I’ll admit it… I am a homer. I have no problem saying it and I have no problem being accused of it in my writing. As a homer, I am passionate about my teams and want them to make the best decisions to help them win. Now while I don’t make it a habit to tell others how to do their job, (I actually do it from my couch almost everyday) I think the Atlanta Falcons will completely regret not taking DeAndre Smelter in the NFL draft last weekend.
Somebody had to say it.
As a homer, I wanted to see the best receiver in the state of Georgia potentially catch passes in 2015 wearing an Atlanta Falcons jersey.
Following the release of slot receiver and Atlanta native Harry Douglas, it was evident that the Falcons may look to add a couple players at that position. Occasionally, the sights of a team is so laser-focused on the immediate need, they will completely disregard players that can help in the long term. DeAndre Smelter is a long-term talent. His impact may not be immediate because of the torn ACL suffered in this past year’s Georgia game. But being taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the later rounds reminds me of a player Smelter could compare very well with in Terrell Owens… minus Owens’ infamous personality.
Nonetheless, with the 107th overall selection the Atlanta Falcons took the 5'10", 195 lbs. receiver, Justin Hardy in the fourth round. Hardy broke the career record for receptions at the Division-I level. And as I sat on my couch, (where I just happen to do some of my best second-guessing) I listened to analysis of this receiver. Paraphrasing, I’m hearing how Hardy is not very fast or athletic. Though not quick and elusive, the former walk-on has great hands and compares best to Stedman Bailey and Ryan Grice-Mullen.
Are they telling me that a player who has the potential to be compared to Terrell Owens is not a better option than a receiver who has the potential of being the unknown, fourth option of the St. Louis Rams?
With Douglas gone, the Falcons needed some depth in the slot position. Traditionally, slot receivers are the smaller, quick guys who find holes in the defense and make coordinators worry about them catching the ball in space. But who says that a slot receiver can’t be 6-2, 220 lbs.? Not only could it be a match-up nightmare, but Smelter also gives you a potential replacement when Roddy White retires.
To be fair to Hardy, he might turn into a strong player. But the biggest vote of confidence I then hear on the telecast about the former East Carolina standout is his "ability to block downfield."
Georgia Tech plays in Atlanta at least six times a year. For a Tech receiver, run-blocking is like someone being impressed by how well a bee makes honey… its’ just what they do. Half of Smelter’s highlights are of him punishing defensive backs and even linebackers against the run. Even though Smelter will take some time in rehab, I have a hard time believing he will be out of practice when it comes to blocking downfield.
Many teams have decided to use two or more tight ends in receiving packages because the combination of size and speed present so many problems. So what about a player with Smelter’s skill-set? He’s long, physical, fast, smart. Even after a late-season injury, he was selected just 25 spots behind a fully healthy Hardy… meaning there was great value in picking Smelter because he likely goes third round or higher if he was completely healthy.
I am not bashing the Justin Hardy pick, more than I’m upset the Atlanta Falcons didn’t make Smelter their choice. Because it is an inexact science, there are countless examples of All-Pro players being selected behind guys who did not pan out. But the talent that Smelter has could and should not have been overlooked by my team.
Because I am a homer, I will continue to root and scream and second-guess from my couch. But since the 107th pick was made by the Falcons, it will be hard NOT to continuously compare the careers of these two receivers. I’m sure some Redskins fan is thinking the same thing if Hardy turns out to be better than Duke’s Jamison Crowder (taken 105).