From high atop my mountain lair, I have heard your cries for Dave Choate's 2010 NFL Draft grades. This despite our repeated observations that grading new Falcons right after the draft is kind of dumb. But hey, better the hypocrite you know....
Obviously, this draft has brought forth a substantial amount of discussion and disagreement, so I'm not going to claim these grades are definitive. They represent my views after research, hours of rumination and a visit from my spirit guide. Around the Internet, draft pundits are giving grades that range from C- to B-, and fans are sharply divided between "this draft sucks!" and "Thomas Dimitroff is a gift from heaven!" As usual, I suspect the truth will end up being somewhere in between.
In the interest of full disclosure, these grades are based solely on potential and likely production, at least in the vast wasteland of my own mind. If I should later be horribly wrong about any of this (and I will be), you're welcome to go back, read it, burst out laughing and taunt me mercilessly. I'll deserve it. For now, I hope you'll enjoy a look at the draft that isn't nearly as deep as the ones behind and the ones ahead.
After the jump, I'll put on my spectacles and sweater vest and lay down some grades.
OLB Sean Weatherspoon
For the second year in a row, I give our first round draft pick an A. That, uh....didn't work out so well last year, but hopefully Weatherspoon will be healthy enough to earn it. It's been said plenty of times before, but 'Spoon is a well-rounded linebacker who brings a lot to the table in terms of pass coverage, proficiency against the rush and Grade A swagger. He'll need some work if we're going to use him as a pass rusher and he could always keep learning, but he's inherently athletic as hell and will slot in naturally outside on this Falcons' defense. The team addressed a big time need in a big time way by picking up Weatherspoon, and he'll be a fixture outside for years to come.
DT Corey Peters
I think Peters will be a quality player in the NFL. I really do. But his playing time is going to depend heavily on what other defensive tackles do, and that's at least an initial concern.
The way I see it, Peters is a similar player to Jonathan Babineaux in a lot of ways, what with his ability to get into the backfield, above-average athleticism and Jonathan Babineaux mask. Unless the USS Babineaux is on his way out of Atlanta in the near future, Peters isn't going to steal much time from him. On the other side, Peria Jerry is an enormous question mark, but if he's healthy he's going to start and play plenty, because he was obnoxious in his pursuit of the quarterback in college. That leaves Peters as the clear third fiddle-wheel in a two fiddle-wheel race.
All it would take is an injury or ineffectiveness to get him going, though, and I have no doubt that Peters will do well with his well-rounded game. Might not be a bad idea for the Falcons to try him outside in run-stopping situations, though, as if he were Jamaal Anderson with potential.
OG Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson is big and mean and nasty and angry. Some scouts have noted his lack of exceptional size, but that's like saying a T. Rex lacks exceptional size when compared to a Boeing 747. If you ask me, anyone who is 6'5" and 312 pounds has enough size to play inside in the Falcons' scheme.
What Johnson needs to do is get just a little bit stronger and work on his footwork, something you'll see me mention shortly for another interior offensive lineman the team drafted. As I've said a million times before, I love it when the Falcons draft guys whose only major weaknesses are coachable, and Johnson certainly qualifies. With Harvey Dahl potentially off to make a lot of money and bite a lot of fans in another city next season, Johnson may be groomed as a starter right away. He'll never be a legend in his own right, but I think he could be a damn good starter for quite a few years.
OC Joe Hawley
The concerns with Joe Hawley are the same with Johnson: footwork and strength. The strength concern is more persistent with Hawley, however, and he has a history of being driven back by guys who weren't as large and in charge as quite a few NFL nose tackles. If those concerns persist, he's not going to sniff the starting lineup very often as a Falcon.
That said, these are still concerns that some time in the weight room and some time with the coaching staff can fix. Hawley is less of a lock to have a productive career as a starter than Johnson, in my opinion, but even if he tops out as an interior super-sub who can back up at center and guard, he represents a worthy pick for the Falcons. As an added bonus, his beard allows him to fit in seamlessly with our current offensive line. All hail the beard!
CB Dominique Franks
This is really about value in the fifth round. A guy with Franks' talent doesn't fall that far every day, and he's got a chance to become a starter down the line. That's incredible, frankly.
What Franks brings to the table is decent size (5'11), good speed and athleticism and a ton of upside. Picture Spencer Adkins at a different position and further along in his development curve and you've got Franks, who based on pure talent alone should be shoving Chris Owens out of the way en route to a starting job by 2011. Of course, because his coverage and tackling skills need considerable polishing, that just won't happen. But if he realizes that potential—and for the record, I think he'll realize at least some of it—he's likely to top out as a productive starter in the NFL. I truly believe that.
WR Kerry Meier
I love Brian Finneran. You love Brian Finneran. But did we want to clone him?
My greatest hope and concern with Meier is that awesome mustache and hair aside, he's basically the second coming of Finn. I'm hopeful because the Finn of old was rock solid, good for timely catches and a very well-rounded receiver all around. My greatest fear is that Meier has limited upside, so that he could end up looking more like the Brian Finneran from recent years than the carefree version from the turn of the century. There's no doubt Meier can catch and he's tougher than hell, but concerns about his speed are going to dog him. If the coaching staff is willing to put him in a position to succeed (short slants and outs), there's a good chance this grade will seem low in a few years. With the number of passes to go around, however, we may not see much of anything from him for a while yet.
S Shann Schillinger
What you see is what you get with Shann Schillinger. He's only got average physicality and athleticism, which he makes up for by being an intelligent, intense player who knows how to stay around the ball. He'll likely never be anything more than a decent backup and special teams contributor, but I have a hunch that's all the team was expecting out of him.
An exceedingly solid, blue-collar type of draft, filled with hard-working players with solid skill sets. There could be several starters in here, but another likely outcome is that Sean Weatherspoon and Mike Johnson start in the near future and guys like Corey Peters, Joe Hawley and Dominique Franks end up as quality depth.
Either way, the Falcons are a deeper team than when they started, and Weatherspoon fills the team's greatest remaining defensive hole. Considering we only had a single pick in the coveted first two rounds of the draft, that ends up looking pretty good.