Thursday, May 8, 2014
Draft day: Falcons' time to get tougher
By Vaughn McClure
The anticipation is just about over.
It's NFL draft day, and the Atlanta Falcons will be on the clock before you know it. They are armed with the sixth overall pick with plenty of rumors about them possibility trading up.
Will general manager Thomas Dimitroff make another bold move like he did for Julio Jones? You can never say never, but it seems highly unlikely.
It's been reported that the Houston Texans are seeking a king's ransom for the No. 1 overall pick.
I only see Dimitroff following through with such a trade up if the Texans significantly lower the price to a bargain-basement deal before it's time to get started. Coveted pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney believes he'll end up in Houston, and that seems like the most logical scenario, although Buffalo's Khalil Mack might make the Texans ponder the situation.
As for the Falcons, they are destined to land one of the top three offensive tackles: Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Robinson has the biggest upside, Matthews is the most NFL ready and Lewan brings that nasty edge the Falcons sorely need on what has been a rather soft offensive line.
Dimitroff should have a good feel for what's going to happen ahead of him with two of his protégés, St. Louis general manager Les Snead and Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell, picking at No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. The unknown is the Cleveland Browns at No. 4, who reportedly won't go after Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and could pursue one of the offensive tackles.
If Robinson, Matthews, and Lewan are all off the board and the Falcons remain at No. 6, then Dimitroff might have to get creative. Trading down and getting an extra pick might be the smartest move so then the Falcons could maybe take the next best tackle prospect (Notre Dame's Zack Martin?) and possibly fill their need for a pass-rusher or safety.
However it all unfolds, protecting quarterback Matt Ryan has to be the emphasis. The Falcons' theme this offseason is getting bigger and stronger, and they've already accomplished that along the defensive line with nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson. Now, they need a big, strong offensive tackle to help keep Ryan upright after landing guard Jon Asamoah in free agency.
Here is the lowdown on the top three offensive tackles:
GREG ROBINSON, AUBURN
Combine height/weight: 6-5, 332
Wingspan: 82 3/4
Bench press: 32 reps
40 time: 4.92
Dimitroff on Robinson: "Another fantastic athlete. He’s got such natural ability. He’s a little younger. As the season went on, he really started to dominate at that level. It’s always a very important thing to see a guy who still has a little bit of development to show how much upside he has. It’s about his athleticism. It’s about his upside. It’s about his ability and his range on the football field.''
The knock: Some wonder how Robinson, who started just two full seasons at Auburn, will transition to pass blocking in the NFL after playing in a run-dominated offense at Auburn. Tigers coach Gus Malzahn challenged anyone to see how Robinson performed in third-and-long situations in terms of being a stout pass protector.
JAKE MATTHEWS, TEXAS A&M
Combine height/weight: 6-5, 308
Wingspan: 79 1/2
Bench press: 24 reps
Dimitroff on Matthews: "Think about it: He is a such a technique-sound individual. He has such an understanding of the game, being from a historic NFL football family (son of Hall of Famer lineman Bruce Matthews). He’s just so well-rounded in so many ways on and off the field that he’s going to be a guy who is going to turn a lot of heads. A guy like that has the potential to go No. 1 in this draft, if he turns the right heads.''
The knock: Early in the draft process, an AFC personnel member told me this about Matthews: "Technically sound but not an elite athlete and his strength is a little concerning to me. Not a home run. Similar to [Luke] Joeckel in that way.''
TAYLOR LEWAN, MICHIGAN
Combine height/weight: 6-7, 309
Wingspan: 79 7/8
Bench press: 29 reps
Dimitroff on Lewan: "He’s a tough, tough dude with a lot of upside. He’s a very technique-sound guy as well. Has the ability to play both sides."
The knock: Lewan faces misdemeanor assault charges stemming from a fight outside a restaurant after one of his games. His arraignment takes places after the draft (May 19), and such off-the-field troubles could be a red flag. But Lewan maintained his innocence. His college coach, Brady Hoke, stood behind him. "The only thing I know off the field is the incident where he allegedly punched a guy after the Ohio State game, and it hasn't been proven that he's done that,'' Hoke said. "For me, he's never had an issue.''