Falcons have soared from creative player acquisitions
If the Saints want to get back to a Super Bowl, they should follow the plan executed by their archrival.
The Atlanta Falcons reached Super Bowl LI with deft drafts, outstanding free-agent pickups and the hire of one of the outstanding offensive coaches in the NFL.
For the Falcons, it has been a winning gumbo.
The past two Atlanta drafts lifted the Falcons from a record of 8-8 to 11-5.
Their first pick in 2016, safety Keanu Neal, was the team’s second-leading tackler. Second-round pick, linebacker Deion Jones, who hails from the West Bank and played at Jesuit High School, was Atlanta’s leading tackler. He also intercepted three passes and returned two for touchdowns.
The club’s third selection, tight end Austin Hooper, had 19 catches, three for touchdowns, and a sizzling 14.3 yards per reception.
Vic Beasley, the Falcons’ 2015 first-round pick, had 15 1/2 quarterback sacks. The second pick, cornerback Jalen Collins of LSU, had a pair of interceptions. Atlanta’s third selection in 2015, running back Tevin Coleman, had eight rushing touchdowns in only 118 carries. The fourth selection, wide receiver Justin Hardy, had 21 receptions, four for touchdowns.
In free agency, Atlanta landed center Alex Mack from the Cleveland Browns. Mack stabilized Atlanta’s offensive line. He’s a big reason why the Falcons scored 540 points, 201 more than in 2015.
Wide receiver Mohammed Sanu had 59 receptions, four for touchdowns. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel had one receiving touchdown in his first two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
He had six in 2016 and also scored a touchdown rushing.
The Falcons also brought offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from Cleveland. Atlanta scored the most points and averaged the most yards per play in the NFL.
What the Falcons did should be a blueprint for the Saints. It is a simple plan but a difficult one to execute.
In 2016, the Saints got at least one part correct, drafting Sheldon Rankins, Michael Thomas and Vonn Bell with their first three picks. This offseason, for a team trying to break out of a 7-9 rut, is critical.
The Falcons have two great local stories. Deion Jones almost signed with Nebraska, then got a late offer from LSU.
In his senior season, Jones got a chance to start and played his way into a second-round pick.
Defensive lineman Tyson Jackson hopes to add to his outstanding resume. Jackson was part of back-to-back state championship teams at West St. John in 2003 and 2004 for head coach Laury Dupont.
In 2007, he was a member of LSU’s BCS national championship team. He was the third pick of the 2009 draft by Kansas City.
Jones and Jackson were stars on Friday nights in the fall.
And, they are four quarters away from what every player in the NFL covets.