Good afternoon. Is it afternoon already? I guess it is. So, 25 combines for me, and six as a general manager. One constant is that we are here to acquire talent, and for those of us with a personnel background, this is our pseudo-pilgrimage to Mecca, so to speak. There are some great players in this draft, and guys who can help us, as always. I thought we developed in a lot of different areas this year, but we need to develop more, as always. Smitty was up here recently, and I think he would agree that we like where we're going, and we need to continue to go up. That's why we're here. We think we'll glean a lot of information in what is a very important process for us.
(On being here in 2008 versus now):
In 2008, we came in here and we were the youngest team in the NFL. This last year, we were one of the oldest. That was because of some very calculated placement of veterans along our roster. This is a cyclical league, and going into our sixth season, we have a lot of very difficult decisions to make. Without expounding specifically, those are decisions that will be affected by talent, as well as the cap situation. We have a lot of work to do, and one of the reasons we're he is to determine the talent that is out there on the field, and how it compares to our talent.
(Initial snapshot of this year's draft talent):
It's exciting to see that it's a nice group of defensive players. Both lines -- offensively and defensively, there are a number of players that can be impactful for a lot of teams. it's a nice safety group. In all, I believe that it's a good group of talent across the board from 1 to 32. We're sitting at 32 this year, and it's a little bit different. We keep nudging down the numbers a bit. But it's nice to have a full draft back. Though I'd never do it any other way as we did with our move a couple years ago, it's nice to jump back in with a full draft. With seven, plus two possible compensatory picks.
(On this year's WR class):
Talented group of receivers every year, in my mind. I think that group two years ago with Julio Jones and A.J. Green doesn't come along every year. There are talented receivers every year, but to have two guys like that, who impact their teams as well as the league, that was very impressive. As far as this group, you can win with this young group of receivers who come in and ... you don't have to have a receiver who impacts as an A.J. Green did, or, humbly, how Julio might have.
(On projecting offensive linemen who haven't been 4-year starters):
That's always a difficult thing, but if you have one of those situations where you have an adept scouting staff who are used to projecting -- looking at the player's movement and athleticism. Looking at a player's requisite skills -- obviously, his traits off the field. There's so much involved in our evaluation of these players. When there's not a lot of tape, and not a lot of background, that's where I stress the importance of having a strong scouting staff. Because this isn't just about the head coach and general manager making decisions -- it's about gathering all that information, and all the assessment, and all the evaluations, and finally making a decision. I may not have seen that much of the guy, but we may have had 4 or 5 scouts through the university, and they may have gleaned certain information that I would never touch, because I don't have the information our staff has.
(On the static salary cap):
We've all been thinking about that. It seems that the league is changing a little bit, and the insinuation that some, not all, of the middle class, will potentially be moved on from in certain organizations. There's a lot of money for those certain guys that you have to deal with, and you have to be creative and make sure you can fit the guys on your roster who may be younger in the game. It's about developing talent -- that's huge in the game today. The way it is right now with the cap, it's very important to make sure that your coaching staff is very in line with your personnel staff and your general manager to make sure we're about the development of our young guys. They can be potentially the next big-ticket guys, but they're still producing for you while they're in the lower categories as far as the money.
(A certain type of running back he likes?):
Our running back situation has changed. When we came in in 2008, Michael Turner was our driving force, and he was a heck of a contributor for us. We didn't have the same receiver group and the stress on our receivers. We approach it a different way, and that's something we'll look at here while he evaluate the running backs in this group. That's going to be something we decide going forward -- are we going to fill that depth with more power, or more receiving ability? Again, there are a lot of factors out there that Coach Smith and I are discussing.
(Quarterbacks in this draft class):
We talk about that every year, and we try to assess the talent of the quarterback group. How incredibly important they are, and how we go as our quarterbacks go. There's talent in this group; it's just a matter of assessing where those talents are and how you can use whatever the talent is when you do draft them, and how you navigate that. In 2008, I thought we did a very fine job with our coaching staff in how we eased Matt Ryan in, as well as the other teams and their coaching staffs. You can take a quarterback in this draft, and put him in the right situation with the right approach, and you can win a lot of games. The actual strength of this quarterback group? I always say, let's see how this pans out. Fortunately for us right now, we're not looking for a quarterback. We have a quarterback that will hopefully be with us for a long, long time. But to answer your question, there are some good quarterbacks in this group.
(On Matt Ryan's extension):
It's a priority for us when the time is right, and we're not too worried about it, because we're confident it's going to get done. Our feeling is that Matt's going to be with us for many years to come, and he's our franchise guy that we're very proud of, on and off the field. Matt's what we're looking for in a quarterback.
(On whether the Falcons use analytics in their scouting process):
Analytics are always a big part of the process. At times, they've been off to the side and quiet, but it's coming to the forefront a lot more, and people are talking about it a lot more. Teams are more outspoken about people they're hiring in an analytical fashion. Statistical analysis is very important when you're assessing talent on the field -- assessing those numbers when you're coming into the draft, and how they might compare in the NFL, and it's how we evaluate a lot of our players, as well. It's a supplement, and it goes back to making sure you have all the tools necessary, and hopefully, you have a little bit of an edge over somebody else because you have a different approach. I believe that everyone in the National Football League is aware and cognizant of the proper use of analytics; some are just more in-depth as far as how then use them.
(On the tight end group this year):
It's a good tight end group. The numbers are good, the athleticism is good, the ability to catch the ball is good, and the ability to block is there. I think we all know the importance of the tight end position -- it's not just about catching the ball, but it's also about being able to block the right way. Not always as effective as some of those big tight ends, but if you have the total package, and I think there are a number of guys in this group with the total package -- blocking and receiving.
(Has having Tony Gonzalez on his team changed how he evaluates tight ends?):
Tony Gonzalez has been so effective for us, to catch over 100 balls in a season as a 36-year-old is unbelievable. What he's done on and off the field for us -- it has changed our opinion of what a tight end is, or what our goals are in acquiring a tight end. That doesn't come around every day, and we know that. We talk about it all the time, in our draft rooms. If you can find a tight end who can block, as well as run around, separate, catch the ball, and turn up the field, and there are a number of them in the league right now. it's not just Tony Gonzalez -- it's a number of these tight ends in the league who have been very prolific. They're such high-percentage shots, it makes us realize the importance of the position. We don't underestimate that when we're evaluating.
(Has be seen another Tony Gonzalez -- so good at his age? How many years does he think Gonzalez could play?):
Tony's an anomaly. You see him walk out on to the field as a 36-year-old, and he looks like he's 25. He's in great shape, he takes care of himself, and he moves around the way I think he's always moved around. Everyone loses a step or a quarter of a step, but Tony can still produce at a very high level, and those guys don't come around every day. Some of them may come around, but they only last a few years. What he has done has been unparalleled, and we hope that he makes his decision to come back and play for the Atlanta Falcons. I would take this year by year. When we made this trade back in 2009, it's a trade that I'm very proud that we as an organization went for something like this. I was fortunate to have a relationship with Scott Pioli to broker the deal, and it's been good for both sides. I wasn't sure whether he was going to be there for one year, or two years, or maybe three. Now, we're staring down the barrel of potentially a fifth season, and I'm just taking it a year at a time. I'm just happy that he's contemplating coming back to play.
(On Jonathan Massaquoi):
Jonathan Massaquoi, he's a heck of an athlete. As a 260-pounder, he can get up the field and turn the corner. We continued to work with him, and he continued to show on the practice field that he has promise in gametime situations. We're counting on continuing to develop him -- like I said, it's about continuing to develop our young talent. We think he has the tools to become more than a backup, no question.
(On Tony Gonzalez's future -- 50/50?):
It's interesting. I made the mistake of saying 50/50 the other day. That was a little bit tongue-in-cheek, only because Tony has to make his decision, as we know. That was wishful thinking on my part, that he's contemplating it seriously, which I'm sure he is. We'll know in time -- there's no time frame on this right now. It's totally up to him to make his decision, and we just hope he'll be stepping on the field for us when the time is right. I know he's enjoyed his time with Atlanta, and we're in a good place.