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Welp, as we head towards the Senior Bowl, Pro Bowl, and Super Bowl, a good chunk of us fans will be looking at what prospects we can add to the team to get us back in the postseason in 2020. A lot of fuss is being made about the cap room we have to work with. Rightfully so. But a lot of people are making a fuss over needing 53 players. That's true...to extent. Until rosters are allowed to be 53 players on gameday, you're really building the best 46 you can. As of now, the 2020 Falcons have 49 players under contract with 7 draft picks coming and $11MM in cap space. If they didn't make a single FA move and just drafted picks, they have a full roster. So no need to panic in my opinion. I've been digging into the roster and distilled it down to one question: Who is going to be the core of this team to help get 10+ wins? That's the main question. When cuts are proposed, the first question/statement some make is "For every cut you make, you need to replace that player", which is true fundamentally, but not true in terms of impact. Here is the current 49: QB: Ryan, Schaub, Benkert RB: Freeman, Smith, Ollison WR: Jones, Ridley, Gage, Zaccheus, Blake, Powell TE: Stocker, Graham OT: Matthews, McGary, Sambrailo, Gono OG: Lindstrom, Brown, Carpenter OC: Mack EDGE: McKinley, Bailey, Cominsky, Larkin, Cooper DT: Jarrett, Senat, Tuioti-Mariner LB: Jones, Oluokon CB: Trufant, Oliver, Sheffield, Miller S: Allen, Kazee, Neal, Thomas, Carter Right now, the weakest spots on the team are LB and TE. Whether you disagree or not, Hooper will be a Falcon in 2020 at least, so I'm assuming that spot will be filled. From there, you get a sense of the roster. The offense, in this form, is still a top 15 unit under Koetter at least. You still have a franchise QB, #1 WR, #2 WR, #3 WR, #1 TE, #2 TE, LT, C, RG, RT. You need to solidify the LG spot, whether that's Brown, Gono, or a draft pick, and you need to solidify RB, whether depth or a starter. The defense is, once again, in large need of talent infusion, but it's not that dire. The second half of the year showed a secondary that played with more confidence and a DC who understood their talents. Even when Trufant went down, they didn't lose a beat. This current version of the defense, you have a stud DT, average DE unit, stud MLB, and an inconsistent but young secondary. At this point, I'm assuming no free agents, but we know some will be signed (Clayborn, Wreh-Wilson, Davison, Means, FB Smith, P Allen, Koo). I treat those as roster fill guys. Guys that collectively may equal $10MM in cap space but close to vet min signings than cap burdens. From there, I'm building through the draft: #1 AJ Epenesa - 6'6 280lb DE Epenesa is not going to wow some people who prefer to chase supreme athleticism. I get it. He's not Chaisson or Young. Nowhere close. If that's what you're looking for, you will have a hard time with Epenesa. But where Epenesa wins is a spot we've neglected for a while: setting a powerful edge and bullying OTs. Epenesa is a football player on the edge, not an athlete. He's going to do everything right. Also, he got a ton of doubles, chips, and extra attention while at Iowa. We need guys like that. When you have a Grady, you need players who can either win 1v1s or draw attention to help other guys. You saw teams tend to run away from Epenesa as much as they could. You saw LGs constantly looking to help LTs when Epenesa was rushing. Stuff like that helps with stunts and delayed blitzes. He'll help reset the LOS a yard or two back, which helps in run defense and forcing third and longs for your pass rush to crank up. He was also asked to play the run more this year, limiting some of his pass rush juice but developing his game further for the next level. #2 J.K. Dobbins - 5'10 214lbs New RB to give this offense a consistent engine. Dobbins can do it all. Run, pass, block. He's a complete back. He's got the long speed to make house calls from anywhere on the field. He's got the size and power to be a feature back all four quarters. Tough to take down on first contact. I don't think I have to sell you on J.K. Dobbins. If I do, stop reading and find another thread. Dobbins gives you everything you want in a RB and doesn't have to come off the field. Yes, we have Ito and Ollison, but Dobbins instantly becomes the focal point of the running game and is scheme proof. If Koetter can run the ball with this guy.... #2 Cesar Ruiz - 6'4 320lb OC I know, offense back to back when the defense is what needs help right? I agree. But we also can't just focus on 2020. Mack is on the last year of his deal. Cesar is a dawg at Center, but can play OG. He started at RG as a freshman, he's a true junior coming out which nobody really expected. He's got effortless athleticism for a man his size, he eats up interior DL routinely, he consistently wins 1v1 blocks, good on ear holing DTs on traps but just as good flowing and getting to the second level. He's another interior scheme diverse player. Give him the chance to learn directly from Mack before taking over, I think he could be an instant impact OL and could solidify the LG spot for 2020. #3 Zach Baun - 6'3 235lb LB Zach Baun was made to play SLB in this defense. He's got actual pass rush ability, but can cover as well. No, I'm not asking him to play deep down the field, but inside of ten yards and in the flats, he's fine. He wins on the edge enough that I can put him next to Epenesa and have a pass rush threat in base while not giving up on some run stopping (19.5 TFLs; 12.5 sacks). He's a very intelligent player, diagnosing plays consistently and showing comfort in space. I'm interested to see how he tests, but he could be a front seven chess piece for this defense. He can be a 4-3 SLB or a 3-4 OLB. Let him be a blitzer or a coverage guy. He's got a very well rounded game and helps raise the floor of the front seven. #4 Alton Robinson - 6'4 260lb I'm a Robinson fan. He's got good get off, stout in the run game, a solid arsenal of pass rush moves, and he's got good size and length. He reminds me of Cominsky, a little more raw but will catch on quick with translatable skillsets. He's got good mental processing and doesn't get lost in the play too often. Right now, he's a pass rush specialist with Takk, Epenesa, and Clayborn (I'm assuming he's back) leading the charge. He has a background that needs to be checked in, getting arrested for second-degree robbery which is a felony. But I think he's more than fine as that happened in 2015 and he's been good ever since. #5 Chase Lucas - 6'0 180lb CB I know. A corner. Why? I like Chase Lucas. He's got good measurables, but I love his play style. He's physical in the run game, coming up very aggressively on a pretty consistent basis. He's got three years of starting experience in a multiple defense for ASU. That tells me he can grasp and execute multiple gameplans on a weekly basis with little to no issue. He's got good instincts and route recognition. With that, I'm leaning on Morris and Whitt developing him. He's also being drafted because I'm not waiting around for Jordan Miller to develop. Lucas has the mentality of a dog and we need more of that. When I was digging in, I found an article from a rough game he had vs Colorado: We need more versatile DBs and we need more guys with this kind of attitude. No more "Woe is me" football. You'll get knocked down, but you better get back up and prove why you belong. That wins games. #7 Davon Hamilton - 6'4 310lb DT Davon Hamilton is not the big name Ohio State product along the DL. That's Chase Young. But go watch some Chase Young film and you'll consistently see #53 popping up in the run game and in the pass game. He is pretty consistent at resetting the LOS. He is stout vs double teams and flashes the ability to beat 1v1s. With some development, he could be a good base DT. He's very good at diagnosing plays quickly and trying to do the correct assignment. He's got a good first step and solid hand use. You can see the traits that could make him a long time depth DT. He reminds me of a Corey Peters. May never be a household name, but could string out a ten year career. So now, with that draft, your roster is the following 56 players: Here is the current 49: QB: Ryan, Schaub, Benkert RB: Freeman, Smith, Ollison, Dobbins WR: Jones, Ridley, Gage, Zaccheus, Blake, Powell TE: Stocker, Graham, Hooper OT: Matthews, McGary, Sambrailo, Gono OG: Lindstrom, Brown, Carpenter OC: Mack, Ruiz EDGE: McKinley, Bailey, Cominsky, Larkin, Cooper, Epenesa, Robinson DT: Jarrett, Senat, Tuioti-Mariner, Hamilton LB: Jones, Oluokon, Baun CB: Trufant, Oliver, Sheffield, Miller, Lucas S: Allen, Kazee, Neal, Thomas, Carter That's without a single dime spent in Free Agency. That's a pretty complete roster. From there, that's when I look at who to cut. Guys like Sambrailo, Schaub, Freeman, Carpenter, and Bailey can be replaced. These aren't guys who racked up a ton of snaps and if they did, can be sufficiently replaced in the draft (Bailey, Freeman). We all know Gono is better than Sambrailo, but some want to bring up "we have to replace him". He's already been replaced. Same with Carpenter, who was benched. This isn't a broken roster. The coaching was terrible, and they've doubled down on that, but with 4 picks in the top 100 essentially, there is a real opportunity to fix this thing. As you see, I only spent two picks on offense. The rest went to building a defense capable of playing a diverse set of gameplans against any kind of team. You want to run it, I've got the beef. You want to throw it and I'll come after you. Four picks in the front four create that versatility with guys who've played in versatile roles. I'm cautiously optimistic about 2020, but it's more about the draft than the "lack of cap space". That's not where this roster will be fix.
When Bob Sutton was hired, fans moaned and groaned at the thought of the former DC from the horrendous Chiefs defense being involved in any capacity of coaching defense in Atlanta. With the thought of DQ taking over the defense finally, the last thing fans wanted to hear was any kind of weight holding this group back any longer. Then it was announced that Sutton's official title is Senior Assistant. Homebase quotes "Sutton's responsibilities will include assisting with in-game strategy, clock management, time-out usage, and replay review." As anyone who has ever had a job knows, what your job description says and what you end up doing are two totaling different things. And it's usually in the form of "more". While I was doing some digging on the Vikings defensive scheme/philosophy/etc. that I typically do during the week, I came across this: The last thing I would have ever expected to see was a Kansas City Chiefs pro-defense section in this kind of article. Yes, it's Bleacher Report, so it's subjective. But still, it takes noticing. But I want to key in on some parts, which I bolded. It took me back to a board discussion we were having some time ago (TDLover, Fatboi, Vandy, PMF, etc.) regarding our favorite defensive formations and why. It stemmed from the various looks we've seen from DQ and the defense so far through pre-season and how we are seeing some large scale changes with the scheme. I kept digging, trying to see where this Bob Sutton philosophy comes from. Through all of the sludge of hate thrown his way given the way things ended with him in KC, I found this excerpt: Variety. Multiple. Different alignments between the first two levels to confuse offenses. Man-heavy scheme. Just for kicks, I looked up Sutton's history and one stop made my eyes light up: The New York Jets Bob Sutton was with the Jets for a long time. He began in 2000 as a Linebackers coach, was the DC from '06-'08, then to Senior Defensive Assistant & LBs coach '09-'11, and Assistant Head Coach & LBs Coach in 2012, before the Chiefs poached him for a DC position. During that time, he learned a lot of football, but one period is the magic point: 2006-2008. During this time, he met one Dan Quinn. DQ was the DL coach when Sutton was the DC. Under Sutton, the Jets improved from 27th in DVOA to 14th, before he was replaced by Rex Ryan, but kept on staff in a large role shaping the defense. Sutton likes running multiple, varied, high pressure schemes with man coverage behind them. He did it before he was with Rex Ryan, he learned it more in depth under Rex, and then branched out and did it on his own with the Chiefs. In 2013, Sutton's first year leading the Chiefs defense, they were 9th in DVOA compared to 30th the year before. They finished 6th in 2015. Dropped to 14th in 2016 before fully falling off a cliff. But at the same time, the Chiefs started to hemorrhage defensive talent. During 2017-2018, the two seasons that got Sutton fired, they lost Hali, Berry, Peters, Poe, and Derrick Johnson. Between those five players, they lost 18 Pro Bowls and 5 All Pro nods. You saw what happened to our defense when we just lost Debo, Rico, and Neal. They lost that AND some. So it's no surprise that the Chiefs defense no longer looked the same. Doesn't make Sutton a bad coach. But if nobody valued the wealth of knowledge Sutton brought to the table, there was one man who did. Dan Quinn. We keep looking at the trio we have on offense with Koetter, Mularkey, and Knapp and are happy to have various minds putting this together, but we have yet to stop and do the same for DQ. We may be overestimating DQ handling all of the duties of HC and DC. Where a guy like Sutton comes in is as a position he's already held before: Senior Defensive Assistant. Just, he's not focused on the defense, but a general Senior Assistant. I'd be willing to bet every dollar in my bank account Sutton has been tied to DQ's hip reshaping this scheme. Remember, DQ came up in this scheme. So if there is anybody who would have blind spots, it's him. What better than to have a guy you know and coached under to be your #1 guy, who has a long history in multiple defensive fronts, a wealth of knowledge in what went right and what went wrong with each, etc. He's not asking Sutton to call plays or draw up gameplans or anything of the such. That's still going to be DQ. But where Sutton brings a ton of value is in his long running knowledge of schemes and trends that have come and gone in this league and various ways to deploy confusing looks at offenses. I think Sutton being a constant sound board for DQ to make the tweaks he has may prove to be beneficial in the long run.
Don't know if this was posted yet or not, but I didn't see it's own thread. I know some people are grappling with the Mcgary trade up. With guys like Taylor and Ford on the board, we took a guy many think/thought we could have waited until #45 to take instead of a consensus first round talent in those other two guys. I didn't really care about that, my concern was his lack of foot speed when I watched his film and him getting beat on the edge similar to Ryan Schraeder, who I thought was his most in line comp during the process. Well, the guys are Cover 1 wrote a very detailed article about Kaleb Mcgary that both initially had the same assessment of Mcgary as I did, but then came to a realization of what Mcgary was taught and how he, and the Washington OL, were executing their blocks in establishing a pocket. (The article has a ton of videos, which are very useful, but I can't post them all so the link is posted first to paint the whole picture.) After this, plus the tweet thread that is referenced throughout this entire article, I've been sold on McGary. He's a f****** dancing bear on the edge that isn't looking to play any kind of passive blocking scheme. He's looking to fight for sixty minutes and dominate his opponent any way he can. It's not pretty and he can be beaten, but the thing is that the way he's looking to fight, he's in a favorable position that when he loses, the QB has plenty of time to navigate it or get the ball out because he's effective at distorting the line of a wide rusher, something I never even knew or thought about. His run game demeanor is downright nasty. He's looking to bring that 6'7 frame and lay it on you every chance he can get. If he gets his hands on you, it's most likely over and you're most likely getting landed on. He is always looking to make his opponent miserable. It's not just talk. You see it throughout his tape in the run game. My absolute favorite part about him and Lindstrom is they aren't grass blockers. They both are always looking for work and DL to knock out if their guy goes away. Here's an example: He's got work to do, admittedly. He's not the cleanest on the edge or in space. But his athletic scoring and testing tells you he can handle playing in a zone scheme and on an island in space. We also are a heavy play action team, which should help him as well. I'm excited about McGary. I was iffy on the Lindstrom pick at #14, but once you take them together, you've literally added two guys who will bring pain in short yardage and a much cleaner pocket in the pass game, but will be bringing the muscle for 60 minutes. You can't see that as a negative, no way you slice it. Matt Ryan just got better and we didn't think that was possible.