With a secondary that struggled in 2013 and Pro Bowl quarterbacks on two of the other three rosters in the NFC South, Atlanta decided to focus on upgrading their defensive backfield with their first two picks. They did just that with two cornerbacks who could be their starting tandem within a year or two but as Chris Tripodi reports below, the rest of their draft left something to be desired.
Desmond Trufant/CB/Washington (Round 1/Pick #22): It was no secret that the Falcons were looking to move up from the 30th overall pick to draft a cornerback and the Rams were interested in trading down to regain picks after trading up for Tavon Austin. Atlanta traded their third and sixth-round picks along with the 30th pick to move up and take Trufant, who should step into the starting lineup immediately opposite Asante Samuel. A good athlete with ideal size (5-11, 190) and speed (4.41), Trufant defends both the run and pass well and his production earned him All-American honors his senior year. He should help the Falcons pass defense, especially against Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
Robert Alford/CB/Southeastern Louisiana (Round 2/Round #60): Alford isn’t ready to start right away like Trufant, but the Falcons don’t need him to fill that role with Asante Samuel still under contract for the next two seasons. Atlanta does have a need for a nickel back and while Alford is expected to fill that spot, his experience returning punts could also help the Falcons in 2013. He has the size (5-10, 188) to mix it up with receivers at the line of scrimmage and the speed (4.35) to stay with them down the field. Alford’s run defense and reaction time needs improvement and coming from a small school, it’s likely he’ll need time to adjust to the NFL. Luckily the Falcons can afford to start him in the nickel and reap the rewards of his athleticism and ball skills while grooming him to replace Samuel.
Malliciah Goodman/DE/Clemson (Round 4/Pick #127): An undersized athlete who showed flashes at Clemson, Goodman has a powerful lower body and has the ability to change direction quickly. Despite those skills, he tends to get caught up on blocks at just 6-3, 278 and doesn’t have great burst, which makes him a bit of a tweener. Goodman needs to bulk up to be an effective three-technique and is nothing more than backup at end without top-notch pass rush skills. He’ll need to become more consistent on the field as well if he wants to fully utilize his athletic gifts.
Levine Toilolo/TE/Stanford (Round 4/Pick #133): At 6-8 and 260 pounds, Toilolo is a huge target in the passing game. He has the speed to get downfield, runs good routes and shows solid hands to make the catch. While he has good physical skills, his inconsistent play and lack of improvement made him a fifth-round prospect. An early entrant into the draft, Toilolo will need to take better to coaching in the NFL than he did in college but lands in a good situation with Atlanta. He can learn from one of the all-time greats in Tony Gonzalez who is back for one more season and if he can show the ability to improve at the professional level, has the talent to provide Matt Ryan with another tall target at tight end once Gonzalez retires for good.
Stansly Maponga/DE/TCU (Round 5/Pick #153): The Falcons moved up 10 spots to take Maponga, a free agent on our board, surrendering a seventh-round pick in the process. An athletic end whose size (6-2, 256) will prevent him from ever being an asset against the run, Maponga has shown the ability to line up over tackle and in a three-point stance. He’s quick off the snap, has good pass-rushing moves and a nice burst to the quarterback. While he projects as little more than a specialist at the NFL level, Maponga could help an Atlanta pass rush that registered just 29 sacks last season.
Kemal Ishmael/S/Central Florida (Round 7/Pick #243): Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, Ishmael wasn’t even rated as a free agent on our board but hails from the same school as starting cornerback Asante Samuel. The two obviously never played together but Atlanta saw enough from the UCF’s all-time leading tackler to take him with one of their three compensatory seventh-round picks. Ishmael has average size and speed and could make the roster if he can prove his worth on special teams.
Zeke Motta/S/Notre Dame (Round 7/Pick #244): Motta is a classic strong safety prospect with great size (6-2, 213) who lacks speed and sideline-to-sideline range. He’s very instinctive and forceful in the box and can be a good situational safety in running situations. Motta can cover short pass routes and can be very effective with limited responsibilities between the numbers. A hard worker whose game has developed well in the past few seasons, Motta will likely need to accept a special teams role at the outset of his career.
Sean Renfree/QB/Duke (Round 7/Pick #249): Renfree was a productive game manager in his three starting seasons at Duke and while he lacks NFL arm strength, he showed good leadership ability, accuracy and timing with his receivers. The Falcons have arguably the league’s worst backup quarterback in Dominique Davis so Renfree may have a legitimate chance to land a backup role as a rookie, although that would be a highly undesirable situation for the Falcons.
Grade: C+. While Atlanta made good moves to improve their secondary early, the lack of value later in the draft hurt their grade. They moved up in the fifth round to draft a player with a free agent grade after using their fourth-round picks on talented but inconsistent players who need to work on their games to make it in the NFL. This draft was very top heavy for Atlanta and while Trufant has a good chance to be a nice player and fills a big hole, one or two picks usually don’t make a draft unless a team drafts one of the top 3-5 players.