As the NFL’s regular season draws to an end many teams are already starting to make changes for the future of their franchises. Seven Head Coaches and several General Managers were fired on what is now known as Black Monday in the NFL. The Atlanta Falcons aren’t among those teams as they finished up the regular season with a 13-3 record and home-field-advantage in the play-offs. Still the future is a pressing problem for General Manager Thomas Dimitroff.
The Falcons have one of the oldest rosters in the league, and could be losing several key players this off-season to retirement. Among these are long time center Todd McClure and Matt Ryan’s go to man Tony Gonzalez. Other key players like John Abraham and Asante Samuel will also be getting up there in age with Abraham turning 35 and Asante Samuel turning 32 before the 2013 seasons begin.
Still Atlanta has more key players to worry about. Break-out SS William Moore will be a free agent as well as CB Brent Grimes who was sidelined in week one with an Achilles tear. While both could be had back for cheap due to injury issues, there’s always one or two desperate teams who are willing to take risks in free agency to try and acquire a key piece for their franchise.
With all of these issues starting to rear their heads it’s important that the Falcons acquire players who can come in and contribute immediately from the draft and do so in every round. In other words the Falcons need to avoid project players. A project player is basically any player that has tremendous raw physical ability but is still unpolished in terms of technique. These types of players can take several seasons to come into their own and reach full potential, but they can also never come into their own and simply bust as an NFL player.
The Falcons and General Manager Thomas Dimitroff have tried their hand at several of these project players. Most notably DE Lawrence Sidbury, while Sidbury showed flashes during the 2011 campaign he has been relegated to the back-burner during the 2012 campaign being inactive for many games. The Falcons recently selected two more project players in the 2012 draft in DE Jonathan Massaquoi and LT Lamar Holmes. Massaquoi hasn’t made much of an impact in the little duty he’s seen, and Holmes hasn’t gotten any significant playing time as LT Sam Baker has had a career year. While Dimitroff certainly has an affinity for these physically gifted project players he needs to stick with immediate contributors in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Perhaps the biggest failed project player to this point is RG Peter Konz. Konz was originally an outstanding center at Wisconsin fell from his projected first round spot all the way to the back-end of the second round where the Falcons selected him over G/T Kelechi Osemele. Konz failed to win a starting spot out of training camp, and only became the starter after RG Garrett Reynolds was put on IR after week six. Konz struggled in his first start against the Eagles and DT Cullen Jenkins, but managed to improve his game some-what. However, the last two weeks of the season against elite DTs Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, Konz was often the source of pressure in the passing game and drew negative grades from Pro Football Focus in both games.
Meanwhile Osemele, who was converted from a more natural guard position to RT, won the starting job before the season started, and despite starting out inconsistent he improved his game and has only had one negative grade from Pro Football Focus since week eleven. Osemele, who many had graded out as a top guard, would’ve been a much wiser choice to fill the RG spot instead of trying to convert Peter Konz who just doesn’t have the functional strength to be a top notch guard.
There are many tempting project players in this year’s draft such as Ezekiel Ansah, Corey Lemonier, and Sylvester Williams who all fit the Falcons’ needs and could be had in the first round. However, the Falcons need to stay away from such players as with such a seemingly short window they can’t afford to use a top pick on a player that might take 2-3 seasons to develop into a quality NFL player. Instead the Falcons should look for players like Alex Okafor, Jonathan Cooper, Larry Warford, and Tyler Eifert. All of these men are high ceiling players who have their own upsides and could come in and contribute immediately.
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