A mock draft from me? Surely I jest.
Yes, for the first time in this site's history, I've taken the plunge into a complete exercise for the Atlanta Falcons. Credit goes to Dawson Devitt at The Bird Cage blog, where you'll find picks from myself and Adam Schultz later today, for bringing together a bunch of Falcon-centric writers and asking them to make a full slate of picks. While only the picks were required for his purposes, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about who might be available and why they might be excellent fits for the Falcons, so I'm presenting that here.
I have some immediate caveats, because not everyone is going to understand why I made these picks, despite my explanations. First of all, there's no running back selected. Despite some of the shots I've directed at Jerious Norwood's talent, he is signed and the Falcons do have a good stable of running backs assuming he, Michael Turner and Jason Snelling are all healthy, which I think they will be. No one in this draft is all that appealing to me beyond say C.J. Spiller, and he's never going to make it to the Falcons. Period. I welcome feedback about this, but I wanted to give you a reason.
Secondly, I'm very much aware that some of these guys are iffy at best to survive until the point where I pick them, so I've suggested reasonable alternatives in those cases. I do think the NFL Draft unfolds in such a bizarre fashion that none of these guys are outlandish, but again, feel free to disagree.
Hopefully, you'll see some kind of mock from Adam and Jason Kirk before Thursday night, when we'll hit you with the live blog. If you're still interested after all that, then you should join me after the jump.
1st Round, Pick 19: Sean Weatherspoon, OLB, Missouri: This pick is almost starting to feel inevitable, which makes me nervous. Nothing in the NFL Draft ever goes quite as it seems, but I would be thrilled to land Weatherspoon.
You've heard me make the case for him before, so I'll be brief this time. He's one of the best outside linebackers in the draft, he'd be an enormous upgrade over a rapidly fossilizing Mike Peterson and he's got great measurables. He also seems thrilled with the prospect of playing in Atlanta and is an outspoken dude who could become an instant locker room leader. While we can quibble about how the team would use him—some have suggested that Brian Van Gorder doesn't blitz with linebackers that often, but Weatherspoon has nice instincts against the pass regardless—but this an extremely sensible pick all the way around. The only danger is that a linebacker-needy team like the New York Giants will sweep in and snatch him up in front of us.
3rd Round, Pick 83: Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota: I'm bracing myself for the onslaught of outrage here. After all, Decker's coming off of a major injury and there are arguably much bigger needs on the roster. I recognize that.
This pick was made with the depth of the class on defense and along the offensive line in mind. Decker is the wide receiver I want the Falcons to walk away from this draft with, and waiting even until the supplemental third round might be too late. He's a big, sure-handed target and he has the frame and the willingness to become an excellent blocking wide receiver. On a team that has one true great talent (Roddy White), a lot of speed (Harry Douglas, Eric Weems) and the frustrating enigma that is Michael Jenkins, we could use a guy like Decker.
He'd take 2010 as a year to learn, but I see him bypassing Jenkins on the depth chart sometime in 2011 and proving to be much more reliable as a blocker and a receiver opposite Roddy. Frankly, Jenkins is frustratingly inconsistent in all facets, and Pro Football Focus actually has him as one of the worst blocking wide receivers in the league in 2009. Given those expectations, I think he's a reasonable pick here.
And just in case you were wondering: No, I don't believe he's going to have long-term injury issues, or I wouldn't have selected him.
3rd Round Supplemental, Pick 98: Matt Tennant, C, Boston College: A former teammate of Matt Ryan's, Tennant is no lock to last to 98. Notre Dame's Eric Olsen might be more realistic here, but I think the Falcons should plan on going center with this pick if either of those players are left.
The Falcons will need a center in the near future, and I would really like them to be tutored by Todd McClure. The steady but aging veteran could impart a lot of wisdom to a young draft pick, having played at varying weight, and the perhaps slightly undersized Tennant could take a lot of that to heart. He's a ferocious blocker who plays as though he's taller and heavier than he is, and that tenacity will serve him well as a blocker in the run game. Like Decker, he'd be brought along slowly in 2010, but by next year or 2012 he could easily be starting as McClure contemplates retirement.
Keep in mind that this is a much stronger (though still not incredibly deep) draft for centers than in most years. I fully support the Falcons making a move to address the position in the here and now.
4th Round, Pick 117: Brandon Lang, DE, Troy: Mock drafts for Lang have been all over the place, but the general consensus seems to be that he'll be available in the third or fourth round. If you've got defensive end pegged as a bigger need than center, by all means, lunge at Lang in the third and go for Olsen in the fourth. Austen Lane and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim are also possibilities, both offering pass rushing skills but from schools with iffy pedigrees.
Lang is the most attractive prospect here, though. His combine 40 times were cringe-inducing, but that's only going to drop the stock of a guy who posted close to 20 sacks over his last two years of college at Troy. As a pass-rusher, he's quite gifted, and at 6'4 he could add 15 pounds or more to his currently 265ish frame and be more of a force against the run. While the team has more depth at defensive end than some positions, they could always add more talent to the rotation and I'm a big believer in Lang's ability regardless of his measured times.
Again, there's quite a bit of value at the position in the middle rounds, so I could see the Falcons going in a lot of directions here. I'd be very surprised if they didn't look defensive end at this point, though.
5th Round, Pick 149: Ciron Black, OT/OG, LSU: Black's stock has fallen to the point where he seems likely to slip until the fifth. For us, that could be a good thing.
His measurables have been trashed in recent weeks, and there's serious questions about whether he'd have to move to guard. Personally, that's where I think he should be anyways, so it's no great loss to me if the Falcons see him as more of an interior lineman. Black's a proven run-blocking talent who would fit well at guard, and his biggest question mark may be motivation rather than physical talent. During his senior year Black didn't play nearly as well as he had in the years preceding at LSU, and all of this together has conspired to drop his stock.
If we were talking about something as high as the third round, I'd say the Falcons would be crazy to take Black. With a coaching staff that seems to squeeze the most out of its players and the opportunity to be, at minimum, a great backup lineman who could swing between guard and tackle, Black makes an awful lot of sense for the Falcons in the fifth round.
And hell, if nothing else, he sounds like a James Bond villain.
5th Round Supplemental, Pick 165: Harry Coleman, S, LSU: In my humble opinion, safety is at the top of the needs list in the fifth round.
Think about it. You've got Thomas DeCoud, a great free safety, and potentially William Moore at strong safety. You have Erik Coleman, who may hold on to his starting job at SS for one more year but is clearly on his way out of Atlanta. Behind them you have....well, basically nothing. The Falcons have been filling their backup safety spots with pure special teamers for a long time now, and that's something they should fix if the right choice comes along.
Harry Coleman is the right choice. He's a good tackler who moves fluidly, though he lacks top-end speed and leaping ability. In a pinch, he's a solid coverage safety who shines against the run. In the short-term he'd be a valuable piece on special teams, like Antoine Harris before him, but in the long-term he's a natural backup to William Moore because he's a similar type of player who is maybe a little less raw in coverage and less talented overall. With a fifth round pick, I'd love to see the Falcons address a need like this and take Coleman.
6th Round, Pick 171: Vuna Thihalamaka, ILB, Arizona: God, I'm not typing that last name again. Let's call him Vuna.
Vuna's a hard-hitting middle linebacker who the Falcons have shown some real interest in, and who appears to be moving up teams' draft boards as the weekend approaches. Spencer Adkins is too raw to be considered a true backup at inside linebacker right now, and I believe with his athleticism that he's best suited for the outside over the long haul anyways. Vuna's a more polished player and someone who appears to fit the blue-collar, solid fundamentals mold the Falcons have been hitting so hard in recent years.
It also makes a lot of sense in my mind to have the Falcons stockpile depth at positions where they've traditionally been very strong in the starting lineup and very weak behind.
6th Round, Pick 189: David Pender, CB, Purdue: The perennial project cornerback rears his head once more!
Pender addresses a lot of long-running concerns with the position, though he'd be a long shot to start the season anywhere but the practice squad. At six feet tall and close to 200 pounds, he's a physical corner with solid coverage instincts who has the size to make it as a very good situational player. Those same skills will translate into considerable special teams value early on. The Falcons have shown an enduring willingness to roll the dice on a cornerback late in the draft and hope he does something, and it's time to stop investing in mighty mites the team doesn't seem interested in keeping around (see Middleton, William). Pender's certainly not the most physically talented guy out there, but I think he'll be a very solid football player before very long.
So that's my mock draft. Tell me what you think in the comments.