Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) is tackled after a catch by Washington safety Reed Doughty (37) in the first half at the Georgia Dome on Sunday. Gonzalez became the fifth NFL player in history with at least 15,000 receiving yards. (Reuters)
FLOWERY BRANCH — Shortly after the final buzzer sounds at the conclusion of the Carolina game on Dec. 29, the Falcons will shift their focus to rebounding from the disastrous 2013 season.
The first major event of the draft season is the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., which is set for Jan. 25 and the Falcons coaching staff, which hasn’t served dating back to 1990, could be up for appointment by the league office.
The Falcons braintrust could then get an up close look at some of the top draft eligible college seniors.
“Never have,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said, when asked if been on a staff to work the Senior Bowl. “But we have two guys on our staff that have, but I’ve never been in that situation.”
Last season, the staffs from Oakland and Detroit worked the Senior Bowl.
Under Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, the Falcons have started the draft review process on several players who will be at the Senior Bowl. Last season’s first- and second-round picks, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, played and were interviewed by the Falcons at the Senior Bowl.
With a 4-10 record, the Falcons are appear set for a top 10 pick, possibly a top five pick in the draft, which has been pushed back to May 8-10 this season.
The top of the draft could shift depending on what quarterbacks declare as early entrants.
Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Fresno State’s Derek Carr are all coveted and could guarantee that the Falcons will have a shot at one of the top defensive or offensive line players. After signing Matt Ryan to a six-year, $103.75 million extension, the are not in the quarterback market.
“We are still not sure that Teddy Bridgewater is going to be a part of the class,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “We don’t know if Blake Bortles from UCF is going to be a part of the class. I’m assuming Johnny Manziel is, but it’s not official yet.”
McShay doesn’t have LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Georgia’s Aaron Murray or Alabama’s A.J. McCarron rated as first-tier NFL draft quarterback prospects.
Depending on how the quarterbacks project out, the Falcons could be in range to trade up to get South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or be in position to land Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews or UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
“Those are three of the top prospects in the class,” McShay said. “They have the top three grades that I have right now.”
McShay has spent a lot of time studying Clowney’s uneven final season at South Carolina for a television project that will air on ESPN’s Game Day on Jan. 1.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of frustration about how he played this year, the effort and if he was turning it on and off,” McShay said. “First, the expectations were unrealistic, but I thought the criticism was unfair. I thought he was playing hard and there were some bad circumstances with the weather. I think that he’s the most schemed against defensive player that I’ve ever evaluated.”
McShay said teams double- and tripled-teamed Clowney and that his teammates never stepped up to help out.
“I do think that as the season progressed, he began to get frustrated,” McShay said.
Also, NFL teams, the Falcons included, will want to know more about his recent speeding incident where he was cited for driving 110 miles per hour.
“I understand that there are red flags and concerns with him,” McShay said. “He’s not a bad kid by any stretch of the imagination.”
Matthews, the son of NFL legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, will play against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Dec. 31 at the Georgia Dome.
“He’s been a four-year starter,” McShay said. “He played right tackle and moved this year seamlessly to left tackle and was just as good. I think off of what I’ve seen so far, he’s a lock to be a top five pick.”
Barr played for former Falcons coach Jim Mora, who’s currently the Bruins head coach.
“He’s not as talented as Clowney,” McShay said. “He’s not as big and probably just a notch below in terms of the explosive athleticism.”