The Falcons wrapped up their 2014 Draft on Saturday evening, and brought in some players with huge upside. Jake Matthews and Ra’Shede Hageman headline Atlanta’s draftees, but there are a few other players who can immediately make a difference as well. Let’s go ahead and jump right to grading our newest Falcons.
Round 1, Pick 6: OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
The Falcons could have better improved their team by trading back and acquiring another 2nd or 3rd rounder, but no teams were interesting in making a move. Instead, Atlanta settled for arguably the best tackle in the class, and provided Matt Ryan with a trustworthy pass protector. Jake has incredible bloodlines, which contributed to his vast understanding of the game and impeccable technique. Falcons fans rejoice.
Round 2, Pick 37: DT/DE Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Many were thinking pass rushing OLB here, but Dimitroff had other plans. Ra’Shede is a freak athlete at the DT position, and offers versatility as the Falcons can also use him at DE in 34 sets. While this was a steal at the top of the 2nd, the Falcons still desperately need to add an elite pass rusher. However, the Falcons really improved the trenches, and added another piece to their hybrid defense.
Round 3, Pick 67: S Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin
Atlanta needed to address the FS position as some point here in the draft, and did so by adding the versatile Southward here in the 3rd. Coverage has been an issue for Dezmen, and spine and wrist injuries kept him from participating in the combine. His size and speed is his strong suit, as he does have the build and athleticism to be an NFL free safety. Bottom line, the Falcons reached when they could of had a pure cover safety in Terrence Brooks or pass rusher in Scott Crichton.
Round 4, Pick 103: RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State
A tough runner for his size, Devonta will be Snelling’s initial replacement in 2014. He was a very productive back while splitting carries with other backs at Florida State, becoming the first running back since Warrick Dunn to surpass 1000 yards. Freeman is patient with blocks, and also brings a pass catching element to his game. He is not an elite talent, but Atlanta got great value here to begin Day 3.
Round 4, Pick 139: OLB Prince Shembo, Notre Dame
A very physical linebacker with nastiness is what the Falcons needed in this draft, and that’s what Dimitroff is getting to close the 4th round. Shembo fits the physical description, as he is a sound run defender, but isn’t flashy in the pass rushing department with 5 sacks in 2013 (three of which came in one game). Prince has a questionable past and was allegedly involved in sexual assault, but for Dimitroff to make this pick he must have done extensive research, and found evidence supporting Shembo’s case.
Round 5, Pick 147: CB Ricardo Allen, Purdue
I’m a little puzzled at this selection, because Atlanta added corners Javier Arenas and Josh Wilson in free agency just weeks ago. However, Allen is a undersized, yet athletic playmaker who may fit a future need.
Round 5, Pick 168: ILB Marquis Spruill, Syracuse
Spruill is a well respected player of the Syracuse defense, and displays incredible closing speed and burst. Atlanta traded their 6th and 7th round picks to move back up to make this selection, but many considered him a 7th rounder or priority free agent. If he turns out to be at the very least a quality pass rusher for the Falcons, the loss of late round picks will be forgiven.
Round 7, Pick 253: OLB Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut
A team captain for the Huskies, Smallwood was considered a mid-round prospect, and one that many Falcons fans were hoping for. Atlanta got great value out of this pick, and are making it apparent they plan to have an intense camp battle at all positions in the linebacker corps.
Round 7, Pick 255: OLB Tyler Starr, South Dakota
Another linebacker pick here shows us that Atlanta is serious about a 3-4 base set. Starr is a pass rusher through and through with an athletic upside. While the Falcons waited too long to address this need, Starr could be a pleasant surprise at little cost.