- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The Atlanta Falcons' draft-day trade for wide receiver Julio Jones was bold. With hopes of adding explosiveness to Matt Ryan's offensive arsenal, they traded their No. 1, a No. 2 and No. 4 in 2011 and a No. 1 and a No. 4 in 2012. They moved up from 27th in the first round to get Jones at No. 6.
Five-for-one swaps are rare and they are risky, particularly when dealing with young receivers. Perhaps the last trade this big for a rookie receiver was when the San Francisco 49ers moved up to get J.J. Stokes in 1995. Like the Falcons, the 49ers were a playoff team trying to get over the top.
The 49ers were at the 30th pick. To move up to the 10th pick, the 49ers had to give up their first, a No. 3 and a No. 4 in 1995 and No. 1 in 1996. Stokes, unfortunately for the 49ers, wasn't that last piece. He had a 10-year career but never did better than a 770-yard season. He averaged 12.6 yards a catch during his career.
What ended up putting the 49ers back over the top was lucking into Terrell Owens in the third round the next season.
In the NFC South, teams such as the Falcons must be aggressive. The Saints are loaded on offense. The Bucs are rising quickly because of their youth and talent. But can one receiver make that much of a difference? Maybe not.
The Falcons still need a pass-rushing defensive end. If the NFL eventually must implement the 2010 free-agency system -- in which players need six years to become unrestricted -- the Falcons may have to work a trade, further dipping into their draft-choice reserve. The pass-rusher to follow is Ray Edwards of the Vikings. If the 2010 system is in place, maybe the Falcons can trade wide receiver Michael Jenkins to get Edwards, who would be a restricted free agent.
But give the Falcons credit for swinging for the fences.
From the inbox
Q: What do you think the odds are of Michael Huff landing in Dallas?
Connor in Southlake, Texas
A: The chances are a lot better knowing the Cowboys didn't do anything in the secondary during the first four picks in the draft. Wisely, they took care of their offensive line, drafting Tyron Smith in the first round and guard David Arkin in the fourth. I thought all along that they wouldn't do anything at cornerback because they liked their top three corners. Safety is a different position. They need help there. You have to figure that the Raiders' Huff is high on their list, but they won't be able to get him if teams are operating under the 2010 rules because he won't be an unrestricted free agent. Only players with six years of experience will be free agents under the 2010 system. Huff has been in the league five.
Phil in Vancouver, Wash.
A: Hill is not in a position in which he has to be released. He can come to camp and compete for a job. The big question is Reggie Bush. Sean Payton says Bush is going to be back, but that's hard to buy when he's making more than $11 million. There aren't enough footballs, carries or catches to justify having that much money tied up in the backfield. Something has to give, but not from the players making minimum salary.
Q: Judging by developments of late in owner-player negotiations, there are a lot of parts of the game that need to be greased. No one, though, seems too concerned about the fans who directly as ticket purchasers or indirectly by buying what advertisers and teams are selling are still the backbone of the league. Without a backbone, the league will collapse. That said, a weakness in the game, as far as many fans are concerned, is the so-called "victory formation" and up to four quarterback kneel-downs by the leading team to run out the clock. Why doesn't the NFL consider a rule change that in order to keep the clock running within the two-minute warning, the ball needs to leave the quarterback's hands with a positive gain, or, if the ball is kept by the QB, he must cross the line of scrimmage? Those plays at the end of a close game should be among the most exciting rather than boring anticlimaxes. Why not play football until the game's end rather than slowing down before the finish line?
Jeff in Wenatchee, Wash.
A: The owners have talked about the kneel-downs, but the victory formation always won out and probably always will. The NFL, thanks to the evolution of the quarterbacks, has grown so much with fourth-quarter comebacks. You can't guarantee any positive gain on any play, so I don't know if your suggestion works. Still, it is a thought.
Q: Do you see Mike Leach getting a shot at the NFL next year, maybe as an offensive coordinator? It would be interesting to see a Leach-run offense in the pros.
Justin in Dallas
A: That would be interesting, but I think the former Texas Tech head coach's offense is better suited to the college game. The guy is a brilliant offensive mind, and he makes the game so simple for a college quarterback. We all thought Norm Chow would be a big hit going to the Titans, but that didn't work out. Leach needs a good college job.
Q: Is QB John Beck a serious option for the Redskins? What do you think the chances are of him actually starting and being successful?
Jon in Virginia
A: Coaches are defined by whom they select as their quarterbacks. Mike Shanahan tried Donovan McNabb and didn't like it. Yes, he is going to go with John Beck. Shanahan went into the draft knowing he wasn't coming out with a quarterback and was planning to make Beck the starter. Like you, everyone is skeptical. Beck showed promise with the Dolphins, and then coach Cam Cameron invested a second-round choice in making him the long-term answer. Cameron lasted one year as a head coach. With all the needs the Redskins have on offense, it's hard to think Beck can bail them out.
Q: Do you agree with the Patriots selecting Ryan Mallett? Brady is still the best QB in the league, and Brian Hoyer is not bad. Do you think they would develop Mallett as a backup or develop him for a trade down the road?
Ray in New Hampshire
A: I'm fine with the selection of Mallett. At the very worst, they can trade him for a third-rounder or higher in future years. They also were able to keep him away from the Miami Dolphins, a division rival that considered moving up to get him in the third round. I wish the Patriots would have done better with the earlier part of the draft by getting a pass-rusher, but they didn't. Mallett at best would only be a backup because Brady will play out his four-year contract and probably get another deal. By then, they can get some value for Mallett.
Q: Do you think that Jimmy Smith will be the player that puts the Ravens over the top? I'm a Steelers fan and I by no means am saying that the Ravens are the better squad, but those highlights of Smith leading up to the draft were scary. With Ray Lewis to help keep his off-the-field issues in check, I see nothing but sleepless nights for OCs in the AFC North.
Ken in Washington, D.C.
A: I don't know if he will put the Ravens over the top, but it was a great gamble. Smith has the ability to match up against an opponent's No. 1 receiver and shut him down. Sure, he has off-the-field issues, but the Ravens have a strong locker room and a strong organization and can handle him. The Ravens had a very good draft overall. Maybe that -- along with the development of QB Joe Flacco -- could be enough to put them over the top.
Q: Can the Steelers be any better than a middling playoff team without a better secondary? Wouldn't it have been worth one of their later picks to move up a handful of spots in the second and get a guy like Brandon Harris, who I strongly believe will be a better cover corner than the Steelers have had since Rod Woodson (not much competition there really)? I just don't understand how a team loses a Super Bowl due mostly to having a horrific CB situation, then does nothing until the 95th pick to address it. William Gay and Bryant McFadden are awful -- just awful.
Dave in Miami
A: At least they drafted two corners in the third and fourth rounds -- Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. They will have to re-sign Ike Taylor and take time to develop both corners. Remember, they did go to the Super Bowl with that secondary. Now they have a couple of options to develop. They had been getting old along the defensive line and had questions along the offensive line. They were able to address all their needs. Now, we'll just have to see how quickly the corners come on to help.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
The last time a team made a huge draft-day deal for a young receiver, it didn't work out, writes John Clayton in his latest mailbag.