even with their limited picks, the Falcons looks to have added at least one immediate starter and bolstered the depth at several other positions. Only time will tell.