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Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots Take Different Approach to Building Super Bowl Rosters

By Chris Malumphy

Thirty teams will be watching from the stands or on television when Super Bowl 51 is played, their seasons having been ended prematurely. During the long build up to the big game their fans will be wondering what went wrong this season for the team they love. Each of the front offices will be trying to figure out what needs to be done to reach the next tier. All will be searching for the secret to success. Everyone will study the Patriots and the Falcons in hopes of gleaning a tip to help them achieve the ultimate goal.

The need for great coaching and a good quarterback is obvious. But how are the rest of the Super Bowl rosters put together. A partial answer can be obtained by just looking at the anticipated starting lineups and observing where in the draft those players were selected. You'll quickly learn where the two best teams of the 2016 season place their priorities.

Reflecting the differences in the relative success of the two teams over the past decade, the Falcons have three top 10 draft picks starting on offense and two on defense while the Patriots have no top 10 pick starting on offense and the only one starting on defense, Chris Long, was signed after being released by the Rams who originally drafted him. While New England didn't use top ten picks to build their roster, both the Falcons and the Patriots are built around high draft choices on defense. The two teams differ widely, however, on the emphasis placed on building the offensive skill positions.

Defense

Of the Falcons and Patriots 22 defensive starters, 16 taken within the top 83 draft picks. Five others were drafted within the top 147 choices. Only one was undrafted. Thirty general managers should take note: no player drafted in the 6th or 7th round will start on defense in this year's Super Bowl. In fact, only a handful of defensive players drafted after the 3rd round will start. With rare exception, late round defensive draft picks are essentially worthless except for manning special teams and serving as backups. That is a harsh reality. But remember, if this was the NBA only the top half of the 1st round would really matter. The top two NFL teams in 2016 ooze with defensive talent (at least as measured at draft time).

Super Bowl Defensive Starters
Atlanta Falcons Defense
PositionNameDraftedTeamRoundPickPlayerPositionCollege
LDEBrooks Reed2011Texans21042DEArizona
DTJonathan Babineaux2005Falcons22759DTIowa
DTGrady Jarrett2015Falcons51137DTClemson
RDETyson Jackson2009Chiefs133DELouisiana State
SLBVic Beasley2015Falcons188LBClemson
MLBDeion Jones2016Falcons22152LBLouisiana State
WLBDe'Vondre Campbell2016Falcons417115LBMinnesota
LCBRobert Alford2013Falcons22860DBSoutheastern Louisiana
RCBJalen Collins2015Falcons21042DBLouisiana State
FSKeanu Neal2016Falcons11717DBFlorida
SSRicardo Allen2014Falcons57147DBPurdue
New England Patriots Defense
PositionNameDraftedTeamRoundPickPlayerPositionCollege
LDEChris Long2008Rams122DEVirginia
DTAlan Branch2007Cardinals2133DTMichigan
DTMalcom Brown2015Patriots13232DTTexas
RDETrey Flowers2015Patriots42101DEArkansas
SLBShea McClellin2012Bears11919DEBoise State
MLBDont'a Hightower2012Patriots12525LBAlabama
WLBRob Ninkovich2006Saints52135DEPurdue
LCBMalcolm Butler             West Alabama
RCBLogan Ryan2013Patriots32183DBRutgers
FSDevin McCourty2010Patriots12727DBRutgers
SSPatrick Chung2009Patriots2234DBOregon

All 11 of the Falcons' defensive starters were drafted, two by other teams: defensive ends Brooks Reed (Texans) and Tyson Jackson (Chiefs). Eight of the Falcons' defensive starters were selected in the top 60 picks. All 11 were within the top 147 picks. The Falcons have three 1st rounders and five 2nd rounders starting on defense.

Seven of the Patriots' defensive starters were drafted in top 34 picks. Eight were in the top 83 picks.

Four of the Patriots' defensive front seven come from other teams: defensive end Chris Long, defensive tackle Alan Branch and linebacks Shea McClellin and Rob Ninkovich.

The only undrafted starter on the Patriots' defense is cornerback Malcolm Butler.

While both the Falcons and the Patriots have obtained some of their defensive talent by signing players from other teams, none of those players were overly expensive free agent acquisitions.

Offense

The Patriots and Falcons differ markedly in how their offenses were built, particularly at the skill positions. The Falcons expended three top six picks on key offensive positions: quarterback Matt Ryan (3rd, 2008), wide receiver Julio Jones (6th, 2011) and left tackle Jake Matthews (6th, 2014). The Patriots have only had two top ten picks this century and both were expended on defensive players who are now gone from New England: Richard Seymour and Jerod Mayo.

Super Bowl Offensive Starters
Atlanta Falcons Offense
PositionNameDraftedTeamRoundPickPlayerPositionCollege
QBMatt Ryan2008Falcons133QBBoston College
RBDevonta Freeman2014Falcons43103RBFlorida State
FBPatrick DiMarco             South Carolina
WRJulio Jones2011Falcons166WRAlabama
WRMohamed Sanu2012Bengals32083WRRutgers
TEAustin Hooper2016Falcons31881TEStanford
LTJake Matthews2014Falcons166 TTexas A&M
LGAndy Levitre2009Bills21951 GOregon State
CAlex Mack2009Browns12121 CCalifornia
RGChris Chester2006Ravens22456 COklahoma
RTRyan Schraeder             Valdosta State
New England Patriots Offense
PositionNameDraftedTeamRoundPickPlayerPositionCollege
QBTom Brady2000Patriots633199QBMichigan
RBLeGarrette Blount             Oregon
RBDion Lewis2011Eagles518149RBPittsburgh
James White2014Patriots430130RBWisconsin
WRJulian Edelman2009Patriots723232WRKent State
WRChris Hogan             Monmouth
TEMartellus Bennett2008Cowboys23061TETexas A&M
LTNate Solder2011Patriots11717 TColorado
LGJoe Thuney2016Patriots31578 GNorth Carolina State
CDavid Andrews             Georgia
RGShaquille Mason2015Patriots432131 CGeorgia Tech
RTMarcus Cannon2011Patriots57138 TTexas Christian

The Patriots offense is built upon later picks and castoffs from other teams. The only starter in the Patriots/Falcons Super Bowl drafted later than quarterback Tom Brady (199th, 2000) is his leading receiver Julian Edelman (232nd, 2009). His other wideout is the undrafted Chris Hogan. The leading runner on the Patriots, LeGarrette Blount, was also undrafted and has been cut by numerous teams. I guess that Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels know how to coach them up. And they sure know how to keep the salary cap in check.

Apparently, the Falcons and Patriots do agree on one thing offensively, however. Both teams seem to ascribe to the theory of the diminished worth of ball carriers. Neither will start a running back drafted earlier than the 4th round or within the top 100 picks.

The only 1st round draft pick starting for the Patriots on offense is left tackle Nate Solder. The only 2nd round pick is tight end Martellus Bennett, originally drafted by Bears. Of course the Patriots lucked out by drafting the greatest quarterback of this era with the 199th pick in 2000. And the Patriots' starting Super Bowl lineup does not reflect that the team expended a relatively high 2nd round choice (42nd pick) on the currently injured tight end Rob Gronkowski in 2010.

The only two offensive starters drafted by the Patriots in the top 100 picks are LT Nate Solder (17th, 2011) and LG Joe Thuney (78th 2016). Five of the Patriots' offensive starters were drafted 130th or later: quarterback Tom Brady (199th, 2000), whoever will start at running back from Dion Lewis (149th, 2011) or James White (130th, 2014), wide receiver Julian Edelman (232nd, 2009), guard Shaq Mason (131st, 2015) and tackle Marcus Cannon (138th, 2011).

The Patriots have three undrafted offensive starters: running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Chris Hogan and center David Andrews. Blount would probably have been drafted in the first few rounds had he not punched a player on the sidelines in a game while at Oregon. Four Patriots' offensive starters began careers elsewhere: Blount, Lewis, Hogan and Bennett.

The Patriots starting offensive line is entirely homegrown. The team drafted left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, right guard Shaq Mason and right takle Marcus Cannon and signed center David Andrews as an undrafted free agent.

The Falcons have four first round draft picks starting on offensive: quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Julio Jones, left tackle Jake Matthews and center Alex Mack (signed as a free agent from Cleveland where he was drafted with the 21st pick in 2009).

The only Falcons' offensive starters drafted after the 83rd pick is running back Devonta Freeman (103rd, 2014). Fullback Patrick DiMarco and right tackle Ryan Schraeder were undrafted.

Special Teams

The Patriots used a 4th round pick to draft placekicker Stephen Gostkowski (118th, 2006) while the Falcons drafted punter and kickoff specialist Matt Bosher (192nd, 2011) with a 6th round choice.

Super Bowl Specialists
Atlanta Falcons Special Teams
PositionNameDraftedTeamRoundPickPlayerPositionCollege
PKMatt Bryant             Baylor
PMatt Bosher2011Falcons627192 KMiami (FL)
KOMatt Bosher2011Falcons627192 KMiami (FL)
LSJosh Harris      Auburn
HMatt Bosher2011Falcons627192 KMiami (FL)
KREric Weems             Bethune-Cookman
PREric Weems             Bethune-Cookman
New England Patriots Special Teams
PositionNameDraftedTeamRoundPickPlayerPositionCollege
PKStephen Gostkowski2006Patriots421118 KMemphis
PRyan Allen             Louisiana Tech
LSJoe Cardona2015Patriots530166 CNavy
HRyan Allen             Louisiana Tech
KRCyrus Jones2016Patriots22960DBAlabama
PRDanny Amendola             Texas Tech

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