After months of buildup, the NFL draft has come and gone. The Falcons entered the draft with 11 picks, and after making a couple of trades over the weekend, Atlanta came away with eight new players who will be competing for roles on the team in 2013.
Whether or not you're a fan of immediate draft grades, they often provide a useful tool to evaluate a team's strategy as it pertains to addressing the team's perceived needs and the team's ability to work the draft board.
Let's take a look at what some of the various draft experts are saying about Atlanta's 2013 draft and offer our own analysis in response to what each expert says.
It should be noted that while I did include expert draft grades/analysis from all over the web, I chose not to comment on our own in-house breakdown of the Atlanta's draft that you can find here.
Once we go through the expert opinions, I'll share my personal grade for Atlanta's draft and provide an explanation as to why I came to that conclusion.
What Kiper says:
"Trufant lacks elite traits, but he's very good in all areas. The great get for Atlanta was a second-round double down, when the Falcons took another corner. Robert Alford was a CB I had rated higher than Darius Slay and David Amerson, so he was a steal on my board all the way down at No. 60...The Falcons get a good mark for really crushing that huge need, but it's hard to assume a great deal of impact after that." (via ESPN Insider, subscription required)
I understand why Kiper would say that Trufant "lacks elite traits". You're not going to start drooling when you watch his highlight reel because you won't see him intercepting a ton of passes, and he's not a big factor in the return game.
However, in a league where so many top draft prospects are selected based upon their potential and "upside" more than their actual on field production, Trufant is probably as close as you can get to a sure thing. His NFL pedigree and experience as a four-year starter at Washington should give him insights into the game that other young corners don't have.
Trufant's selection reminds me of when the Falcons drafted Sean Weatherspoon in 2010. It wasn't the sexiest pick that the Falcons could have made (Dez Bryant went a couple of picks after Weatherspoon in 2010 and Alec Ogletree and Bjoern Werner went after Trufant this year), but the pick fills a need, and barring an injury, the player is almost a sure bet to make a positive impact on Atlanta's defense.
If Trufant's tape doesn't make you drool, then you will definitely need a bib when you watch Robert Alford's college clips. Granted, Alford played against a lower-level of competition, but he was one of the most explosive prospects that I saw on film while preparing for the draft this year. He's a touchdown waiting to happen when he gets his hands on the ball.
What Rang says:
"I am a strong believer in teams identifying their own weaknesses and aggressively addressing them. This is precisely the route the Falcons took, nabbing two of the better cover corners in this draft in Washington's Desmond Trufant in the first and Southeastern Louisiana's Robert Alford in the third...No one is going to confuse Levine Toilolo with future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, as the Stanford product is a bit stiff and drops too many passes..." (via CBSSports.com)
Initially, I thought that the Falcons may have given up a little too much to move up to get Trufant, but I also believe that a team should do what it needs to do in order to acquire a player that it covets.
Toilolo is a much better blocker on film than he gets credit for, but he does drop a lot of passes that the Falcons are going to need him to catch at the next level if he's going to be the long-term answer to replace Tony Gonzalez.
If Toilolo can become a consistent red-zone threat next season, the Falcons' offense should be able to finish more drives with touchdowns instead of field goals, which could go towards helping them get the four points that separated them from the 49ers in last year's NFC Championship Game.
What Prisco says:
"Questionable move: Waiting to take a pass rusher until the fourth round. Do they have enough up front?...Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff proved once again that he isn't afraid to trade up to get a key player, which he did with Trufant. They needed corners and pass rushers, and they went after both. That's why they are a good football team." (via CBSSports.com)
I don't know if the Falcons would have elected to double-down at cornerback in the second round if a player like Cornellius "Tank" Carradine or Arthur Brown had been on the board at pick No. 60. Auburn defensive end/outside linebacker Corey Lemonier was on the board when Alford was taken, but you could argue that there was a greater drop-off in talent between Alford and the cornerbacks projected to be available in Round 4 than there was between Lemonier and Malliciah Goodman, Atlanta's eventual fourth-round pick.
Nevertheless, the Falcons' decision to address their secondary at the top of the draft shows that they are really depending on Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews to step up at defensive end next season.
What Engel says:
"Sitting in Atlanta for the NFC Championship Game, I said this team needs secondary help. They got it by aggressively going up and getting Desmond Trufant. Love their willingness to take big swings (see Julio Jones)." (via FoxSports.com)
For all of the blame that was placed on Stephen Nicholas immediately after the playoffs, the Falcons' secondary had some key coverage lapses against both Seattle and San Francisco. In addition to replacing Dunta Robinson, Brent Grimes and Chris Owens, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford will bring more swagger and athleticism to the back end of the Falcons' defense.
What Schrager says:
"I’m not sure I love trading up to get Trufant, a player who worked out far better than he performed in college. Alford’s a small school guy whose stock rose after several strong workouts, too. This is a team that needs to address the pass rush and they finally did that in the fourth round." (via FoxSports.com)
There's no denying that Atlanta could stand to improve its pass-rush, so it's reasonable to question why the Falcons decided to wait until the Day 3 of the draft to select Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga. However, there's more than one way to generate pressure.
There aren't a ton of truly elite pass-rushers in the NFL, and power, speed and quickness are the traits that generally separate the elite rushers from the average ones. Other than Osi Umenyiora, Atlanta has a group of average, unproven NFL pass-rushers who may be talented enough to be disruptive on the edges if they get a little bit more time to get to the quarterback because of better coverage on the back end.
By electing to select two cornerbacks with solid man-to-man coverage skills, the Falcons could be indicating that their plan is to aim for more "coverage sacks" next season.
What Burke says:
"The Falcons absolutely had to find some help in the secondary, so they moved up for CB Desmond Trufant, then doubled down on Robert Alford. The move for Trufant did cost them a third-rounder, which left them taking a shot on DE Malliciah Goodman in Round 4. Sleeper here: QB Sean Renfree in the seventh." (via CNNSI.com)
Atlanta needed another quarterback to fill out its roster, so taking Sean Renfree in the seventh round did make a lot of sense.
Renfree's connection to David Cutcliffe can't be understated, and I think he's the kind of guy who can stick around in the league as a backup quarterback for 10-12 years before moving on to become an offensive coordinator/head coach, much in the way Jason Garrett did with the Cowboys. The Falcons were wise to snatch him up in Round 7 because he would have had plenty of suitors as an undrafted free agent.
As for the rest of Atlanta's seventh-round selections, I think Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael could be upgrades over Shann Schillinger and Charles Mitchell as backup safeties/special teams players because they are both good tacklers.
Grade: B (85 out of 100 on a 0-100 scale)
I understand why Thomas Dimitroff elected to go with cornerbacks in the first and second rounds, because if you can't land a stud pass-rusher, the next best way to help your defense generate pressure is to improve the coverage in the secondary.
The cornerback position will definitely be a strength for this team moving forward if Trufant and Alford live up to expectations. It should be noted that Asante Samuel is 32, so Trufant and Alford could end up being Atlanta's starting cornerback duo sooner than you think.
Malliciah Goodman was a good value in Round 4 because he has a high floor as a run-stuffing left defensive end if Falcons' defensive line coach Ray Hamilton can't develop his pass-rush skills. Goodman also has the ability to play as a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 front, and those guys aren't easy to find.
Levine Toilolo is far from a finished product, but he's coming into an ideal situation in Atlanta because he'll get to be around one of the best tight ends to ever play the game. If Toilolo is receptive to coaching, he could end up being the gem of this draft class for the Falcons because of the rare size (6'8", 260 lbs.) that he brings to his position.
Stansly Maponga is a nice role player who should provide good competition for Jonathan Massaquoi as a pass-rushing, right defensive end.
I like both of the safety prospects that the Falcons took in the seventh round, but I would have preferred to see one of those picks used to add depth at defensive tackle or wide receiver. The Falcons found Vance Walker and Travian Robertson in the seventh round in years past, so I was hoping they could find another quality reserve defensive lineman in that round this year.
Sean Renfree is an ideal third-string quarterback because he was well coached in college and understands NFL offensive schemes.
This was a solid haul by Thomas Dimitroff, but giving up the third and sixth round picks to move up for Desmond Trufant probably prevented the Falcons from adding a big-bodied defensive tackle and/or a linebacker to compete with a thin corps of returning players in the middle of Atlanta's defense.
However, at the end of the day, the players who will have the biggest impact on next season won't be the guys from this draft class. Instead, the Falcons will be depending on players like Garrett Reynolds, Joe Hawley, Mike Johnson, Lamar Holmes, Jonathan Massaquoi, Cliff Matthews, Travian Robertson and Akeem Dent, who were drafted in the later rounds between 2009-2012, to step up and be key contributors in 2013.