Posted: 3:00 p.m. Sunday, April 28, 2013
By Dave Choate
I considered writing up each individual pick, but the team here did such a great job of that yesterday that there's really nothing I can add that would be in any way insightful.
Instead, I want to take a look at the draft class as a whole and see if we can glean any insight into what kind of team the Atlanta Falcons are hoping to be in 2013. After coming achingly close to a Super Bowl berth in 2012, the team had to take a hard look at the roster and see this roster for what it was: Not quite good enough. A playoff team, certainly, and a strong contender, but one with holes and an embarrassing tendency to blow big leads. A team with not enough depth to absorb injuries or ineffectiveness.
That's a tough thing to realize, but the Falcons did not shirk away from that realization. They added Steven Jackson, who will likely be at least a slight upgrade over Michael Turner. They added Osi Umenyiora, giving them a fresher set of legs in the pass rush. They brought aboard Brian Banks to help out with chronically weak linebacker depth. And they re-signed their best free agents—mostly—to keep the offense intact and retain the best of the defense.
Then the draft arrived, and three days later, we understand how the Falcons and Mike Nolan in particular planned to fix the defense. They've overhauled the secondary, adding two promising young cornerbacks in Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, as well as safeties Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael at a woefully thin position. The Falcons looked at the way the 49ers and Seahawks ate up yardage and attacked them using variations of the read option and decided that a young, dynamic secondary would go a long way toward helping. Mike Nolan loves having a lot of quality cornerbacks.
The defensive drafting didn't stop there. Malliciah Goodman is a deeply intriguing physical specimen who needs work on his pre-snap awareness and consistency, but the Falcons have all but penciled him in as the starter at left defensive end already. He adds punch and real upside to a rotation that needed both. Stansly Maponga gives the team pass-rushing potential, too. At best, these guys add talent and free up Jonathan Massaquoi and Kroy Biermann to play some linebacker, or boot Massaquoi or Matthews off the roster.
While not every pick is a slam dunk or anywhere close to universally beloved, you can see how everything fits together. The Falcons have added talent, set the team up to be improved on D in 2013 and beyond and adds players who may give Nolan the freedom to use Biermann and Jonathan Babineaux more creatively this season, to give a couple of examples. It was a draft aimed at giving the Falcons a fighting chance at preserving those leads in 2013, even if many of us would have preferred they address the pass rush first and foremost.
There are pieces missing here, to these eyes. The Falcons didn't add a defensive tackle to a group featuring one guy on the wrong side of 30, a widely acknowledged first round bust, a solid starter whose contract runs up after this season and an untested seventh round pick. Linebacker still looks a little shaky to these eyes. The Falcons will really need Malliciah Goodman to step up early to improve that pass rush. And so on.
Ultimately, though, this draft feels like the culmination of some real soul-searching at Flowery Branch, and a chance for Nolan to put his stamp on this defense. The Falcons of 2013 will have an extremely athletic, opportunistic secondary playing behind a constantly morphing defensive front seven that will aim to confuse and pester opposing quarterbacks. There's no guarantee the D will be significantly improved over 2012, but they've done a lot to transform it. Given the way last season ended, that's an awfully encouraging thing.
Your thoughts on the draft class and the 2013 defense?
First Round: CB Desmond Trufant
Second Round: CB Robert Alford
Fourth Round: DE Malliciah Goodman
Fourth Round Compensatory: TE Levine Toilolo
Fifth Round: DE Stansly Maponga
Seventh Round Compensatory: S Kemal Ishmael
Seventh Round Compensatory: S Zeke Motta
Seventh Round Compensatory:QB Sean Renfree