Posted on: January 14, 2010 6:39 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2010 6:45 pm
Quick recap... whenever you have a turnover in coaching staff, you also tend to have a larger than usual turnover in the roster, as players who were brought in for the previous staff might not fit the schemes of the new staff.
The Falcons went through that turnover in 2007 when Bobby Petrino jettisoned a significant number of Jim Mora's players and faced a repeat in 2008. You can't move forward, build and improve if you're having to constantly patch holes and replace large chunks of your team.
I put together a list of 12 players from the previous three drafts that I felt would be a litmus test for the new regime. If the coaching staff kept most of these players and they continued to develop, the Falcons would be in far better shape than the media imagined.
But if most of them failed to make the roster or tanked during the year, there would simply be too many holes to fill and we'd be in for another awful season. I pegged 8 players as the make or break point - 8 hits meant a good year, while 8 misses would be a disaster.
Here's the list, whether they hit or missed in 2008, and also how they stand after 2009:
1. Jamaal Anderson (1st round, 2007). 2008 result: MISS. Not much explanation needed. While he did all the dirty jobs the coaching staff asked of him and won praise from Smitty and from John Abraham, he was still too young and too inexperienced to matter at all at DE.
How he stands now: if the team adds one more solid DE prospect or free agent, he'll probably be in competition with Chauncey Davis just to hang on to a backup roster spot.
2. Jonathan Babineaux (2nd round, 2005). 2008 result: HIT. His stats weren't quite as good as 2007, but he stepped up and became a full time starter and never missed a game in spite of playing much of the season banged up.
How he stands now: he was hands down our best defensive lineman in 2009, but he's facing a near-certain suspension of at least four weeks in 2010, and possibly longer.
3. Martrez Milner (4th round, 2007). Other than Jamaal, this was the pick that had me screaming at the TV during that draft. He may have fit Petrino's mold, but he was far from the best TE on the board at the time.
2008 result: MISS. He fell out of favor with the new coaching staff over the summer and was quickly released.
4. Jerious Norwood (3rd round, 2006). 2008 result: HIT. As the #2 running back, he had 828 yards from scrimmage and also became the team's kick returner. Can't ask for better than that.
How he stands now: he stands to be a restricted free agent, but he'll become a true free agent if the union gives in and we get a new CBA before March 5. The coaching staff still likes his ability, but he's losing favor with fans over his lack of durability. (My take: keep him, but note that we really need five RB/FBs on the roster rather than just four.)
5. Justin Blalock (2nd round, 2007). Was made an instant starter by the previous coaching staff but struggled as a rookie without a consistent partner at tackle.
2008 result: HIT. He held onto his starting position, and the line allowed just 17 sacks while driving the league's second ranked rushing attack. No problems there.
How he stands now: nobody seems to be eager to move him or replace him anymore. He's getting it done - and still getting better. (It helps that he's finally learned how to pick up a stunt.)
6. Laurent Robinson (3rd round, 2007). 2008 result: MISS. He got banged up in preseason, and the time on the sidelines didn't help. He lasted only five quarters before he tweaked his hamstring, tried to return too soon and hurt it again to end his season. (We got an eerie sense of deja vu watching William Moore in 2009. Hopefully things will work out better with Moore in 2010.)
How he stands now: we gave him away to the Rams. He became their leading receiver before getting hurt again this year. They'll love him in St. Louis, if they can keep him on the field.
7. Chris Houston (2nd round plus extra pick used in trade, 2007). 2008 result: HIT. He became a full starter and played well enough to make us forget about DeAngelo Hall.
How he stands now: he didn't progress well in 2009 and may have lost his starting job. With only one season remaining on his contract anyway, he's facing a make or break year - if he's on the roster at all.
8. Quinn Ojinnaka (5th round, 2006). 2008 result: HIT. He didn't start, but he was solid as a backup. He demonstrated that he could play all five positions on the line if needed and did well when called to fill in at left tackle when both Sam Baker and Todd Weiner were banged up.
How he stands now: another player caught in the CBA trap. It will be interesting to see if he still fits into Smitty's long term plans. He's best at tackle, but this season Atlanta added two more tackles (Will Svitek and Garrett Reynolds) and used Ojinnaka at guard. If Atlanta picks up another interior lineman, The Mighty Quinn might soon be the tenth player in a nine man unit.
9. Jimmy Williams (2nd round plus extra pick used in trade, 2006). I almost left him off the list since he fell out of the team's plans even in 2007, but with two draft picks tied up in him, he was too significant an investment to ignore.
2008 result: MISS. He showed up overweight for minicamp and was a "message" cut even before training camp began.
10. Chauncey Davis (4th round, 2005). 2008 result: HIT. He had 38 total tackles and 4 sacks as a backup, earning a nice new contract and stirring up talk that he should be starting ahead of Jamaal.
How he stands now: in jeopardy. He didn't live up to that fat new contract, failing to beat out Jamaal for the starting job and putting up disappointing numbers this year. Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury are strong threats to move ahead of him on the depth chart. If the coaching staff makes another "message" cut this year (like Williams in 2008 or Kindal Moorehead and Simon Fraser in 2009), he and/or Jamaal may be the sacrificial lambs.
11. Adam Jennings (6th round, 2006). He almost got left off the list since a sixth round pick isn't all that much of an investment. But Petrino wanted to clear a roster spot, making Jennings the return man and ditching Allen Rossum. That raised the stakes a bit.
2008 result: MISS. It's a shame that the final straw came on an awful call by the refs, but he wasn't getting it done as a return man. He still had potential as a backup WR - he had six receptions in two games with Chris Redman at QB late in 2007, with a 10+ yard per catch average. But like Laurent Robinson, he didn't fit the mold of the current staff, so sooner or later he probably would have been shown the door anyway.
12. Stephen Nicholas (4th round, 2007). 2008 result: HIT. He was projected as a starter even in 2008, but that changed when the coaching staff decided to move Keith Brooking back to the weak side. That limited his role to special teams, but he played well and continued his development, which gave the coaches full confidence to use him this season.
How he stands now: a starter and an emerging player with good sideline to sideline range.
That's seven hits and five misses out of the dozen. It didn't quite reach my goal of eight hits, but several undrafted players (particularly Tyson Clabo, Harvey Dahl, followed by Brent Grimes and seventh rounder Jason Snelling in 2009) plus the large 2008 draft class gave the team a boost.
Even now, enough of that young 2007 roster remains with the team that Dimitroff can now use free agency and draft picks purely to build for the future and to upgrade an already strong lineup. With Brian Williams as the only starter becoming an unrestricted free agent without a new CBA, the Falcons have zero true holes to fill.
It's going to be a fun offseason...
Posted on: January 11, 2010 2:36 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2010 3:15 pm
Recap from the initial piece: draft picks are important assets in themselves in addition to their potential to become players.
You get seven picks per year to help you increase the value of your roster. If you release a drafted player, the "life" of that draft pick ends. But if you can trade him or get a compensatory draft pick when he signs elsewhere, you've increased your team's resources and extended the legacy of that draft pick.
The example from the initial piece was that Dan Reeves scooped up DT Ellis Johnson after the Colts released him. Two years later, McKay traded him for the draft pick he used to select Michael Boley. In April, Dimitroff will have a compensatory pick from Boley signing with the Giants. So eight years and two GMs after the Falcons got something for nothing by signing Johnson, they still have a draft pick to show for him.
The Falcons have a few more cases of players who "became" other players.
Many fans still cringe at losing 1999's first rounder Patrick Kerney to free agency after the 2006 season. The Falcons were mired in salary cap woes for a few years and simply couldn't compete with the megabucks offers that rising young players like Kerney and Kevin Shaffer received from other teams.
And while Petrino made the horrid call of drafting Jamaal Anderson to be the cornerstone of his franchise, at least Kerney didn't completely go to waste. The Falcons received a third round compensatory pick in 2008 for the loss of Kerney in 2007. And by then, the hog sooey idiot was off in Arkansas, so he had no influence on how that pick would be used.
That compensatory pick became starting safety Thomas DeCoud. So while we've been hurting at DE since Kerney's departure, his legacy lives on in the secondary.
Coach Booby also decided he wanted his ex-Louisville player Antoine Harris for his #9 defensive back. He also made Adam Jennings the return man, which meant former Pro Bowl kick returner Allen Rossum was on the way out. Rather than having to release him outright, McKay managed to trade Rossum to the Steelers for a future seventh round draft pick. It wasn't much, but it still beats relasing the player and getting absolutely nothing.
Dimitroff used that draft pick (#232) to get TE Keith Zinger. Zinger spent the 2008 season on the practice squad and was only the #5 tight end heading into camp. But he showed tremendous improvement in both blocking and receiving, ultimately beating out Jason Rader and incumbent starter Ben Hartsock for a roster spot.
As the #3 TE, Zinger didn't get many receiving opportunities, mainly appearing on offense as an extra blocker. But he did that role well, and he was also a significant figure on special teams, playing on every special teams unit.
He'll get a little more time working with Matt Ryan and the #2 quarterback this summer. He might still be a year away from being a significant factor on offense, but he has already shown good potential. If you're already looking for another TE to replace Tony Gonzalez in a year or two, don't count Zinger out quite yet.
Linebacker Mark Simoneau was the team's third round pick back in 2000. In March of 2003, Dan Reeves traded Simoneau to the Eagles for a pair of draft picks - a sixth rounder in 2003 and a fourth rounder in 2004.
Reeves used the sixth rounder to draft Waine Bacon, just one of his many WR busts over the years. (Reeves may have been a decent coach, but as a personnel head he had ZERO talent for evaluating WR prospects. But that's a whole separate article in itself.)
McKay used the 2004 fourth rounder (#125 overall) as the throw-in to trigger his first draft trade as Falcons GM. That pick went to the Colts to move Atlanta's second rounder up to the back end of round one.
With that pick, the Falcons selected starting WR Michael Jenkins.
And of course there are two more well known players from the 2004 draft who were later traded for draft picks. I'll hit those next time...
Posted on: November 12, 2008 1:48 pm
The upcoming release of Adam Jennings had been a hot rumor around Flowery Branch for the last two weeks. I mentioned here that Coach Smith may have tipped off the move shortly after the Raiders game in a press conference, when he praised the receiving corps and named every receiver on the team EXCEPT for Jennings. It was a noteworthy omission, and it really stoked the flames on the rumors around The Branch.
One thing I'd like to make clear: the move was mainly to free up a roster spot. The horrible muff call by the refs may have been the final nail in the coffin (which makes it all the more shameful), but the bottom line is that he wasn't released because he failed as a punt returner.
With Finneran ahead of him on the WR ladder and Laurent Robinson back healthy, Jennings wasn't going to get any playing time at receiver in the forseeable future. That meant he was taking up a roster spot purely as a punt return man. A one trick pony isn't something many teams can afford to keep on the 45 man game day roster. All the team needed was to find a viable alternative - not necessarily an upgrade - in order to free up a roster spot.
It's the same situation that resulted in Allen Rossum being traded at the end of the 2007 preseason. Petrino had decided that his player from Louisville, Antoine Harris, would be the team's ninth DB ahead of Rossum. If Rossum remained on the roster, he would be taking up space strictly as a return man. If the team could find anyone else already on the roster that could do the job, Rossum would be expendable. At that time, Jennings already had his spot secured as the #5 wide receiver. When the coaches decided that Jennings would suffice as the punt return man without taking up an extra roster spot, Rossum's fate was sealed.
(Side note: Atlanta received a seventh round pick, #232 overall, in the trade that sent Rossum to Pittsburgh. The Falcons used their two seventh round picks to select DB Wilrey Fontenot at 212 and TE Keith Zinger at 232. Neither made the roster, but Zinger is currently on the practice squad.)
One of the other candidates for that #5 WR spot last year, Brian Finneran, missed his second straight season with a knee injury. But he never gave up, stuck with his rehab and became one of the better stories of this year's training camp by making the roster. He has dropped several passes (surprising for someone with his reputation for good hands) but has also make several clutch receptions.
Finneran worked his way up to the #5 WR spot, which dropped Jennings to #6. Laurent Robinson missed a little time due to injury, but once he was back to health, there was no way Jennings was going to get playing time at wide receiver. That put Jennings in the same position as Rossum a year ago - taking up a roster space strictly as a return man.
And the result is the same as it was with Rossum - the team looked for alternatives. It didn't have to be an upgrade - just a viable alternative who is already listed elsewhere on the depth chart. The team doesn't need six WRs. The music stopped, and Jennings is the guy without a chair.
For now, that roster spot is being used to promote defensive end Brandon Miller from the practice squad to the main roster. Miller was an undrafted free agent out of UGA who was with the team in camp and preseason. He was paired with Biermann at DE in the exhibition games. The two of them were clearly rookies, but their tenacity was fun to watch. It was obvious that both of them have real potential with proper coaching.
But looking ahead, I find it VERY interesting that the roster spot was filled with yet another defensive end. I'm probably jumping the gun, but my take is that there will be another roster change coming soon. I can't imagine why the team would stick with six defensive ends (Abraham, Anderson, Davis, Biermann, Fraser, and now Miller) for very long.
I'm still waiting for definitive news on the two Falcons on PUP lists: OT Renardo Foster and DT Trey Lewis. The last word was that Foster was more likely to return to the roster, with Lewis more likely to be placed on IR for the year. But both were borderline cases in their rehab. Significant progress or setbacks during the 21 day exemption period could make the difference for both of them.
But time is running out. We'll know very soon. Maybe even later today...
Posted on: November 6, 2008 3:15 pm
Edited on: November 7, 2008 5:33 pm
THE BAD NEWS for fans of both teams: FOX has assigned our old pals Ron Pitts and Tony Boselli to broadcast the game. (Saints fans - I apologize in advance and suggest that you keep a radio handy.)
For Atlanta, Sam Baker is almost certainly out (it's not *official* yet) but everyone else is in reasonable shape. Grimes, Grady Jackson, and Weiner are still nursing bad knees. Snelling has been sick.
Domonique Foxworth is now listed as a starter in the press guide and the depth chart. He's the most experienced cornerback on the roster, but since the team only acquired him in Week 1, the coaches needed time to get him up to speed on the defensive schemes.
No word yet on which of Grimes or Chevis Jackson will play the nickel corner spot once Grimes is back to speed.
Still no word from the league on possible suspensions for Grady and several Saints players over that water pill investigation. However, the players can appeal if a suspension is announced between now and Sunday, so they can all remain available for this weekend's game.
Also no word on who will return punts for Atlanta this weekend. Coach Smith said he thought Harry Douglas did a nice job but that the team hasn't decided who will handle that job this weekend. And for those who think Jennings may be headed out the door, here's a little extra fodder: when asked about the WR corps, Smith named all of the receivers EXCEPT for Jennings.
FRIDAY UPDATE: Reggie Bush and center Jonathan Goodwin are both out. Sam Baker is now officially out for Atlanta. Shockey will likely play. The banged-up Falcons are all listed as "Questionable" - which seems to be the standard practice this season. They include Grimes, Grady Jackson, Weiner, and McClure. Best guess is they'll all be available.