FanPost

Eagles Free Agency Targets: The Curtis Lofton Case

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Prospect number two of our possibly FA linebackers acquisitions. Not to long ago, I gave a write up of what I saw and didn't see on David Hawthorne. He, of course, is one of many players that will be hitting the market this upcoming FA. In this post, I will be giving input on another possibility (though I still say more not than likely) in MLB of the Falcons: Curtis "The Police" Lofton. I myself am actually a fan of Curtis. He's a one of the few players I actually like on that team. And with him hitting the market I figured it would only be appropriate to do a scout of him (plus, I think people don't know too much of him because of the Falcons hate around here). More after the jump......

Curtis Lofton

Height: 6'0"

Weight: 241

Photobucket

Lofton started right out of the gate his rookie year at MLB in 2008. I didn't see much of him his rookie year and only saw him in spurts during his 2nd year. But the spurts that I saw, I was sure he was going to be nothing less than the future signal caller for the Falcons for years to come. His 492 tackles since he's entered the league in 2008 ranks 5th after London Fletcher (577), Patrick Willis (518), Chad Greenway (512), and Jerod Mayo (501). He is an athletic player, but also has good football smarts. Not the tallest or the biggest, but effective nonetheless (sounds familiar?).

Another one of those players that I thought would be sure-fire sign, but I guess numbers speak volumes. What I mean by that is contracts of course. Word is, he was seeking a contract similar to what David Harris got (4 yr/ $36 mil). Also you throw in things that have grown across the grape-vine such as....

They won’t be crushed if Curtis Lofton leaves. The middle linebacker is a three-year starter and a fierce tackler, but there’s growing sentiment that he’s a liability against the pass. The question thus becomes: Would you pay $8 million a year for a two-down linebacker? At the right price, the Falcons would love to keep Lofton. If he does depart, they’d give Akeem Dent, the Georgia product taken in Round 3 last year, a long look in the middle.

Ranking high on the to-do list for new Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is getting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton out of the team's "sub" third-down coverage schemes. Lofton is a superb, two-down 4-3 middle linebacker, and retaining the pending unrestricted free agent is a priority for the Falcons, but the four-year veteran is a liability in third-down situations. Don't be surprised if ascending star Sean Witherspoon, who is very good against the pass, moves more to the middle in "nickel" situations in 2012. …

After reading that, you may understand why as to the reasoning behind the Falcons' FO to hit Lofton with such a Lofty (no pun intended) contract. As with Hawthorne, I decided to go on the prowl and look into his play a little bit myself. From what it sounds like is that he is a designated run stopper of a LB who is deficient in coverage (quite a trend among MLBs). The games I will be reviewing will be: vs the Panthers, vs the Saints, vs the Giants (this one won't be as good as the Hawthorne one's since I couldn't get any GIFs).

Game 1: vs the Panthers

Towards the end of the season, it was said that Lofton's game started to regress even in the department of run stuffing which is where he is best at. Most of the games I will be looking at will be towards the end of the season so their may be some various shifts in my thoughts, but it won't affect my overall thoughts of Lofton, so just be aware one quote won't sway the overall thought by itself.

The Negatives:

>In the beginning of the game, Lofton started off by not shedding blocks very well. If you look at his reactions, you can tell he bases a lot off of his pre-snap reads. I like that he trusts his first instinct, but in some cases it works against him. The block shedding seemed more mental than physical, however.

>He was pretty bad in man coverage in this game. He allowed one TD, but the stats won't show everything. He seemed to have a thing with letting the TE's get position on him. A lot of times he plays the deep route while letting the underneath route go which allows for easy pitch n' catch for the QB and the short target.

>This one plays a lot like the last bullet, he has bad route recognition. On the TD he allowed, it was obvious that the bigger Shockey was gonna run to the back of the endzone yet Lofton got caught on his heels because he seemed so unsure. He has a problem diagnosing screens as well. Granted, they would flare another RB out of the back field a few times, but still he would be no where to be found once the screen was set up.

The Positives:

>You're gonna see one reoccurring phrase coming throughout the rest of the post: SECURE TACKLER. And when I say it, I mean it. Once he gets his arms on you, 9/10 times you go down. Does he always lay the big hit? No. Is it always for a loss? No. But he is good at limiting YAC. I will say that.

>He seemed like a great run blitzer and effectively was in the backfield every time he was blitzed. I didn't see many blitzes for the pass (maybe they were designed for the pass, but the offense called a run), but the point is he was always doing something. Not hesitant, not slow, was in motion, was doing something.

>Liked the fire I saw in him. One play that he got blocked by the lineman and after the play they got into a small tussle after the play. It wasn't malicious, just as far as football scuffles go, but he isn't afraid to let players know "Hey I ain't taking shit from anyone." And I like that.

>Love his closing speed. He gets to the ball carrier very quick and bring them down. As mentioned, very good at preventing YAC.

*Just to note, something that happens a lot with him is he seems to give up the underneath route and watch for the big play or anything mid-level. I don't know if he's coached to do that or does that by his own account, but it would seem that that's the reason so much is allowed underneath.

*By the way......Weatherspoon. Shoulda got him.

Game 2: vs the Saints

This wasn't one of his better games, however, he wasn't really targeted since most of Brees' work consists of down field work. This game didn't work in his favor reason being because its the Saints and they run an Air Raid type of offense that is bound to put in work on the secondary rather than the second level.

The Negatives:

>Benefit of the doubt, but he did have trouble shedding blocks once again. However, he was going against Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks (two of the best in the game), so I won't take too much away from him in this one.

>Identifying PA was a problem for him in the game. Like I said, he was never attacked, but my focus was on him and he took many false steps this game. Nothing much more to say than that.

>Coverage wasn't his bright spot once again. In this game he looked indecisive. The Saints offense is designed to spread you out and in his case, he looked like he couldn't figure out who to cover or in zone he just covered the area where the target would be, but wasn't sure of where the target was. He kept his eyes in the backfield and tried to play Brees' eyes (which isn't good to do because Brees' is smart enough to look off targets).

>Anticipation. This is a key to Lofton's game, but it can be positive or negative. In this game, it was a negative. He is usually moving as soon as the snap begins and has a good idea where the play is going, but the Saints are just so potent on offense that most of his guesses turned out wrong and it left him in bad position or not where he should of been. Once again, he wasn't attacked, but it just should be noted that the option was there.

The Positives:

>HITTER!!!

>While not his best coverage game, I like his reactions. One play where Jimmy Graham nearly made the catch over him for a TD (and Graham is good at waiting to till the last second to try and make the catch), he got his hand in the middle and knocked out the ball and it ended up as and INT. If he has a chance to make a play on the ball, he is going to make it.

>He showed true leadership and to be a true professional. I liked it personally. Even with the team facing imminent defeat late in the game, he was still giving it his all on every play and was getting in guys faces and trying to make them keep playing. I don't know about you, but that speaks volumes to me (just imagine if we had some of that last year).

>SECURE TACKLER

Game 3: vs the Giants (Wild Card round)

This was Lofton's best game by far of the games that I watched. The defense of the Falcons played about as well as you could as for, but the Falcons anemic offense was just that. If the Falcons offense was a ball on a greased 70 degree slope they still couldn't move in this game.

The Negatives:

>Anticipation was once again a negative in this game. As much as I like that he tries to predesignate where the play is going, I think it best he would learn to read and react, but I'm not the NFL player so I guess he would know what works for him.

>Charges to quick on the outside runs. Sometimes its best you keep yourself clean and use the sideline as a 12th man. Is it the sexiest way to make a play? Obviously not, but it is effective. If you just charge and try to make a play sometimes you can take yourself out of one. He didn't do it more than once (twice depending on how you read the play).

>This is going to be a positive and negative...he gets himself into the piles. The case where its a negative is when you just charge into the group "Hi-Ho Silver". He did that a couple (not many though) times this day.

Note: A lot of times when he anticipates where a play is going, he doesn't respect the cut back lanes or if he can't anticipate where the run is going he won't attack as aggressively. Its understandable, but it just plays forward to my reasoning of why he should learn to read and react more.

The Positives

>RUN STOPPABLE! (Yes that is a pun, laugh now). But seriously, they only reason one could say he was bad against the run is because he was going against Brandon Jacobs. If Jacobs would have weighed about 30 less lbs, he would have been stopped in his tracks multiple times.

>Secure tackler. It was never more evident than today. He did as good a job as you can do from preventing the Giant RBs and TEs from making anything happen with the ball their hands. You really couldn't ask him for much more in the running game today.

>Shredded the full back easily today. Hynoski didn't have much of a chance in keeping him from making a play of RBs this day and he made it clear from the opening snap. I think they ended up having to have Ballard block him more down the stretch.

>When he was diagnosing and reacting to the run today, he did it very well. I've said he does a lot of anticipating, but there are times where he does read and react and when he does it, he actually does a pretty good job. I don't know why he doesn't do it more.

>Manning normally likes to be check down Charlie when he gets pressure early, but Lofton did a good job preventing the pass short today. He only allowed one catch in coverage (except on one play where he had to cover the TE down field and the RB had a flare route on delay). Really all around a solid day for Lofton.

>As I said earlier, the fact that he gets into piles is a positive and a negative. When its a positive is when its when the RB is trying to push the pile forward and you hop in just to prevent that from happening, but we've seen what happens when you just jump blindly into the pile as a defender without knowing where the running back is.

Word is "5-0" is looking at a reduced role next season as he would only be a two down LB. And it includes this interesting piece....

.....Lofton may be more reluctant to re-sign with the team if they're not willing to play him as a full-time guy, even if the Falcons are no less serious about re-signing him. It could give Weatherspoon more run in different roles, and it could lead to Adkins finally breaking into the starting lineup part-time, given that he's the only reserve on the roster who appears to have any coverage chops. But this is mostly conjecture.

It goes without saying that Lofton is a great young player, but he isn't elite. Really, the only elite MLBs that I can think of are Willis, Beason (when healthy), Urlacher, and Lewis. Word is Lofton is looking for a contract similar to that of David Harris (4 yr/ $36 mil). Well not only is Lofton not worth that much, neither was Harris for that matter (and I'm a Harris fan). But if he's really expecting to head out into FA and command an $8 million per year contract as a known 2 down LB who has "issues" in coverage, he's going to be very disappointed.

The majority of the fans in ATL do want him back as can be read in this article on Lofton from Falcoholics.

He is some comments from them....

I'm more worried about losing Lofton

Than Grimes or Abraham. Simply, because defensive backs just aren’t worth as much in todays NFL and Abe is old. But if Lofton can’t cover, that is a problem.

He makes a lot

of tackles, and should as a MLB in a 4 3, that is the design. Most of those tackles are about 5 yards or over past the the LOS. Averages 1 sack and 1 INT a year. A tackle for a loss happens about once every 4 games.

A playmaker is not how I would describe him, although last year was his best year in that regard. A good, dependable MLB with limited coverage skills about sums him up.

Lofton is easier to replace than

Abe and possibly Grimes. Lofton is a good MLB, not great and not top tier. I love Lofton in a Falcons jersey but this is a position that ATL could improve on or possibly fill with the same level of player for less than Lofton will want to get paid.


(There are more, but I'm just taking the general consensus).

The truth is, the MLB position on a 4-3 defense, just isn't easy to find a stud anymore quite frankly. Most of them do really want Lofton back and I consider him the best player at that position in the off-season (even over Tulloch contrary to PFF). Lofton should be looking for a contract more like the average LB to maybe slightly about average (maybe around $6 mil/ per year with incentives).

Once again, however, the WIDE-9 factor comes into play for us Eagles fans. Do you think Lofton's style of play would fit behind the Wide-9? Lofton racks up tackles, but when forced to do it on the fly, can he sustain that pace? Even more abstruse of a question is how deep are the Eagles true cares about adding a LB. As we've heard, we are "rumored to be interested" in Dan Connor. Would they be interested in Lofton who cost a bit more?

What are your thoughts?

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