The Falcons are in a stage of transition.
While the departures of Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson were not entirely surprising, the release of John Abraham was a little startling. Any time you cut a player responsible for 10.0 of the team's 29.0 sacks, it's a gutsy move, and it means that Thomas Dimitroff will need to find an impact pass-rusher with all due haste.
But more than that, it is a move that signifies several things. The Falcons are looking to get younger, of that we can be certain. The team also appears ready to invest in a pass-rusher that can remain on the field on a more consistent basis than Abraham. Playing 70% of the team's defensive snaps does not necessarily justify a $4.5M base salary.
Perhaps most importantly, I see the move as clear evidence that Mike Nolan is preparing to transition Atlanta's defense to his preferred 3-4 scheme. Whether or not that will actually benefit the Falcons in the long term (I believe it will), that seems to be the road Mike Smith is willing to take with Nolan at the helm.
And really, besides lacking a dominant pass rusher, the Falcons are only missing one key component of that system: a big, space-clogging nose tackle.
Enter John Jenkins.
Projection: 1st round
Measurables: 6'4, 346 lbs, 30 bench press reps
NFL Comparison: Dan Williams
Stats (2012): 50 tackles (22 solo), 10 QB hurries, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 blocked kick
Why He'll Work:
Jenkins will be drafted in the first round because he fits the role of a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle perfectly.
He has the size and width to fill two gaps in the middle, and the strength to hold his own and anchor the defensive line. So with his massive power, it is only naturally that he possesses an excellent bull rush that allow him to be so disruptive at the point of attack.
What sets Jenkins apart from his peers, however, is impressive agility and initial step for such a large-framed player. His ability to push the pocket alone would make him coveted by most teams in the NFL, and especially those that run (or plan on running) a 3-4 defense.
And sure, you could consider last year's seventh-round Travian Robertson a nose tackle. But at 303 pounds and with an average growth ceiling at best, Robertson is a big stretch to be considered a dominant 3-4 lineman.
More than that, the Falcons need a top-tier physical presence in their front seven to improve the unit's play against the run. Recall that the 49ers won the NFC Championship game on the legs of Frank Gore and not Colin Kaepernick. Jenkins could provide the remedy.
Why He Won't Work:
As was the case with his comparison Dan Williams, Jenkins excels at stopping the run but remains average at pushing the pocket on passing plays. And that is by far the biggest question mark with Jenkins: does he possess the talent and upside to remain on the field in obvious passing situations?
It is important to remember that, like several Georgia defenders, Jenkins' junior season was superior to his most recent one. His technique was not exactly excellent - he'll play too high at times, and opposing linemen will out-leverage him by working the underneath - and he often ran out of gas at the end of ball games.
His conditioning and stamina, especially for a player of his weight, is obviously a concern (though Mike Smith's defensive line rotations may alleviate some of that).
But the real issue with Jenkins is whether the Falcons want to spend their first-round pick on an upside player that could be limited in his NFL role and perhaps not even remain on the field consistently. That was part of the problem with Abraham.
And if you look at defensive players this regime has used top picks on - Sean Weatherspoon, Peria Jerry, William Moore - they are what you would consider three or even four-down players. Jenkins may not fit that bill.
What Jenkins brings to the table is fairly cut and dry: size, physical presence and a perfect fit in a 3-4 defensive scheme. The Falcons obviously need multiple upgrades on their defensive line.
But like running back, I consider a first-round pick to heavy of a price to pay for a position that could be found much later in the draft and with similar value.
And, of course, Jenkins cannot rush the passer. The Falcons still desperately need one of those.