It’s only 30 days away, so it’s time to start opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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Our Draft Advent Calendar is basically a (over)simplified way to appraise each team’s offseason moves to this point, and what roster needs still remain that could be addressed via the draft. We’ve all had those years when nobody, fucking nobody buys what we put on our list. We’ve all also experienced that shitty moment when we realize that the gift we want to get is no longer available in stores. As such, we’re not going to predict which college players will go to which team. Rather, we’re appraising each NFL team to this point, and what position(s) they might want to address when the last advent door is opened and the wise men start going off like a bunch of gun lobbyists.
Door #5 – The Falcons
2012 finish: 13-3; lost in Divisional Championship
TOTAL PICKS: 11
36 (133) (compensatory selection)
37 (243) (compensatory selection)
38 (244) (compensatory selection)
43 (249) (compensatory selection)
Atlanta finished last season just a fourth-and-4 on San Francisco’s 10-yard line away from a trip to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. What hurts even more is that they lost by giving up a 17-point lead in that game. (That, after narrowly avoiding letting Seattle overcome a 20-point deficit in the Divisional Round.) Some could argue that the collective psyche of the Falcons has taken a blow, and they might be mindfucked next season when they have to protect leads in big games.
However, this team is unbelievably talented. So much so, newly acquired defensive end Osi Umenyiora called this edition of the Falcons the most talented team he’s ever seen. By the way – this is a two-time Super Bowl champ from his Giants days. Umenyiora has set his sights on the modest goal of Defensive Player Of The Year. As far as intangibles, he brings two Super Bowl rings with him to Atlanta, which could help motivate a roster that made it to the cusp of the big game last season. One thing is for sure: He has ample cause to be motivated. At 31 years of age with a new contract that is for only 2 years (worth up to $12.2 million), he’s basically playing for his career at this point. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has a slew of different ways to get rushers to the quarterback. However, Umenyiora has never been great against the run – an overall issue for the Dirty Birds.
Come to think of it, defense is an overall issue for this elite team. Last season it held teams out of the end zone, allowing a league fifth-lowest 18.7 points per game – but Atlanta also gave up yards in bunches. (They ranked 23rd against the pass, and 21st against the run in 2012.) Sure, GM Thomas Dimitroff added Umenyiora – and he is an upgrade from DE John Abraham, who is too long in the tooth. But the defense lost free agent CB Dunta Robinson and still might lose their other starting corner from 2012 opening day, Brent Grimes. They re-signed S William Moore, who is a leader on D, even though he has trouble guarding the league’s top tight ends (no small issue in the TE-rich NFC). Moore needs a lot of help in the defensive backfield, and the team needs to address long-standing problems at the linebacker position as well. With 11 picks in this year’s draft, the Falcons would be wise to spend at least 6, 7 of those on defenders. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (Washington) or D.J. Hayden might be available late in the first round, but word is that Hayden’s stock is on the rise.
The offense is in great shape, especially after two enormous free agent signings. Hot-lanta heated right back up after getting oh-so-close to Super Sunday when surefire Hall Of Famer TE Tony Gonzalez decided to come back to play after initially announcing his retirement. (Using a draft selection to prepare for his imminent departure would be smart too.) Atlanta’s second offensive signing was the best value of the offseason so far. They upgraded at running back by letting Michael Turner go and replacing him with Stephen Jackson for a bargain, at $12 million over three years. Despite what the naysayers think, Jackson could still have a fair amount of gas in the tank, and he’s now playing with the motivation of being on a title contender for the first time in his career as a starter. He’s bound to improve the offense – in the running game, and as a pass catcher.
If Jackson and Umenyiora can play to the value of their contracts, and some rookie draft picks can contribute defensively, expect Atlanta to be as good or better than last season.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR.