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Vel's 2020 Falcons Roster Review and Road Forward


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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:

Quote

To say Lucas can't wait for a chance at redemption while facing talented Cardinal receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside and his friend Trenton Irwin is a major understatement.

"I'm going to restore my place as the best corner on this team," Lucas said. "I wanted to bounce back (in the fourth quarter at Colorado) and I did, but it just wasn't good enough.

"I'm glad I got that out of the way. Now you guys are really going to see a No. 24 that's locked in the whole time. Next game is going to be bad for anybody that lines up against me."

https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/college/asu/2018/10/11/asu-cornerback-chase-lucas-blaming-himself-colorado-loss/1596671002/

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. 

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45 minutes ago, papachaz said:

I LIKE it!  good job

Thanks. These are the prospects I've been watching a lot lately and figured it aligned with a mock really well. I think Baun and Robinson are going to rise, but would be perfect picks in my opinion. I focused on doing it that way to show we don't need some influx of free agents to improve this team. I hate I couldn't get a roaming safety earlier, but the rest of the defense gets a boost in talent. Also, with Morris and Whitt, I'm leaning on them developing this secondary to see what we have to truly fix it in 2021. I don't think a core of Tru, Oliver, Sheffield, Rico, Kazee, and Neal is bad. Is it championship quality? No. But they can win with them if they build a better, more versatile front seven, which is what I accomplish with this. From there, you can draft the best CB/S duo in 2021 and have built a really good defense. 

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1 minute ago, vel said:

Thanks. These are the prospects I've been watching a lot lately and figured it aligned with a mock really well. I think Baun and Robinson are going to rise, but would be perfect picks in my opinion. I focused on doing it that way to show we don't need some influx of free agents to improve this team. I hate I couldn't get a roaming safety earlier, but the rest of the defense gets a boost in talent. Also, with Morris and Whitt, I'm leaning on them developing this secondary to see what we have to truly fix it in 2021. I don't think a core of Tru, Oliver, Sheffield, Rico, Kazee, and Neal is bad. Is it championship quality? No. But they can win with them if they build a better, more versatile front seven, which is what I accomplish with this. From there, you can draft the best CB/S duo in 2021 and have built a really good defense. 

I really like the Dobbins pick, esp since Etienne is going back to Clemson. I wonder if he's realistically going to be there at our number 2 though, seems there's a shift back to RBs. we all know it cycles through the years. No complaints from me about any of these guys, this seems to fill a lot of those 'spots' since I'm not going to necessarily call them holes  :tiphat:

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14 minutes ago, papachaz said:

I really like the Dobbins pick, esp since Etienne is going back to Clemson. I wonder if he's realistically going to be there at our number 2 though, seems there's a shift back to RBs. we all know it cycles through the years. No complaints from me about any of these guys, this seems to fill a lot of those 'spots' since I'm not going to necessarily call them holes  :tiphat:

I think he may. Not too many teams need RBs these days to make it a first round pick. Even still, you've got Swift and Taylor at the top. I doubt all three go before #47. I've seen enough mocks projecting a top RB at the #45 spot that I think it's the sweet spot to get one if you can. 

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43 minutes ago, Someday soon said:

I see Drafttek has Hamilton as the 62nd rated overall prospect.

That's the first place I've ever seen him that high. If he rises, I would not be surprised in the slightest. This is one of the deepest DTs groups in a long time. If they don't go Kinlaw at #16, I won't be made because there are a ton. 

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34 minutes ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

Great draft, Vel.  I love Dobbins in the 2nd.  Robinson and Lucas are also seriously underrated.

One thing: we still need a safety IMO.  I’d flip Baun with Winnfield Jr.  I see Baun as a 3-4 OLB.  Not big enough for Edge in 43 and not enough data to know how he translates to 43 SLB

Dobbins would be a massive upgrade and steal in my opinion. 

I agree we need a safety, but does the team agree? And I wouldn't mind if they punted on S if they went this route. Unless they go safety in the first three rounds, nobody is supplanting Rico, Kazee, and Neal. I'm taking my opinions out of it on that subject. 

As for Baun, I think you're missing it. He's a front seven chess piece. He can play SLB no problem in base because that's little more than a rush OLB. I'm assuming he comes in at 6'3 240lbs as a rookie. You're looking at him as an EDGE and that's totally wrong and not his game. He's more than capable in pass coverage. Watch that video I posted. He's also at the Senior Bowl so we'll get a pretty clear view on who he is as a player. 

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I think J.K played his way into the first round in the playoffs and season as a whole but looks like a solid draft. Not crazy about Espensa but I could live with it. I always love to win but it was tough seeing Chase and Okudah slip through our hands 

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15 minutes ago, Summerhill said:

I want to like Epenesa on paper but I don't think he shows very well in that highlight video. It makes me want to look up who Minnesota's LT is. 

Not a highlight video.

31 minutes ago, vel said:

That's the first place I've ever seen him that high. If he rises, I would not be surprised in the slightest. This is one of the deepest DTs groups in a long time. If they don't go Kinlaw at #16, I won't be made because there are a ton. 

You think? I like a decent amount of DTs, but this draft in general isn't too great.

I appreciate the realism of this take, even if I'm not a fan of everything. Might run more at least.

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20 minutes ago, Summerhill said:

I want to like Epenesa on paper but I don't think he shows very well in that highlight video. It makes me want to look up who Minnesota's LT is. 

I actually think in rushing situations he’s actually got decent hand usage and has a burst.

Thing I disliked the most was his inability to shed in the run game.

I’m not overly high on any of these rushers to be fair.But I also accept its going to be by committee for us upfront unless Takk breaks out.

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19 minutes ago, Summerhill said:

I want to like Epenesa on paper but I don't think he shows very well in that highlight video. It makes me want to look up who Minnesota's LT is. 

2019 Epenesa spent a lot of time controlling the edge than pinning his ears back. With him, you need to look at how much attention he draws and how often he controlled his guy. That Minnesota game, he's literally got 2-3 guys focused on him for large parts of the game. Like I said, he's not going to be a blinding off the edge guy. But if you want that, go to the 2:55 mark when he finally gets the LT in a 1v1 situation and embarrasses him. He didn't get a lot of those opportunities because MIN knew he could do that. 

1 minute ago, Francis York Morgan said:

Not a highlight video.

You think? I like a decent amount of DTs, but this draft in general isn't too great.

I appreciate the realism of this take, even if I'm not a fan of everything. Might run more at least.

I'll list you my DT crop (no particular order):

Brown, Kinlaw, R. Lawrence, Blacklock, Fotu, Gallimore, Hamilton, K. Davis, T. Clark, R. Davis. 

It's not a pass rushing group. But it's a lot of guys who can free up other guys on the DL or control guys in the ground game. Blacklock is one of my favorites for this. He's long and knows how it use it. Consistently good technique, but won't be much of a pass rushing guy. If you can live with that, you'll like his tape. 

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2 minutes ago, kiwifalcon said:

I actually think in rushing situations he’s actually got decent hand usage and has a burst.

Thing I disliked the most was his inability to shed in the run game.

I’m not overly high on any of these rushers to be fair.But I also accept its going to be by committee for us upfront unless Takk breaks out.

This. I don't see Chaisson falling to #16. Nor Kinlaw. That's why I'm fine with Epenesa. He can rush outside in base and inside in pass only situations. We won't have a double digit sack guy, but if we can build a strong, deep committee, it will work. For some, it's either Von Miller/Khalil Mack or bust in their pass rushers. If Epenesa turns in Cameron Heyward, that's a win. 

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22 minutes ago, vel said:

But if you want that, go to the 2:55 mark when he finally gets the LT in a 1v1 situation and embarrasses him. He didn't get a lot of those opportunities because MIN knew he could do that. 

I have a short attention span and a job so was just bouncing around the footage and missed that. He had a number of good rushes around that stretch. That's what I want to see. 

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54 minutes ago, vel said:

This. I don't see Chaisson falling to #16. Nor Kinlaw. That's why I'm fine with Epenesa. He can rush outside in base and inside in pass only situations. We won't have a double digit sack guy, but if we can build a strong, deep committee, it will work. For some, it's either Von Miller/Khalil Mack or bust in their pass rushers. If Epenesa turns in Cameron Heyward, that's a win. 

I think both Chaisson and Kinlaw will be available. As much as people may love Chaisson since he played in the last college football game anyone watched, when you get down to it he is undersized for his position at 250 lbs and is pretty tall and lean which a lot of busts have in common and does not have much of a history of pass rush production. He might be good but there are definite red flags to me. 

I'm a recent Kinlaw convert but he is still at best the #2 DT in the class and I don't think he has the hype of someone like Gerald McCoy who could not be the #1 DT and still go really high. There are a lot of WR and a few OL who could push him down. 

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Would be perfect if something similar to this played out. Baun is a beast, and he reminds me of Haason Reddick when he came out. Unfortunately, I don’t see Baun falling out of the second. Josh Uche is a similar player and could be a nice consolation if Baun doesn’t make it out of the second.

Chase Lucas went back to school. Liked him though.

The first three picks make this draft great though.

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1 hour ago, vel said:

2019 Epenesa spent a lot of time controlling the edge than pinning his ears back. With him, you need to look at how much attention he draws and how often he controlled his guy. That Minnesota game, he's literally got 2-3 guys focused on him for large parts of the game. Like I said, he's not going to be a blinding off the edge guy. But if you want that, go to the 2:55 mark when he finally gets the LT in a 1v1 situation and embarrasses him. He didn't get a lot of those opportunities because MIN knew he could do that. 

I'll list you my DT crop (no particular order):

Brown, Kinlaw, R. Lawrence, Blacklock, Fotu, Gallimore, Hamilton, K. Davis, T. Clark, R. Davis. 

It's not a pass rushing group. But it's a lot of guys who can free up other guys on the DL or control guys in the ground game. Blacklock is one of my favorites for this. He's long and knows how it use it. Consistently good technique, but won't be much of a pass rushing guy. If you can live with that, you'll like his tape. 

I really like Blacklock actually. And don't get me wrong, I like DTs in this draft - just think there have been a few in the last decade that I liked more pre-draft. Def not the deepest in a long time imho. 2016 is my favorite in recent memory, and even in retrospect it panned out terrific for DTs. DeForest Buckner, Sheldon Rankins, Kenny Clark, Chris Jones, Jarran Reed...and that's just the best players in the first two rounds.

I think this class is slightly above average at DT overall. Really weak class at QB, TE, and Safety. Strong at RB before two of my top 5 went back to school. Wish we needed a WR, this year looks nuts.

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1 hour ago, vel said:

This. I don't see Chaisson falling to #16. Nor Kinlaw. That's why I'm fine with Epenesa. He can rush outside in base and inside in pass only situations. We won't have a double digit sack guy, but if we can build a strong, deep committee, it will work. For some, it's either Von Miller/Khalil Mack or bust in their pass rushers. If Epenesa turns in Cameron Heyward, that's a win. 

The first mentioned Chaison has a myriad of moves mixed with thee athleticism.Also believe he has great instincts seems to sniff things out.

As for Epenesa and or Gross-Matos I think it’s flip a coin.

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34 minutes ago, Summerhill said:

I think both Chaisson and Kinlaw will be available. As much as people may love Chaisson since he played in the last college football game anyone watched, when you get down to it he is undersized for his position at 250 lbs and is pretty tall and lean which a lot of busts have in common and does not have much of a history of pass rush production. He might be good but there are definite red flags to me. 

I'm a recent Kinlaw convert but he is still at best the #2 DT in the class and I don't think he has the hype of someone like Gerald McCoy who could not be the #1 DT and still go really high. There are a lot of WR and a few OL who could push him down. 

This is what I want to dig into with Chaisson like you say his ability to control thee edge against the run.Arm lockout controlling his man and shedding Im with you on this.

His size isn’t a worry for me and if pass rush is by committee I think it’s good to have myriad of body types up front to ask different questions in how you block them.

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40 minutes ago, Summerhill said:

I think both Chaisson and Kinlaw will be available. As much as people may love Chaisson since he played in the last college football game anyone watched, when you get down to it he is undersized for his position at 250 lbs and is pretty tall and lean which a lot of busts have in common and does not have much of a history of pass rush production. He might be good but there are definite red flags to me. 

I'm a recent Kinlaw convert but he is still at best the #2 DT in the class and I don't think he has the hype of someone like Gerald McCoy who could not be the #1 DT and still go really high. There are a lot of WR and a few OL who could push him down. 

Given how thin this EDGE group is, I wouldn't be surprised to see Chaisson be reached because of his traits. Yes, he's smaller but some team may like him more than Brian Burns, who went #16 last year. Kinlaw being the second best DT is another reason I see him gone. #16 is a long time and if he dominates the Sr. Bowl, he's only going to rise. 

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40 minutes ago, A-TowN.- said:

Would be perfect if something similar to this played out. Baun is a beast, and he reminds me of Haason Reddick when he came out. Unfortunately, I don’t see Baun falling out of the second. Josh Uche is a similar player and could be a nice consolation if Baun doesn’t make it out of the second.

Chase Lucas went back to school. Liked him though.

The first three picks make this draft great though.

Totally missed Lucas going back. Makes sense, he could rise a lot. Never saw anything announcing him. 

I like Uche but I think he's more rusher than Baun. I debated Uche and Robinson for a second at that pick, so I agree he'll be on the radar.

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1 minute ago, vel said:

Given how thin this EDGE group is, I wouldn't be surprised to see Chaisson be reached because of his traits. Yes, he's smaller but some team may like him more than Brian Burns, who went #16 last year. Kinlaw being the second best DT is another reason I see him gone. #16 is a long time and if he dominates the Sr. Bowl, he's only going to rise. 

Jeremiah's latest mock has Blacklock and Baun going in the 1st with Chaisson going at 11.

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29 minutes ago, Francis York Morgan said:

I really like Blacklock actually. And don't get me wrong, I like DTs in this draft - just think there have been a few in the last decade that I liked more pre-draft. Def not the deepest in a long time imho. 2016 is my favorite in recent memory, and even in retrospect it panned out terrific for DTs. DeForest Buckner, Sheldon Rankins, Kenny Clark, Chris Jones, Jarran Reed...and that's just the best players in the first two rounds.

I think this class is slightly above average at DT overall. Really weak class at QB, TE, and Safety. Strong at RB before two of my top 5 went back to school. Wish we needed a WR, this year looks nuts.

Yep, they don't compare to 2016 and they aren't a top heavy group, but they go 7 rounds deep for me. You can find contributors in every round. No need to reach. 

I also kind of hope we dip into the WR group late. It's entirely too deep to skip. 

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