Thomas Decoud, with aid from Jimmy Graham, illustrating urban neologism "sonned"
I'm of the opinion that Jimmy Graham is the heart of the Saints offense, and believe marginalizing him could decide the NFC South in our favor. I am excited about our new defense, but believe it is lacking the position that best solves the TE problem: The Jumbo Nickel.
To me the ideal Jumbo Nickel is an over-sized safety. He displays speed and big hit capabilities, but may struggle in deep coverage due to his length. While his size hampers his ability to square up smaller ball-carriers down field, assigned to a smaller, shallower zone he is able to impose his will, ceded no advantage in length or speed to athletic tight-ends.
One defensive scheme that becomes available with such a player Im calling the "escort-sub package". (It probably has a real name though)
Against QBs who get the ball out quickly, Falcons rush 3 dropping the rest into zone coverage. The Jumbo Nickel, however, plays press-man coverage against the TE, "escorting" him through the various zones, with help coming from an additional defender as they enter his zone.
Taking away Graham WILL stall drives, giving us more possessions, more possessions being the best way to beat a high volume-offense like New Orleans.
I've been thinking about my ideal version of a Falcons defense since about 2011 to be honest, and personnel-wise everything that I hoped our defense would transition to has come true this off-season, save for the Jumbo Nickle position.
Back then I identified 3 players who would fit this role, and I came up with :
Taylor Mays was my preferred player, and as I predicted he struggled as a safety in the NFL, but showed improvement recently as a nickle LB for the Bengals (surprise,surprise) until an unfortunate bicep injury sidelined him.
Kam Chancellor initially struggled with the Seahawks, his gangly limbs hindering his ability to change direction and pursue proper angles. Pete Carroll had faith though, and he has become keystone of their defense, benefiting from the otherworldly talent of Earl Thomas at center-field. This allowed the Seahawks to essentially employ a 4-4 defense against the Broncos, with Chancellor as the heat seeking missile that lit up Denver wide-outs including Demaryius Thomas, a behemoth . While it was the press coverage that rattled Manning and threw off his timing, it was Chancellors bone-rattling hits that spooked Denver's receivers. Perusing coverage of that game, I'm not alone when I say the former 5th rounder was the true MVP of that Super Bowl.
Now we come to our man, safety Robert Sands
This is Walter Football's pre-draft assessment:
Robert Sands, S, West Virginia
Height: 6-4. Weight: 217.
Projected 40 Time: 4.62.
Combine 40 Time: 4.53.
Pro Day 40 Time: DNP.
Benchx225: 12. Vertical: 35. Arm: 33 3/8.
Projected Round (2011): 4-6.
3/28/11: Robert Sands didn't run the 40 at his Pro Day. He worked out in the drills, where he looked stiff. Some observers even wondered if he'd have to play linebacker at the next level. Sands spoke with the Falcons and Vikings after the session.
Ultimately also drafted by the Bengals, he was buried behind 6 other safeties, and like the other two mentioned, likely did little to stand out in DB drills compared the smaller, more fluid athletes he competed against at practice.
As the Bengals came into last pre-season, he was the final cut from the 90 man roster, allowing the talent rich Bengals to sign another player at a more pressing position.
More troubling, three months earlier he was charged with 4th degree domestic assault. That said, as a Bengal he didn't have a reputation as a bad locker room influence, and has had no further incidents with the law.
For us, Robert could immediately step in the nickle role and contribute, his height and vertical negating the advantage of opposing tight ends on our safeties and linebackers. As opposed to playing deeper, he would have the sidelines at his disposal to square up and make plays on rushers out of the backfield and receivers out of the flats. His benefit in the red-zone is obvious, where he could prove invaluable in jump-ball situations. Given Tampa's draft, I believe he would be relevant in that regard sooner rather than later.
If we are a team that is willing to take a chance on guys who don't don't have spotless records, we just may be able to snuff the heart of the most consistently potent offense in the NFC. While other teams saw a 6-4 safety awkwardly performing DB drills, I see a 6-4 hybrid with speed and attitude, possessing the ability to erase some the NFC South's best skills players.