A Look Ahead – Atlanta 2009 Secondary

Projected Starters: Chris Houston, Chevis Jackson, Erik Coleman, William Moore (R)

Houston has been a hot topic in Atlanta this off-season.  Most think he’s not a top talent as should be out after 2009.  I think he’s a good one that will be here for a while.  Yes, Houston gets some penalties by not getting his head around or playing the ball all the time, but he’s a physical corner that can play with anyone -that’s a hard thing to find.  Jackson showed enough in 2008 to be the leader in the clubhouse for the other starting job.  Coleman is a nice veteran presence at safety.  Moore is a potential stud that most had as an option in the 1st round of the draft that Atlanta snagged at the end of the 2nd round.

Reserves: Jamaal Fudge, Brent Grimes, Chris Owens (R), Antoine Harris, Von Hutchins, David Irons, William Middleton (R), Thomas Decloud.

I personally love Brent Grimes.  he played great in a few games last year and needs to get on the field, whether at nickel or special teams, he’s a gamer.  All these guys are solid and young.  The key thing on defense with Atlanta is youth.  In 2008, they played a lot of rookies and other young guys – and made the playoffs to boot.  Now, they benefit from all that experience (and learning lumps finishing 24th in total defense) in addition to the influx of rookies likes Middleton, Moore and Owens.  Dimitroff is building a roster that has won in the short-term, but like New England, could be a constant contender for years to come.

A Look Ahead – 2009 Atlanta Linebackers

Projected Starters: Mike Peterson, Curtis Lofton, Stephen Nicholas.

As opposed to years past, Atlanta finally has some flexibility in their linebacking group.  Peterson is a veteran that will play outside, but can substitute in the middle if need be.  Lofton has the look of a 10-year starter in middle after a successful 2008 campaign.  Nicholas is a wildcard – I could see any of the reserves getting time in the starting lineup at this point in the off-season.

Reserves: Spencer Adkins, Tony Gilbert, Robert James, Coy Wire.

Adkins could be the steal of the draft.  He’s from Miami, great speed and big-play potential, but fell with his height (under 6-feet) and attitude.  James is essentially a rookie again after his 2008 season was derailed with injury.  Wire got plenty of playing time in 2008 with Boley struggling and Brooking having to man the middle most of the season.  Ideally Wire and Adkins would focus on special teams because that would mean the projected starting trio is playing well and keeping them on the sidelines.  Depth is a great thing on defense and Atlanta looks to have plenty at the linbacking position in 2009.

A Look Ahead – 2009 Atlanta Defensive Line

Projected Starters – John Abraham, Jonathon Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Jamaal Anderson.

Most have left Anderson for dead after an underwhelming first two seasons as a top-10 pick, but I like the progress I’ve seen in 2008 and think 2009 will be even better for JA98.  He doesn’t need to be a 10+ sack guy opposite Abraham to succeed in this defense and be a force.  He’s above-average as a run-stopper and will get pressures and hurries on the quarterback in the natural flow with Abraham on the other side.  Babineaux is undersized as a run-stopping defensive tackle, but is very active.  Jerry should be a day one starter and get more snaps than any of the rotation guys in the middle.

Projected Role Players – Kroy Biermann, Chauncey Davis, Trey Lewis, Lawrence Sidbury.

While the defense underperformed in 2008 and was the weak link to the team, the real positive was giving guys like Davis and Biermann a lot of snaps under their respective belts.  Each can spell on the line and be productive.  Trey Lewis has had a buzz about him but has yet to get into a season healthy, so he’s a rookie still because he’s yet to show what he can do on Sundays.  Sidbury can be a solid spark with his speed off the edge in passing situations.

Bold 2009 Falcons’ Season Predictions

A few excerpts from atlantafalcons.com about the upcoming season – and my rating (1-10) about how likely they are to occur (1, no way – 10, definitely).

…Falcons blowout every team from the NFC East…. Rating: 3.  Not impossible, but those teams are the class of the NFC where any of them could get to the Super Bowl.

…William Moore wins DROY with 9 interceptions and 4 sacks…..Rating: 2.  That would be one of the greatest seasons from a defensive back in NFL history, let alone for a rookie.  Moore playing that well would get Atlanta pretty far in terms of wins/losses.

…Jamaal Anderson 10 sacks as he lives up to the top-10 hype….Rating: 4.  I do believe Anderson has more in the tank than he has shown thus far, but also that run defense is his forte, not huge sack numbers.  With Jerry and Abraham in the mix and healthy, Anderson will get plenty of one-on-one chances.  However, I believe Atlanta will play Nicholas or other pass-rushing specific guys on 3rd downs, taking away chances from Anderson over the course of the season.

Grading The Falcons’ 2009 NFL Draft

The general consensus after the dust settled from the 2009 NFL draft was that Atlanta did a nice job overall with their picks.  Here’s a breakdown of the draft by round –

Round 1 – Peria Jerry.  An ideal case for Atlanta – they were able to get an impact guy on the D-line, and a player that was a top-10 talent to boot.

Round 2 – William Moore.  Here’s a guy that was talked about Atlanta taking in the 1st round, so to get him at the end of the 2nd was a great, great pick. 

Round 3 – Chris Owens.  An under-the-radar guy from San Jose State, definitely a Dimitroff-type guy.  I was glad to see Michael Johnson off the board because it could have been a temptation in round 3.

Round 4 – Lawrence Sidbury.  A great value.  He has the potential to be a great edge rusher opposite John Abraham – and in the 4th round. 

Round 5 – Garrett Reynolds.  Something to remember is that you only need one player from the late rounds to pan out to be a great success.  Reynolds is a mauler that could provide depth for a line that played so well in 2008.

Round 6 – Spencer Adkins.  Nice value at linebacker.

Overall – B+.  Look for Jerry and Moore to start in 2009.  After the Patriots history and the 2008 draft in Atlanta, you have to trust Dimitroff to uncover some late round gems.  Remember that Robert James, drafted in ’08, as well as Thomas Brown (RB), are essentially rookies after missing 2008 with injuries.

2009 NFL Draft – 4th Round Highlights

There’s a few guys in an NFL draft I am always watching because I know #1 – they will slide down the line for some reason, and #2 – they will perform above their draft position because they are guys that play on Saturday and Sunday, not necessarily the big combine or measureable guys.  Harry Douglas was one of those guys a year ago.  He was a player at Louisville and slide, I felt, in the draft, but as you see from 2008, he’s a player on Sunday regardless of combine times or numbers.

In the 4th round, I was watching D.J. Moore fall into Chicago’s lap – a 2nd round talent who fell because of the reasons I mentioned above.  He’s a player that is a steal in the 4th round. 

Atlanta got another steal in round 4 with Lawrence Sidbury.  He’s a great athlete that can rush the passer from the defensive end spot.  That’s something Atlanta needs on the opposite side of John Abraham.  Scouts, Inc. rates Sidbury an 84 (the same as a lot of 2nd rounders this year) and 49th overall, where Atlanta nabbed him in the 100s.

How about Gartrell Johnson, Running Back, Colorado State?  He’s a player.  I watched him a bunch in college and he just plays football.  Not the biggest or the fastest, but reminds me of Steven Jackson a little bit.  He will get to run in San Diego behind Tomlinson and Sproles, so he can learn the NFL and succeed down the line.  Just remember the name….

2009 NFL Draft – 3rd Round Highlights

The beginning of the 2nd day of the NFL draft is just as interesting as the first in my opinion.  Everyone has a night to digest things and reorganize their draft boards and what talent is left.  Then, there are usually a few teams that will trade a bunch of picks to get into the first few of the 2nd day and get that one guy they really like that remains. 

The Jets were the team that sold the rest of their draft in 2009 for that day two player.  It was Shonn Greene – the uber-productive 2008 running back from Iowa. 

Michael Johnson, the Georgia Tech defensive end that’s a physical freak, lasted until the 6th pick (Cincinnati, ironically) in the 3rd round because he can definitely turn into a bust in the NFL. 

Glen Coffee, Running Back, Alabama.  He’s a guy I was watching in the draft because I think he will play better than expected in the NFL.  He was drafted to San Francisco behind Frank Gore.  Coffee will get a few carries maybe and could shine if injuries (like they do sometimes) happen at running back for the 49ers in the future.

A bunch of wide receivers were picked in round 3 (7 total), but I think the final one was the best.  The Bears picked up Juaquin Iglesias out of Oklahoma at the end of the round, which is a tremendous value.

2009 NFL Draft – 2nd Round Summary

Well, the Falcons got their guy that could have been their 1st round pick – William Moore, Safety, Missouri.  It’s a great pick for Atlanta to get younger in the secondary and get a guy that can be a starter at the beginning of the 2009 NFL season.

Louis Delmas, another potential target of Atlanta’s, was drafted at #33, but few thought he would be around when Atlanta’s turn came up.  Pat White went to Miami, which I will be very interested to follow with the Wildcat formation and all the wrinkles White could add to their playbook.  Pat White is a winner that I watched everytime he was on TV in college who will succeed and win as long as he’s on the field.  10-15 plays a game from Pat White will make Miami a better offensive team.

LeSean McCoy was an excellent value at a position of need with Philadelphia at #21 in the round.

No Love For Falcons With NFL Network Draft Coverage

As a Falcon fan, I always feel Atlanta is largely ignored on a national scale.  Yes, the media was forced to talk about the Michael Vick situation a while back, and yes, Matt Ryan was a great story in 2008.  I wanted Atlanta to be talked about in the NFL draft as a team that can be one of the top teams in the NFL going into 2009.

Instead, Jeria Perry in the 1st round had about 30 seconds of coverage.  What’s with that?  He was a steal at that position and was quickly glossed over for stories that were hours old about Mark Sanchez and Knowshon Moreno.

In the 2nd round, Atlanta took William Moore, a great safety that has 1st round talent, but had a subpar senior season.  Atlanta basically got the two players they had earmarked prior to the draft in the first two rounds, where both players could have been gone before pick 20.  Instead the NFL network talked about Dallas “passing” their pick in round two for an hour when it was actually a trade.

In round three, they talked over the selection of Atlanta, running into a commercial break.  Rich Eisen promises to talk about the latest Atlanta pick after the break.  Well, they ignored that and went on with life as if the Falcons were the shy guy in the corner of the gym at prom. 

Why do I watch the draft?  Well, I’m a fan of every team in the NFL.  Yes, I think Cincinnati, Oakland and Dallas are prone to mess up far more than everyone else, but I follow all the teams.  I don’t, however, understand how Falcon fans watch the NFL draft because you will get more satisfaction just following the message boards on atlantafalcons.com.

Oh well, maybe things will change in 2010….. if Atlanta goes 16-0 and wins the Super Bowl….

2009 NFL Draft – 1st Round Highlights

After the expected picks of Stafford and Jason Smith to Detroit and St.Louis, the drama started to unfold in NYC.  Tyson Jackson (a player who has been steadily climbing up the draft charts as a 3-4 DE lately), vaulted all the way to the #3 pick in Kansas City.  Seattle passed on Michael Crabtree (whom a lot of mock drafted had at #4) to take Aaron Curry, the proclaimed “safest” pick in the draft at linebacker.

The Jets then pulled the biggest deal of the day, trading up from #17 to get Mark Sanchez, their 3rd big QB acquisition recently (Pennington, Favre), giving up 3 players and their top two selections this year. 

Not surprisingly, The Bengals took another wild card on draft day with Andre Smith, the guy who underachieved at the combine.  Not to say he won’t succeed in the NFL, but he definitely had some red flags about him heading into Saturday.

The Raiders at #7 even passed on Crabtree, taking the speedy Heyward-Bey instead at wide receiver.  The 49ers, across the bay took Crabtree, begging the two guys to constantly be compared. 

The Broncos surprise everyone with a running back pick at #12, Knowshon Moreno.  He’s a talent, but on a team that couldn’t stop anyone on defense in 2008, it’s a questionable move.

Houston takes Brian Cushing at #15, a potential stud linebacker.  Combine him with Okoye, Mario Williams and company and the Texans’ defense is primed to match their offensive play from 2008 and maybe move into the playoffs in the AFC.

The Browns and Patriots both trade down constantly to stockpile picks (New England seems to have 15 picks coming up in rounds 2-7 this year) in a move that Belicheck (and now Mangini) like to do.  I’ve always thought 2nd round picks were almost better than 1st round selections because you can get two of them for the “value” of a 1st and they are significantly cheaper on the salary cap and risk scale.

The Vikings snagged Percy Harvin to pair with Adrian Peterson as a powerful tandem of playmakers.  With Cutler in the division, the Vikings getting more explosive and the Packers making a resurgence, the NFC North is primed to bounce back in 2009.

The Cardinals got Chris Wells, a stud running back to put into an offense with Warner and Fitzgerald after getting to the Super Bowl.  A great talent if he stays healthy.  Tim Hightower had an up-and-down season in 2008, so Arizona sures up the position after Edgerrin James on the depth chart.

The Steelers close out the 1st round with Evander Hood, DT, Missouri.  Good depth on the defensive line for the reigning champs.