We look back at Atlanta's worst games this year to see what weaknesses New England might exploit. Those weaknesses include pretty much everyone on defense, but is there a secret to stopping the Falcons offense?
21 May 2007
by Ryan Wilson
As Brady Quinn made his way down the draft board, some Cowboys fans gave thought to the idea of landing the former Notre Dame quarterback and potential franchise player. Owner Jerry Jones also considered the possibility, but the Cleveland Browns intervened. Instead, Dallas traded its 22nd overall pick to Cleveland for their second-round pick and their 2008 first-round pick. The Cowboys promptly shipped the newly acquired second-rounder -- and a third- and fifth-rounder -- to the division rival Eagles for the right to take Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer with the 26th overall selection. Spencer will make the move to outside linebacker, joining the team's last two first-round picks, DeMarcus Ware and Bobby Carpenter. Greg Ellis, who missed the final seven weeks of the 2006 season with a torn Achilles, has a tenuous hold on the starting job heading into the summer.
This could be tackle Flozell Adams' last year in Dallas, and Boston College's James Martin (third round) and Northern Illinois' Doug Free (fourth round) are contingencies in the event he doesn't return in 2008. University of Washington quarterback Isaiah Stanback was the team's other fourth-round pick, and it's his versatility -- he's 6-foot-2 and runs a 4.60 40 -- that makes him so intriguing. He was a wide receiver before he was a quarterback, and the Cowboys envision a bigger, stronger version of Antwaan Randle El.
A year ago, Mike Vanderjagt had just signed a multi-year deal. Then-head coach Bill Parcells released him in November and brought in Martin Gramatica. Dallas drafted Arizona kicker Nick Folk in the sixth round, and although he struggled with accuracy in college, his powerful leg could mean he will assume kickoff duties.
In the days leading up to the draft, speculation had the team using their first-round pick on either a safety or a wide receiver. They drafted neither. Off-season acquisition Ken Hamlin mitigated an immediate need for safety help, but the Cowboys may have to revisit the position next year, unless Pat Watkins proves he's worthy of the starting job.
Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn still top the depth chart at wide receiver, and Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, and Miles Austin are young backups capable of becoming bigger contributors next season. But the 2007 receiver class was one of the deepest in years, and with Owens and Glenn both 33 years old, the Cowboys will soon have to consider replacing them.
The Cowboys signed wideouts Mike Jefferson (Montana State) and Jerard Rabb (Boise State), two big targets whose best chance to make the club might be via the practice squad. Dallas didn't find a backup for nose tackle Jason Ferguson during draft weekend, but Nebraska's Ola Dagunduro is an intriguing prospect. His 3.5 sacks his senior year ranked third on the team to defensive ends Adam Carriker (first round, St. Louis) and Jay Moore (fourth round, San Francisco). Hampton running back Alonzo Coleman might have the best shot at making the 53-man roster. Currently, Dallas has only three running backs, and Tyson Thompson's job isn't guaranteed. Coleman was the seventh player in NCAA history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons.
Heading into the draft, the Giants' most pressing need was probably left tackle, but the team drafted Texas cornerback Aaron Ross with the 20th overall selection. By the time New York went on the clock, Joe Thomas and Levi Brown were long gone (both were top-five picks) and Joe Staley, generally considered the third-best available tackle, remained. The difference, however, is that Staley isn't NFL-ready -- he may need a few years to grow into the starting job, and the Giants, at least from general manager Jerry Reese's perspective, had more immediate needs. The team hopes Ross can replace much-maligned Sam Madison at cornerback, and he could team with Sinorice Moss at kick returner and replace Chad Morton as the team's punt returner.
With Moss coming off an injury-plagued rookie campaign, the Giants drafted USC wideout Steve Smith in the second round. The NFL Network's Mike Mayock described Smith and Ohio State's Anthony Gonzalez as the two best slot receivers available in the draft, and Smith has a chance to be the team's third wide receiver heading into season. Fourth-round pick Zak DeOssie brings the number of Brown University alumni now in the NFL to two (Arizona's Sean Morey is the other). In addition to the Ivy League education, DeOssie is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound linebacker who can run. He'll make his living on special teams but has a chance to move into the starting lineup in the future.
New York finally addressed the loss of left tackle Luke Petitgout in the sixth round, when they drafted Oregon State's Adam Koets. He's at least two years away from competing for a starting job, but by that time the Giants might also be looking for a new quarterback.
Marshall's Ahmad Bradshaw lasted until the seventh round because of character concerns, but he had an impressive minicamp, and some fans are already making "the next Tiki Barber" comparisons because of their physical similarities.
After left tackle, linebacker was arguably the teams' biggest need. The DeOssie selection aside, the Giants still have very little depth at the position. To that end, last year's first-round pick, defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, will move to outside linebacker. The team's only high profile free-agent signing, Kawika Mitchell, will play weakside linebacker with second-year player Gerris Wilkinson battling him for playing time.
With Visanthe Shiancoe now in Minnesota, the only tight end on the roster with an NFL reception is Jeremy Shockey. Practice-squadder Darcy Johnson, fifth-round pick Kevin Boss, and undrafted free agent Michael Matthews will be battling for one, maybe two spots.
After a failed tryout with the Packers, Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco signed with the Giants, attended minicamp, and was promptly released.
It's not often division rivals do business, especially when it involves a first-round pick. But on the first day of the draft, the Eagles sent their 26th overall pick to the Cowboys, allowing Dallas to get defensive end Anthony Spencer. The Dallas Morning News's Todd Archer speculates that the Cowboys had Spencer, safety Brandon Meriweather, wideouts Dwayne Bowe and Robert Meachem, and cornerback Aaron Ross on their first-round wish list (and they all ended up going in round one), but before making a deal with Philadelphia wouldn't have gone on the clock until early in the second round.
In addition to potentially helping the Cowboys, the Eagles then infuriated fans by drafting Houston quarterback Kevin Kolb with the 36th overall pick. Despite the protestations, Kolb fills an obvious need -- McNabb missed 13 games with injury the previous two seasons -- though no one expects him to be the Eagles starting quarterback next season.
Notre Dame's Victor Abiamiri, the team's second second-round selection, was a more conventional pick. He registered 10.5 sacks his senior season and is the prototypically speedy, undersized defensive end defensive coordinator Jim Johnson likes.
Third-rounder Stewart Bradley probably won't start, but he is already better than outside linebacker Dhani Jones, released earlier this off-season. Philadelphia re-signed Correll Buckhalter, but Penn State's Tony Hunt -- the team's other third-round pick -- will eventually replace him, especially if Buckhalter continues to battle injuries.
Fifth-rounder C.J. Gaddis was drafted to eventually replace Brian Dawkins, though knowing Dawkins that might not happen until 2012. Gaddis won't be rushed into the starting lineup, and the college cornerback -- who's projected to play safety in the NFL -- can learn the nuances of the position while contributing on special teams.
Even though the Kolb pick was unpopular, the Eagles did a good job of addressing their pre-draft needs. Other than Kolb, the three other first-day picks have a chance to contribute right away, and Gaddis could see playing time because of his versatility. There wasn't an immediate need at defensive tackle, but Mike Patterson is one more mediocre season away from possibly losing his job and Broderick Bunkley will enter the first-round bust conversation if his second season resembles his first.
Two undrafted free agents with perhaps the best shot at making the roster -- or at the very least, the practice squad -- are defensive tackle Jeremy Clark, who started four years at Alabama, and Iowa safety Marcus Paschal, who can play both the free and strong safety positions. The Eagles have had recent success at finding players after the draft -- last year Nick Cole, Pat McCoy, and Torrance Daniels all saw time with the big club after signing as undrafted free agents.
The Redskins had five draft picks -- only one first-day selection, the sixth overall -- and myriad needs, chief among them a pass-rushing defensive end. Naturally, the team took safety LaRon Landry, making Washington the only team ever to have two top-10 safeties on the roster. The Washington Post's Howard Bryant noted recently that by refusing to re-sign Ryan Clark coupled with the failed Adam Archuleta experiment, the team could end up spending upwards of $25 million on a position they could have had for an extra $1.5 million (the raise in salary Clark was seeking last off-season). And for a team that prefers to build its roster through free agency, $25 million would go a long way in finding a defensive end. Oddly, head coach Joe Gibbs thinks the defensive line isn't an issue and feels that an improved secondary will lead to more coverage sacks.
On the second day of the draft, the Redskins took USC outside linebacker Dallas Sartz in the fifth round and inside linebacker H.B. Blades a round later. Sartz is six inches taller than Blades, but both weigh 235. Both will also need impressive training camps to be anything more than special teamers.
If the Landry pick seemed peculiar, Washington's taking a quarterback with their second sixth-round selection was stupefying. Jordan Palmer, who'll forever be known as Carson's younger brother, will battle Todd Collins for the third-string job, but will likely end up on the practice squad.
Washington was looking for a tight end and settled for Michigan's Tyler Eckel in the seventh round. The pick before, the Cardinals nabbed Ben Patrick, thought to be a first-day selection. If the Redskins really liked Patrick, you have to wonder why they didn't draft him a round earlier, instead of Palmer.
The team's primary issues are along the defensive line, but interestingly, the only other glaring need is depth along the offensive line. Guard Derrick Dockery signed with the Bills in the off-season, and currently Todd Wade is penciled in as his replacement. Wade struggled in Houston, but the Redskins wisely won't let him play tackle in Washington.
The club finally got their defensive end when they signed UCLA's Justin Hickman. Hickman's college defensive coordinator was DeWayne Walker, who served as the Redskins' cornerbacks coach in 2004 and 2005. According to the Post's Jason La Canfora, Hickman has an intimate knowledge of Washington's scheme.
Offensive coordinator Al Saunders was impressed with local product Sam Hollenbach (University of Maryland) during a pre-draft workout and kept in touch in the weeks leading up to the draft. Hollenbach heads into training camp as the team's fifth quarterback, and his best chance to earn a backup job in the future might come via the practice squad.
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