Draft Review: Falcons put their focus on pressing needs
By focusing on cornerbacks and defensive ends, the Falcons addressed pressing needs, says John Manasso.
By JOHN MANASSOFS South
Grading the picks
Round 1: No. 22, Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Review: Trufant fills the most glaring need on the
Falcons’ roster, that of a starting cornerback. Because the Falcons need him to come in and start right away, the fact that he sounds as NFL-ready as possible makes Trufant a good pick. Both general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith pointed to the fact that Trufant has two brothers who play in the NFL and, thus, ought to enter training camp more advanced than other rookies. Was a captain, which is a plus that fits the team’s mold that emphasizes character, and brings some size (6-foot, 190 pounds) to a position group that could use it. Also fast, having run a sub-4.40 40 time at the NFL Combine.
Round 2: No. 60, Robert Alford, CB, Southeast Louisiana
Review: Clearly, the Falcons’ win-now mentality necessitated this pick. Should Trufant get hurt or somehow fall short of expectations, the Falcons needed a Plan B. As they have very little room to maneuver under the salary cap in terms of free agency, any replacement would have to come cheaply and that means a rookie. This pick also is a nod to the fact that the Falcons’ best starting cornerback, Asante Samuel, will be 33 when (or if) the Falcons make the playoffs next January. That’s old for a cornerback. Alford is fast, but smaller, like the Falcons’ other corners. He has the added bonus of being able to return punts, something the Falcons need.
Round 4: No. 127, Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson
Review: Again, the Falcons went to fill a need at a position where they have to. They ranked 28th in the NFL last season in sacks with just 29 and 10 of those belonged to John Abraham, whom the team cut. They are hoping to make up ground with the signing of Osi Umenyiora but they also need a fresh infusion of blood to help the likes of Kroy Biermann, Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi. At 6-4, 275, Goodman is bigger than what the Falcons usually feature at end (Umenyiora and Abraham are almost the same size at about 255), which makes him better able to play the run. He also produced in a big way during his final season at Clemson with 9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and eight quarterback pressures.
Round 4: No. 13, Levine Toilolo, TE, Stanford
Review: With this pick, Dimitroff stuck to his formula for going after players with strong football DNA. Toilolo has three uncles -- Dan Saleaumua, Edwin Mulitalo and Joe Salave’a -- who played in the NFL. In addition, Salave’a worked as a defensive line coach at San Jose State. This pick was more for the future, when Tony Gonzalez is expected to retire following the season. At 6-8, Toilolo might be the tallest player to play his position in the NFL. That also goes with the trend of putting players who are freakish athletes – making them almost unguardable by smaller defensive backs – at the tight end position (think Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham).
Played behind Zach Ertz at Stanford, so he clearly was not the best player on his team at his position. Stanford has an excellent track record right now for producing tight ends, having put Coby Fleener, a high second-rounder selected by Indianapolis, in the league last season.
Round 5: No. 153, Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
Review: This pick is reminiscent of the second-round selection of Alford. The Falcons have a clear need to improve their pass rush and they cannot take the chance that Goodman either would get hurt or not be up to the job. About five players will compete for one spot at the left defensive end, making it perhaps the most competitive roster spot on the field for the Falcons. That ought to be a good thing. (Truly, the team plays a rotation so two players will probably get a decent amount of snaps at that spot and Biermann could be moved to another spot, perhaps linebacker.)
Maponga demonstrated a strong record of production during his college career with 23 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries. But TCU is not the NFL. Maponga is somewhat smaller than Goodman at 6-2, 265 so his ability to defend the run could be an issue.
Round 7: No. 243, Kemal Ishmael, S, Central Florida
Review: With two young safeties in Thomas DeCoud and William Moore coming off Pro-Bowl seasons and both of them having signed multi-year contracts either this offseason or last, this pick is a bit of a puzzler (as is the pick of another safety later in this round). In addition, the Falcons took a safety in Charles Mitchell in the late rounds last season. When needed – and Moore has been hurt often in his career -- the Falcons used veteran Chris Hope to positive effect last season. Perhaps this a cap move, as they cannot afford to pay a player like Hope the veteran minimum. But it also makes it a risk. Also consider this: at times, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan went to a dime package last season in which DeCoud moved to linebacker to defend the tight end in passing situations, which necessitated Hope’s playing safety.
If the Falcons want to continue to use that scheme, they will do so with an inexperienced rookie and safety is a position where experience counts more than most. Ishmael’s career stats at Central Florida are good: 368 total tackles (213 solo) with 9.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, six forced fumble, six fumble recoveries and one sack in 53 games. The ball and play-making skills the Falcons like at this position seem to be there. Just not sure where the fit is.
Round 7: No. 244, Zeke Motta, S, Notre Dame
Review: See above analysis as to why picking two safeties so late is somewhat curious. Motta was a captain (which it already was noted the Falcons like) and totaled 77 tackles (39 solo), second on Notre Dame’s defense, with two tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. Played in the BCS National Championship Game, which can only be a positive, even if his defense got boat-raced.
Round 7: No. 249, Sean Renfree, QB, Duke
Review: Coming out of the NFL lockout of 2011 in which the league no longer allowed teams to keep a special spot for a third quarterback on game-day rosters, the Falcons have preferred to keep only two quarterbacks on their roster. Last year they were forced to go with three when Dominique Davis was so impressive as an undrafted rookie. One would think that the same logic would continue and that the Falcons might want to continue to groom Davis, who has excellent size and athleticism.
It’s hard to imagine them keeping two inexperienced quarterbacks on their roster so Renfree sets up a battle. Coming from the noted quarterback guru David Cutcliffe (Peyton Manning, Eli Manning), Duke’s head coach, they must have seen something like in Renfree. Still, couldn’t they have used another offensive lineman?
It didn’t seem like the Falcons would take a quarterback, even a seventh-rounder. They must have seen something they really like in Renfree who completed 297 of his 442 passes (67 percent) for 3,113 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a senior while leading the Blue Devils to their first bowl game since 1995. Starting quarterbacks almost never come in the seventh round and with Matt Ryan in the starting spot that obviously is not why the Falcons picked Renfree. Coming from Duke, it would figure that he would have smarts, which the Falcons prize. Would seem strange to pick a player solely for the purpose of having another analytical mind in the meeting room.
Some draft experts had projected Alford as a first-round pick. To get him at 60th overall, theoretically, gives him excellent value. He fits the mold of other Falcons corners that Dimitroff has drafted in terms of his top-end speed. Remember Christopher Owens catching Minnesota’s Percy Harvin from behind on a kickoff return in 2011? Alford appears to have that kind of speed and one can only hope his coverage skills are far superior to those of Owens, who left for a free-agent contract with Cleveland. Alford also has that added benefit of having a brother, Fred Booker, who played in the NFL. Three of the Falcons’ eight picks this year had close family relations play in the league. Sense a pattern?
The Falcons still have Gonzalez for another year, so why feel the need to pick a tight end in Toilolo this season? They could have waited another season and possibly filled another need this year. Toilolo’s college teammate Zach Ertz was the third pick of the second round this year by Philadelphia. Colby Fleener was a high second-rounder last season by Indianapolis. All of that means that up until last season, Toilolo was probably third on the depth chart and, consequently, wasn’t getting many reps. That also means he could be something of a project. His size, at 6-8, could reinforce that notion. Still, at times, he had good production. Just seems a bit high to have taken him.
The Falcons met their most glaring needs: cornerback and defensive end. At corner, they did so with speed and by not taking any chances on character, as some had speculated they might select former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (who, like Alford, can return punts). They were smart to take two players at each position in the top five rounds, thereby allowing the cream to rise to the top. They also took care of some succession planning at tight end by drafting Toilolo for when Gonzalez retires, giving Toilolo one year to learn from the grand master. But with Gonzalez being from Cal and Toilolo hailing from the Bears’ archrival in Stanford, will Gonzalez be willing to share his experiences? (Answer: of course he will.)
Needs not met
After cutting starting right tackle Tyson Clabo, a Pro-Bowler for his 2010 performance, the Falcons have a couple of untested players at that position to replace him. It seemed to reason that they might take another to try and boost the competition at that spot, as they have done at the right corner and left defensive end positions. But they dealt their third- and sixth-round picks to St. Louis so they could move up and pick Trufant and that might have prevented them from taking a quality lineman. Instead, they took two safeties in the seventh round. They also could have used a linebacker. A puzzler.