Andre Smith – Potential Fall in 1st Round of 2009 NFL Draft

Andre Smith, potential stud tackle from Alabama, could be the latest player to significantly fall from an NFL combine screw up.  Most pundits had Smith locked into the #2 spot in the draft behind Matthew Stafford.  Going #2 could guarantee Smith over $30 million just for signing on the dotted line.  Now, he may slip into the later part of the 1st round depending on the reaction to his combine “performance.”

Andre Smith, like some top prospects, wasn’t going to workout at the combine.  There’s little to gain from the meat market, so why go through it all.  Smith showed up to do a few interviews and smile for the camera.  Well, he arrived out of shape – and it wasn’t the camera’s fault.  Smith looked like he hadn’t worked out since the season – leaving most to question his dedication and work ethic.  This is the most important time in his life and he could be throwing away a bunch of money over the next 6 years of his football career.

In addition, Smith threw interviewers for a loop by giving a bunch of different reasons for not working out at the combine.  As a young guy that is about to get paid a ton of money based on your potential – not the body of work on Sundays – but potential to succeed, why would you do that?  Seriously, to not do everything in your power to impress every single coach/owner/scout transitioning from college football to the NFL is a deadly sin.  You never know who is going to trade up to draft you.  Integrity and honesty shouldn’t creep into their minds when thinking about you as an investment.

This might all be water under the bridge.   Maybe Andre Smith gets picked in the top-5, maybe even #2 like the early projections.  But if he starts to fall – watch out.  It could be another Aaron Rodgers watch where he falls into the 20s.  On paper, that would be a tremendous value for teams that made the playoffs last year – course, most teams care about work ethic, chemistry and other intangibles more than sheer talent on the professional level, so who knows…

Teams like Tampa Bay, Detroit and Atlanta are interesting thoughts between #19 and #25 that could potentially target Smith if he falls.  Consider Atlanta – most have them earmarked for a defensive lineman, safety or tight end early, but given the value Smith could have, it would be hard to pass up.  Todd Weiner recently retired and having Sam Baker on the other side of Andre Smith could be dominant for years to come.  Course, everyone is questioning Andre Smith about a lot things right about now….

Marvin Harrison, A Free Agent – A Future Falcon?

While every big name seems to attract the attention of Falcon fans on the message boards, it takes looking at every situation’s big picture to take a realistic stance. 

Fans clamored over Albert Haynesworth, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs – basically everyone but Matt Cassell.  Now Marvin Harrison will be the hot name.  Well, Harrison is past his prime and frankly, why would Atlanta need another receiver?  It was be a move like the Joe Horn signing in the past, except that their existing receivers are much better in this case.  White, Jenkins, Robinson and Douglas are a more than competent group in the passing game.

Harrison is still a textbook receiver that will bolster a team’s roster in 2009, just on Atlanta’s.

Falcons History – Remember When….Atlanta Ran The Run ‘N’ Shoot

It was a while ago, but Atlanta was one of the final teams to abandon the Run and Shoot offense for a more conventional attack.  Quarterbacks like Billy Joe Tolliver, Bobby Herbert and Jeff George ran the show in the Georgia Dome.  Receivers like Bert Emanuel, Andre Rison, Eric Metcalf, Michael Haynes and Terrance Mathis collected passes in the scheme.  Running backs like Craig “Iron Head” Heyward and Eric Pegram enjoyed the spread out formations on the ground.

It was an exciting style of play, but yielded little significant success.  They reached the playoffs in 1991 and 1995.  Jeff George was the most successful quarterback of the bunch, but the Run and Shoot really needs a heady signal caller.  George was more of a headcase despite a couple of succesful campaigns.  The problems with the Atlanta teams that employed the Run and Shoot were the offensive line and the defense.  The Falcons struggled against the blitz, their quarterbacks took a bunch of hits and their defense was more flash (Deion Sanders and Tim McKyer) than solid play.  The “Primetime” image ruled the Georgia Dome for the first half of the 1990s, which got fans in the seats, but didn’t hold down opponents’ offenses. 

While the Run and Shoot technically went extinct in the NFL before the turn of the century, many teams use versions of it many snaps of a game.  The “Spread’ is a type of the Run and Shoot, which is universal in the college game and many teams use it exclusively on 3rd downs and even entire possessions.  The Patriots, Steelers, Colts, etc. use the Spread or Run and Shoot for spells in their games.  The main change from 10 years ago is the use of the tight end.  The Run and Shoot didn’t even really have tight ends on the roster, let alone in the game.  Now with versatile tight ends like Ben Watson, Dallas Clark, etc. teams use them as the 4th receiver in the spread sets.

Moving forward, the Run and Shoot could be used more and more in the NFL game.  While there needs to be some sort of goal-line or clock-killing package for the end of game scenario, spreading the field and taking advantage of the opponents’ 3rd and 4th cornerbacks would have plenty of success.  With the right quarterback, a good set of receivers and a formidable defense, a team philosophy like that could have long-term success.

Atlanta Falcons History – Remember When…Fans Disagreed With Drafting Matt Ryan

Think back to the 2008 NFL draft.  The Atlanta Falcons were sitting at #3 behind Miami and St.Louis.  Jake Long was pretty much penciled at #1, and St.Louis was a little bit of a wild card, but you knew Matt Ryan would be sitting there staring Atlanta in the face at #3.  He wasn’t the obvious, hands down choice though.

With the franchise in shambles, many argued that instead of a high-risk position like quarterback, we select a linemen.  Glen Dorsey, Sedrick Ellis and Ryan Clady fit that mold.  Others talking about talking the best play available for a team with so many holes – Darren McFadden in particular. 

The reasons against Matt Ryan were two-fold.  Part of it was that everyone was reeling from the Michael Vick fiasco and any quarterback was a potential powder keg.  The second was that Ryan was ridiculed during the pre-draft cattle prodding.  His quantity of interceptions were a big red flag from his senior season at Boston College.  The truth was that Ryan had little talent around him that senior season and was asked to make everything happen in that offense, which would lead to more interceptions for anyone.

Think about the 2008 Falcons without Matt Ryan.  Yes, Chris Redman was serviceable at quarterback, but definitely fits the mold as a #2 guy that can fill-in if needed.  The Atlanta offensive line outperformed all expectations in 2008, so Ryan Clady would have been a good piece but with Redman under center the team would have likely been under .500.  Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo are good pieces at tackle for the future.

Glen Dorsey would have been a shot in the arm for the defensive line, but 2008 was the year Dimitroff and the staff really bolstered the offense.  It got them up to 11-5 and a playoff birth – without really doing much on the defensive side of the ball.  With Dorsey, Atlanta would be looking at Sanchez or Freeman in the 2009 draft – or (Gasp) talking about taking Vick back.

Darren McFadden seems like the most ridiculous choice.  Yes, he’s a great talent.  I do believe in the 2-back system in the NFL, but Michael Turner was coming to town – a stud in his own right – and Jerious Norwood is a great #2.

A franchise quarterback is a needle-in-a-haystack in the NFL.  When you have the opportunity to get one – it’s worth whatever the price.  Ryan looks like one of the top quarterbacks of a generation.  Yes, that’s big talk about just one season, but it’s easy to see that special-type of player on the football field.  Whether it’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan, what’s too high of a price – two first round picks?  An entire draft of picks?  Seriously…. An elite quarterback gives you an opportunity to win every game and go deep in the playoffs every single year.  Just like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan – they give you the ultimate tiebreaker in every game.  A draft where you end up with Sam Bowie instead of Jordan, or Ryan Leaf instead of Peyton Manning can change the course of a franchise.

Thank goodness the Falcons got it right.

Falcons History – Remember When…Atlanta And The Old NFC West

It seems like ages ago, but remember when Atlanta wasn’t in the NFC South?  It was only 2001 when St.Louis, San Francisco, Atlanta, New Orleans and Carolina were the “West” of the NFC.  What I remember from those days were, with a few exceptions, the 49ers being a powerhouse and smothering the Falcons twice a year.  Steve Young teams expecially would get up by 3-4 touchdowns by halftime and coasting to a comfortable victory.  I was living in California for those years, so the San Francisco/Atlanta games were the only TV broadcasts of the Falcons during the season.  My Dad was a 49er fan to top it all off. 

I still don’t understand how the alignment fully fixed the geographical problems.  Yes, Atlanta and Carolina should not be in a division with San Francisco – that’s really silly.  I know rivalries are a part of football for continuity and the like.  But some of the divisions really were mixed up in 2002.  Seattle was uprooted as well as Arizona in their divisional alignment.  At the time, and still do, think that geography should have been the main tool for realignment – AND… keeping some foundation teams in their respective conferences.  Here’s my divisions based on that line of thinking…..

AFC East – Tennessee, Cinncinati, Cleveland, Indianapolis

AFC South – Houston, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City

AFC North – New England, Buffalo, New York Giants, New York Jets

AFC West – San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle

NFC East – Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Pittsburgh

NFC North – Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Green Bay – They got one right!!

NFC South – Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Miami, Atlanta 

NFC West – Arizona, Denver, Kansas City, St.Louis

With divisions like this – yes, some are dramatically different from now, but over time the geographically rivalries would catch on and be stronger than the ones today.  Think about Philadelphia/Pittsburgh, Giants/Jets or Tampa Bay/Jacksonville twice a year?

Obviously, fans of some teams will complain about unbalanced divisions like “oh, the AFC West is too easy or the NFC East is too hard” but you can say that about a few divisions at any given time.  I remember when the NFC South was thought of as “easy” and now it’s been one of the best for a number of years.  The NFL is constantly ebbing and flowing with the good teams, so this year’s “good” division could be a weaker one in a few years. 

In addition to creating new rivals, the NFL would save a bunch of money on travel because six of your games would be closer than right now.  Interest and rivalries would be higher in my opinion because areas like New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and others would actually play the team down the road.  That would be far more exciting.

All-Falcons Team, The 2000s

Coach – Mike Smith.  Tons of choices in the array of “leaders” the Falcons have had this decade.  Reeves and Mora, Jr. were the longest tenure, but hardly good options.  Smith has a refreshing attitude after all of the mess.

Quarterback – Matt Ryan.  Yes it’s early.  But Michael Vick can’t be the signal-caller for the team.  Ryan has the character, skill set and face for the Falcons team of the past 9+ years.

Running Back – Warrick Dunn.  A close vote with Michael Turner and the ghost of Jamal Anderson.  Dunn was a class act on the field and in the community of Atlanta.  His blocking, vision and graceful running will be remember by Atlanta fans for years.

Fullback – Ovie Mughelli.  Justin Griffith was a close second, but he wasn’t really a fullback – more of a hybrid.  Ovie is a smasher and can even catch the ball out of the backfield on occasion.

Wide Receivers – Roddy White and Brian Finneran.  White’s selection is obvious – he’s the most dominant receiver on the Falcons since the run-and-shoot days.  Finneran is an interesting choice.  He was the go-to guy for years when Vick was around and would have had a far different set of statistics without 2 years of injuries lately.  He’s a big target and one of the best in the 2000s.

Tight End – Alge Crumpler.  A fan favorite, the dome and the rest of the team were always pumped up with a big catch from Crumpler.  He was one of the few guys that consistently caught passes from Vick, which says a lot.  He was a good blocker and the team – and city – were sad to see him go in 2008.

Offensive Line – Todd Weiner, Todd McClure.  Two guys that have been through the good times and bad in this decade with the Falcons.  Both are gamers and succeeded in the zone-blocking scheme and current running game.  Weiner retired this off-season, while McClure can be a leader for the younger group around him for a few more years.

Defensive Line – Jonathan Abraham, Patrick Kerney.  Two sack masters that anchored the defense on passing downs.  Just imagine them on the same defensive line with a space-eater or two at tackle….

Linebacker – Keith Brooking.  An All-Timer at linebacker.  Traditionally an outside guy, but played at middle backer for years when the roster and team needed him there.  Tons of big plays, was on the Super Bowl team in 1998 – unfortunately may end his career outside of Atlanta because of his salary cap impact.

Secondary – Deangelo Hall, Ray Buchanan.  Both willing to take a chance for a big play.  Hall, despite how he’s played since Atlanta, was a Pro Bowler in town and performed well.  Buchanan was a poor man’s Deion Sanders for a spell and gave the pass defense some flair.

Special Teams – Allen Rossum.  An underrated returner.  I was VERY sad to see him go to San Francisco.  Rossum had great feel for returns, speed, agility – everything you would want.

Possible National Coverage Falcons Games in 2009

A lot can change between February and when the full NFL schedule is released, but here’s a breakdown of the Falcons’ games and which can be on National television.  The Falcons have a great young quarterback in Matt Ryan, a top running back in Michael Turner, an electric wide receiver in Roddy White which make Atlanta a great choice for featured games.

Atlanta playing New Orleans and Carolina are always great match-ups for TV with the long history and evenly matched teams.  Tampa Bay has taken a step back the past couple years and will be viewed as a notch below the other 3 NFC South teams heading into 2009.  I predict an Atlanta vs. Carolina game on National TV with the division coming down to the final week of the 2008 season (Carolina needing a last-second drive to beat the Saints and hold off Atlanta in the division).

Atlanta at New England.  Two top teams that could be a potential Super Bowl preview.  A late-season match-up would give the Patriots the advantage with the weather.  Course, Matt Ryan did play college ball in the northeast.

Philadelphia at Atlanta.  The Falcons played the Eagles a few times earlier in the decade in the playoffs as well as a close Monday night game to open a season. 

Atlanta at Dallas.  The Cowboys are always a target for featured games with Atlanta coming to the new stadium in town being no exception.  Dallas playing Philly and New York twice could trump this game though.

Atlanta at New York Giants.  Two top NFC teams entering 2009.  Eli vs. Matty Ice.  Brandon Jacobs vs. Michael Turner.  Justin Tuck vs. John Abraham.  Great match-ups for this one.

Ultimately I see 2-3 featured games for Atlanta in 2009.  That number could increase with the flex schedule in December – course all the flex games in 2008 ended up being with NFC East teams…..

Dimitroff – Finding Late-Round Gems in the Draft

Patriots (2002-2007)

2002- Jarvis Green (DL) in 4th round.  David Givens (WR) in 7th round.

2003- Asante Samuel (CB) in 4th round.  Starting corner on multiple Super Bowl teams in New England.

2004- None.

2005- Ellis Hobbs (CB) in 3rd round, Nick Kaczur (RT) in 3rd round, Matt Cassel (QB) in 7th round.  All started in 2008.  Cassel could get the team a 1st and 3rd round pick via trade if Brady returns healthy.

2006- Stephen Gostkowski (K) in the 4th round.

2007- None

Falcons (2008)

2008- Chevis Jackson (CB), 3rd round, Harry Douglas (WR) 3rd round and Kroy Biermann (DE) all got significant playing time as rookies.ds

Dimitroff’s Previous 2nd Round Draft Picks

Patriots (2002-2007)

2002- Deion Branch (WR).  A starter for Super Bowl teams, and their top target at times when healthy.  Since he has moved on to Seattle.

2003- Eugene Wilson (S), Bethel Johnson (WR).  Wilson is a great starter in New England.  Johnson won two Super Bowls in New England, since has been traded to New Orleans and signed with various other teams.

2004- Marquise Hill (DE).  Played sparingly before an unfortunate death in 2007.

2005- No Picks

2006- Chad Jackson (WR).  Unfortunately, one the picks they traded was used in Green Bay for a guy by the name of Greg Jennings.

2007- No Picks

Falcons (2008)

2008 – Curtis Lofton (LB) – a potential stalwart on defense for the Falcons for a number of years.

Atlanta’s 2nd round picks since 2002 include Jimmy Williams (already released after being a potential steal) and Bryan Scott (off team).  Actually, Atlanta has done better in the 2nd round with guys like Justin Blalock, Chris Houston and Jonathon Babineaux – all key starters in 2008 and beyond.

Dimitroff’s Previous 1st Round Draft Picks

Patriots (2002-2007)

2002- Traded up to get Daniel Graham (TE) from Washington.  A long-time part of the Patriots offense – good blocker and receiver.  A top target for a team that – until Randy Moss – didn’t have a go-to receiver.

2003- Traded up one slot to get Ty Warren (DL) from Chicago.  A great space-eater on the defensive line for years in New England.

2004- Gained a pick from Baltimore.  Drafted Vince Wilfork (DT) at #21 – an integral piece to the Patriots’ defense.  At #32, Ben Watson – a fast tight end that has been effective but can still do more on the field.

2005- At #32, drafted Logan Mankins – a starter on the offensive line.

2006- At #21, drafted Laurence Maroney – a starter at running back that has struggled as of late.

2007- At #24, Safety Brandon Meriweather, a great young playmaker in the secondary.

Falcons (2008)

2008- Matt Ryan and Sam Baker.  Both great talent that can contribute for 10+ years on the team.

The common thread you can see is that Dimitroff doesn’t “Miss” on his 1st round selections.  You don’t have to hit a homerun (especially in the 2nd half of the round), but you can’t draft top guys that aren’t contributing on your team a couple years down the line.  All of his New England picks are still on the team, most in vital starting roles.  The consistently good teams in the NFL get some quality picks from every single draft that stay on the team for an extended amount of time.  Other teams can have good seasons every few years, but quickly return to average or below average production.  During the same time frame (2002-2007), Atlanta drafted players like Jamaal Anderson (potential top-ten bust), Deangelo Hall (already out of Atlanta) and T.J. Duckett (out of Atlanta as well).  You can’t consistently win with questionable 1st round draft picks.