Drafting for roster depth


If there is an upside to the trade rumors concerning the Falcons and Jadeveon Clowney, it’s that Atlanta has spent the last few days at the center of the NFL universe. For a team that never seems to get the amount of national attention they deserve, getting a legitimate spotlight leading up to the league’s biggest off-season event is pretty fun.

The amount of interest Dimitroff has shown in Clowney seems to go well beyond the usual pre-Draft smokescreen. From the outside it looks like the think-tank in Flowery Branch has at least set up the speed-dial to get one of the top teams on the phone on draft night. There is even the possibility that a deal has already been orchestrated behind the scenes for the Falcons to move up to the number one spot.

If there is one point of contention that keeps coming up for the Falcon fan-base with regards a trade up for Clowney it’s that this Atlanta team has no depth. The complaint is that not only has this team shown a total lack of depth but the Julio Jones trade was the cause. The reasoning is that if those 5 picks weren’t lost in the ’11/’12 drafts then the Falcons would have more contributors. Trading up for Clowney, no matter how good he is as an individual player, would be repeating such insanity. Any such trade up, this rational says, would set Atlanta up for years of mediocrity like 2013.

I am here to say that the Falcon’s don’t have a depth problem. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the 2013 didn’t have significant depth issues. Atlanta’s downfall was not depth, but injuries. And these were not just any old injuries but devastating scheme specific injuries.

Scheme specific injuries- If I were to pick the five most important players to the Falcons game plan (excluding quarterback) I would, in order, say Julio Jones, Roddy White, Sam Baker, Sean Weatherspoon, Kroy Biermann. Those guys missed a combined 53* games because of injury. It wasn’t just that the Falcons lost talented contributors; it was cornerstone pieces lost for so many games.

The Falcons offense is constructed to spread a defense with two of the best receivers in football. The threat of Julio and Roddy alleviates pressure off of the O-line because a defensive coordinator can’t stack the box with run defenders or blitzers. The WR duo pushing safeties and linebackers away from the line of scrimmage also forced defenders to game plan for Tony Gonzalez one-on-one. The Twilight-Years-Tony was still a force singled up against a defender, but he didn’t have the athleticism to beat double teams. Just having Julio and Roddy on the field at the same time is a huge boost for Atlanta’s pass protection, running game, and short yardage passing game. Taking those guys out of the Falcons’ game plan was like giving the opposing team extra defenders.

Add to that the loss of Matt Ryan’s best pass protector, Sam Baker, and the QB was forced to throw under pressure much more than should be expected. I know that is an anecdotal piece of evidence, but the importance of Sam Baker’s presence is shown in the three season when he has played all 16 games the Falcons are 13-3 (2010), 11-5 (2011), 13-3 (2012).

On the defensive side of the ball, disguise is the engine that makes the ship run. The 2013 Falcons defense was built on the assumption that the offense was going to score points and force the opposing team to pass more than they ran. In being forced off of their game plan, the Falcons would exploit the now pass heavy team with disguised blitzes and amoeba fronts. When the offense sputtered because of injury, and the defense lost the two most versatile players in Spoon and Kroy, Atlanta’s defense was a sitting duck depending on multiple rookies.

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    At the 5th game didn’t Falcons have 11 starters out (counting hobbled Roddy)