It's become something of a yearly battle cry during NFL draft time in Atlanta..."The Falcons need some help in the secondary". This year is no different. We've had some high round draft picks at defensive back and safety in recent years, and to date, none of them have really lived up to some lofty expectations.
Once again the Falcons find themselves looking thinner and less talented in the secondary than anywhere else on the team. Truly, Atlanta hasn't had a real shut down secondary since...well...there was that Deion guy, but he was just one man (allegedly).
It's time to take a look at where the Falcons have picks available, and what possible prospects could be available at defensive back and safety.
The Falcons first draft pick this year will be the 23rd pick in the 2nd round. Most think - and I agree - that Atlanta will use that pick on a tight end to potentially replace the retiring Tony Gonzalez, so we'll just move right along to the 3rd round pick.
I think after taking a top tight end, the Falcons need to look immediately to to defensive backs and safeties. By the time they get to the 22nd pick in the 3rd round, names like Claiborne, Gilmore, Barron, Kirkpatrick and others are likely to be gone. But that doesn't mean that some great 3rd round bargains aren't out there to be found. Like cornerback Janoris Jenkins out of North Alabama, or strong safety Duke Ihenacho out of San Jose State.
Jenkins was a second-team All-American selection by Associated Press. He was also second-team All-Gulf South Conference. He finished second in the NCAA Division II in punt returns with a 21.7 average on 18 returns. He was the only player in Division II this season to return three punts for touchdowns. So he could potentially fill another spot the Falcons have a need for, as a punt returner.
Ihenacho missed most of 2010 with a season ending foot injury, but he came back with a vengeance in 2011. He was the first San Jose State University football player to be a three-time, first-team All-Western Athletic Conference (WAC) selection. He has a reputation as a big hitter and a gym rat. He was clocked at 4.51 and 4.52 in the 40-yard dash during the San Jose State pro day this year.
The next pick the Falcons will get is the 22nd pick of the 5th round. The available DBs will most certainly be slim by then, so if either of the two above players mentioned are still available, then the Falcons would do well to snatch them up. But if not, there is a cornerback who may still be available this late, and he's a pretty good player at that. Nevada's Isaiah Frey.
In 2010, Frey was named second-team All-WAC as a 14-game starter, where was credited with 52 tackles, two for loss, and an assisted sack vs. UNLV. He intercepted one pass against New Mexico State, and broke up 14 others (tied for first in the WAC, tied for second in the FBS). In 2011 he upped that to 21 passes defended, with 5 interceptions. Although a bit undersized at 5'11, he's shown that he has explosive closing speed and a real nose for the ball.
If the Falcons can get two or three of the above mentioned players along with the veterans that were re-signed this year, it should start pointing the defensive secondary in the right direction.
Michael Collins is a contributor to the Grits Blitz Blog. Check out his weekly "Bird Droppings" column and visit his website Georgia Sports Craze. You can follow him on Twitter @GaSportsCraze.