Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. The No Spin Zone: One of the best centers in Falcons history, the great Todd McClure, played at LSU.
The Falcons signed veteran guard Justin McCray in free agency, but still must improve the talent along the offensive line.
In our Mock Draft 1.0, we have the Falcons selecting LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry, who was interviewed at the scouting combine about playing center and guard.
With the Falcons he could come in at guard and eventually take over for center Alex Mack, who’s set to turn 35 in November.
“I feel like I have the versatility to play both,” Cushenberry said. “I’ve been playing center. I’m obviously a smart guy who can make calls, I won’t have any problems with that. But I can play both positions.”
Cushenberry was a tackle in high school.
“Once I signed at LSU I taught myself how to snap during the time from February to when I enrolled on campus,” Cushenberry said. “I taught myself. And ever since I’ve been at LSU I’ve been a center and a guard.”
Cushenberry found some videos on YouTube on snapping the football.
“Then once I got to campus I actually stole one of the balls from the equipment room and me and my roommate (Lindsey Scott), he was a quarterback my freshman year, so we would just snap,” Cushenberry said. “I got the rhythm.”
2. Respects Derrick Brown. Cushenberry said the toughest players he faced in college were Auburn’s Derrick Brown and Oklahoma’s Neville Gallimore.
Cushberry believes he has the temperament to play in the NFL.
“I’m a low-maintenance guy, don’t have a lot to say,” Cushenberry said. “But on the field I flip that switch. In my first years it took longer to develop that vocal leadership, but once I took over the center job, I knew I had to step up.”
3. High Approval rating. The fans gave a high approval rating for the Falcons moves over the first phase of free agency. Esteemed colleague and AJC columnist Michael Cunningham was not as impressed. He contends that the Falcons lag behind the Saints and Bucs in the NFC South.
4. Gurley move lauded. The Falcons’ move to sign former Georgia and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley was also highly approved by the fan base.
The Falcons have yet to speak to the media regarding the moves and Gurley’s left knee.
5. Kiper’s Mock 3.0: Despite signing Dante Fowler in free agency, ESPN’s draft analyst Mel Kiper doesn’t think the Falcons are finished addressing their meek pass rush.
In Kiper’s Mock Draft 3.0 he has the Falcons selecting LSU linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson with the 16th overall pick.
The top pass rusher in the draft is Ohio State’s Chase Young, who’s slotted to go second to the Redskins.
The Falcons had just 28 sacks last season, which ranked tied for 31st in the league out of 32 teams. The Dolphins were 32nd with 23 sacks. Vic Beasley (eight sacks) left to sign with Tennessee and Takk McKinley (3.5 sacks) is recovering from shoulder surgery.
Chaisson, who’s 6-foot-3 and 254 pounds, has a 6.88 grade from NFL.com, which projects him as a quality starter just a level below being considered a “Pro Bowl” talent.
Kiper’s pick ignores that the Falcons’ offensive line gave up 50 sacks and 135 quarterback hits last season and that the Falcons had the 29th ranked rushing attack.
Here’s what Kiper had to say about the Falcons’ pick:
“The Falcons replaced Vic Beasley Jr. with Dante Fowler Jr. in free agency, but they shouldn't stop there. General manager Thomas Dimitroff needs to add another premium pass-rusher, either at edge or along the interior. Takkarist McKinley, a first-round pick in 2017, just hasn't developed. After fighting through injuries, Chaisson had just 9.5 sacks in his college career, but he has a high ceiling, flashing elite get-off at the snap with a few pass-rushing moves in his arsenal. Before Atlanta picked up Todd Gurley to replace Devonta Freeman, I thought this might be a spot to watch for a running back.”
6. Cornerback still a void: The folks at Pro Football Focus believe the Falcons have to take a cornerback in the first round of the draft after allowing Desmond Trufant to walk in free agency.
“I can tell you this much, the cornerback trio of Isaiah Oliver, Jordan Miller and Kendall Sheffield isn't taking you to an NFC South championship with Drew Brees and now Tom Brady in the division,” according to profootballfocus.com. “The Falcons need an influx of talent badly. Florida’s C.J. Henderson probably makes the most sense with the coverages he excelled in for the Gators.”
7. Reynolds re-signed: Speedy linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, who played for the Falcons in 2016 and 2017, was re-signed the team on Tuesday.
Reynolds, 29, has played in 99 NFL games and made seven starts. The 6-foot-1 and 240-pounder played with the Eagles in 2018 and the Bengals last season.
Reynolds, who played at Virginia, broke into the league with the Jaguars in 2013 as an undrafted free agent. He has also played for the Bears.
He had his best season in 2016 during the Falcons march to Super Bowl LI. He had a career-high 30 tackles and made three starts. He played one play from scrimmage and 23 on special teams in the Super Bowl.
8. Falcons free agency tracker: Here’s a look at where things stand with the Falcons’ free agency moves on Tuesday, March 23:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
» Todd Gurley, running back - Agreed to one-year deal with team.
» Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver - Agreed to one-year deal with team.
» Justin McCray, guard - Agreed to one-year deal with team.
» Kenjon Barner, running back -- Unrestricted free agent.
» Matt Schaub, quarterback – Club picked up his option, according to his agent.
» Justin Hardy, wide receiver - Will not re-sign with team
» Austin Hooper, tight end – Will be allowed to hit the market. Has agreed to terms with the Browns.
» Matt Simms, quarterback -- Unrestricted free agent.
» Keith Smith, fullback – Was re-signed to a three-year deal
» Wes Schweitzer, offensive guard/center – Will be allowed to hit the market. Set to sign with Washington
» Ty Sambrailo, tackle - Released by the team on March 16
» Devonta Freeman - Cut by the team on March 17
» Luke Stocker, tight end - To be released pending a physical
» Dante Fowler, defensive end - Agreed to three-year, $48 million deal with the Falcons
» LaRoy Reynolds - signed by the Falcons on March 24
» Vic Beasley, defensive end/linebacker – Will not be re-signed. Will join Titans on a one-year deal
» De'Vondre Campbell, linebacker – Will be allowed to hit the market. Agreed to one-year deal worth up to $8.5 million with Arizona.
» Adrian Clayborn, defensive end - Unrestricted free agent.
» Jack Crawford, defensive tackle - Unrestricted free agent.
» Johnathan Cyprien, safety - Unrestricted free agent.
» Tyeler Davison, defensive tackle - Agrees to three-year deal
» Ra’Shede Hageman, defensive tackle – Waived by the team on Jan. 13
» Kemal Ishmael, safety/linebacker – Will not be re-signed by Falcons
» Steven Means, defensive end - Re-signed to a one-year contract on March 9
» Sharrod Neasman, safety - Unrestricted free agent.
» Jamar Taylor, cornerback - Unrestricted free agent.
» John Wetzel, offensive lineman – Vested veteran contract terminated and then re-signed.
» J.J. Wilcox, safety -- Unrestricted free agent.
» Blidi Wreh-Wilson, cornerback - Agreed to one-year deal with the team.
» Desmond Trufant - Released by team He signed a two-year, $21 million deal with the Detroit Lions
» Matt Bosher, punter -- Unrestricted free agent
» Ryan Allen, punter – Signed to a one-year contract extension for $945,000 on Feb. 18
» Sam Irwin-Hill, punter – Signed to a one-year contract worth $510,000
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
» Brian Hill, running back - Falcons placed fifth-round tender
» Michael Bennett, defensive tackle
» Younghoe Koo, placekicker – Signed a one-year contract extension for $660,000 on Feb. 18.
9. Updated depth chart: Here’s the updated depth chart through the signing of LaRoy Reynolds on Tuesday:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, Laquon Treadwell
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel
LG 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, Justin McCray
RT 76 Kaleb McGary
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling
RB 30 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 32 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill (restricted), 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith
DE xx Dante Fowler 55 Austin Larkin
DT 97 Grady Jarrett,
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 94 Deadrin Senat
DE 93 Allen Bailey, Steve Means, 50 John Cominsky
DE 99 Takk McKinley 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 52 Ahmad Thomas
LB 45 Deion Jones, 53 LaRoy Reynolds
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 43 Jamar Taylor, 39 C.J. Reavis
LCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller
NCB 37 Ricardo Allen, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 22 Keanu Neal, 35 Jamal Carter
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen
K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 9 Sam Irwin-Hill
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
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