I'll start this one off with a disclaimer: I am not advocating tanking. I don't believe in tanking, and I don't believe any NFL team is going to start tanking mid-season. You can slash and burn your roster at the beginning of the year like the Jaguars did for a rebuild, but after seven games? Nope. It's not going to happen.
What I am advocating for is the youth movement. The Falcons' 2013 season is an unmitigated disaster through seven games, they're sitting at 2-5 and some of their best veterans are injured, ineffective or both. The Falcons have turned to youth with the injuries and it's been a mixed bag, but they need to stick with that approach going forward.
Why? Because 2014 and beyond is what matters. The Falcons should have decent cap space going into next year. They'll have their full complement of draft picks next off-season. They'll have Julio Jones, Kroy Biermann and others returning. There's an opportunity, with a great off-season, to reload and be an extremely competitive team again for the 2014 season.
If the Falcons want to be a better team next season, they need to trot out a younger, more dynamic group of starters. The best way to do that is to give the young players on this team as much playing time as they handle. With a full season, the coaching staff can see who has enough potential and talent to be an asset down the line, and who doesn't. The strength of the 2014 team depends on more than just a good draft and some quality free agent signings. It depends on who grows on this roster.
With that in mind, I'm going to advocate for the following:
- Get Jacquizz Rodgers more snaps. Steven Jackson is just going to continue to spin his tires behind this line, and he's not even the pass catching force Jacquizz is. Rodgers is going to be a key part of any platoon the Falcons use at running back going forward, while Jackson may not even be on the roster a year from now. Gimme Quizz.
- Find plenty of snaps for Drew Davis and Darius Johnson. These two have shown intriguing glimpses over the last two weeks, and even when Roddy White returns, they need to be on the field. The Falcons want to roll into 2014 with five strong receivers, and if DD and DJ develop, they'll have five.
- Focus on Levine Toilolo's development. You don't have to throw the ball to him, but give him the playing time he needs to sharpen his routes and learn from Tony Gonzalez.
- Roll with Lamar Holmes, Peter Konz and perhaps Ryan Schraeder. Jeremy Trueblood has quietly played very well the last couple of weeks, but realistically he's not in this team's plans going forward. Sam Baker with his injuries and play could be on the chopping block in the off-season, if the Falcons do actually believe there are no sacred cows. It's going to be rough at times, but you have to give Holmes more reps to let him develop at left tackle, particularly as a run blocker. Schraeder has a shot to be a useful right tackle down the line, and it might be time to think about accelerating his development. Konz has been brutal, but they need to give him every shot before they decide he's not cut out to start at center.
Schraeder is pretty unlikely and I doubt Harland Gunn will see the field, but there's always a chance.
- Continue to rotate the young guys at left end. Jonathan Massaquoi needs snaps, but he's also been less than impressive for weeks now. Malliciah Goodman, Stansly Maponga and even Cliff Matthews need all the reps they can get.
- Joplo Bartu has the potential to be special. Ensure he stays a starter even after Sean Weatherspoon returns, and give him every opportunity to earn the job for the long haul.
- Continue to give Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford all they can handle. Asante Samuel will almost certainly be leaving in 2014, which means these two will be starting together next year. Let's ensure they have a year of experience under their belts.