With the 2014 NFL Draft looming on our minds and visions of Jadaveon Clowney and Anthony Barr dancing in our heads, I thought this was an ideal time to revisit the Falcons' 2013 draft class. There's four games to go, after all, so we have a decent idea of how their seasons have gone.
No preamble necessary: This was heralded as an important draft class, and it's shaking out that way early on. We're including UDFAs in the total here, so keep that in mind.
Round 1: Desmond Trufant, CB
I could nitpick Trufant by noting that he hasn't picked a lot of passes, that he's prone to the occasional pass interference call, that his tackling needs a little bit of work and he's not quite a finished product in run support. I guess I just did.
Yet Trufant has been truly stellar. He has the team's highest pass coverage rating per Pro Football Focus, he's piled up 14 pass deflections and opposing quarterbacks are finding him exceedingly difficult to pass against. He's been a solid enough tackler, he'd be sitting on two interceptions if William Moore hadn't tried to kill him and he's played well no matter where he's been lined up.
The Falcons had to give up their third rounder to move up and get him, which wasn't ideal. By any reasonable measure, though, Trufant has been everything we could have dreamed of, and he looks like the team's top cornerback for the next few years. I couldn't be happier with the way his season has gone.
Round 2: Robert Alford, CB
Alford is less of a finished product than Trufant, but he's been no less impressive when he's had his opportunities. He has two picks, seven pass deflections and a positive grade in coverage, and his athleticism is truly impressive.
Penalties, lack of playing time and the occasional whiff on a tackle have held Alford back, but his potential is truly impressive. His speed makes him a force to be reckoned with even if he gambles a bit in coverage, and a week ago only one of the six passes thrown was completed. He's improving by the week, and he and Trufant are making Asante Samuel look expendable for 2014.
I want to see Alford make better decisions and refine his coverage skills a bit, as he's still a bit inconsistent on a play-to-play basis. He's still got the potential to be something special, and he's already a quality cornerback.
Round 4: Malliciah Goodman, DE
It's tough to know what the Falcons have in Goodman. I've watched him a lot this year because he's a player I like, and his development is crucial. It's been a decidedly mixed bag.
Let's start with the grim. Goodman, as noted by many on here, simply doesn't have the explosive first step that quality pass rushers have. The result is that he's too often a half-a-second behind the play, and while I've seen him get close to the quarterback, he hasn't been able to close the deal. His reaction time in general is just very slightly delayed, and until he learns to read the snap better and adds some moves to his toolkit, he's probably never going to be a net-plus as a pass rusher.
As a run-stopper, though, Goodman is already quite good. He's in the top five on the team for his run-stopping skills, thanks to his ferocious strength. When he's able to see the play developing for a beat, he identifies open lanes well and moves toward them with purpose. He's a big kid and a sound tackler, which only helps.
I gave him a C+ because right now, he looks like a useful rotational lineman and a plus against the run, but someone who doesn't have the pass rushing skillset to be a complete end. It's early yet, though, and I still have high hopes for him.
Round 4: Levine Toilolo, TE
We knew when Toilolo arrived in town that he was going to be a bit of a project. Twelve games into the season, that's exactly what he is.
Toilolo has made some strides. He's made a couple of tough catches in traffic, he's improving as a blocker and his routes are a bit better. For all that, he's not able to get separation very often, he hasn't quite earned Matt Ryan's trust, he could still improve as a blocker and he'll need to work on his skills in general.
There's promise here, but it's tough to get a bead on him. In my entirely arbitrary rankings, that leaves him with a C.
Round 5: Stansly Maponga, DE
Simply not enough snaps to judge Maponga at this point. He's been a minus as both a run defender and a pass rusher thus far, and will need work to be anything more than a pure rotational defensive end. With just 77 snaps to his name, I don't know what he's going to turn out to be, but the athleticism is promising.
Round 7: Kemal Ishmael, S
Not one defensive snap to his name, inactive most weeks. A guy with some upside, but not someone we're going to see or be able to judge meaningfully until 2014 at the earliest.
Round 7: Zeke Motta, S
Motta has half as many snaps at Maponga. He's been a useful special teamer when he has played and he looked decidedly decent when taking over for Thomas DeCoud, but that's not enough to judge him. He still profiles as a backup safety/hard hitter on special teams over the long haul.
Round 7: Sean Renfree, QB
I like Renfree. He could be Ryan's backup someday. He's also missed the entire year with an injury, so again, we go with the incomplete.
Darius Johnson, WR
DJ has had very few games to prove himself, yet he's come up with some tough catches in traffic and is running much better routes than a UDFA rookie receiver should be running. He's already, at the very least, a capable fourth receiver for an NFL team, with a chance to be a useful slot receiver over the long haul. I'll be looking for continued improvement, but he's impressed despite some errors along the way.
Ryan Schraeder, OL
I'm hoping we'll be able to assign something more concrete to Schraeder, who stands to get more snaps in the near future. Right now, he's an unknown who has done well in very limited snaps. Stay tuned.
Paul Worrilow, LB
Tackles aside, Worrilow hasn't authored any big plays, which is a knock against him. He's been a net negative against the pass and the run, even if he's maybe the surest tackler on the team and someone who is always around the play.
So what? He's a UDFA rookie starting for the Falcons, piling up tackles and turning in far from the worst performance on a bad team. He's got plenty of time to grow, as well, with plus athleticism and that sound tackling technique. I've been very pleased with him.
Joplo Bartu, LB
He's been quieter in recent weeks, but Bartu has a nose for the run, he's young and he also has loads of potential. Even if he's a long-term backup, he's been one hell of a find for this coaching staff.
So there you have it. Thus far, this class has featured three successful UDFAs, two very impressive young rookie cornerbacks and a mixed bag across the board otherwise. This could still be a terrific class, and through 12 games, it's already looking pretty good.