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Cover 9@9: NFL mock draft 3.0 Falcons select T.J. Watt with 31st pick

Former Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt, left, makes a reception against former Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel during drills at Wisconsin’s Pro Day Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

1. NFL mock draft 3.0. Back in 2009, the Falcons made the draft mistake of passing on a player from one of the great football families in NFL history.

Instead of taking Clay Matthews III, they picked former Ole Miss defensive tackle Peria Jerry.

It was bad move that general manager Thomas Dimitroff would later lament.

Because the Falcons tried fulfilling a need over taking the best player available, they picked Jerry. He had a brief career that was no doubt shortened by a serious knee injury suffered his rookie season.

Matthews is a six-time Pro Bowler, one-time All-Pro and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV.

In 2014, the Falcons didn’t make the same mistake and snapped up tackle Jake Matthews, the son of  Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews and cousin of Clay Matthews III.

This season, the Falcons will be faced with a similar football heritage situation.

Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt, the younger brother of NFL players J.J. Watt (three-time defensive player of the year) and Derek Watt (Chargers’ fullback), will be available when the Falcons select with the 31st overall pick in the draft.

At first glance Watt, a converted tight end, appears to be a first-round reach. He thrived for one season in Wisconsin’s 3-4 defense when he finished with 63 tackles, 11.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles last season.

“What I bring is just my work ethic,” T.J. Watt said. “I know it’s a cliche, but I do have a motor that’s nonstop. I’m just always going after the ball. I’m always going to give the team that takes me everything I have.”

Watt, who’s 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds, needs to get stronger and has an injury history the Falcons must investigate. He has the frame to add the weight and a huge upside as a potentially sturdy and versatile pass rusher.

He went to Wisconsin from suburban Milwaukee in 2013 and red-shirted as a tight end. In 2014, he missed the season with a right knee injury. He then injured the left knee in the spring of 2015.

In the summer of 2015, he was moved to outside linebacker and gradually became comfortable at his new position.

While some scouts believe that Watt would have benefited from returning to school for another year, others like his upside as a potential game-wrecking pass rusher.

Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt sacks Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)(Photo: The Associated Press)

2. Draft ranking. Watt is the fifth-rated outside linebacker in the draft and is projected to be selected in the second round by NFLDraftScout.com.

“To be honest with you it doesn’t matter where I’m drafted or who I’m drafted to,” Watt said. “Obviously it would be great to be a first-round draft choice, but second-, third-, of fourth- it really doesn’t matter… wherever I go, I’m going to keep my mouth shut and just work as hard as I can and play ball.”



3. Here, in the Mock 3.0, the Falcons select former Wisconsin standout T.J. Watt:

  1. Cleveland. Myles Garrett, DE. Texas A&M
  2. San Francisco. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
  3. Chicago. Jonathan Allen, DT, Alabama
  4. Jacksonville. Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
  5. Tennessee. Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
  6. New York Jets. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
  7. Los Angles Chargers. Jamal Adams, S, LSU
  8. Carolina. Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
  9. Cincinnati. Rueben Foster, LB, Alabama
  10. Buffalo. Michael Williams, WR, Clemson
  11. New Orleans. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
  12. Cleveland. Mitch Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
  13. Arizona. Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
  14. Philadelphia. Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
  15. Indianapolis. Garrett Bolles, OT, Utah
  16. Baltimore. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
  17. Washington. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
  18. Tennessee. John Ross, WR, Washington
  19. Tampa Bay. Jabrill Peppers, FS, Michigan
  20. Denver. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
  21. Detroit. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
  22. Miami. Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
  23. New York Giants. Hassan Reddick, DE, Temple
  24. Oakland. Taco Charlton, LB, Michigan
  25. Houston. Ryan Ramcyk, OT, Wisconsin
  26. Seattle. Dan Feeney, OG, Indiana
  27. Kansas City. Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford
  28. Dallas. David Njoku, TE, Miami
  29. Green Bay. Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida
  30. Pittsburgh. Kevin King, CB, Washington
  31. Atlanta. T.J. Watt, LB, Wisconsin
  32. New Orleans (New England projected trade). Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

We had the Falcons taking Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson in the Mock 1.0 and Jabrill Pepers in Mock 2.0. Peppers is moving up the board and Lawson has dropped back to the New Orleans/New England slot.

Falcons running back Devonta Freeman spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals to tie the game 7-7 during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

4. Freeman’s market value is $10.1 million a year. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, who has out-performed his rookie contract and fourth-round draft status, has a market value of $10.1 million per year, as determined by the salary-cap website spotrac.com.Freeman is set to make $1.8 million in 2017, the last year of his rookie contract.

Spotrac identified other running backs with similar playing time and opportunities who signed a contract around Freeman’s age.

The group included C.J. Anderson, Lamar Miller, Doug Martin and LeSean McCoy.

There’s a base calculation to get the average of those four deals. Then a statistical comparison to Freeman, who’s put together back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons. He had 227 carries for 1,079 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season. He also caught 54 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns.

In his breakout 2015 season, Freeman rushed 265 times for 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 73 passes for 568 yards and three touchdowns.

So, his 27 touchdown over the past two seasons make him an extremely valuable running back. Even in more of a time-share with Tevin Coleman in 2016, he rushed for more yards and scored at the same clip.

By comparing the variable of the other backs, like game percentage, rushing yards per game, rushing touchdowns per game, yards per game receiving, touchdowns per game, fumbles per game, Spotrac arrived at an average rating.

Then the prime percentage figures were worked into the base calculated value and to set two values. The average of those two values yield the current calculated market value.

For Freeman, that comes out to a six-year deal worth $60,657,547 million or $10.109,591 per year.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff made it clear that the team is not ready to offer Freeman a contract extension in a recent interview on the team’s flagship radio station.

“The time of that is not now,” Dimitroff said in early March. “The timing of that, if you look at our history, we are very particular about when we do i.e. when we extend our guys and that’s something that will be taking care of in due time.”

Freeman’s representation, Kristin Campbell of 40 Sports Entertainment Group, wants him to be paid like an “elite” running back. She and Freeman made it known during the Super Bowl week and again during free agency, before trying to distance themselves from tweets from Luther Campbell, her husand the rap mogul and First Amendment advocate.

However, by speaking out during Super Bowl week and then tweeting about the negotiations during this free agency period, it seems the Freeman camp doesn’t want to go into the final year of Freeman’s rookie deal.

There’s an $8.2 million gap between what Freeman is set to make and his market value.

“We know what the market is and we are confident that we can get something done, when the timing is right,” Dimitroff added. “It won’t be done during this free agency period.”

5. Here are the Atlanta Falcons’ top 10 cap hits for 2017. The Falcons stated that their No. 1 offseason priority was to re-sign cornerback Desmond Trufant.

While both side have worked on the deal, things will be finalized later in the offseason.

As things stand, here are the Falcons’ top 10 salary cap hits heading into the 2017 season:

  1. QB Matt Ryan, $23.75 (14.14 percent of 2017 cap)
  2. WR Julio Jones, $13.9 million
  3. CB Robert Alford, $9.6 million
  4. C Alex Mack, $9.05 million
  5. CB Desmond Trufant, $8.026 million
  6. DT Dontari Poe, $8 million
  7. WR Mohamed Sanu, $7.4 million
  8. LG Andy Levitre, $6.625 million
  9. DE Adrian Clayborn, $5.4 million
  10. LT Jake Matthews, $5.2 million

6. Dimitroff on overtime. Dimitroff, who’s attending the owner’s meetings in Phoenix, shared his views on overtime with Pro Football Talk. He believes that both teams should have an opportunity to possess the football in overtime.

The Falcons dropped Super LI in overtime 34-28 to New England after holding a 28-3 lead.

7. Take the ultimate Falcons draft quiz. The Falcons have the 31st pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, which will be held April 27-29 in Philadelphia.

More than 500 players have been drafted during franchise history. Two have had Hall of Fame careers, while others have been, well, below average.

See how many of these moves you can recall. Share your results with your friends.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton celebrating after scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants last December. (Associated Press)

8. Peek around the NFC South. The past two NFC champions have come from the South Division, the Falcons and the Carolina Panthers.

Tampa Bay and New Orleans have been active in free agency trying to catch the Falcons, and the Panthers are trying to revive their operation after dipping from 15-1 in 2015 to last place at 6-10 in 2016.

With free agency basically over and the teams now pointing squarely toward the draft, CLICK HERE a look around the division and add to it Carolina re-signing Julius Peppers. That news got lost in the shoulder surgery news about Cam Newton.

9. Falcons cheerleader prelims are Sunday. Preliminary auditions will be held Sunday at the Georgia International Convention Center. Preliminary Registration will go from 7:45 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. and auditions will begin promptly at 9:30 a.m.

There will be at least two cuts on Sunday for Preliminaries. Lunch will not be provided and no concessions will be open- bring any food or drinks you may need. Please plan on staying all day as finalists will be announced following the second cut.

Should you become a finalist, there will be a mandatory 15-minute interview (during the day) and dance/fitness boot camp (in the evening) on Monday. This will be arranged at the preliminary audition. The final cut will be learned Tuesday evening April 4 at 6:30 p.m.

Final auditions will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 5. Registration will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The Falcons cheerleaders sport pink pom poms for breast cancer awareness as they perform during the game against the Texans on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, in Atlanta.
(Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)


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