Posted on: April 14, 2010 4:50 am

Favre trade worst ever? Nope...

We're less than two weeks from the draft, and the annual Brett Favre watch is well underway.

So we're also seeing the usual stories this time of year calling the Falcons trade of Favre to the Packers for a draft pick after his rookie season the worst draft pick trade or overall trade in NFL history.

For the record, I disagree.

Never mind the stories about Favre's drinking, that he partied much harder than he practiced while with Atlanta, that coach Jerry Glanville didn't want him on the team, that he would have been in competition just to hang on to the #3 QB spot, or that when he got on the field his rookie year, two of his four pass attempts were incomplete - and the other two were intercepted.

Nope, forget all that stuff.  The bottom line is that Atlanta traded its second round pick one season for a first round pick the next season. That's hardly the worst trade in NFL history, regardless of what players are taken with those picks.

So let's cut then-VP of Player Personnel Ken Herock a little slack.  He didn't make the worst trade ever.

Click here for another side of the story you might not have known...

On second thought, go ahead and rip Herock to shreds.  He deserves it, because he DID make what is probably the all time worst trade. 

He just didn't do it in Atlanta.

It's actually a two-parter.  Either part alone would be a contender for the worst trade in NFL history.  Put them together, and the result is a masterpiece of horror.  It's the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" (or "Manos: The Hands Of Fate") of GM work.

I apologize for this turning into a long story, but believe me, it's worth it.  It's a gem.

Because of a 1980 trade, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't have a second round pick in 1982.

Read about it (and what a cheapskate Dolphins owner Joe Robbie was) here

When the 1982 draft came around, then-GM Ken Herock really liked a small school defensive end named Booker Reese, from Bethune-Cookman.  The Bucs planned on taking him in the first round.  What happened on draft day is a matter of who you believe. 

Offensive lineman Sean Farrell unexpectedly slid down the draft board and was still available when Tampa hit the clock at #17.  The Buffalo Bills called, wanting to move up five spots from their #22. They offered to swap their second rounder for one of Tampa's two third rounders as the trade price.

There was a lot of noise at the draft site in New York (mainly Giants fans already shouting for their preferred pick, as the G-Men were going to be on the clock right after Tampa).  And there apparently was a bad phone connection between Tampa and their man on-site, equipment manager Pat Marcuccillo.

With about five minutes clock time remaining, Marcuccillo handed in a card with Sean Farrell's name on it.  The folks in Tampa denied it, but the story in newspapers around the country (and fledgling cable network ESPN, which was right there covering it live) is that the Bucs made a mistake and either turned in the wrong card or turned in a card too soon.

After Farrell's name was announced, Marcuccillo went back and conferred with NFL officials - apparently saying it was a mistake and trying to "undo" the pick.  But the Giants turned in their card almost immediately after Tampa, so the commish said no dice.

Was it a mistake?  Here's one version of the story...

...and the denial by the Buccaneers.

Bottom line = the Bucs got Farrell, not Reese, and they had no second round pick to take Reese.  So they immediately started scrambling and tried to work a deal to move up.

They ended up giving the Bears their first round pick the following year (1983) for Chicago's second rounder, but in the end they got their man.

Herock proclaimed his draft an instant success, saying his first two picks were as good as anyone's.

Article with GREAT comments from Herock on Tampa's draft prowess...

(I really love this one, especially the stuff about how much better they were at drafting by taking more chances - as opposed to going for more of those lame, boring picks like Lee Roy Selmon, Doug Williams or Hugh Green.)

And they all lived happily ever after.

Well, not quite... 

Tampa quarterback Doug Williams was the lowest paid starting QB in the NFL (at a mere $120k - less than many backups and less than some punters and kickers) but chose to play out his initial contract rather than hold out for more money.  But when his contract expired after the 1982 season, he wanted to get paid.

Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse made an offer he called "generous".  Williams' agent called it "embarassing".  At that point it became pretty obvious that Williams would ended up bolting for the brand new USFL.

That wouldn't have been such a big problem, as the upcoming draft was even then regarded as the best in NFL history for quarterbacks.  There was just one catch... Herock had given up his first round pick the prior year.

Story on the Williams contract and the 1983 QB class...

...continued.  (Wow - Ken O'Brien as a Buccaneer?)

So he worked a deal with Cincinnati, once again giving up Tampa's future first round pick (in 1984) for Bengals backup QB Jack Thompson. 

(Browse the whole page, not just this Mizell column)

The Throwin' Samoan was Cincinnati's third stringer (most teams kept only two QBs on the roster) behind Ken Anderson and Turk Schonert.  He had been a first round pick back in 1979 but was already regarded as a bust. 

He had never completed 50% of his passes for a season, had never averaged 100 passing yards per game for a season, had a career QB rating below 60, and had not even attempted a pass attempt in his one and only game appearance the previous year.  And for this, Herock was willing to part with a future first round pick.

The Bucs flopped, and the pick Tampa gave up became the # 1 overall selection of the 1984 draft.  

In other words, the Bucs missed out on their chance to draft Dan Marino or Ken O'Brien (their choice - both were still on the board when what would have been Tampa's pick came up) because Herock felt he just had to have Booker Reese.  For an encore, he gave away the first overall pick of the draft straight up for a third string bust who hadn't thrown a pass in nearly two years.  And the one first round pick he got right throughout the whole mess was quite literally by mistake.

And now the "Animal House"/"Stripes"-style montage of what happened to the key players...

"Accidental" draft pick Sean Farrell had a productive, 11 year NFL career, including five seasons with the Buccaneers.  When he became a free agent in 1987, Tampa re-signed him and then traded him to New England for three draft picks, including a second rounder. 

The man on-site at the 1982 draft, Pat Marcuccillo, resigned his position as equipment manager for "personal reasons" during the 1982 players strike.  Within a week, he was charged with grand larceny for stealing 1,520 Bucs jerseys and selling them to a Chicago sports memorabilia dealer for $21k. 

The Chicago dealer (who reportedly didn't know Marcuccillo was selling them illegally) sold many of them to another dealer in San Antonio for $20 apiece. 

The San Antonio dealer then brought his jerseys to Tampa, advertising "Genuine Buccaneers Game Jerseys" for sale in the local paper.  That caught the attention of the Buccaneers front office, who prompted police to begin their investigation that eventually led to Marcuccillo's arrest. 

And just like they had claimed that there was no error with the draft card, the Bucs claimed at the time that they had no idea why Marcuccillo was leaving and that his resignation was a surprise.   (Hmmm.... 1500 jerseys went missing and the equipment manager suddenly quits during the police investigation...  Nope, nothing unusual here.  No clue why he left.)

(Enter 23 for the page number; the article is on the lower right side of the page)

Booker Reese flopped in 1982 and 1983, developed drug and alcohol problems, and was dumped for a conditional 12th round pick after the first game of the 1984 season. 

He also had another off-field issue...

He appeared in 11 games for the Los Angeles Rams, who sent him to rehab after he failed a drug test and then released him the following year. 

But he did meet the condition for the Bucs to get their 12th rounder

He signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 1985 but again failed a drug test and was released, ending his NFL career. 

He was convicted of cocaine possession in 1999 and was sent back to prison for a parole violation in 2004.

The Chicago Bears used Tampa's first round 1983 pick to select Willie Gault, who lasted 11 seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver and return man. 

Before the NFL, he was a track star (110 meter hurdles, 4x100 relay) and a member of the U.S. Olympic team.  But he missed his chance to compete when the U.S. boycotted the 1980 games.  He was ruled ineligible for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles because he was a professional football player.

He did become an alternate in 1988, but in Calgary rather than Seoul.

Jack Thompson didn't even win the Bucs starting job coming out of camp, but became the starter after the other quarterback (Jerry Golsteyn, career QB rating of 36.2) put in horrid performances in the first two games.  Thompson then spent the 1984 season as the backup to Steve DeBerg, who was acquired in a trade for two draft picks.  It was Thompson's final year in the NFL.

Headline story on his release

And the beat writer's column on the side of the same page

(Interesting comparisons:  Culverhouse said no to paying Doug Williams $800k and then $600k in 1983, but note the contract the Bucs had given Thompson and also how much Steve Young made in the USFL.)

The Bengals traded Tampa's #1 overall pick of 1984 to the Patriots, who used it to select WR Irving Fryar.  Fryar racked up 12,785 receiving yards over his 17-year career, putting him 13th on the all-time receiving list.  He's also tied for 14th in receiving touchdowns with 84.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed a 5-4 record and made the playoffs in the strike-shortened 1982 season but utterly tanked in 1983, going 2-14 to start a remarkable string of 12 consecutive seasons with 10+ losses. 

Ken Herock left the Buccaneers in June of 1984, reportedly to take over the USFL's Washington Federals, who were planning to move to Florida. 

He ended up with the Raiders instead, helping them on their way from their 11-5 and 12-4 records in 1984/1985 to their 8-8 and 5-10 records in 1986 and the shortened 1987 season.

Right after the 1987 draft, the Smith family handed him the keys to the Falcons, where he remained for the next ten seasons.

His first draft choice as Falcons head of personnel... 

...Aundray Bruce.

Posted on: March 29, 2010 2:18 pm

2005 draft in review

Now that the 2005 draft is five years behind us, I did a Casserly-style review of all 256 picks from that draft class.  But there's no way to cover the details and keep it from getting way too long.  So right up front, here's the executive summary: 

The 2005 draft class was a very weak one. 

The Falcons had eight picks, including an extra fifth rounder from trading Ellis Johnson to the Broncos in 2004.  They came away with a strong group of prospects in spite of picking late (they made it to the NFC Championship game with a record of 11-5 the year before). 

Bottom line:  the Falcons picked late in a lousy draft and came out of it very well.  While the "instant" grades were typically in the B / B- range, the Falcons get an outstanding final grade for that draft. 


I'll have to hit the details in bits and pieces.  But before I get into the boring statistics, here's a quick look at the top ten overall picks just to refresh everyone's memory on the 2005 draft:

#1 =  49ers, QB Alex Smith
#2 =  Dolphins, RB Ronnie Brown
#3 =  Browns, WR Braylon Edwards
#4 =  Bears, RB Cedric Benson
#5 =  Buccaneers, RB Cadillac Williams
#6 =  Titans, DB PacMan Jones
#7 =  Vikings, WR Troy Williamson
#8 =  Cardinals, DB Antrel Rolle
#9 =  Redskins, DB Carlos Rogers
#10 =  Lions, WR Mike Williams

In retrospect...   ouch.  If you were building a mock NFL roster from scratch, none of these guys would be among your top 50 choices. 

Smith is finally breaking through for San Francisco, but they've had to wait out his entire rookie contract for that to happen.

Brown has over 4000 rushing yards, so he has obviously "made it" in the league.  Cadillac has over 3200 yards for the Bucs, and Benson has rebounded with the Bengals to surpass the 3500 career yard mark.

But keep in mind that these were top five overall selections.   Meanwhile, Frank Gore (3rd round) has over 5500 yards, and fourth rounders Marion Barber and Brandon Jacobs have 3984 and 3455 career yards.  So it's tough to say these first three RBs off the board have justified their ultra-high selections, especially considering that Benson was released outright by Chicago after three seasons.

He wasn't the only one to get the axe...  Adam "PacMan" Jones is trying to work his way back into the league. Never mind his the legal issues - the reason why the Cowboys aren't keeping him is that he's only a mediocre defensive back.  

The Vikings gave up on Williamson, trading him to the Jaguars for a mere sixth round pick.  Tenth pick Mike Williams washed out with three different teams and has been out of the league since 2007.

And these guys were the top ten overall selections, the alleged cream of the crop.  You get the idea...

The next three picks were DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, and Jammal Brown, so it wasn't all a horror show.  But it certainly wasn't the hit parade you'd expect from the first round of ANY draft.

More details to come...

Posted on: March 21, 2010 2:00 am

pro day / private workout updates

The news is now out that the Falcons did private workouts with the two TCU linebacker prospects, Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington. 

But the big news is that Sean Weatherspoon himself reported that his Wednesday morning workout with the Falcons was "stellar".  He was stoked about it (including the part where Atlanta's staff put him through Q&A on the whiteboard) and got on the phone with former and possible future teammate William Moore soon afterwards.  He really thinks Atlanta may be the team that takes him.

Also, here's an interesting interview with 'Spoon from before Wednesday's workout:


WR Freddie Barnes of Bowling Green was somehow left off of the Combine invite list, in spite of leading the galaxy in receiving yards this season, becoming a one-man show at the Humanitarian Bowl, and also being an offensive hero of the East-West Shrine Game.

So his pro day workout was the first chance teams had to see him in the Combine-style drills.  The one knock on him has always been a supposed lack of speed.  He reportedly ran the 40 at his pro day at about 4.60.

According to the sports blog of Bowling Green's newspaper, the Falcons were one of fourteen NFL teams attending his workout.  Many of us love the guy.  We don't know how the Falcons feel, but at least they were interested enough to be one of those fourteen teams.  That's good enough for me.  At least he's on our radar.

Hassers has already posted (on the Falcons message board) that the Falcons are holding workouts with several of the top center prospects.  Daryl Ledbetter at the AJC will be happy to note that Florida's center Maurkice Pouncey is now one of them.  (After two weeks of insisting that we'll be taking Pouncey with the #19 pick, D-Led has finally come back to earth and switched to 'Spoon in this weekend's update to his mock.) 

Various reports also have Atlanta personnel attending the pro days of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Missouri State, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Michigan State, Missouri State, Virginia, Temple, Middle Tennessee State, West Virginia, Marshall, and Fresno State.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions on who we might have been scouting at each of those workouts.

I haven't confirmed yet whether we attended the other southeastern school pro day workouts (Clemson, Florida, FSU, etc).  To my knowledge our scouts and/or others were scheduled to attend pretty much all of them, but I don't have 100% certainty yet.

One that has been confirmed:  the Falcons did NOT attend Tennessee State's workout.  In the past they had shown interest in safety prospect Anthony Levine.  But according to the Bears beat writer, we didn't show for his pro day:


Other private workout news has the Falcons conducting or scheduling workouts with Indiana OT Roger Saffold, Penn St. linebacker Sean Lee, and unconfirmed reports on working out a couple of TE prospects.

Brandon Graham did not participate in Michigan's pro day due to a hamstring problem but has another workout session scheduled (along with CB Donovan Warren) for April 8.

Haven't heard if Atlanta was there to see LeGarrette Blount, but he reportedly made nice improvements in his 40 time.  His time at the Combine was above 4.8, and he was timed in the mid 4.6 range in his pro day workout.  That's not blazing speed, but it's certainly good enough for a guy who is billed as a power runner.

Coming up next week =  the Mississippi and North Carolina schools, plus Miami, Notre Dame, Arizona State, the Iowa and Nevada schools, and Boise St.   The official pro days run through April 1.  Several prospects have scheduled their own individual pro days for the following week.

Also coming up early next week (possibly even Monday around noon) -  the announcement of the compensatory picks.  We'll find out if Domonique Foxworth got us a fourth rounder or a third, and we'll also find out if we got that late seventh rounder.


So...  we're looking at several potential #19 prospects, several linebackers, centers, and tight ends.  A few WRs and o-linemen seem to be in the mix as well.  To this point, we haven't gone out of our way to look at DEs or RBs at all.

The TE thing suggests the Falcons might indeed be looking to upgrade the backups.  Keith Zinger came on pretty strong last summer in camp and played well on special teams this past season.  The coaching staff also values Justin Peelle for his combination of blocking skills for the run game and catching ability.  But Peelle is getting up there in age. 

I had expected the team to wait until 2011 to find a replacement, but the rumored workouts and pro day interest suggest it might happen this year.

A mild surprise is that we haven't heard a peep about RB prospects yet.  The Falcons do have Antone Smith on the practice squad, but there's still an opening on the roster -  Michael Turner, Ovie Mughelli, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood were the only four runners on the roster in 2008, and last season showed the need for additional depth. 

Never mind the fan talk about ditching Norwood.  There's already a need for one more runner even with him on board, as the replacement for Verron Haynes.  (Aaron Stecker doesn't count since he was a mid-season fill-in anyway.)   We *know* the Falcons need one more regardless, so it's odd that we haven't heard about much interest in anyone in the backfield.

One possible reason may be that it isn't particularly tough to scout RBs.  With defensive players, you need to put them through the paces on their coverage skills, lateral movement, etc.  With the RBs, nearly everything you need to see is readily available in game film.  Interviews happened throughout the Combine and various all-star game practice weeks, so the team's files could easily be complete on most of the potential RB candidates.

Looking at centers was pretty much expected.  I'm certainly not on board with D-Led's man-crush on Pouncey at #19, but I do think a mid-round center is a likely happening.  As we all know, Todd McClure is one of only two Falcons remaining from the Dan Reeves era.  He showed a nice rejuvenation in 2008 but struggled to hold the point at times in 2009.  Backup Brett Romberg was a nice acquisition, and Quinn Ojinnaka has prepared for emergency duty at center. 

But Romberg isn't particularly young, and Ojinnaka isn't ready for real work in the middle yet.  The Falcons had Ben Wilkerson in 2007-2008, with line coach Paul Boudreau converting him primarily to guard.  When the team elected to keep only nine offensive linemen instead of ten, Wilkerson was the odd man out.

Just to make the run-down complete, we do still have two other centers from our own practice squad last year.  Rob Bruggeman and Blake Schlueter were just extra hands to snap the ball for the scout team in 2009, but Boudreau/Smitty wanted to bring *both* of them back for a shot at the roster this year. 

The main thing Bruggeman lacks is experience, having only received significant playing time in his senior season in college.  With Schlueter, the main question is size.  When he came aboard the practice squad (as Bruggeman's injury replacement), he listed at only 279 pounds. 

I'm not anticipating anything significant from them in 2010, and I don't think the Falcons are either.  But I will note that with offensive linemen, it's frequently true that the biggest difference between early round draft picks and the late round / undrafted prospects is development time rather than true potential.  Practice squad guys haven't made it yet, but it doesn't mean they're completely out of a team's plans.  (In particular, keep an eye on G/T Jose Valdez this summer.  If he takes a step forward in his development, he may ultimately replace Romberg or Ojinnaka for 2011.)

Posted on: January 2, 2010 1:05 pm

1974 - The Curse begins...

The Falcons open 2010 with a chance to make franchise history and wipe out the notorious streak known as The Curse.

For anyone who hasn't heard it countless times before, the franchise has NEVER had consecutive winning seasons.  We've had some good teams, such as the 14-2 bunch in 1998 that went to the Super Bowl, the 12-4 team in 1980 that appeared to be the best in the NFL, and the 11-5 team under rookie head coach Jim Mora that made it to the NFC Championship game after the 2004 season.

But every step forward has been followed by two steps back, and no matter how strong the team appeared one year, the next year resulted in an implosion to .500 or worse.

The team's first winning season came in 1971.  It was a mere 7-6-1 thanks to a fluke tie against the Rams in the second week of the season, so it was no real surprise that the team went 7-7 the following year. 
The first time something happens doesn't constitute a trend, and dropping from 7 wins to 7 wins isn't exactly grounds for calling it The Curse.  So personally, I let that one slide.  I claim that The Curse begins the next time the Falcons had a winning record - and the first time they appeared to be stepping up to elite status.

That was the 1973 team, which went 9-5 and was one game shy of making the playoffs with the 5th best record in the NFC.  (In those days, there were three divisions per conference and one wild card, which the Falcons missed by just one win.)

The Falcons had one of the top defenses in the entire NFL that season, featuring Pro Bowl defensive ends Claude Humphrey and John Zook, Tommy Nobis and Greg Brezina in the linebacking corps, and a pass defense that racked up 22 interceptions on the year.  Dave Hampton had his infamous almost-1000 yard season (he made it to 1000 yards, then lost yardage on his final carry to drop back to 997), kicker Nick Mick-Mayer had a career year and made the Pro Bowl, and the team went on a mid-season seven game winning streak to show they were a rising force in the league.

But the seeds of destruction had already been planted, in one of the worst trades of franchise history.  Before the season began, the Falcons traded starting QB Bob Berry and their future (1974) first round draft pick to the Minnesota Vikings for QB Bob Lee and linebacker Lonnie Warwick.

To this day, I still can't find a reason to justify this trade for the Falcons.  Lee had attempted just 6 passes in 1972 as backup to Fran Tarkenton.  He did get a little playing time in 1971, before the Vikes got Frantic Fran back from the Giants and were doing their own scrambling to find a starter.  But even then he completed 45 of 90 passes, with 4 interceptions to double his 2 TDs.  (He was primarily the punter for the Vikings that season.) 

Lonnie Warwick was one of the more intimidating linebackers of the 1960s.  He was the starting MLB through 1970 and a core member of the original Purple People Eaters.  But he was only a backup afterwards, appearing in just 4 games in 1971 and 6 in 1972.

Meanwhile, Bob Berry wasn't exactly Pro Bowl material as the starting QB for the Falcons, but he threw for over 2100 yards and 13 TDs in 1972, notching a QB rating of 78.5.  (By comparison, Matt Ryan's rating this season is 81.1.  Michael Vick's rating in his 2004 Pro Bowl year was 78.1, and his yards per game, completion percentage, TD and interception figures were all comparable to Berry's stats in 1972.)

Would you trade that kind of QB *PLUS* your first round draft pick for an unknown backup QB/punter and a 30-year old backup linebacker?  We obviously wouldn't, but Norm Van Brocklin did. Ironically, Van Brocklin was the head coach that led Tarkenton to demand his trade away from Minnesota to the Giants in the first place.

Bob "General" Lee managed to put up respectable numbers while leading the Falcons 1973 campaign.  He completed 52% of his attempts (compared to Berry's 55.6% the year before) for 1786 yards (compared to Berry's 2158) and 10 TDs (vs Berry's 13).  And while Lonnie Warwick didn't start, he was a useful backup linebacker behind Atlanta's trio of Nobis, Greg Brezina, and Don Hansen.

And so the Falcons, led by their intimidating defense, went on a rampage in that 1973 season and were on the verge of becoming something special.  A few good players from the 1974 draft would be all the team needed to vault themselves to greatness.

Alas, that draft under Van Brocklin may have been the worst in NFL history.  (Are there any fans of other teams reading this blog/message board?  Please share your team's all time worst if there's one to top the Falcons Class Of 1974.)

The first round pick, which became #17 overall, had already been lost to the Vikings in the Bob Lee trade.  Coach Van Brocklin's top draft need was a wide receiver.  When the #17 came up, the top WR of the draft class was still on the board.  But Minnesota had the pick rather than the Falcons, and they used it to select linebacker Fred McNeill.

Instead, the Pittsburgh Steelers took that WR four picks later.  His name... Lynn Swann.

Van Brocklin got his wideout with Atlanta's first pick, which was #44 overall in the second round, by taking Gerald Tinker.  Tinker was a good athlete - he was a member of the gold medal 4 x 100 relay team in the 1972 Summer Olympics.  But the Kent State receiver wasn't a particularly good football player.

He did some PR/KR duty that first year but notched a mere four receptions (total) in two seasons on Atlanta's roster.  He went on to spend one more season with the Packers before disappearing into obscurity.

That was how the Falcons used the #44 selection.  The #45 was Dave Casper.  The #46 was Jack Lambert.  Ouch...

Atlanta had two picks in the third round.  Van Brocklin used the #69 overall to get a QB to groom for the future.  His choice was Kim McQuilken from Lehigh.

Every now and then we'll hear Falcons fans complain that Joey Harrington was the worst QB they have ever seen.  Well, for those of you not old enough to remember the 1970s, let me assure you that the Falcons have seen MUCH worse than Harrington or Byron Leftwich or D.J. Shockley or John Parker Wilson.  Third round choice McQuilken completed 39.7% of his pass attempts in his career, which featured a staggering 29 interceptions and 4 touchdowns, giving him a mighty 17.9 career QB rating.

Pause for a moment and let that sink in... 4 touchdowns... 29 interceptions... completed less than 40% of his throws...

Van Brocklin followed that gem by taking cornerback Mo Spencer two picks later.  Spencer never played for the Falcons.  (But he did go on to make the roster in New Orleans and was their starting right cornerback in 1978.  So it could be said he contributed to the Falcons that season - he was in the secondary for "Big Ben".)

Fourth round pick RB Vince Kendrick lasted just one season on the roster.  He had 17 rushing attempts for 21 yards.

Fifth round pick TE Henry Childs appeared in only six games for the Falcons and had no stats.  He eventually went on to make the Pro Bowl in 1979 with the Saints.

A second pick that round produced RB Monroe Eley, who did not play in 1974, had one rushing attempt in 1975, did not play in 1976, and finally had 97 attempts for 273 yards in 1977 to wrap up his career.

Sixth round pick RB Doyle Orange (yet another RB) never played a game in the NFL.  Neither did seventh round pick T James Coode.  The next pick, ninth round DT Larry Bailey, appeared in 1 game.

C Paul Ryczek (10th round) stuck on the roster as a backup and special teams player for six years and even started 4 games in 1976.  But he was the high point of the rest of the draft.  16th round RB (yes, yet another RB) Sylvester "Molly" McGee had 7 rushing attempts in his 10 game career.  None of the other six players taken in that draft played a single game for the Falcons.

So while the Steelers recorded the best draft class in NFL history and went on to win their first championship, the Falcons (who drafted AHEAD of Pittsburgh) racked up what might be the worst draft the NFL had ever seen and self destructed.

The Falcons started the season 2-6.  Bob Lee was horrid, completing less than half his passes, throwing 14 interceptions and getting sacked 31 times.  After a 42-7 embarassment to the Dolphins in the eighth game, Van Brocklin was fired.  Incoming coach Marion Campbell (hardly an improvement) dropped Lee from his starting role.

Atlanta finished at 3-11 and followed with a pair of 4-10 seasons in 1975 and 1976.  Campbell was fired five games into the 1976 season.

While we grimace over the Jimmy Williams trade and the Jamaal Anderson selection in the 2006 and 2007 drafts, those draft classes are still among the better half of draft classes in Falcons history.  The 1974 draft wrecked the team for years to come and launched The Curse.    

The one shining light...  that 3-11 record gave Atlanta the #3 position in the 1975 draft.  The team traded up with the Colts to gain the #1 pick and landed future franchise QB Steve Bartkowski.

Category: NFL
Posted on: December 22, 2009 4:13 pm

looking ahead to the draft...

First quick note... I'm still projecting that the Falcons will receive 3 compensatory draft picks in the April draft.  These will likely be picks at the ends of the 4th round, 5th round, and 7th round.  It's still possible that the 5th rounder will become a second 4th rounder, but I'm not counting on it.

We can't trade these supplemental picks, but we can trade our own 5th and 6th rounders for players or to move up with our own 3rd or 4th rounder.  If we do, the compensatory picks would become instant upgrades.   (A pick at the end of the 4th is an improvement over our original pick in the mid to late 5th.)

And that brings up the other hot topic... where the Falcons will draft.

With 2 weeks left to play, Atlanta is still part of a big pack in the middle of the draft. Six teams (Rams, Lions, Buccaneers, Browns, Chiefs, and Redskins) are certain to finish with worse records than the Falcons.  Six more teams now sit at 5-9 or 6-8, and six more have equal records to Atlanta's 7-7 mark.

Of the teams now at 7-7, the Falcons have the easiest remaining schedule with opponents having a combined 7-21 record to this point.

Also, the Falcons have a fairly strong strength of schedule figure for this season, which is a draft tiebreaker among teams with equal records.  If Atlanta finishes in a big pack, they'll be closer to the back of that pack for the first round.

In other words, the stage is set for the Falcons to end up with the 15th to 20th pick next April.  If they do take care of business against the Bills and Bucs over the next two weeks, they'll likely pick 20th.   If they split the final two weeks, best guess is around 17th.  And even if they drop both to finish 7-9, they'd likely be around the 14th pick next year.
Category: NFL
Posted on: October 5, 2009 5:54 pm

Tracking the draft picks, part one

Before the salary cap system began, players didn't become unrestricted free agents until after they had reached six years of league tenure.  With the salary cap, that time dropped to four years.

Also, the maximum length of the rookie contract for all players drafted after the first round is four years.  (For guys in the first half of the first round, it's six years.  It's five years for the back half of the first round.)

Put it together, and it means that the initial contract is the maximum length of time you can count on keeping your drafted prospects.  Dealing with that is an interesting aspect of personnel that teams approach in different ways.

One ramification is with the draft itself.  Many teams passed on drafting Curtis Martin because the scouts at the time said he'd probably only last a few seasons before wearing out.  That didn't stop Bill Parcells from selecting him in the third round for the Patriots.   Parcells explained that it didn't matter, because four years was as long as you could count on keeping the guy anyway.

The flip side is that top draft prospects now receive contracts out of proportion with the rest of the league.  If the kids need more than average development time, it's a disastrous use of a high draft pick. 

The obvious example for the current Falcons roster is Jamaal Anderson, who is in his third season and has yet to show anything to prove he was worth a first round pick.  An even better case is Brady Quinn, who is also in his third season.  He was selected in the back half of round one (#22 overall), so the Browns only have him for two more years before he's a free agent. 

Likewise, Tarvaris Jackson and Brodie Croyle were second and third round selections by the Vikings and Chiefs.  Both are still works in progress - but they were both drafted in 2006, so this is year four for both of them.  They're free agents at the end of the season, so those teams may end up with very little total return for their first day draft picks.

The other ramification is that since the specific players won't necessarily remain past the first contract, the draft pick should be treated as an asset unto itself.  Whether the player ultimately makes it in the NFL is one thing, but if the team can get ongoing returns through trades or free agency, then the GM has done a fine job of asset management.

For now I'll just hit one example, but it's a pretty good one since it ties together the personnel moves of Dan Reeves, Rich McKay and Thomas Dimitroff:

Ellis Johnson was a first round selection by the Indianapolis Colts in 1995.  He played with them for seven years but was released in the summer before the 2002 season.

Dan Reeves needed another DT to help rest Ed Jasper.  He scooped up Johnson, who then racked up 7 sacks in 2002 and 8 in 2003.  (By comparison, all Falcons defensive tackles combined had only 6 in 2007 and 6.5 last year.)  Note that Reeves got him as an off the street free agent - picking him up did not cost the Falcons a draft pick or anything in trade.

But Johnson wasn't sure he wanted to play for a rebuilding team under Jim Mora in 2004 and talked about retirement rather than playing another season for Atlanta.  New general manager Rich McKay traded him that summer to the Denver Broncos for the ever-popular "unspecified" draft pick, which turned out to be a fifth rounder the following year.  (Johnson appeared in 13 games for Denver in 2004, making 16 total tackles with 3 sacks and an interception - and then retired at the end of the season.)

McKay used Denver's draft pick to select linebacker Michael Boley.  Boley started 53 of the 64 games of his four year rookie contract and played in every game.  He was a defensive star of the horrid 2007 team, racking up 109 total tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and 7 passes defensed. 

He fell out of favor with the new Falcons coaching staff last season and was allowed to leave via free agency.  But the story doesn't end there.  The Giants signed him to a big enough contract that the Falcons will receive a compensatory draft pick in the 2010 draft.  That pick will likely come at the end of the fifth round.  (It may end up at the end of the fourth round, but I'm not getting my hopes up too high on that one.)   Compensatory draft picks can't be traded, but the team is allowed to trade its own fifth or sixth round picks while keeping the compensatory pick.

So for now, Atlanta has the extra firepower to trade for additional personnel if necessary, and Thomas Dimitroff will have an extra Falcons player in the draft next April.  And it all goes back to Dan Reeves scooping up a guy released by the Colts plus Rich McKay talking the Broncos out of a fifth rounder for a guy who was ready to retire.

Posted on: October 3, 2008 2:27 am

Where the previews went wrong (part one...)

After four weeks, the Atlanta Falcons are 2-2. The reaction in the sports media has been that they won both games at home while losing both games on the road, and that they beat a pair of weaker teams (Detroit and K.C.) while struggling against stronger opponents (Tampa and Carolina).

But many Falcon fans are happy to take a deep breath and simply enjoy having two wins out of four games.  There is a bit of vindication in reaching even two wins. For those who aren't in the metro Atlanta area, here's the story...

One of the Falcon beat writers for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (D. Orlando Ledbetter) also moonlights for The Sporting News.  He wrote the Falcon team preview in TSN's annual NFL preview magazine.

That particular preview is still a sore point for the Falcon faithful.  TSN projected that the Falcons would be the worst team in the NFL, finishing with a record of 1-15. We could handle projections that the Falcons would finish last in the NFC South. We could even grit our teeth and bear having yet another media source claim we had the NFL's worst team. 

It's that 1-15 mark that really got under our skin.  That projection isn't just saying we have a bad team or even the worst team in the league.   It's saying we're on the top five list (and possibly number one on the list) of the absolute worst teams the league has seen in the era of the salary cap.  

In 15 years under the cap system, no team has gone winless and only four teams have been held to 1-15 (Jets in '96, Chargers in 2000, Panthers in 2001 and Dolphins last year).   It's a rare feat in this age of parity, so projecting a single win claims that a team is profoundly rotten as opposed to merely bad.

But TSN wasn't alone in that projection.  Every preseason preview, power ranking, and general NFL roundup claimed that Atlanta was already on the clock for the first pick of the 2009 draft.  A few writers out there even said a winless season was a strong possibility. 

Part of what bugs me personally about all those gloomy forecasts is the way so many writers don't really study the teams they allegedly cover.  They just follow the herd and publish whatever rubbish comes to mind without doing even the most basic homework, let alone any real in-depth work. Sadly, that's a fairly common occurrence in sports writing.

This time around it was partly annoying, but also strangely hilarious (for those who follow the team more closely) in that it gave actual proof of the kind of garbage that gets passed off as expert reporting. 

Since the Falcons have a new head coach this season, they had an extra minicamp in early April.  (The NFL allows teams with new coaches this extra session so that the new staff can evaluate the current players before heading into the draft.)  One practice during this minicamp was a sort of open house for the media.  All the local news teams and many of the national media outlets had representatives there.  Many of the writers who were there that day haven't set foot in Flowery Branch ever since - yet they published their allegedly in-depth coverage.

The smoking gun is that the Falcon coaches are big on cross-training players at multiple positions.  Centers get practice time at guard. Guards practice as tackles.  Fullbacks practice as tight ends.  Defensive ends get work at defensive tackle.  Et cetera.

In that one pre-draft practice session that was attended by the media, the coaches worked left guard Justin Blalock at the right tackle position. Offensive tackle Quinn Ojinnaka (who finished 2007 as the starter at left tackle) moved over to left guard.  With Ojinnaka already at another position, reserve lineman Pat McCoy filled in for the day at left tackle.  On the other side of the line, reserve defensive end Simon Fraser took the place of injured defensive tackle Trey Lewis.

After that session, the media was rife with reports that the coaches intended to start Blalock at right tackle and Ojinnaka at guard.  AJC/TSN writer D. Orlando Ledbetter appeared on NFL Network saying that the Falcons really needed Sam Baker to start because otherwise Pat McCoy (who has never played an NFL game and was dead last on the team's depth chart) would be the left tackle. Best of all, several roundups listed Fraser at defensive tackle instead of defensive end. TSN's preview went so far as to list him as a first string DT.  Their depth chart put him directly ahead of Rashad Moore, implying that the 270-pound reserve defensive end would be Atlanta's starting nose tackle!   (With a lineup like that, no wonder they thought we'd be 1-15...)

The media's consensus that the Falcons would collapse was based on a flawed premise, but I'll save that topic for later.  For now, fans watching the rebuilding project in Atlanta can simply rejoice in their team having surpassed the evil TSN's projected win total in just the third week of the season.


Category: NFL
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