I recently took the role of Falcons GM in the annual collaborative mock draft on the live4sportnetwork.com forums.
A collaborative mock is one where different people represent each team. It's not a case of simply saying "the Falcons should take player X in round 1, player Y in round 2, player Z in round 3". Your targets may not be available, so you have to be ready with fallback plans.
Before starting, my big question was whether to stick to the "official script" and go for a pass rusher, as the whole world expects us to do, or to go for Door Number Three and do something unexpected.
My favorite Door Number Three scenario: take wide receiver Kevin White. Picture Matt Ryan throwing to Julio, Roddy, and Kevin White, with the new zone blocking scheme opening holes for Devonta Freeman, Antone Smith, and one or more other RBs taken later in the draft.
In that scenario, we'd be hoping that our new defensive scheme and coaching staff could cobble together a pass rush - perhaps by actually PLAYING guys like Stansly Maponga, Ra'Shede Hageman and Tyler Starr and making the best use of new free agents Adrian Clayborn and O'Brien Schofield.
The defense would still have its share of question marks, without a doubt. On the other hand, a middle of the pack defense would be enough to punch our ticket for the postseason with an offense like that.
But I didn't go that route. Instead, I stuck to the script and went for the pass rusher. And here's how the official Live4Sport Collaborative Mock Draft turned out for the Falcons:
Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky = as we all expected, Fowler and Beasley were gone. The immediate pass rush options were Gregory, Ray, and Dupree. I decided that our front office wasn't ready to let Gregory through The Filter. After all, testing positive at the Combine tells you more about a player's intelligence than the Wonderlic.
Ray vs Dupree is a tough call. I traded down and took Dupree.
Acquired by trade: Browns RT Mitchell Schwartz = we really don't know how well our linemen are adapting to the zone scheme. Joe Hawley says it's great and that our guys are more suited to it than they are to the old power blocking scheme. That's good news, but is it universal?
In particular, this is the final contract year for Lamar Holmes, and it's hard to imagine him thriving in a zone system. Plus we've already lost Mike Johnson, Gabe Carimi and Jonathan Scott, and Sam Baker's cap figure brings his long term future into question as well. Even with free agent Mike Person coming aboard, we obviously had room for an experienced player that could fill in right away.
How would he fit? I have no idea. Maybe he takes over at RT, with Ryan Schraeder moving to LG or the swing tackle position. Or maybe Schwartz competes with Person, Konz, Baker, Gunn and Stone at LG.
But if we have yet another year where one or two starters are lost even before the season begins, at least we'll have another experienced player ready as the Next Man Up.
(Also: I really wanted Oregon OT Jake Fisher. But he went off the board sooner than I expected. Trading for Schwartz makes up for it.)
P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State = imagine that - a cornerback that's taller than 5' 10".
I wanted to get some bigger DBs for Quinn and Raheem Morris to mold for our new defense. Williams is a good start. I'd consider him an instant contender for either the nickel role (competing with Phillip Adams) or perhaps even outside with Alford in the slot.
(I was hoping to land someone like Eric Rowe or Josh Shaw or Justin Cox a little later as well, but the big corners seem to be the Flavor Of The Month, so I had to drop to the next tier for other DB projects.)
Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State = instant slot receiver?
As I had posted repeatedly last season, our WR corps was getting old. We haven't taken a WR - in any round - since Julio. Until now, we had never gone three straight years without drafting a single receiver.
Even Eric Weems turns 30 this year, and Douglas, Roddy, and Devin Hester are all past that point. We have drafted only three total WRs going back to 2008, and two of them are no longer on the team.
Drew Davis was not offered a tender, and Harry Douglas was released. It's time to start rebuilding the pipeline, and with more than just another crop of undrafted free agents.
Greene is an outstanding route runner that excels at getting separation. He has played outside and in the slot. He has been highly productive against high caliber competition, and he has all those work ethic and leadership intangibles that make our front office swoon.
Put him in the slot. Roddy, Julio and Rashad Greene? Yeah, that works.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
Javorius "Buck" Allen, RB, Southern California
This is my tribute to Eddie LeBaron, who passed away on April 1. For those who don't know, the Hall of Fame quarterback joined Atlanta's front office after his playing days were over, and he built the 1980 roster that many of us feel was the best team in franchise history.
In 1979, he drafted Auburn running back William Andrews and USC running back Lynn Cain with consecutive mid-round picks. (He had also drafted Colorado runner James Mayberry just before them, making it three straight RB selections, but it's the later two that really count.)
Andrews and Cain became a formidable rushing duo, powering the ground attack for that 1980 team. It seemed like a perfect tribute to take Yeldon (not the same school, but at least the same state as Andrews) and Allen (from the same school as Cain) with consecutive mid-round picks to reload our running back stable.
I still picture prospect Ronnie Wingo as a potential fullback candidate. With that in mind, we'd be looking at Freeman, Yeldon, Allen and Antone Smith at RB with DiMarco/Wingo competing at fullback.
If the zone scheme works, our version of the apocalypse will have FIVE horsemen.
And at this point, the holes are pretty much all plugged. We have a pass rush, a solid nucleus for the secondary, enough bodies for Shanahan to form a workable offensive line, and some youth with a new slot receiver. Thanks to free agency, we have seen D-Block rebuilt and added a workable pair of experienced tight ends.
So from here on out, it's all about adding prospects for the new coaching staff, potentially replacing whoever ends up not really fitting in with the new systems.
And as a byproduct of early trades, our coaching staff will have quite a few of these prospects:
Darren Waller, WR, Georgia Tech = instant red zone threat, and potential receiving TE either now or down the road.
He's 6' 6", 238 pounds, boxes out well for the jump ball, and is a solid receiver. Not the very best blocker but is at least adequate. The shocker: at the Combine he ran the 40 in under 4.5. Imagine lining THAT up on the seam at TE to attack the middle zone - especially with the trio of Roddy, Julio, and Rashad Greene also on the field.
Justin Coleman, CB, Tennessee = another somewhat larger corner for the new scheme. I'd anticipate that he would spend some time cross-training at safety. He has the skill set for it.
Kyshoen Jarrett, S, Virginia Tech = certainly a work in progress, but he's a safety with the versatility to play corner or either safety position. He put in 21 bench press reps at the combine along with a 4.57 time in the 40 - which he improved to 4.49 at his pro day. I took him as the replacement for Zeke Motta on the roster.
Cedric Reed, DE, Texas = he was an All American as a junior. As a senior, he played on a bad knee (hurting his draft stock) and had surgery to repair it in January (hurting his stock even more).
Will he be ready to go by fall? I have no idea, but I'd be quite happy to start him out on the PUP list and would consider him worth it even if he spent his entire rookie year on the shelf. He's a potential third rounder when healthy, and he was there for the taking in the seventh.
We have Cliff Matthews, Stansly Maponga and Tyler Starr on the roster, so it would hardly be the first time we've had a defender that didn't play his rookie season.
Austin Shepherd, OT, Alabama = he's from Buford, about 10 minutes away from the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch, so this is a homecoming for him. I would anticipate that he'd spend his rookie season at guard, learning the system and working on building functional strength.
(I was all set to take GT's Deandre Smelter with this pick, but he was taken just ahead of me.)
Junior Sylvestre, OLB, Toledo = if our coaching staff really is all about figuring out what our players can do well and utilizing their skills, Sylvestre would be one of the most intriguing projects we could hope to land. He's a solid tackler with fantastic speed and sideline-to-sideline range. Among other things, I'd love to see him play some snaps as the LEO.
Undrafted free agent: Randall Evans, CB, Kansas State = this particular mock extends beyond Round 7 and includes two UDFAs for each team. Evans is a bit of a project, but he has the physical tools - he's 6'0", ran a 4.44 at his pro day, and did the cone drill in under seven seconds.
Undrafted free agent: Edmond Robinson, OLB, Newberry = finishing up with an interesting small school project. Robinson is quite athletic - 4.56 in the 40, 20 bench reps, 7.49 cone drill, 4.38 shuttle, and an impressive 37" vertical are all in the top quartile for potential OLB draft prospects. So he has the measureables. From there it's a matter of time to develop him into a legitimate NFL linebacker.
I was disappointed that I couldn't land my choice OT target or get that second big CB a little sooner, but all in all I have to be pleased with the results. The offense should be firing on all cylinders, and the defense should be much improved.