I listen to a lot of sports talk radio, and get a lot of very interesting opinions and information from that source. Some of the opinions I don’t completely agree with, but that’s why they are labeled opinions and not facts.
I was listening to Atlanta’s 680 The Fan and listened to an interview between ESPN’s Mark Schlereth, and 680′s John Kincade. Kincade brought up a topic that they were discussing earlier about successful teams having at least a couple players who are in the top-3 at their position in the NFL. That’s a little different than what Schlereth talked about, as he had a different opinion. He says that successful teams have either an elite or an outstanding player the the four cornerstone positions: quarterback, left offensive tackle, defensive end, and cornerback.
The reasons are obvious for these position choices. Defensive ends can get to the QB and force him into throws that can be defended by the cornerbacks. If you can stop the pass in the NFL today, you will be successful.
Having a franchise quarterback is all important. You don’t have to have a top-3 quarterback to win; however the point was made that you need to have an elite or near elite QB to be successful. And blocking for the quarterback, especially from the blindside, is crucial. A very good left tackle is a must-have for any team expecting contention.
Of these four positions that are cornerstones for teams that can compete for division titles, conference titles, and Super Bowls, the Falcons are sitting quite pretty in three of the four. At quarterback, the Falcons have Matt Ryan who was the No. 9 rated passer in 2011, and all signs are pointing to increased production from him in 2012 and in the future. Even Schlereth remarked that Ryan has not yet reached his peak of production potential, and that he is the type of cornerstone player that can lead a team to continued success. Check mark on the QB position.
At defensive end the Falcons have starters John Abraham and Ray Edwards. Abraham had 9.5 sacks in 2011, but he really didn’t have another guy producing any pass-rush opposite him. If Ray Edwards is healthy and plays to his potential, which I believe is about 8 sacks per season and additional QB hits/hurries, teams will have to focus additionally on Edwards and won’t be able to deliver the same attention to Abraham that they did in 2011. I think that the talent at defensive end should be plenty for the Falcons to be able to get after the quarterback with, even with Abraham at age 34. Check mark at defensive end.
Cornerback is another position where the Falcons have cornerstone type talent. Brent Grimes is an outstanding corner, one of the best in the NFC. Asante Samuel is a great ball-hawk, and while he occasionally gives up big plays, he makes up for them by creating turnovers. And Dunta Robinson, who hasn’t shown much during his time with the Falcons, should be more productive being physical as a nickel corner. A third check mark for cornerback being a cornerstone for the Falcons.
Left tackle is the one of the four ‘cornerstone positions’ that the Falcons don’t have that very good player at. Sam Baker isn’t great, he isn’t very good. In 2010 when he was playing his best, he was just good. In 2011 he was absolutely miserable. Granted he was injured almost all of last season, but I don’t think Baker is ever going to be the answer the Falcons should expect at left tackle. Atlanta is going to have to do some major improvement through free-agency or the draft to improve at left tackle. They need to do it sooner rather than later. Consider the lack of a check mark at this position being a major problem.
The fact of the matter is that the Falcons have a lot of very good talent at most of the cornerstone positions, and very good talent at a lot of the other positions. Clearly this is a team that will be competitive in its division, in the conference, and should be competitive in the postseason. Unfortunately, left tackle is a huge problem. Until the issue there is solved, the Falcons offense will not reach its full potential. Hopefully Baker plays well this season, and we can draft a true franchise tackle in 2013.