May 11, 2014

2014 NFL Draft Review: Atlanta Falcons

#75 Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M

Atlanta Falcons
Division: NFC South | Last Season Record: 4-12

What Needed to be addressed in the Draft: As last season's 4-12 record suggests, the Falcons went into the draft with several pressing needs. Protecting Matt Ryan had to be their number one priority, and they could potentially land a franchise tackle in the first round.

Their second biggest needs should have been addressed in the early rounds. They need an edge rusher. Probably someone who can stand up and play outside linebacker in their new 3-4 defense. After releasing Thomas Decoud, they would also need to find a starter rather early in this draft, as the safety class isn't particularly strong.

Lastly, if they could come away with a starting tight end and add some talent at running back, that would also help Matt Ryan elevate his game, and potentially help the Falcons jump near the top of the NFC South.

Individual Draft Picks:

Round 1

6. (6) Jake Matthews, OT
Experience: Senior | School: Texas A&M
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 308 lbs.

Round 2

5. (37) Ra'Shede Hageman, DT
Experience: Senior (RS) | School: Minnesota
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 310 lbs.

Round 3

4. (68) Dezmen Southward, SS
Experience: Senior (RS) | School: Wisconsin
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 212 lbs.

Round 4

3. (103) Devonta Freeman*, RB
Experience: Junior | School: Florida State
Height: 5-8 | Weight: 205 lbs.

39. (139) Prince Shembo, OLB
Experience: Senior | School: Notre Dame
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 255 lbs.

Round 5

7. (147) Ricardo Allen, CB
Experience: Senior | School: Purdue
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 186 lbs.

28. (168) Marquis Spruill, OLB
Experience: Senior | School: Illinois
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 231 lbs.

Round 7

38. (253) Yawin Smallwood*, ILB
Experience: Junior (RS) | School: Connecticut
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 242 lbs.

40. (255) Tyler Starr, OLB
Experience: Senior | School: South Dakota
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 249 lbs.

Two Picks of Note:

Best Value Pick:

Ra'Shede Hageman, DT (Round 2, Pick 5)
Experience: Senior | School: Minnesota
Height: 6-6 | Weight: 270 lbs.

Analysis: Wanted to go with Yawin Smallwood here, but if you can get your own JJ Watt in the second round, that's excellent value. Hageman just needs to be more consistent, but he flashes dominance. He has top 15 talent.

Most Questionable Pick:

Dezmen Southward, SS (Round 3, Pick 4)
Experience: Senior (RS) | School: Wisconsin
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 212 lbs.

Analysis: Southward is big and fast, but this was a pretty big reach for a player who needs a lot of work before he can even sniff the starting lineup. Atlanta got desperate trying to fill a big need.

Undrafted Free Agent Signings:

Most Notable

Jeff Mathews, QB
Experience: Senior | School: Cornell
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 223 lbs.

Analysis: I like this pick up for Atlanta, because they don't really have a reliable back up quarterback. Jeff Mathews could get an opportunity to compete for that spot this off-season.

Other Free Agent Signings

Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State
James Stone, C, Tennessee
Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse
Geraldo Boldewijn, WR, Boise State
Brenden, Daley, ILB Hawaii
Bernard Reedy, WR, Toledo
Jacob Pederson, TE, Wisconsin
Javon Marshall, S, Vanderbilt
Donte Rumph, DT, Kentucky
Walker May, DE, Vanderbilt
Kimario McFadden, S, South Carolina
Jestin Love, DB, Central Arkansas
Tay Glover-Wright, CB, Utah State
Nosa Eguae, DE, Auburn

Draft Review:

Analysis: Greg Robinson was the consensus top tackle in this year's draft, but I don't think there's any question that Jake Matthews is the most NFL ready. They needed to draft a tackle early to help keep Matt Ryan upright, and they accomplished that.

They keep the ball rolling, getting excellent value at the top of round 2 with Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Loved this pick. He's going to be a stud at one of the 3-4 defensive end spots.

After great picks in the first two rounds, Atlanta's draft was steady. They did reach for a late round project at safety in Dezmen Howard, but other than that, they did a nice job of getting decent value while filling a few holes on defense.

Prince Shembo, Marqius Spruill, and Tyler Starr give Atlanta much needed depth at linebacker, while Ricardo Allen could emerge as a #3 or #4 corner. However, the steal of the draft could be Yawin Smallwood. He couldn't finish working out at the combine due to injury, and looked like an early day 3 guy at worst. It wouldn't shock me if he ends up becoming a starter.

Atlanta took just one skill position player, and his name is Devonta Freeman. He'll be a solid rotational back earlier on, but has 3 down starter potential. One of my favorite players in this class, by the way.

The Verdict: Atlanta killed the first two rounds, and got a few potential late round steals in the process. Jake Matthews is their left tackle of the future, and Ra'Shede Hageman should be a star. However, the Falcons desperately needed to target a pass rusher early as well as a play making tight end, and failed to do so. And I'm not so sure they came out of this draft with a starting safety.

Overall Grade: C+