The Atlanta Falcons came into the 2013 NFL Draft looking for a Super Bowl. They were a great team coming into the draft and they leave an even better team. The blueprint laid out by general manager Thomas Dmitroff operates like clockwork at this point and the people who know the team can narrow it down pretty well as to who the Falcons want and who they will want to avoid. Because of quality work in the draft, the Falcons have had enough success where they lose players to free agency because of managing the cap or having better talent on the depth chart and they have gotten a nice flow of compensatory picks, which gives them added flexibility in the draft. This year, they received four compensatory picks, a fourth round being the best one for the loss of Curtis Lofton. As a result, the Falcons had picks they could count on having later in the draft, giving them options early in the draft to attack their needs; cornerback and defensive end. They had a few other positions they wanted to address including tight end and just adding quality depth, but the front line positions on the defense were the main issues. Whether it ultimately works out, Dmitroff got who he wanted in the draft, followed his blueprint, and came out with talent with upside as well as logical players that fit their scheme.
In the first round, the Falcons had a guy they wanted and did not want to risk losing them. The Falcons made a deal with the St. Louis Rams to get the 22nd pick in the draft for their third and sixth round pick; Dmitroff really stuck it to the Rams by getting them to include a seventh round pick in 2015. They moved up because they wanted to select Desmond Trufant, cornerback from Washington. In Trufant, they add a great pure cover, weak side corner who can start immediately and he is going to need to have an impact this year if the Falcons hope to contend deep into the playoffs.
Trufant brings prototypical triangle numbers for a corner and is a stand out player in man coverage. He is not quite as effective in zone, but the Falcons rely primarily on man coverage in their defensive scheme. Trufant is a poor run defender and a mediocre tackler, but in coverage, he has been tremendous. In virtually every benchmark that could make a fan feel good about their pick, Trufant fits the bill. He has played four years of college football, he has NFL bloodlines with his brothers in the league, showed well at the Senior Bowl, and has been clean off the field. In addition to needing to give a better effort against the run, he needs to improve his ball skills as he has yet to be a real threat when it comes to intercepting passes and he has dropped a few in his career. This is a great fit for what Falcons want in their system, a talent that warrants the pick, and a player who can play now with the potential to get better with experience.
In the second round, the Falcons held and let Robert Alford, another corner, this time from Southeastern Louisiana, fall right into their laps. Alford is another player that can come in and compete for a starting job immediately and he could end up taking the starting job as the strong side corner opposite of Trufant, which would move Asante Samuel into the slot, which would actually benefit Samuel as well. He loves to gamble and try to get interceptions and if he does it and misses in the slot, he will likely have help behind him to protect him from losing his shirt and giving up points.
Alford, had he gone to a Division-I school and been younger, he might have been a first round pick. There is also an overblown issue with Crohn’s Disease, which Alford has kept under control with no flare ups since high school. Alford played in the Southland Conference and dominated at that level, but there were questions about whether he could compete against top tier opponents. He went to the Senior Bowl and more than looked the part as a corner and on special teams. He looks similar in his play to Janoris Jenkins, the former Gator and current member of the Rams. Alford is slightly smaller than ideal but he is a tenacious defender who is another great cover corner who will play in a receiver’s hip pocket and is a threat to get interceptions but he is a guy who will make plays against the run. Unlike Trufant, who would rather the offense be passing, Alford looks at running plays as an opportunity to make an impact and impose his will. When he reads run, he goes full speed downhill to make a play, which is why he could end up on the strong side with Trufant playing the weak side. The one issue with Alford as a run defender is how he negotiates blocks and he can be boxed out too often by good receiver blocking. Alford has all the speed and ability to flip his hips of Trufant, but he is just slightly shorter and did not play the same level of competition. If Alford is unable to force Samuel into the slot, he is more than equipped to move in there and play it himself.
The reality is that while Atlanta could end up having two rookie corners starting for them with Samuel in the slot, they have two excellent pure cover corners that will compete and be able to make plays on the football. If the Falcons are able to win the Super Bowl, these two will play a huge part in it and would be reminiscent of a pair of 49ers corners in Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright, who had pulled that feat as rookies in 1981; they were also selected in the first two rounds of the draft with Lott going at 8th pick and Wright going 40th.
Having addressed the corner position, the Falcons turned their attention to the defensive end spot and selected Malliciah Goodman out of Clemson. Goodman immediately becomes depth and a rotational end on the left side in Atlanta’s scheme and he could make an impact as a rookie but has long term potential as well. Unless they bring in another defensive end in free agency as a late add around when camp gets going, which is possible, Goodman would stand to rotate with Kroy Biermann on the left side.
Goodman is a well-built end with remarkably long arms, resembling an orangutan. Goodman needs to improve his instincts and his focus on maintaining outside contain against the run as he will get lost inside out of position at times, but with his focus being on his ability to rush the passer, he is more equipped to do that immediately. Goodman has a decent first step and likes to get up field with the ability to bend around the edge and flatten out to the quarterback or use those arms and rip back inside behind the guard to make a play. Largely an underwhelming player much of his career, Goodman may have had the light go on the last half of his senior year where he appeared to figure things out and really improve his production, which was capped off by a dominant performance in their bowl game against LSU. There are some issues that he needs to clean up, but if he can do it, the Falcons may have a long term solution at their left end spot and someone that could eventually supplant Biermann for the starting job.
In the fourth round, the Falcons grabbed tight end Levine Toilolo from Stanford with their compensatory pick. Dmitroff had made comments prior to the draft that the organization was looking to add another tight end to complement Tony Gonzalez in the final year of his career and give them someone who could inherit the job next year. He can come in and compete for the second tight end job which is currently projected to be a battle with Chase Coffman. The Falcons are not a team that looks to use multiple tight ends in many situations but Toilolo might impact that slightly.
While Toilolo still has some ways to go both as a receiver and as a blocker, he has been bred to block in Stanford’s system that throws as many tight ends on the field as possible, brings in a fullback and dares team to stop their running game. Toilolo is a physically imposing threat at 6’8” 260lbs and is automatically a mismatch for the red zone and short yardage situations. The Falcons have an incredible group of weapons in Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White plus Steven Jackson in the backfield, so Toilolo comes in fighting with Harry Douglas to be the fifth option at this point. But because of his natural size and his experience as a blocker, the Falcons could use a few more tight end sets with Gonzalez and those two wide receivers and Toilolo as another tight end while giving Jackson the ball or using play action to open things up. And with so many tremendous players, Toilolo, even at his size, could be virtually left alone in situations and be wide open for Matt Ryan.
With all of that being said, Toilolo would have to show up and impress in camp for any of this to be possible and outside of some situational usage, this pick is more about next year and years from now than it is this year as he has long term potential. It just would not be a surprise if they find use for him right out of the gate as there are not a ton of good options for defending a 6’8” tight end. It would not be a surprise if he ends up a better pro than he was a college player. If the light goes on for him and becomes a consistent player, he could be a good player down the road.
The Falcons exchanged their seventh round pick for 10 spots in the fifth round in a deal with the Chicago Bears to move up and select Stansly Maponga, defensive end from TCU. Maponga is interesting because he does so much effectively when it comes to his hand usage and technique, but has some fatal flaws that could ultimately kill his career before it starts, especially as a pass rusher. Maponga is terrible when it comes to getting off the line and is always playing catch up in that regard. If he can remedy this issue in Atlanta, the struggles he had in college could be a blessing in disguise. When a player gets off the line as poorly as Maponga did in college, it means they have absolutely no advantage going against the offensive lineman across from them and they have to learn how to be good to beat them. The offensive lineman is going to be able to get his spot and land the block, so between hand usage, shedding blocks, athleticism and counter moves, players like Maponga have to learn how to win. If he can now get to where he can fire off the line at a decent rate and have an advantage against his opponents, beating them becomes much easier and all of that hard work on learning how to beat them on level footing makes them extremely difficult to block when they now have an extra advantage.
Like with Goodman, Maponga comes in and competes for reps at the defensive end spot, but he will have more in front of him in terms of competition for finding time on the field. He will have to battle Jonathan Massaquoi for time as a nickel rusher as Osi Umenyiora is the projected starter after he signed as a free agent in the offseason. The concern with Umenyiora is he can get nicked up and miss time, so the Falcons may need Maponga to contribute in stretches of the season beyond just special teams. Ultimately, Maponga is probably using this year to develop his technique and really work on his get off, but he could make an impact as a rookie.
After trading away their seventh round pick, the Falcons were left with three compensatory picks in the seventh round and the first of these was used on Kemal Ishmael, safety from Central Florida. He enters the Falcons as competition with their sixth round pick from last year, Charles Mitchell, for the honor of who gets to back up Thomas DeCoud. This is a flyer on to see if the reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year as voted by the coaches can impress enough in camp to stick on the roster and contribute on special teams. Ishmael leaves Central Florida as the all-time leading tackler in school history as well as a first team all-conference selection as a sophomore.
The Falcons used their next pick in the round in a similar manner selecting Ezekiel Motta, safety from Notre Dame. He is a tough, gritty, white safety from Notre Dame, so he automatically comes with Mike Mayock’s seal of approval. Zeke Motta was a great player for the Irish but had slow timed speed and projects to play in the box as well as also competing to play on special teams. He will be competing for the backup spot behind William Moore with Shann Schillinger, a journeyman who has finished two of his four years on injured reserve.
Both Motta and Ishmael are accomplished football players who have been great in college, but do not bring overwhelming physical tools. They just happened to be productive players that fell in the draft because they did not have ideal measurables. Between the two, Motta seems a better bet to make the final roster for the Falcons but it will be interesting to see if either make it and they end up being put on the practice squad for a season.
With their last pick in the draft, the Falcons opted to take a quarterback in Sean Renfree from Duke. If not for a shoulder injury suffered at the end of the year, Renfree would have likely gone far earlier. He is an extremely well-coached signal caller who has learned under David Cutcliffe, the mentor and coach of quarterbacks like the Mannings. Thad Lewis, a product of Cutcliffe at Duke, is currently a fringe quarterback in the league and while he may never be a great quarterback, he did show the type of good fundamentals with footwork and mechanics that Cutcliffe preaches. He also has these guys learn in a Pro-Style offense so they come in the NFL ready to make drops and reads while dropping back. Renfree is a more physically talented quarterback than Lewis was and if not for the injury, might have been able to show it off more in one of the post season All-Star Games. All things considered, for a flyer of a pick to either be the third string quarterback or compete with Dominique Davis as the backup to Ryan, this was a good pick here. It is conceivable that Renfree will be put on injured reserve for a year, the Falcons could keep him as their third string quarterback, or they may try to sneak him onto the practice squad as a means to save a roster space on game day since Ryan never misses games.
My Thoughts: Dmitroff came into this draft with a plan as he always does and executed as he always seems to do. He saw an area that was considered a weakness and may have made it into a strength and used the remaining resources to attack another problem area, bring in some depth, and take flyers on guys that could make the team or be released with almost no investment involved. It remains to be seen what those players will do and this draft could ultimately be judged on whether this team is able to win the Super Bowl or not, but Dmitroff was able to do what he envisioned doing.
I am not quite as high on Trufant as others but he is a tremendous player as a weak side corner. His lack of effort as a run player will not kill the team over there and while he needs to improve his ball skills, he could have an early impact for the Falcons and make a big difference for them. I like the Trufant more as a result of picking up Alford, who I was extremely high on during the draft process. I maintain that he had first round talent in the Southland Conference and did everything he could to look the part of a first rounder when given the opportunity. He can come in and compete for the strong side corner spot as he is a willing and able run defender who can make plays, but he is a great cover corner who can make plays on the football. On top of everything else, he is a talented special teams player and could make an impact there as well.
While it has yet to bear out, it seems difficult to believe that Alford and Trufant will not be the starting corners going into the year with Samuel going to the slot, where he could have a great year. His style is risky but it is a far more effective one in the slot with protection behind him if he gambles and misses. It can be easy to lose the slot corner in various coverages, so Samuel may find himself with a few more opportunities to get interceptions and take them all the way attacking from the slot. And with such talented cover corners on the outside, it frees up their safeties to do a few other things. Now this will depend on these rookies coming in and playing well immediately to do, but with the prolific Falcons offense, it could make their growing pains far easier to bear early in the year if it means they are basically done being rookies by the time the playoffs roll around.
The concern for the Falcons is going to be the defensive line and how they get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but if the end of Goodman’s career at Clemson is any indication, he could be on the cusp of really having the light go on and make a big step forward in his career, especially as a pass rusher, which is what the Falcons need. Goodman is the guy they need to make an impact whereas Maponga’s impact would probably be more of a welcome bonus. Maponga may end up being a boom or bust pick because the one fatal flaw he has, his get off and anticipating the snap, will have him out of the league in a couple seasons or he will fix it and be a good player.
Levine Toilolo is a big ball of potential and I understand the move from that standpoint, but it seems like they might have been better served picking someone that could do more now as a tight end. They may simply have no interest in running much in terms of two tight end sets, so betting on the long term potential makes more sense, as an early impact guy would still have no playing time with Gonzalez there. That is the one pick that stands out to me as a little perplexing given where the team is now and what they are hoping to accomplish, but it is a wait and see move.
Of the seventh round picks they made, I like Renfree the best. The tape I was able to watch, he did not strike me a star or anything, but he did look the part of an NFL quarterback and someone who could further develop. They do not need him now or even a year from now, so the shoulder injury is not a big deal. The Falcons can take their time developing him and seeing if he can become a long term viable backup or trade bait down the road a la Matt Schaub. It just made a great deal of sense for the value on a pick they had to use.
It is hard not to appreciate the way Dmitroff works the draft especially considering the results, but as good as he been in bringing in talent for the team, he will ultimately be judged on whether or not they can win the Super Bowl and this coming year may be their best chance to do it. One more year of Gonzalez with everything else coming back for another year and while the defensive line is concerning, they may have enough to overcome it. The NFC South is an incredibly difficult division where three of the four teams look viable to make a playoff run (Sorry Carolina fans) and it could come down to the wire to see who gets into the playoff tournament where anything can and does seem to happen.
Topics: 2013 Nfl Draft, Atlanta Falcons, Central Florida Golden Knights Football, Clemson Tigers Football, Desmond Trufant, Duke Blue Devils Football, Kemal Ishmael, Levine Toilolo, Malliciah Goodman, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football, Robert Alford, Sean Renfree, SELU, Stanford Cardinal Football, Stansly Maponga, Washington Huskies Football, Zeke Motta