Atlanta Falcons 2014 Scouting Combine Stock Report
The NFL's annual "Underwear Olympics", better known as the scouting combine, is now in the books. Hundreds of hopefuls were paraded, poked and prodded in an attempt to establish a draft hierarchy.
For the 4-12 Atlanta Falcons, the chance to draft players who'll have an immediate impact is right in their hands as they hold the sixth selection in the draft.
There are a few schools of thought on how Atlanta should approach the draft: Trading up to ensure it selects the most hyped defensive player in the draft in Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina), staying the course and letting a potential franchise pick fall in its lap or even trading back in an effort to accumulate more picks.
In a draft as deep as this one, it almost makes little sense to give up anything to acquire a player that might not out-produce his peers. But from a business standpoint, doing so would set the city ablaze—from a fan fervor standpoint.
The Falcons' options are plentiful and so is the talent. Let's delve into who stood out in both a positive, and not so positive, way.
Note: All combine statistics were retrieved from NFL.com
Stock Up: Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
University of Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. If Lewan had entered the draft after his junior season he would've been a surefire top-five pick. Choosing to stay in school gave pundits and armchair draft analysts an extra year to find reasons as to why he isn't a great prospect.
The last game of his junior season was spent virtually shutting down South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. In fact, Clowney's only highlight, one that's been played ad nauseam, came on a run play where he was granted a free release.
Lewan ended up having just a decent season for a Michigan team that was disappointing on all levels. Not too many are going to remember that decent season after the performance Lewan turned in at the combine.
Coming in at 6'7", 309 pounds, Lewan showed the type of athleticism that could make him a star in the NFL. He ran a 4.87 40-yard dash with a 7.39 three-cone drill. While Auburn's Greg Robinson and Texas A&M's Jake Matthews are the consensus top linemen, Lewan is quickly re-establishing himself as their equal.
Stock Down...and Then Up...South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
The thing about being on top is that there's only one direction you can go from there. The hype on Clowney grew to epic proportions after that aforementioned hit against Michigan. Ever since then his career arc has been on a downward spiral.
First there were reports linking Clowney to possibly sitting out his junior season. Then there were criticisms of his perceived lack of work ethic and also the dip in his production for his final season (13 sacks down to three).
It all culminated with a slight by his well-respected head coach Steve Spurrier—as told to NFL Network (h/t to CBS Sports)—in regard to his work ethic...or so we thought.
Clowney, as expected, blew up the combine with a 4.53 40-yard dash. Watching a 266-pound man run that fast makes you question your own life!
It also makes you think twice about picking on bigger guys as we did back in high school as they were usually perceived to be soft and slow.
Could you imagine Clowney running after you?
That's the same feeling most NFL quarterbacks got while watching Clowney run that 40. But QBs had more pleasant thoughts watching Clowney bow out of field work citing a hip flexor problem—per NBC Sports.
It seems to always be something with Clowney. And we can only imagine how he'll act after he's signed an NFL contract and offered endorsement deals. Money only magnifies who you truly are.
And by most accounts Clowney has some diva in him.
Stock Up: UCLA OLB Anthony Barr
Most pundits and wannabe "draftniks" have been finding ways to downgrade the attractiveness of UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr—in a football sense. Comparisons between him and Khalil Mack (University of Buffalo) have spiraled out of control.
Fans believe that if you like Mack, you have to discredit Barr in the process when that's furthest from the truth. It got to the point to where some believed Mack was just an outright better athlete with no room for compromise.
Those that thought that are undoubtedly quiet as a church on Tuesday's after Barr's combine performance. It's not that Mack didn't perform well, here I am comparing the two, it's more the fact that he didn't seem to be a better athlete than Barr.
Measuring at 6'5", 255 pounds, to Mack's 6'3", 251 pounds, Barr has the type of length teams covet from two-point stance rushers. That length will come into factor when Barr covers tight ends like the 6'7" Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints) or the 6'5" Greg Olsen (Carolina Panthers)—two athletic freaks who can break a game open from their position.
Considering that Barr is raw from having only played the positions for two seasons, you can plainly see the type of potential he has. Generating over 20 sacks in those two seasons only furthers that notion.
The Falcons can't go wrong with picking either Barr or Mack.
Stock Down: Missouri DE Michael Sam
University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam has attracted the dreaded "tweener" label. At 6'2, 261 pounds, Sam is perceived to be too small to be a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end and many have wondered if he's athletic enough to play in space as a rush outside linebacker.
After Sam's combine performance, there's no longer the need for speculation. Sam does not have the prerequisite athleticism to play the outside linebacker position.
Sam ran a putrid 4.91 40-yard dash and generally looked stiff and devoid of athleticism in his position drills. Imagining Sam out in space trying to cover a tight end is actually kind of comical if you saw his movements at the combine.
But with that said, he deserves to get a chance to put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer. Pundits may be over-thinking the process by declaring Sam to be too small for the position. He's a stoutly built guy with an array of rush moves already in his arsenal.
The comparison to Philadelphia Eagles end Trent Cole, 6'3", 279 pounds, is pretty accurate. Cole is not the most fluid of athletes and has excelled off of sheer will. If Sam is able to go to a team that makes use of the Wide-9 alignment, double-digit sacks could most certainly be in his future.
Stock Up: Washington RB Bishop Sankey
University of Washington running back Bishop Sankey had an excellent year: 327 attempts for 1,870 yards with an astounding 20 touchdowns! But many pundits have wondered if Sankey has the complete package that translates to NFL success.
After turning in one of the most productive seasons in recent memory, Sankey turned around and backed it up with an extremely quality combine. Measuring in at 5'9", 209 pounds, Sankey was a top performer in virtually every category.
He turned in 26 reps on the bench press in addition to running a 4.49 40-yard dash. If Sankey does go later than the third round, the Falcons should jump at the opportunity to select a young, explosive back for their rotation.
There's not a back currently on the roster with enough explosiveness to truly change a game. And with two backs in the rotation north of 30 years old, the Falcons need to look towards the future immediately.
Sankey can be that guy.
Stock Down: Auburn DE/OLB Dee Ford
Auburn University defensive lineman Dee Ford essentially tugged on Superman's cape by directing choice criticisms toward Clowney—as told to SiriusXM NFL Radio Sunday.
I'm better. Let's put it like this. People like to talk about size all the time. Size is pretty much overrated in my eyes. You can look at guys like Robert Mathis, Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. These are 6'2" guys and under. People are just looking at the fact that he's a physical specimen. Honestly if you watch the film, he plays like a blind dog in a meat market, basically.
While Ford was specifically asked a question that was meant to bait him into a comparison with Clowney, there was really no need to talk about Clowney's game—even if there's some truth to what he was saying.
Ford believes his technical prowess should even out the size and athleticism advantage Clowney has on him. Now, I'm all for competition and trash talk in any form of life but only if you're willing to back it up when you encounter said person face to face.
Ford was shown shaking hands with Clowney and hamming it up reminiscent of former USC coach Lane Kiffin who would notoriously talk trash in the media and then grow really quiet once you caught up to him.
And the football gods undoubtedly frowned upon Ford's comments as he was a surprise scratch from any of the physical testing a day after that interview.
Although Ford is a great player, he may have let his mouth write a check that he had very little hope in cashing. Someone get him direct deposit!
Stock Up: FSU CB/S Lamarcus Joyner
Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner didn't post eye-popping combine numbers by any stretch of the imagination. At, 5'8" and 184 pounds, running just a 4.55 40-yard dash—Joyner didn't excel in any of the drills...if you're labeling him as a corner.
After the combine, there shouldn't be any doubt as to where Joyner would be most effective playing—and that's at free safety. Scouts had to be drooling at the chance to draft a player similar in measurables, and ability, to Arizona Cardinals' safety Tyrann Mathieu (minus the baggage).
Joyner is a football player in the sense that he understands concepts and tendencies and uses that to minimize his size deficiencies. Joyner is a physical tackler and can be an asset as a nickel defender.
The Falcons will have a void at the free safety position, according to ESPN's Adam Caplan (h/t to Dave Choate at thefalcoholic.com), and Joyner would be the perfect schematic match to fill such a void. The position calls for players who can create plays and be left alone to cover on an island in certain instances.
Joyner has the prerequisite skills that fit the job requirements. Who knows? We may be looking at the next Antoine Winfield (formerly of the Minnesota Vikings).
After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin returns home to cover his hometown team in 2014. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.
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