After the debacle of the 2013 season, one would think the Falcons are in a dire situation going into the 2014 off-season. While this will certainly be a very important one, the reality is that the Falcons are positioned nicely to make some moves this off-season with ample cap space and top picks in the draft.
Before we go further, though, I want to lay some ground rules I'm following as part of this mock: I'm not going to anticipate or predict any movement in the draft - either up or down. I'm basing this around the idea that we stay at our draft positions. Likewise, I'm going to select players based on their projections. In other words, I won't be taking Clowney with our 4th round pick. Finally, free agency will be driven off the idea followed by the Falcons in the past - one or two signings, while relying primarily on the draft for talent.
Also, some of the key resources I've used in researching this article include
OverTheCap.com: - great info on the cap hits for various teams along with a perfect cap calculator
WalterFootball.com - very good site that focuses on the draft and mock drafts.
NFLDraftScout.com - great site with info on almost all of the major college players entering the draft.
Without further ado...
With a cap savings of about 4.5M, and the emergence of Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant, this departure is looking like a near lock for the aging Samuel. While he had a very good 2012 season with the Falcons, he was quickly outshone by Desmond Trufant in 2013 and eventually benched so that Robert Alford could develop.
It's hard to justify 4M for a backup linebacker and with a cap savings of 2M, cutting Nicholas seems like a smart move. Given that the Falcons have found decent contributors in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu, if not more, Nicholas is likely to move on.
Here's a name that few Falcons fans will be sad to see go. One of our three defensive tackle free agents this year, he's the most likely to be allowed to hit the street. He's never lived up to his first round draft status and is easily the most disappointing player drafted by the TD/Smitty regime.
It would seem that the RGGR experiment is going to come to an end. Considering he wasn't even dressed for the last regular season game of 2013, it's not a stretch to think that Reynolds won't be on the 2014 roster. And with a cap savings of about 1.3M, it makes sense to move on now.
While this one might disappoint some fans, the reality is that the Falcons have let Snell walk before, so this shouldn't come as any surprise. His arrest for marijuana possession isn't going to help matters either. Considering the depth of players at the position (Jackson, Rodgers, Smith, Vaughn), Snells looks like a cap casualty, with a cap savings of about 1.4M.
It's amazing how the fortunes changed quickly for our free safety. After making the pro-bowl in 2012, he was relegated to a bad meme for 2013. On top of that, his cap hit of 4.8M is very hard to justify for the productivity he delivered. Cutting him frees up 3 Million in cap space. Sadly, I think it's time to move on from our once promising free safety.
These departures will give the Falcons roughly 26 Million in cap space - a very nice and comfortable number to resign some of our key guys as well as to grab some key free agents.
With 5 sacks in 2013, Peters should be a priority resigning for the Falcons. Peters has been consistently good since he was drafted and was having one of his best years yet before injuring his achilles. While the injury is somewhat concerning, there's no reason to believe Peters can't bounce back and repeat the performance in 2014.
It's hard to believe that the USS Babs is 32 years old. While he's on the tail end of his career, the Falcons should look to keep him on the roster under a 2 or 3 year "home-town discount" deal. Babs has said he wants to finish his career here, so let's hope the team finds a way to keep him happy while not breaking the bank for an aging, but still effective player.
Joe was asked to take over for Konz towards the tail end of the 2013 season, and while many will remember his faulty snap that ended the Carolina comeback, the reality is that Hawley solidified a troubled spot on the line. He's probably never going to be a top center in the league, but he brings some nastiness to the line and played well to finish out the season. At the least, he should be brought back to compete with Konz for the starting Center spot and should likely be the presumed starter.
With our starting corners set in Trufant and Alford, McClain can slide back into the nickel corner spot he excelled at in the 2012 season. He also did a good job handling punt return duties and will likely not command much money on the market. The Falcons should get him back under contract with a 3 to 4 year deal.
While some fans may be ready to move on from Johnson, he can likely be signed for a minimal contract. At the worst, he's a valuable backup lineman who can play nearly every position on the line. At best, he's a potential starter at either RG or RT.
This is where things get interesting. What happens here will steer how our draft goes and also give us some signs into what the draft MAY look like for the Falcons.
Jon Asamoah - RG
Asamoah won't be mistaken for Ben Grubbs or Carl Nicks, but he also won't be mistaken for Garrett Reynolds or Peter Konz either. Asamoah wouldn't be a splash signing, but he'd likely be a day one starter at right guard and would help solidify the worst position on the line. While he didn't have a dominating 2013 season, he's still only 25 years old and has already shown that he is a good run blocker and pass blocker. This is a signing the Falcons really need to make.
Jairus Byrd - FS
Make no mistake: Byrd wants to get paid. But with the cuts the Falcons can make this off-season and already having good cap space to begin with, Byrd is well within reach for our team. It's looking more and more likely that Buffalo will let him hit free agency, and with the Falcons needing to move on from the DeCoud era, Byrd would be a huge upgrade and make our secondary a very dangerous one. And at 27 years old, he's a player the Falcons can sign for 4 to 5 years comfortably.
1st Round Pick
Khalil Mack - DE/OLB - Buffalo
More than likely, the Falcons will miss out on the chance to get Clowney at the 6th pick. And while many fans want the team to grab one of the two OTs likely to be available, the team is most likely going to stick with Baker at LT and some combination of Johnson/Holmes/Schraeder fighting it out for the RT spot.
Mack is the complete package. He can rush the QB with his hand in the dirt or standing up. He's got tremendous closing speed and has demonstrated great football instincts. He's also shown he can be dropped into coverage against tight ends and do well. He can rush the passer with speed or a bull rush and has shown he can disengage blocks quickly.
Mack is everything Kroy Biermann is, but more. He's more explosive. He's faster. And he's the type of defensive player that teams started playing away from due to his ability to disrupt a game. Just ask Ohio State and Braxton Miller what they think of Mack.
I believe that Mack will not only be a premiere pass rusher in the NFL, I think he has the potential to be a game changer with his ability to drop into coverage and play multiple positions well. He's a player that has been overlooked due to the Clowney hype and will be a great pick at the top of the first round.
2nd Round Pick
Aaron Donald - DT - Pitt
While I have the Falcons securing both Peters and Babs this year, the reality is the Falcons need depth at the DT position. And while Aaron Donald's size may not impress you, his performance will. He's got an explosive first step that gets him into the backfield in a hurry. He also uses his smaller height (6') to his advantage, regularly getting under the pad level of offensive linemen as part of his bull rush.
With Peters and Babs back, Donald doesn't have to be a day one starter, but can easily step in an contribute immediately. Within a year, he's a potential starter on the line who can pressure the QB from up the middle - something the Falcons have not done consistently.
3rd Round Pick
C.J. Fiedorowicz - TE - Iowa
With the retirement of Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons are now set with Levine Toilolo as our only TE who received any meaningful snaps in 2013. It's looking likely that the Falcons are going to move on from Chase Coffman, who was a good receiver but poor blocker.
That's where Fiedorowicz comes in. At 6'6" and 265lbs, he's a good blocker but has also shown at his time in Iowa that he is a very capable receiver as well, with soft hands and good body control. He can compete with Toilolo for snaps in 2014 and in 2TE sets, he can be used effectively as an extra blocker.
4th Round Pick
Seantrel Henderson - OT - Miami
Standing 6'7" and coming in at 345 pounds, Henderson is an absolute beast of a man. However, he also has good lateral movement and excels at run blocking. His concerns center primarily around his actions off the field and his lower round grade is a reflection of that. However, he compares to a player like DJ Fluker and if he can get his mental act together, he could be a find in the fourth round.
5th Round Pick
James White - RB - Wisconsin
The 5'10", 195 pound running back doesn't look like an NFL back, but he plays like one. In fact, the only real knock against White is his size. Otherwise, what you read is everything you'd look for in an NFL running back: vision, agility, burst and surprising power (directly from the NFL Draft scout site).
On top of that, he's shown to be a decent pass blocker and also has good hands. He's also capable of making defenders miss in the open field.
As a fifth round pick, he can contribute in a RB-by-committee approach and with his ability to block and catch, he fits well into the Falcons offensive model.
6th Round Pick
L'Damian Washington - WR - Missouri
The depth of talent in the 2014 class is pushing players into the later rounds that in any other draft would be going much earlier. A player like L'Damian Washington is one such player. With so many receivers coming out in this draft, the Senior out of Missouri is being overlooked. But as a sixth round pick, he could be a potential steal.
At 6'4" and a projected 40 time of 4.39, Washington is tall and fast. While he's not the greatest route runner, he can stretch the field. Under the tutelage of Terry Robiskie, he could possibly develop into more.
At the very least, he gives the Falcons another downfield weapon that was sorely missing when Julio and Roddy were both out for large stretches of 2013. If used properly, Washington could be a big play threat that forces opposing defenses to drop their safeties back, opening up intermediate routes or bigger lanes for the running game.
7th Round Pick
Justin Ellis - DT - Lousiana Tech
This is an intriguing player to watch in the upcoming Shrine game. At 6'2" and 351 pounds, Ellis is a beast on the field. And he has often feasted on lesser talented teams, often blowing up the middle of the offensive line. However, scouting reports suggest he also has quick feet and has a spin move that gets him past interior linemen pretty well.
There is the possibility that with a strong showing at the Shrine game that Ellis will move up into the 6th or even 5th round, but if he stays in his projected 7th round slot, he would be nice depth with upside for the Falcons. He'd also allow the team to run more 3-4 looks as his size allows him to engage multiple blockers.
With this off-season, the Falcons will make some key moves towards improving their defense while also solidifying some trouble areas on offense. Some fans may worry that not enough is being done on the offensive line, so a player like Anthony Collins out of Cincinnati may have some appeal in free agency. This may be addressed in a future mock, once we get through the Shrine game and the Senior Bowl.
So, what do you think? Would this off-season satisfy you, or do you feel like there are still some big holes to fill?