Atlanta Falcons Day 3 2014 NFL Draft Primer
The Atlanta Falcons continue to re-load a team that needed minimal starting additions to its roster. After bringing in a pair of starters in Ra'Shede Hageman on the defensive line and Jake Matthews at offensive tackle, the Falcons decided to address its safety need with Dezmen Southward.
Atlanta loves the idea of getting bigger and stronger all over the team, and Hageman, Matthews and Southward all fit into that ideal of added toughness. Expect the Falcons to continue building from the inside out on the third day of the draft.
Day 2 Recap & Analysis
The Falcons have yet to make any trades in this year's draft, sticking where they are and deciding to get the best fits for their team available at each pick. Ra'Shede Hageman and Dezmen Southward were very good fits for the Falcons and could both be rookie starters.
Hageman is a massive 6'6", 310-pound monster who can play nose tackle or defensive end in a 3-4 as well as anywhere in a 4-3. Now Atlanta has a versatile, explosive, angry destroyer of souls on its defensive line. They've been missing one since Rod Coleman was demolishing people in the mid-2000s.
Southward is a supremely athletic safety who needs to develop a bit more. He's physical and doesn't miss tackles. He also takes great angles to the ball in the run game and has solid coverage instincts. However, the Falcons could have gotten better value at the pick.
It would have been nice to see the Falcons trade up into the third round to take one of the slipping pass- rushers. Nonetheless, with a high fourth round pick and seven total picks on day three, Atlanta will be able to round out its depth.
Updated Needs for the Atlanta Falcons
Pass-Rushing Edge Player
Atlanta doesn't have a premiere pass-rusher and still hasn't taken one. That's OK, though as this is a deep class. If Atlanta took a pair of these in the third day, it'd be wise and very plausible. Adding bodies to compete for the right to go after opposing quarterbacks is always good.
Losing Tony Gonzalez is going to completely change the Falcons' offense. Levine Toilolo just isn't enough to replace him, and Bear Pascoe is nothing but a blocking tight end. Atlanta needs to bring in someone with receiving ability to compete with Toilolo for the starting role.
Steven Jackson is aging and doesn't have many years left in the NFL. Jacquizz Rodgers is heading into the final year of his contract. Atlanta could be in for an overhaul of its entire corps in 2015. Adding at least one body here this year will help the depth long- and short-term.
Julio Jones is heading into the first of the last two years of his contract. Roddy White is in the final year of his contract. Devin Hester and Harry Douglas are average receivers. Atlanta needs to make sure they have depth behind those four in the receiving corps.
Despite the investment in Jon Asamoah, Gabe Carimi and Joe Hawley to compete with Justin Blalock, Peter Konz and Harland Gunn for playing time, the Falcons could use another body in the mix. Teams are at their best when they cut good players.
Top Day 3 Targets
1. LB Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut
Atlanta had some interest in the thumping linebacker pre-draft. Smallwood would be great depth behind Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon and Akeem Dent at inside linebacker in the 3-4. He could also back up the mike role in the 4-3.
2. RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
Any running back as talented as Lache Seastrunk available on day three should be someone Atlanta sprints to the podium for at 103. If he's still there, it wouldn't shock me to see Atlanta gladly pick up this home-run hitter.
3. OL David Yankey, Stanford
In my eyes, Yankey is the best guard in the draft. Unfortunately, NFL teams don't seem to agree. He's similar to Evan Mathis and is known for a nasty streak on the field. However, off the field is his biggest asset, as he's a locker-room leader.
4. DE/OLB Chris Smith, Arkansas
When looking for a versatile pass-rusher, Chris Smith from Arkansas will be someone to consider. He's able to play with his hand in the dirt or from a two-point stance. His only real issue is poor run defense. Atlanta could cover for him there with talented run defenders surrounding him.
5. QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
The best backup quarterback in the 2014 draft is Murray from UGA. He's a local product who could easily beat out Dominique Davis for the primary backup role. Eventually, he could become Matt Schaub-level trade bait for the Falcons.
6. RB De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
With the running backs starting to come off the board in a fast and furious fashion, De'Anthony Thomas could give Atlanta a Darren Sproles-type player that it has never had. Thomas was a potential Heisman contender if he had been able to stay completely healthy at Oregon.
7. LB Brandon Watts, Georgia Tech
Watts is a local linebacker who could end up going undrafted. However, if the Falcons don't want to risk him going to another team, they could take the flyer on him late in the seventh round when they have a pair of compensatory picks.
8. QB Connor Shaw, South Carolina
As a Flowery Branch native who went to South Carolina, Connor Shaw would be a great fit for the Falcons' standard picks of SEC guys who played close to Atlanta. Shaw was better than Aaron Murray at times in college and could be a better pro quarterback with the right team.
9. NT Zach Kerr, Delaware
When watching Paul Worrilow's tape from 2012, Zach Kerr always stood out. If the Falcons want to build up more depth behind Paul Soliai, adding Kerr would be a great move. He's a massive nose tackle who takes on double teams well.
10. QB Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
The Falcons had him at the Senior Bowl, and if he's still there in the late rounds, they could take him and use him as a physical specimen to develop as Matt Ryan's backup. Thomas could also compete for playing time at tight end if he failed as a quarterback.
What Are the Experts Saying?
Pete Schrager from Fox Sports had a seven-round mock draft posted up the morning the draft started. We'll take a look at his fourth-through-seventh-round Falcons picks.
4th round, 3 (103). Atlanta Falcons: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
Cornerback isn't really a need in Atlanta. Sure, Gaines is a talented player, but the Falcons need someone who could have played free safety. Ideally, the Falcons take a pass-rusher, tight end or even running back here.
4th round, 39 (139). Atlanta Falcons (compensatory selection): Storm Johnson, RB, UCF
Atlanta has shown a ton of interest in Storm Johnson this offseason and taking him wouldn't be a shock. Johnson could complement Steven Jackson this year as a change-of-pace back and provide solid depth on special teams.
5th round, 7 (147). Atlanta Falcons: Morgan Breslin, OLB, USC
Breslin is around later than anyone would have expected a year ago. A move to outside linebacker didn't help him in any way. Breslin needs a team to see that he's the right fit. If he can luck out, he'll be a longtime depth contributor.
6th round, 6 (182). Atlanta Falcons: Bennie Fowler, WR, Michigan State
Bennie Fowler is a solid yet unspectacular wide receiver. Atlanta going after him would be a good fit as he's an intelligent, tough-nosed receiver. But wasting a sixth-round pick on an undraftable talent is never a great idea.
7th round, 5 (220). Atlanta Falcons: Richard Rodgers, TE, California
If Rodgers hadn't been taken in the third round, this would have been a great pick. Rodgers is an extremely underrated talent out of California who could provide starting-caliber talent similar to what Alge Crumpler used to provide.
7th round, 38 (253). Atlanta Falcons (compensatory selection): Ryan Jones, C, San Jose State
In what's one of the last picks in the draft, this would be a guy Atlanta could probably sign in undrafted free agency. However, this pick doesn't really matter because these are mainly used for guys who will be special teams.
7th round, 40 (255). Atlanta Falcons (compensatory selection): Zurlon Tipton, RB, Central Michigan
Tipton is a good running back, but Atlanta adding multiple running backs just feels like overkill. Next year's draft is ridiculously deep with talented running backs, and taking multiple RBs this year will be unwise. Atlanta would be better off taking a fullback here.
4 Predictions for Day 3
Atlanta will finally get some skill positions
After taking a pair of linemen with the first two picks in Ra'Shede Hageman and Jake Matthews, the Falcons will finally start going after some skill positions like wide receiver, running back and even possibly a quarterback.
The Falcons will continue to draft Senior Bowl players
After taking Ra'Shede Hageman and Dezmen Southward in the second and third rounds, the Falcons showed they will not hesitate to take guys they coached in the Senior Bowl. There are quite a few guys still available at need spots.
The Falcons will continue to focus on lines and depth
According to this press conference, the Falcons' goal this offseason was to get bigger, stronger, tougher and meaner. One way to do that is to build from the inside-out—the concept of building up the lines and adding more skill positions later.
The Falcons will draft Michael Sam
If any team can take on a distraction and turn it into a non-story, it's the Falcons. They are worried about getting better. Michael Sam was the SEC co-Defensive Player of the Year. After Sam winds up getting a sack or two in the Falcons' defense, fans and media won't care about the other storylines.
Updated Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft
Round 4, Pick 103: TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia
A local player who fits the Falcons well is Arthur Lynch, tight end from Georgia. The Falcons could use a good all-around complement to Levine Toilolo, and Lynch would be ideal there, as he's an excellent intermediate target and blocker.
Round 4, Pick 139: DE/OLB Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Atlanta needs a pass rush, and Jeffcoat is one of the best pass-rushers available. The Falcons have brought in the Texas product for a visit. He'd be a second-generation NFL player once he makes it to the league. When you add in great off-field character, if he's still available here, it'd be a no-brainer.
Round 5, Pick 147: RB Storm Johnson, UCF
The Falcons have put in time getting an idea of what Johnson could provide to their offense. Adding him to Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers would give Atlanta another Jason Snelling-type in the offense. With Josh Vaughan just taking up space, it'd be easy for Johnson to get a roster spot.
Round 6, Pick 182: DE/OLB Michael Sam, Missouri
The Falcons coached Sam at the Senior Bowl. They know what he can do on and off the field. Without the giant monkey that was on his back, he can play the same way he did at Missouri. He didn't time well at the combine, but neither did James Harrison. Look how Harrison turned out.
Round 7, Pick 220: WR Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State
Another player the Falcons coached at the Senior Bowl was Jeff Janis. Atlanta could use the wide receiver to back up Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas as a rookie. If he comes along quickly, he has the physical talents that would make him a great No. 2 across from Jones long-term.
Round 7, Pick 253: QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson
In yet another, "We coached him at the Senior Bowl" pick, the Falcons could look at Boyd as a legitimate option at backup quarterback. Competing with Sean Renfree and Dominique Davis for the primary backup role would be ideal for Boyd's early career.
Round 7, Pick 255: OG/C Anthony Steen, Alabama
A top-tier lineman from a former national champion is a good fit for a team like Atlanta. He falls because he doesn't have a perfect fit for the NFL. He could do well at either guard or center but odd dimensions make it tough to slot him. He would be good competition for the Falcons' depth at center and guard.
All stats used are either from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN, CFBStats or the NFL. All combine and pro day info is courtesy NFL Draft Scout. All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.