Skip to content

PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 5: Atlanta Falcons

Mike Smith AP

Prior to last year, it was fair to wonder if the Falcons were simply fantasy football Hall of Famers, guys who put up great numbers, but weren’t going to win in January.

But head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan broke through the playoff drought by beating the Seahawks, and were a play or two away from a Super Bowl appearance.

That was enough to talk tight end Tony Gonzalez back for one more shot, and with a few strategic offseason additions (though they weren’t able to make many), the Falcons should be in position to make a similar push.

Whether they can get to a Super Bowl will depend on how their defense holds, though they don’t have the pressure of having to be dominant.

Strengths.

The Falcons had a set of offensive skill position personnel to rival any in the league last season.

Then they got better.

By swapping out the old-and-slowing Michael Turner with the old-but-still-effective Steven Jackson, the Falcons upgraded their running game by a significant amount. Turner was a liability most times, still able to pop a 100-yard game occasionally, but no longer able to carry the burden of an offense. Jackson appears still able to do that, and could be a more versatile back, actually able to catch a pass.

Coupled with a smart quarterback in  Ryan, one of the best tight ends in NFL history in  Gonzalez and wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White (it’s no longer Roddy White and Julio Jones), the Falcons catch create matchup problems for most NFL defenses.

Jones is growing into one of the top downfield threats in the game, with the kind of size and speed to make him hard to cover without drawing a defense specifically geared to him.

Weaknesses.

On the other hand, most NFL offenses can create matchup problems for the Falcons defense.

They simply don’t have enough good players on that side of the ball to prevent other teams from moving the ball up and down the field.

They’re assuming Osi Umenyiora will replace the pass-rush they had in John Abraham. But that might be a dangerous assumption, and there isn’t another immediate provider of pressure among the parts on hand. They’re also breaking in rookies throughout the secondary, having jettisoned Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon can be an impact player, but they don’t have enough of those, and the defensive line is a bunch of guys.

They’re not very good stopping the run either, and considering half their division (and a few potential playoff foes) will make that a priority, it’s hard to feel too good about their chances of improving considering the limited additions this offseason.

Changes.

It’s funny, for a team built around an explosive offense, to blow up 60 percent of its offensive line in one offseason.

But that’s what the Falcons did, with the retirement of center Todd McClure and cutting right tackle Tyson Clabo.

Peter Konz will slide to the middle to replace McClure, which is what he was drafted to do, and then a cast of characters will compete for the starting jobs at right guard and right tackle.

Garrett Reynolds will likely get the first crack at the guard job again, and Mike Johnson and Lamar Holmes are competing at tackle.

Plus, this assumes they get the Sam Baker of the first few years and the salary push, and not the left tackle that was benched for ineffectiveness in 2011.

It’s a dicey proposition, but with where they were salary cap wise, they need some young players to make jobs their own.

Camp Battles.

It wasn’t that long ago the Falcons were three-deep with expensive corners, built to match up with the Saints.

Now, Asante Samuel is all have left, and they’re stacking kids up and hoping for the best.

They used their first two draft picks on Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, and both should play in the nickel package, with Trufant expected to start opposite Samuel. Robert McClain has played well at times and can be a good reserve, but they needed to add top-end talent to the position (really, to many positions on defense), and this was the area of urgency this year.

They’re going to give Akeem Dent a chance to play nickel, and he’d likely be an upgrade over the solid but exploited-by-tight ends Stephen Nicholas.

They also need some defensive linemen to emerge. Jonathan Babineaux and Kroy Biermann are solid utility linemen, who have served a lot of roles over the years. They have young players in Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews who could win starting jobs, but that may say more about the guys in those jobs than Goodman and Matthews.

Prospects.

The Falcons are talented, smartly coached and well-quarterbacked.

That’s going to make them contenders automatically, and they broke through the ceiling of a playoff win last year, beating Seattle.

Their biggest problem is that they don’t match up well with the 49ers, and at some point, will have to get through them to reach the Super Bowl.

Otherwise, there aren’t many teams in the league that can slow them down.

Ryan’s about to get a giant contract, and he’ll deserve every nickel of it. He’s a smart, efficient passer and leader, who has brought in a sense of stability which they needed.

But as good as he is, his first task is to overcome his own defense.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is going to have to scheme his way past personnel problems, as they don’t have much up front to create pressure. They’re pushing all their chips to the middle of the table on Osi Umenyiora returning to his old form, because there’s no one else on the roster you could expect double-digit sacks from.

Otherwise, they’re simply counting on outscoring everyone.

Which remains a reasonable proposition, and the reason they have a chance to get to the Super Bowl.

Permalink 58 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Atlanta Falcons, Features, Top Stories
yo

Report: Falcons have looked into moving up in Round One

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Getty Images

Yet another published report pegs the Falcons as a club that could have designs on moving up in the first round.

According to Albert Breer of NFL Media, Atlanta has explored trading up from the No. 8 overall pick, with other clubs suspecting the Falcons are looking for defensive help.

Earlier Monday, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggested the Falcons could be interested in Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., with a trade-up possible.

The Falcons have eight draft picks, one in Rounds One through Six and two in Round Seven. All eight picks can be traded. And to move up from No. 8, the club would likely be looking at surrendering a second- or third-round selection.

Permalink 0 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Possible first-rounder Shane Ray cited for marijuana possession

Shane Ray AP

An edge-rushing prospect thought to have a good shot at being selected in Round One has encountered an unwanted off-field issue three days before the draft.

Defensive end Shane Ray, a former University of Missouri standout, was cited Monday morning on a marijuana possession charge, Corporal Scott White of the Missouri State Highway Patrol confirmed to PFT on Monday night.

According to White, Ray was pulled over for speeding on Monday morning in Cooper County, Missouri. Upon the traffic stop, a highway trooper smelled what was believed to be fresh, unsmoked marijuana. The vehicle was searched, and marijuana was found, White said. Ray was cited for possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana, a misdemeanor, and released on his recognizance, White said. He was also cited for a lane violation.

Ray did not appear impaired and was cooperative, White said. He faces a June 30 court date.

As a potential late first-round pick, the pot citation is a less-than-desirable development for Ray, to say the least. Moreover, the health of Ray’s foot has also been a storyline in the lead-up to the draft, though NFL Media has reported Ray does not need surgery.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports Ray flunked a drug test in college, citing information from five unnamed NFL teams.

Rotoworld draft expert Josh Norris has the Cardinals selecting Ray 24th overall in his latest mock draft.

Permalink 77 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Broncos plan to draft a quarterback

Peyton Manning AP

Quarterback is not a need for the Broncos in 2015, with Peyton Manning remaining in Denver. But with Manning’s retirement after this season a strong possibility, quarterback will be a need for the Broncos soon.

That’s why, according to Mike Klis of KUSA, it’s a virtual certainty that the Broncos will take a quarterback at some point in Rounds 2-7.

The big question is whether that quarterback will be drafted on Friday or Saturday. If the Broncos use a second-day pick on a quarterback, that’s a bad sign that they’re not sold on Brock Osweiler as Manning’s successor. The Broncos made the surprising decision to select Osweiler in the second round in 2012 despite having Manning in the fold, and so far Manning’s presence has kept Osweiler on the sideline except in garbage time. The Broncos drafting a quarterback in the second or third round would suggest that they doubt Osweiler will be the man for the job going forward.

But if the Broncos draft a quarterback on Day 3, that’s more a sign that they want depth and competition at the position. The Broncos also spent a 2013 seventh-round pick on a quarterback, Zac Dysert, and a late-round rookie would compete with Dysert for the third-string job behind Manning and Osweiler.

What we know for sure is that Manning is the starter for now, and that John Elway is getting prepared for a time in the near future when Manning is gone.

Permalink 48 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Browns have been in touch with Washington about No. 5 overall pick

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptdly2zmy2fkm2zjztc3nzy3oddhztfkzjq0otcynmu1 AP

A team with a pair of first-round picks has reportedly been in contact with a club selecting in the top five in Thursday’s draft.

The Browns have communicated with Washington about the No. 5 overall pick, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported Monday. Cleveland has also reached out to other clubs with top 10 picks, Rapoport said.

The Browns select 12th and 19th in Round One, giving them the trade chips necessary to make a move up in the selection order if needed. What’s more, the Browns have shown they are willing to make a deal; they were involved in three of the five first-round trades in 2014. First, the Browns traded back from No. 4 to No. 9, gaining a 2015 first-rounder in the process. Later, they traded up to No. 8, selecting cornerback Justin Gilbert. Finally, the Browns moved up from No. 26 to No. 22 to take quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Manziel struggled as a rookie, which could make quarterback a position the Browns look to address in the draft. That would likely require a move up from their No. 12 spot.

Permalink 61 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Browns have last-minute meeting with Chris Conley

Conley AP

Cleveland’s last-minute meal-related visit with Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman was followed by another last-minute meal-related visit in the same geographic area.

Per a league source, a Browns contingent led by G.M. Ray Farmer had lunch on Monday with Georgia receiver Chris Conley.

Conley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at the Scouting Combine, the third fastest time for all receivers in Indy.  His 45-inch vertical was the best ever for a wideout, and one inch short of the Combine record.  He also recorded a broad jump of 11 feet, seven inches.

And then there’s this:  Conley wrote and directed a 26-minute Star Wars fan film entitled Retribution, which currently has nearly 490,000 views on YouTube.  (Rolling Stone has interviewed Conley about his film making debut.)

Whatever happens with Conley, he’s a fascinating prospect, and the Browns were sufficiently fascinated to spend some time with him only three days before the draft begins.

Permalink 9 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Rams not expected to exercise 2016 option on Mark Barron’s contract

Russell Wilson, Mark Barron AP

The Rams only had one pick in the first round of the 2012 draft, but they have a pair of decisions to make about 2016 options on first rounders.

They selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers and traded for safety Mark Barron last year after the Buccaneers decided to part ways with the  seventh overall pick. Reports on Monday indicate that they will exercise their option on Brockers’s deal, but Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that they won’t do the same with Barron.

Neither move is much of a surprise. As illustrated by Tampa’s willingness to deal Barron for fourth- and sixth-round picks in this year’s draft, the safety hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came with his draft position. Since that draft position called for him to be paid the equivalent of the top 10 best-paid safeties in the league in 2016, the Rams will see what develops this season before deciding whether to pursue another deal with Barron.

Barron played all 16 games last year, starting seven for the Bucs before the trade and then mostly playing off the bench in St. Louis for the rest of the year. He has 248 tackles and three interceptions over his three seasons.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Kevin Colbert calls pre-draft leaks “horrible”

Colbert AP

The explosion of media covering the NFL has led to the creation of a key rule of thumb regarding the draft:  Teams that love a player will leak negative information in the hopes the player fall to them, and teams that hate a player will tout him in the hopes that someone higher on the board will take him.

Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert isn’t a fan of the practice.

I think it’s horrible,” Colbert said during his annual pre-draft press conference, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com.  “I think it’s really bad for our profession when people use whatever means they use to get information out to try to influence the draft and they talk about a kid’s test score, a kid’s injury, a kid’s character.  I think that’s awful.  It’s disrespectful to our profession, it’s disrespectful to the game, it’s disrespectful to the kid.”

But it’s a realistic and understandable practice in the Machiavellian world of getting the best players via a system of picking one after another from the pool of eligible former college players.  The only way to stop if from happening would be to get rid of the draft and allow teams to compete for the rookies in the same way they compete for free agents.

Colbert’s sentiments are honorable, but he grossly underestimates the potential impact of the leaked information.

“[W]e really don’t pay attention to it,” Colbert said of the leaked information.   “We don’t believe in mock drafts and what people are saying about other teams because so much of it is misinformation.  You’d just lose your mind trying to figure out what everyone’s going to do.  We’re going to be true to what we do and feel good about it and live with it.”

While he and other scouts may not listen to the noise, owners and non-scouts in positions of influence do.  And in some cities owners and other non-scouts in positions of influence have great influence over the process.

If people didn’t think the process of leaking information to manipulate the draft works, they wouldn’t waste their time doing it.  And regardless of whether it works, enough people think that it does to result in enough people continuing to do it.

Permalink 37 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Eagles exercise option on fifth year of Fletcher Cox’s contract

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

When the Chiefs took Dontari Poe with the 11th pick of the 2012 draft, they kicked off a run that saw two more defensive linemen come off the board in the next three picks.

Now it looks like all three of those players will have their options for the 2016 season exercised. We’ve heard previous reports that the Chiefs will exercise Poe’s option, that the Rams will do the same with 14th pick Michael Brockers and now the Eagles have announced that they will do the same with 12th overall pick Fletcher Cox.

None of the moves comes as a surprise. All three have become starters and key players on their respective defensive lines with Poe and Cox ranking among the top players to come out of that draft at any position.

Cox’s name has popped up in some of the trade rumors that have surfaced around the Eagles this offseason and it’s probably best not to rule out anything given the moves Chip Kelly has already pulled off with players who arrived in Philly before he got there in 2013. It would be a blow to their defensive line, although dealing Cox should bring back a handsome return given how well he’s played in his first three seasons.

Permalink 25 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

NFL tweaks the rules to speed up the draft

2012 NFL Draft - First Round Getty Images

This year’s NFL draft should wrap up a little faster.

The NFL has quietly tweaked the rules to reduce the amount of time between picks, allowing only four minutes between selections in the seventh round, as well as four minutes between selections for all compensatory picks. The league informed PFT today that the speeding up of the draft was discussed at the competition committee meetings and communicated to the teams at the league meeting in March. The change was made at the league office level and did not necessitate a vote of the 32 teams.

The new rule makes a lot of sense: The seventh round is when the draft begins to feel like it has dragged on interminably, and even Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock are running out of things to say. And compensatory picks can’t be traded, so teams need less time to make those picks.

The time between picks will remain the same for other rounds: Ten minutes between picks for the first round, seven minutes for the second round and five minutes for the third through sixth rounds, other than compensatory picks.

For the NFL, the draft is the signature event of the offseason, and it has become increasingly important to the league to make it a made-for-TV extravaganza. Sometimes the late rounds of the draft go from “extravaganza” to “excruciatingly dull,” so it’s no surprise that the league has decided to speed things up.

Permalink 39 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Rivers trade looks to be dead, assuming it ever was alive

philiprivers AP

With three days to go until the 2015 NFL draft commences, it’s probably time to end speculation about the Chargers trading Philip Rivers.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com explains that he doesn’t believe a trade will happen, calling it a “gut feeling” based on spending “lots of time calling around” the league.  King nevertheless believes the Titans and Chargers will talk, but he doesn’t see a match.

King thinks the Titans would want more than Rivers in exchange for the second overall pick in the draft.  And that’s likely enough to kill the deal on its own, given that the Chargers should want more than the second overall pick in the draft for a proven franchise quarterback — especially if that proven franchise quarterback will also be extending his contract as part of the trade.

So the possibility of a trade seems to be dead, assuming it was ever alive in the first place.  It’s possible, if not likely, that the issue arose from the looming expiration of the quarterback’s contract.  Indeed, Rivers first addressed the situation only four days after fellow 2004 first-round pick Ben Roethlisberger signed a gigantic new contract.  And Rivers has never said he won’t do a new deal with the Chargers; he has said only that he’s not inclined to until after the season.

Which makes sense, since the Chargers will need him more than ever if/when (when) they head to Los Angeles.  If they don’t have Rivers, they need another franchise quarterback.  And the only one they have a shot at getting is Marucs Mariota via a trade with the Titans.

If a trade is going to happen, the wheels need to be put in motion quickly, given that the Titans surely will want to conduct a physical and negotiate a new contract.  As to the latter, discretion will be easier to achieve because Jimmy Sexton represents Rivers, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt, and Titans G.M. Ruston Webster.

Permalink 29 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Rams to exercise Michael Brockers’s 2016 contract option

New York Giants v St. Louis Rams Getty Images

It looks like the Rams will join the group of teams exercising their fifth-year options on members of the 2012 draft class.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the team will pick up the option on defensive tackle Michael Brockers before the May 3 deadline to do so. The move will cost them just over $6.1 million and is guaranteed against injury only, so the Rams could rescind the option before the start of the next league year.

Brockers was the 14th pick of the draft and moved right into St. Louis’s starting lineup during his rookie season. He missed three games that year, but has started every game in the last two seasons and has recorded 11.5 career sacks.

Brockers is part of a talented defensive line in St. Louis that also features Robert Quinn and Chris Long flanking Brockers, Aaron Donald and Nick Fairley at defensive tackle. Fairley is only signed for 2015, however, and Long’s future in St. Louis is already the subject of speculation thanks to his plus-sized cap hits.

Permalink 9 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Bills waive Jonte Green

Cleveland Browns v Detroit Lions Getty Images

The Bills signed former Lions cornerback Jonte Green in January, but they’ve apparently already seen enough to know that he wasn’t going to be part of the team come September.

The team announced that they have waived Green, a 2012 sixth-round pick, on Monday. With Green’s departure, Buffalo’s roster stands at 70 players with the draft starting on Thursday.

Green last played in a regular season game in 2013 and appeared in 24 games for the Lions during his first two NFL seasons. He had 38 tackles and an interception in those appearances.

Green’s departure opens up a spot on the depth chart at corner for a rookie, but it’s probably not a top priority for the Bills heading into the draft. With Stephon Gilmore, Leodis McKelvin, Corey Graham, Nickell Robey, Ron Brooks and 2014 fourth-round pick Ross Cockrell on the roster, the Bills have depth at the position and more immediate needs elsewhere on the roster.

Permalink 9 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Giants waive RB Michael Cox

Michael Cox AP

The Giants have parted ways with one of their reserve running backs.

New York has waived third-year pro Michael Cox, the club said Monday.

A seventh-round pick of the Giants in 2013, the 26-year-old Cox appeared in 18 games for the Giants over the last two seasons, rushing for 76 yards on 26 carries. His 2014 campaign ended after he suffered a broken leg in a loss to Seattle in November.

Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen and Andre Williams are the Giants’ top three backs. The club has five tailbacks on the roster.

Permalink 7 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Washington hasn’t received any trade proposals for Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins AP

At various points in his three-year NFL career, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins’s name has come up in trade chatter.

However, to hear it from Washington General Manager Scot McCloughan, it’s all quiet on that front for the time being.

At a pre-draft press conference Monday, McCloughan indicated Washington had not been approached with offers for Cousins, who has started nine regular season games for the club, including five in 2014.

Cousins is in the final year of his contract, and Washington would certainly have to listen on offers involving draft compensation for the former Michigan State quarterback. However, starting quarterback Robert Griffin III and backup passer Colt McCoy both dealt with injuries a season ago, so Cousins’ value might be greatest to Washington as it is.

Finally, Cousins has been up-and-down as a starter, especially a season ago, when third-stringer McCoy eventually relieved him as Washington waited for Griffin to return to the lineup.

In short, it’s not a real surprise Cousins hasn’t apparently generated significant interest this offseason.

Permalink 36 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Packers confirm Brett Favre will be honored on Thanksgiving

File photo of Brett Favre in New Orleans Reuters

Just before the NFL schedule was unveiled last week, reports out of Green Bay indicated that the Packers would host the Bears on Thanksgiving and that they would retire former quarterback Brett Favre’s jersey at a ceremony during that contest.

The release of the schedule confirmed that the Packers and Bears would be spending the holiday together and the team confirmed the rest of the news on Monday. Favre, who faced the Bears 32 times during his playing career, will be the sixth player in Packers history to be honored in that fashion.

“It will be an incredible honor to be in Lambeau Field on Thanksgiving night with Packers fans and have my name and number placed among the greatest players in Packers history,” Favre said in a release from the team. “With the great history and tradition of the Packers-Bears rivalry, and remembering the great matchups we had during my career, it seems only fitting to have Chicago as the opponent.”

The Packers also announced that they’ll be honoring the man who brought Favre to Green Bay. Wolf will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer and will be presented with his Hall of Fame ring at the team’s November 15 game against the Lions.

Permalink 36 Comments Feed for comments Back to top