|Jonathan Massaquoi (left) works with fellow rookie Travian Robertson during a recent minicamp. (Getty Images)|
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While Jones added a dynamic option to the Falcons' already strong offense, 2011 was clearly a disappointing season in Atlanta as a whole. A year after leading the NFC with a 13-3 record, the Falcons dropped to 10-6 and were humbled by the New York Giants in a 24-2 loss after making the playoffs as a wildcard.
Despite the disappointing campaign, optimism remains high in Atlanta. Quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Roddy White are stars. Jones appears to be on track to join them. Tight end Tony Gonzalez and running back Michael Turner, while aging, remain effective. And the Falcons may have addressed their biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball with their only two picks before the fifth round: linemen Peter Konz (Wisconsin) and Lamar Holmes (Southern Mississippi).
The highly celebrated Konz left the Badgers after his junior season and had earned first round buzz early in the pre-draft process. Concerns about his durability and strength -- especially after a disappointing combine performance -- ultimately led to his slipping into the mid-second round. While the 6-5, 314-pound Konz starred at center with the Badgers, he projects well outside at guard as well. His versatility was cited by Dimitroff following the draft and for good reason. Konz spent most of his first minicamp with the Falcons practicing at right guard and is in the mix to start as a rookie.
While it was the Falcons' offense that sputtered in their playoff loss, the greater concerns in Atlanta have been the defense.
The Falcons finished a respectable 12th in the NFL a season ago in total defense. They were stingy in run defense, ranking as the sixth stoutest unit in the league in 2011 in allowing just 97 yards a game on the ground. An inconsistent pass rush, however, exposed a leaky secondary that ranked 20th in the league.
The addition of Mike Nolan at defensive coordinator could, in itself, help this unit improve. Nolan is perhaps best known for his work with 3-4 defenses (Baltimore, San Francisco, Miami), but he'd coached the 4-3 alignment earlier in his career as the defensive coordinator of the Giants (1993-1996) and Washington Redskins (1997-1999). The Falcons have publicly stated that they'll be sticking with the 4-3 alignment in 2012 -- a move that best complements the talent already on the roster.
The talent level in Atlanta's secondary received a significant boost with the trade for veteran ballhawk Asante Samuel. Samuel wore out his welcome in Philadelphia,but there is no denying his instincts and ball skills. The former Central Florida product has 45 interceptions in his nine NFL seasons, and his 38 since 2006 are a league-high. He should be able to keep up his playmaking ways starting opposite Dunta Robinson. Veterans Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens should improve in 2012 playing primarily on the inside, where their lack of ideal size is less of a concern.
For the Falcons' secondary to improve, however, the pass rush in front of them will have to do the same, which is where fifth-round pick Jonathan Massaquoi enters the equation.
The Falcons had hoped that their pass-rush woes were a thing of the past when signing former Minnesota Viking defensive end Ray Edwards to a big free-agent deal. Edwards provided steady play against the run but registered just 3.5 sacks in his first season in Atlanta. The Falcons, yet again, were essentially a one-trick pony when it came to the pass rush. Either John Abraham got to the quarterback (as he did 9.5 times in 2011) or no one did. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and reserve Lawrence Sidbury tied for second on the team in sacks behind the 34-year old Abraham with four each.
The 6-2, 261-pound Massaquoi has the speed off the edge to help the Falcons early in his career. He played at this weight as a sophomore and led the Sun Belt with 13.5 sacks in 2010. He bulked up to 275 a year ago in an attempt to impress scouts and, frankly, lost a step. Considered a potential top 75 pick entering the 2011 season, Massaquoi posted just six sacks and, not surprisingly, his stock slipped. Despite the disappointing campaign, Massaquoi elected to leave Troy with a season of eligibility remaining (which further alarmed scouts) dropping him all the way into the fifth round, where the Falcons nabbed him at No. 164 overall.
Playoff teams are, like every other club, looking for potential superstars in the late rounds. The teams that consistently make the playoffs, however, are also looking for role players. Massaquoi was unfairly compared to former Troy standouts Demarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora throughout his collegiate career and because of that, some will have unrealistic expectations of him in the NFL. Frankly, Massaquoi does not possess the size nor the explosiveness to mimic either Ware or Umenyiora's pro success. Massaquoi does, however, have the burst to beat tackles as a third-down pass rusher -- a role Atlanta needed to improve in to have any hopes of gaining Smith his first playoff victory as a head coach.
The rest of the Falcons' picks:
2nd Round - No. 55 overall - Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
3rd Round - No. 91 overall - Lamar Holmes, OT, Southern Miss
5th Round - No. 157 overall - Brady Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
5th Round - No. 164 overall - Jonathan Massaquoi, OLB, Troy
6th Round - No. 192 overall - Charles Mitchell, S, Mississippi State
7th Round - No. 249 overall - Travian Robertson, DT, South Carolina
Read more about all of the Falcons' picks here.