The consensus by most draft experts is that the current NFC South champions will use their first pick to strengthen the defense by selecting a defensive end. Not a bad idea for the Falcons to consider, but they were 11th in the league in team defense, fifth in rushing yards allowed and 12th in passing yards allowed per game.
So, maybe taking a defensive end as the first selection would not be the best move by head coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
Also, since 2004, only one defensive end has been selected with the 27th overall pick. The other six picks have come in pairs with two cornerbacks, two running backs and two wide receivers (Roddy White 2005) being selected. I hope to see history repeat itself in 2011 with a receiver having his name called and walking to the podium to shake Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand.
Why a receiver?
The Atlanta Falcons had a pretty potent offense led by quarterback Matt Ryan and averaged 25.9 points a game, fifth in the league. Atlanta also showed its opponents a good mix of run and pass, throwing for 222.9 yards and rushing for 118.2 yards a game.
Ryan had a solid year, posting a 91.0 passer rating, came up big in key moments, while throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. It was not just the Ryan Show, though.
Michael Turner finished third in rushing yards with 1,371 and 12 touchdowns, while Roddy White earned himself MVP mentioning all season with a league-leading 115 receptions, second in yards with 1,389 and tied for seventh with 10 touchdowns.
However, there lies the problem for the Falcons. After White, the Falcons next best receiver was tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez finished with 70 catches for 656 yards and six touchdowns. Following Gonzalez is running back Jason Snelling (44 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns), and after him, Atlanta’s No. 2 wide receiver Michael Jenkins. Jenkins had just 41 catches, 505 yards and only two touchdowns.
I understand that Gonzalez is one of the best tight ends in the game and that White, who took some time to produce, really is that good of a receiver. However, when you go up against the best defenses in the league, like the Green Bay Packers, not being able to spread the ball around on both sidelines leads to an early exit in the playoffs and stats like these:
Third Down Conversions: 3/10, Total Offense: 194 yards, Rushing: 45, Passing: 149, Time of Possession: 21:41, Turnovers: 3
White’s percentage contribution to Falcons entire passing game: Completions: 115/334= 34%, Yards: 1389/3705= 37%, Touchdowns: 10/28= 35%
In addition, Smith and Dimitroff have said that they need to get more explosive, and taking a wide receiver could do just that for the Falcons.
WR Options at the 27th Pick:
Randall Cobb, Kentucky, 5’10”, 191lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.46, Bench Press: 16.0, Vertical Jump: 33.5
Randall Cobb is similar to Young. He is more of a slot receiver that brings great vision and could be used on short third-down situations. He is not a home-run threat, though, and could also see use in the return game.
Torrey Smith, Maryland, 6’1”, 204lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.43, Bench Press: 19.0, Vertical Jump: 41.0
Torrey Smith can bring the Falcons big time speed with the size to grow into a starting NFL receiver that will stretch the defense. He is great off the line, and Matt Ryan would often find him getting him behind the secondary. Smith needs to improve his ability in the press coverage and find the gaps in the zone but shows leadership qualities, a hard worker and a physical run blocker.
Titus Young, Boise St, 5’11”, 174lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.53
Titus Young will be best in the slot position, expected to be a run-after-the-catch type of guy. He can also show use and skill in the return game. However, his size and lack of experience going up against quality competition on a game-to-game basis are a cause of concern. His “make you miss” ability is enough that teams will want to use their pick on Young.
Leonard Hankerson, Miami, 6’2”, 209lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.43, Bench Press: 14.0, Vertical Jump: 36.0
Leonard Hankerson is a tough-nose receiver who isn’t afraid to go over the middle. Clearly, he has the size and speed, but he will not overmatch opponents with his athleticism. He is most consistent when he gets between the ball and defenders rather than separation.
Jerrel Jernigan, Troy, 5’9”, 185lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.46, Bench Press 11.0, Vertical Jump: 37.5
Jerrel Jernigan knows how to make plays and has the ability to make an impact in the return game in the NFL as soon as he is drafted. Like Smith, Jernigan will stretch the field and separate out of his breaks. His size will keep him from being a No. 1 in the NFL, but if he gets in the open field, good-bye.