The Atlanta Falcons came into the 2012 NFL Draft with needs. Depending on your perspective, they were either major needs or just plain old needs.
This draft could turn out a few starters, but the lasting legacy of it will depend on how Lamar Holmes grows into a left tackle. If he's a success, this will be remembered fondly, because you don't turn out starters at left tackle in the third round every day. If he fails, the Falcons will take a lot of heat.
That's too bad, to be honest. Peter Konz is almost a lock to be a quality starting center if he can stay healthy. Bradie Ewing is going to be a quality fullback. Charles Mitchell and Jonathan Massaquoi could turn out to be, at minimum, terrific reserves. Even Travian Robertson could turn out pretty well, and the Falcons brought in about 20 unrestricted free agents with varying degrees of upside. These Falcons, who simply did not have the overall talent in the trenches and the scheme to hang with the Giants in the playoff last year, are adding a little water and sun to a tree that withers late.
The problem is that Holmes is no lock to be awesome, and Massaquoi and Robertson aren't either. Ewing was a bit of a money-saving pick. Mitchell does not have huge upside. Konz is more or less the only sure thing here, so there's quite a bit of potential variability in results here. It'll be a year or two before we really know what to think.
Ultimately, though, I'll just say what I think. I liked this draft, more or less from top to bottom. I was consistently stunned by who the front office chose, but that's been a theme for the last five years. I like the combination of filled needs and upside here, and while there are no guarantees, I think we'll all be pretty happy in a couple of years with how this one shook out.
After the jump, observations on each draft pick and a quick thought or two about how the overall class will shake out over the course of the next season. We'll have more in-depth reports on each player—hopefully with tape, no less—in the weeks ahead.
A quick word on grades. The grades I'm giving are purely based on team fit/perceived talent for 2012. That means Holmes is obviously getting an INC.
Peter Konz: A clear starter at center going forward and likely starter at right guard this year. Konz is a masterful technician and has excellent footwork, which stands in stark contrast to Joe Hawley's scouting report coming into the NFL. He'll need to add a little strength and leverage that strength better, but all the tools are there for him to become one of the league's best centers.
For 2012, expect him to compete for and, assuming he's healthy and effective, win the right guard job. He should be an immediate upgrade and help to keep Matt Ryan on his feet. He's an immediate impact player, and that earns him an A-.
OT Lamar Holmes: The Falcons drafted Holmes with an eye on making him their left tackle of the future. He has prototype size, considerable strength and surprisingly quick feet for a big man, as well as the kind of character the Falcons like. What he doesn't have is the technical ability and some of the fundamentals a franchise left tackle needs, which means he'll be working intensively with the coaching staff over the next year.
Don't expect to see Holmes on the field in 2012 except for a little special teams work and if something goes horribly awry. He's a project for 2013 and beyond. If the coaching staff can mold him from clay to a left tackle sculpture, we'll all be pretty happy, but Holmes is a mystery right now. I'd give him an INC.
FB Bradie Ewing: Ewing paved the way for Montee Ball at Wisconsin. He's a ferocious, willing blocker who can spring backs and chip in on pass protection. He's not a guy you want carrying the ball often, but he does have power and a wide catch radius for a fullback, making him a goal line option both for passing and running.
He does need to work on his run-blocking consistency a bit, and he's a fullback. But he's versatile enough and should help the Falcons save some money at fullback while still offering a quality skill set. He's also probably the team's starting fullback this season. That earns him a solid B.
DE Jonathan Massaquoi: A favorite of mine, Massaquoi is a good athlete with terrific speed who should offer something as a pass rusher right off the bat. He'll need to work on his moves, though, and adjust his weight slightly down or up if Mike Nolan decides on a particular role for him.
Still, I think he's got a better chance than many think to be a useful player in year one. The Falcons have talked about having a lot of guys who can chip in a few sacks, and Massaquoi would seem to be tailored to that ideal. For year one, I'd give him a C for a limited role and some usefulness. That'll improve going forward.
S Charles Mitchell: A good athlete with ups, Mitchell fills a void at safety, where the Falcons were slim on quality backups. If he gets on the field in 2012 aside from special teams—where I do expect him to be valuable—something has gone wrong. Thus, a grade of C- for 2012.
Long-term, I think he'll be a useful backup, though.
DT Travian Robertson: The Atlanta Falcons are weaker at DT than you probably think. Peria Jerry may never be the same player again after his catastrophic injury in 2009. Jonathan Babineaux is getting older and less effective. Vance Walker is a mighty useful player, but he's a better rotational guy. That leaves just Corey Peters as a no-questions-asked, effective starter.
Robertson may need some seasoning before he can get into the backfield on a regular basis, but I think he'll pick up playing time before the season's out. I could see them carrying him as a gameday inactive initially, a la Carlton Powell in 2011, and potentially getting a chance later on if he advances. Then again, he may just be a practice squadder. For this year, we'll say a D+.
UDFAs: There's a lot of intriguing talent here. I'm partial to Dominique Davis as a potential athletic backup quarterback, Patrick Schiller as a sure-tackling linebacker prospect and Cody Pearcy as a potential kick returner. I can one or two guys out of this group latching on for the long haul, which would be pretty good. A-.
When all's said and done, I expect the Falcons to have made out very well in this draft. For 2012, though, look to Konz, Ewing and to a lesser extent Massaquoi to be the primary difference makers.