Atlanta Falcons: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
The Atlanta Falcons had a good draft where they were able to add potential franchise-changing players throughout their entire team. They also had a productive undrafted free-agency period where they brought in talent to compete at the back end of the roster.
The biggest thing Atlanta did was bring in some talent for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to integrate into his defense and a franchise tackle to help keep Matt Ryan upright. Atlanta fans should be ecstatic with the draft because it showed the Falcons finally want to address the offensive and defensive lines.
The majority of the picks were in the defensive front seven, with five of the nine total picks being a defensive lineman, linebacker or edge-rusher. Atlanta will finally have the pieces for Nolan’s amoeba sets to be extremely effective.
Round 1, Pick 6: Jake Matthews, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Round 2, Pick 37: Ra'Shede Hageman, Defensive Lineman, Minnesota
Round 4, Pick 103: Devonta Freeman, Running Back, Florida State
Round 4, Pick 139: Prince Shembo, Edge Player, Notre Dame
Round 5, Pick 147: Ricardo Allen, Cornerback, Purdue
Round 5, Pick 168: Marquis Spruill, Linebacker, Syracuse
Round 7, Pick 253: Yawin Smallwood, Linebacker, Connecticut
Round 7, Pick 255: Tyler Starr, Edge Player, South Dakota
The Falcons kicked off their draft with the ideal Atlanta draft pick in Jake Matthews. He's from a family of greatness and was easily the most pro-ready offensive tackle in the entire draft. On top of that, he's able to play on either the left or the right side at a potential Pro Bowl level. He's a franchise guy.
Ra'Shede Hageman was a bit of a surprise for the Falcons after they went out and got Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai in free agency. However, the selection made a ton of sense from a value perspective and wasn't shocking if you followed the Falcons throughout the offseason.
In the third and fifth rounds, the Falcons continued to add depth to their cornerback and safety groupings. Dezmen Southward and Ricardo Allen are both excellent fits for their roles at free safety and nickel cornerback, respectively. The question is whether they were the right picks at their spots in the draft value-wise.
Devonta Freeman is an instant replacement for running back Jason Snelling after Snelling retired earlier in the year. Freeman also has the long-term ability to be a starter if the Falcons decide to go with the zone-blocking scheme it looks like their offensive line should be playing.
Akeem Dent could be in for his last Falcons training camp with the fifth- and seventh-round selections of Marquis Spruill and Yawin Smallwood. Both guys are the same kind of great special teams player Dent is and the same kind of thumping inside backer he is.
Prince Shembo and Tyler Starr rounded out this draft by giving the Falcons a pair of pass-rushing projects late. Atlanta seems to have faith in Jonathan Massaquoi as its best pass-rusher on the edge, and the return of Kroy Biermann should help this aspect as well.
With the rotation at edge-rusher starting to expand even further without adding a premier guy, the Falcons need to make sure their interior pressure works better than it did in 2013. The Falcons should be tough to run on in 2014 at least. Improved linebackers and larger linemen will make it easier to stuff runs.
Best Pick: DL Ra'Shede Hageman in the 2nd Round
The first thought here at the time of the pick was, "Why did the Falcons not go with Jace Amaro or Jeremiah Attaochu?" But the Falcons have shown that they wanted to get bigger, stronger and meaner up front for both their offensive and defensive lines.
As the massive Ra'Shede Hageman trotted up to Falcons Hall of Fame defensive end Claude Humphrey, it clicked for me. The Falcons wanted a lineman with ridiculous potential to become the next Hall of Fame guy such as Humphrey was along the defensive line.
That guy wasn't Attaochu off the edge. That guy was Hageman in the middle of the defense as a 5-technique defensive end or 3-technique defensive tackle. Hageman will provide instant competition to what looks like the deepest defensive tackle grouping in Paul Soliai, Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Peria Jerry.
Worst Pick: LB Marquis Spruill in the 5th Round After a Trade Up
The Falcons have what looks like a log-jammed inside linebacker position in the 3-4 with Sean Weatherspoon and Paul Worrilow starting and Akeem Dent as the primary backup. Add in the better value of Yawin Smallwood much later in the draft, and this could have been a spot for a tight end or even a wide receiver.
Spruill has an uphill battle to make the roster at this point as he fills the same exact role that Dent would play. If Atlanta is willing to cut ties with Dent heading into the final year of his contract, this pick makes a ton more sense.
Jared Abbrederis would have been a much better pick, as he would have been able to emulate what Roddy White can do in the offense. Abbrederis was one of the wide receivers the Falcons coached in Mobile, Alabama, back in January during the Senior Bowl.
What's Next for the Atlanta Falcons?
After addressing almost every need they could in free agency or the draft, the Falcons don't have many needs outside of a pass-rusher off the edge, a star running back of the future, an H-back or "Joker" tight end and an eventual replacement for Roddy White.
As it sits right now, the Falcons can wait a full season to address those needs. They have to worry about contract situations from this point forward. Re-signing Julio Jones and Sean Weatherspoon to long-term deals needs to be the next step.
If the Falcons can go ahead and get them under contract for the long term, there are very few contracts they will have to worry about in the 2015 season and beyond. Atlanta will have a ton of competition this offseason. It's time for that depth to be capitalized on.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN.com, CFBStats or NFL.com. All combine and pro-day info is courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com. 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, the NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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