Great stuff here from Bluegrass Steeler with the No. 27 pick for Atlanta. Outstanding writeup, which is no surprise. Next up: the New England Patriots for their second pick in the first round, once again represented by NYSteelersFan4. - Michael B. -
The Atlanta Falcons have become one of the most interesting teams in the last few years of the NFL. They've gone from being humiliated by Bobby Petrino and Michael Vick, to putting together three straight winning seasons on the precise arm of Matt Ryan and coaching acumen of Mike Smith. They draft reasonably well. They use free agency to supplement their roster rather than prop it up. And they're not afraid to make the occasional splashy trade to sustain the development of their young signal caller. While Matt Ryan hasn't won a playoff game yet - and I tend to think "QB wins" is a pretty ridiculous stat for a team sport - there's every reason to believe that the current incarnation of the Falcons will go on to be its best.
All of this is to say that I'm pretty pumped about to mock draft for a smart, well-run organization that could go in a variety of different ways with the 27th overall selection.
I also mocked for the Falcons last year and had them select WR Dez Bryant. My reason then was that Tony Gonzalez was aging and on decline (he is) and that Roddy White was a great player (he is), but that the rest of their receiving corps left something to be desired (they do, trust me, they do). White recorded 115 receptions, which lead the NFL, while the rest of the receiving corps (including Gonzo and the other TE's, but excluding RB's/FB's) snagged a combined 173. Suffice it to say good defenses found ways to exploit the lack of true #2 (or, arguably, #3) WR this past season. As the Steelers found out, if you can contain White after the catch and limit Michael Turner's productivity then the Falcon's can't do a whole lot to hurt you offensively.
The Falcon's didn't draft Dez Bryant though; they drafted Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon is a good player - or, I think he could be if he can get healthy - but taking a non-pass rushing OLB in the 1st round doesn't scream impact player to me. The Falcons probably would have liked to have picked up a pass rushing DE - a Jason Pierre-Paul or Derrick Morgan. Sadly, they were both off the board. Even given Bryant's off the field trouble this offseason (and it's been minor compared to John Jolly's or Aqib Talib's), he would have been a huge asset this year and a bargain at #19.
Most people now recognize that the Falcons are in desperate need of a new pass catcher. Early this offseason it was popular to mock Notre Dame TE Kyle Rudolph to the Falcons, but given his injury concerns he's probably a mid- late second round pick at this point. Many have decided to give Atlanta a receiver like Jon Baldwin or Leonard Hankerson. In my mind, however, neither of these guys is an actual 1st round receiver; taking either before the first eight or nine picks of the 2nd round would be a true reach. Sure, either could help the Falcons next season, but so could a host of other 2nd round WR's (Randall Cobb, Titus Young, Greg Little, Edmund Gates, etc.) for a much smaller cost.
No, the Falcons have shown that they won't just reach for need, with the notable exception of drafting LT Sam Baker out of USC in the 1st in 2008. Although to be fair the best way to protect your new QB is to have somebody to protect his blind side. Generally speaking, teams will reach a bit for a QB because they're so important to the game and many will reach for a guy they think can play LT because the position has become so vital and, worst case scenario, he can play RT or kick in to guard. You don't, I think, reach for a wide out.
So, a pass rusher then? Given how the board has fallen that's a distinct possibility. I'm a bit surprised to see Justin Houston already gone since I think he's a borderline 1-2, but pass rushers always rise on draft day. Adrian Clayborn is still - again, surprisingly - around. A couple of months ago I think the Falcons would have hired Usain Bolt to run the card up the podium if Clayborn had fallen to them. The Falcons play in the same division as Drew Brees and Josh Freeman and are in desperate need for a full time defensive end that can pressure the passer - John Abraham can't keep his productivity cranked up so high for too much longer, right? However, the Erbs Palsy gives me some pause. I've heard people say that it may limit the movement of his left arm and, ultimately, he may have to be a LDE as opposed to the RDE in order to protect it. I'm also a little worried about his lack of production in 2010 vs. 2009. Some of that will surely be the fact he was the focus of opposing teams protection schemes; it's hard to constantly fight off double and triple teams. On the other hand, how do I know that some of the drop off wasn't because of his Erbs Palsy?
Lets examine some other options first. How about a CB? If I'm Atlanta I like what I've got there generally. I certainly don't hate it enough to draft an undersized future nickel back like Brandon Harris in the 1st. The other corners on my board have 2nd round grades on them. Aaron Williams is interesting here but, all things being, equal I'd probably rather take a shot at a DE like Clayborn than a "tweener" like Williams. It's not that the Falcons couldn't use a safety, but it's unclear when or if Williams might be able to start there. I've got a team that's very close and I want to try an a guy that can play now.
What about offensive line? Two options strike me at this point: Nate Solder and Mike Pouncey? Or even Derrick Sherrod. There's value in all three of these picks. Pouncey is best interior offensive lineman in the draft. Solder has massive potential as a future LT. It might allow me to kick Sam Baker to RT and strengthen the whole line with a single pick. Sherrod has supreme position versatility and is an excellent pass protected with a huge amount of experience in the SEC. Protecting Matt Ryan - whether it's through additional weapons or offensive lineman - is always a high priority come draft day.
So....who's my pick?
As I mentioned above, Solder is a project - he's a guy that might be great two or three years down the road but he lacks the bulk and technique to be a clear upgrade over Sam Baker for the immediate future. Sherrod is a 2nd round player on my board; he can probably play either LT or RT but his strength is in pass protection and the Falcons linemen have to be great run blockers. Again, not a clear upgrade over Baker. Finally, there's Pouncey. Age and free agency may become a problem with the Atlanta interior line soon, but there's a good possibility that the Falcons could snag a nice run blocking interior lineman (or RT) in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. Mike Pouncey is good, but not head and shoulders better than Stefen Wisniewski or Rodney Hudson. A real masher that could play either guard or right tackle like Orlando Franklin or Marcus Gilbert is a possibility then too.
At the end of the day, if I'm running the Falcons we'll take a shot at Adrian Clayborn. He's a great value at 27th overall (he's easily got Top-15-20 talent), who I would have had to trade up for a month ago. Are there medical concerns that come with Clayborn? Absolutely, but if my doctors tell me his Erbs Palsy - which he's had more or less since birth - won't significantly effect his play I'll trust them. He's easily the best pass rusher on the board and the Falcons have been struggling to grab a DE in Round 1 since they drafted Matt Ryan. At the very least he's a guy that has great value as a situational pass rusher and solid run defender.
So, with the 27th overall pick the Atlanta Falcons select...Adrian Clayborn, Defensive End, University of Iowa.
BTSC 2011 Community Mock Draft Selections:
- Carolina Panthers -- Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
- Denver Broncos -- Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
- Buffalo Bills -- Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M
- Cincinnati Bengals -- Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
- Arizona Cardinals -- Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
- Cleveland Browns --
'The Snow Cone Machine'A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
- San Francisco 49ers -- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
- Tennessee Titans -- Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
- Dallas Cowboys -- Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
- Washington Redskins -- Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina
- Houston Texans -- Aldon Smith, DE/OLB, Missouri
- Minnesota Vikings -- Tyron Smith, OT, USC
- Detroit Lions -- JJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin
- St. Louis Rams -- Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
- Miami Dolphons -- Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
- Jacksonville Jaguars -- Brooks Reed , DE, Arizona
- New England Patriots -- Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
- San Diego Chargers -- Ryan Kerrigan, DE/OLB, Purdue
- New York Giants -- Akeem Ayers, LB, UCLA
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
- Kansas City Chiefs -- Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
- Indianapolis Colts -- Cameron Jordan, DL, California
- Philadelphia Eagles -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
- New Orleans Saints -- Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia
- Seattle Seahawks -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington
- Baltimore Ravens -- Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland