Atlanta Falcons Ultimate 2014 Draft Primer
The biggest question in Atlanta over the offseason wasn’t whether or not the Falcons were going to trade up to take defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. It wasn’t whether the Falcons were going to use their first-round draft pick on a pass-rusher or an offensive tackle.
No, the biggest question in Atlanta from the time their season ended until this very minute is simple. Was the 2012 season where the Falcons went 13-3 real, or was last season’s 4-12 showing what this fanbase can expect moving forward?
The answer is probably somewhere in between.
There are too many holes (offensive line and the pass rush are definitely the biggest) to fill for Atlanta to easily jump back into contention for the best record in the NFC. There’s also too much talent on this roster not to think a good draft couldn’t propel the Falcons into the playoff hunt.
Here’s what you need to know about the 2014 NFL draft and how the Falcons can set themselves up for a shot at being a part of the playoff picture.
2014 Draft Picks
- Round 1, Pick 6 (6)
- Round 2, Pick 5 (37)
- Round 3, Pick 4 (68)
- Round 4, Pick 3 (103)
- Round 4, Pick 39 (139) (Compensatory selection)
- Round 5, Pick 7 (147)
- Round 6, Pick 6 (182)
- Round 7, Pick 5 (220)
- Round 7, Pick 38 (253) (Compensatory selection)
- Round 7, Pick 40 (255) (Compensatory selection)
Position-by-Position Big Board
Disclaimer: The big boards are based on players that fit the Falcons from a need and value perspective, i.e. the more players listed, the higher the team need.
Also, take into account the perceived value and projected selection position. Players listed are done so based on anticipated selection spot (read: Johnny Manziel might be the top quarterback taken, but the Falcons won’t be grabbing a passer that high, if at all).
1. David Fales (San Jose State)
2. Connor Shaw (South Carolina)
3. Garrett Gilbert (Southern Methodist)
1. Carlos Hyde (Ohio State)
2. Bishop Sankey (Washington)
3. Terrance West (Towson)
4. Devonta Freeman (Florida State)
5. Storm Johnson (Central Florida)
1. Jarvis Landry (LSU)
2. Martavis Bryant (Clemson)
3. Dri Archer (Kent State)
4. Shaq Evans (UCLA)
5. Jalen Saunders (Oklahoma)
1. Eric Ebron (North Carolina)
2. Jace Amaro (Texas Tech)
3. C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa)
4. Arthur Lynch (Georgia)
5. Marcel Jensen (Fresno State)
1. Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)
2. Taylor Lewan (Michigan)
3. Greg Robinson (Auburn)
4. Morgan Moses (Virginia)
5. Ja'Wuan James (Tennessee)
1. Dakota Dozier (Furman)
2. Trai Turner (LSU)
3. Charles Leno (Boise State)
4. Russell Bodine (North Carolina)
5. John Urschel (Penn State)
1. Wesley Johnson (Vanderbilt)
2. Corey Linsley (Ohio State)
3. James Stone (Tennessee)
1. Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)
2. Khalil Mack (Buffalo)
3. Anthony Barr (UCLA)
4. Dee Ford (Auburn)
5. Jeremiah Attaochu (Georgia Tech)
1. Anthony Johnson (LSU)
2. Zach Kerr (Delware)
3. George Uko (USC)
1. Brock Coyle (Montana)
2. Lamin Barrow (LSU)
3. Yawin Smallwood (Connecticut)
1. Walt Aikens (Liberty)
2. Bashaud Breeland (Clemson)
3. Nevin Lawson (Utah State)
4. Chris Davis (Auburn)
1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Alabama)
2. Calvin Pryor (Louisville)
3. Ed Reynolds (Stanford)
4. Dontae Johnson (North Carolina State)
5. Lonnie Ballentine (Memphis)
1. Brock Vereen (Minnesota)
2. Craig Loston (LSU)
3. Daniel Sorensen (BYU)
Round 1, Pick 6 (6): Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
Needs: DE, OLB, OT, FS
If former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney were available at No. 6 for the Atlanta Falcons, general manager Thomas Dimitroff would have his Radio City Music Hall contingent sprint to the podium fast enough to bring a smile to NFL scouts clocking the 40-yard dash.
Clowney isn’t going to be available, and the Falcons likely won’t spend the resources to move up in the draft to get him. There’s also the likely scenario that the next-best pass-rusher, Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, will also fall off the board prior to Atlanta's pick.
Since there would then be more talent at the offensive tackle position than available at defensive end or outside linebacker, Atlanta is probably going to start fixing its offensive line in Round 1.
Former Auburn tackle Greg Robinson will probably be gone by No. 6 too, but even if he wasn’t, even if all three of the top offensive tackles were available to the Falcons when their pick was announced, Atlanta would likely go with Jake Matthews from Texas A&M.
Matthews was a team captain and four-year starter for the Aggies. He also has more family members that have played in the NFL than there are Baldwins in Hollywood.
Dimitroff puts a lot of value in those intangibles. But just as important, Matthews is the most ready-to-start offensive tackle in the draft, and the Falcons need immediate help.
Round 2, Pick 5 (37): Kyle Van Noy, BYU
Needs: DE, OLB, FS, TE, RB
The best-case scenario for the Atlanta Falcons in this year’s draft is to leave New York City with two guys in their first two picks that could start from Week 1: an offensive tackle and a pass-rusher.
Atlanta found one of those guys in Jake Matthews with pick No. 6, and it can strike gold in the second round with outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy from BYU.
After Khalil Mack from Buffalo, Anthony Barr from UCLA and Ryan Shazier from Ohio State, the list of first-round outside linebackers is next to nonexistent. That’s a good thing for the Falcons.
Van Noy should easily produce like a first-round pick, as evident by his 17.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last season for the Cougars. He can get to the quarterback and has a knack for pursuit. Once he gets a little NFL experience under his belt, Van Noy will not only be getting to opposing quarterbacks, but pulling them down as well.
That’s an extreme area of need for this Atlanta team right now.
Round 3, Pick 4 (68): Martavis Bryant, Clemson
Needs: FS, TE, RB, OL
Sometimes forgotten at Clemson because he was catching passes at the same time as Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant is an extremely talented wide receiver.
Bryant caught 42 passes last season for 828 yards and scored seven times. And that was as the No. 2 option. Instead of spending a final season with the Tigers as the team’s No. 1, Bryant entered the draft.
Swinney: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant is 1st-round talent but likely going in 2nd/3rd. Improved in '13 but would've benefited 1 more yr at CLE— Alex Marvez (@alexmarvez) May 6, 2014
As long as there isn’t a run on wide receivers in the first round (a legitimate possibility), there’s a shot that Bryant falls into the third round. If he’s there when the Atlanta Falcons pick, they’d have to consider him.
Any time you can pick up a guy with first-round upside in the third round, you do it. Even when you’re flush with talent at the wide receiver position.
But there’s room for Bryant in the Falcons offense right now.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez is gone, and his presence is going to be missed more than people think. Both Julio Jones and Roddy White missed time last season with injury, and White is on the wrong side of the aging war. He’s not showing signs terribly now, but he will soon.
Even if Jones and White are 100 percent healthy for the duration of the 2014 season, Bryant can still make a difference. At 6’4”, he’d make a great red-zone target, and his speed is fantastic.
Round 4, Pick 3 (103): Cameron Fleming, Stanford
Needs: FS, TE, RB, DE, OLB
Sam Baker and Lamar Holmes would be the two starting tackles on the Atlanta Falcons offensive line if the season were to start today and there was no NFL draft.
Thankfully for the Falcons, the draft is on the horizon.
In the first round, the Falcons added Jake Matthews to the mix along the offensive line. But there’s no way that should end Atlanta’s tinkering with quarterback Matt Ryan’s group of protectors.
Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times last season, and Atlanta must get better at keeping him upright. Baker has had issues with health during his NFL career, and Holmes hasn’t proved he’s the answer yet.
Former Stanford offensive tackle Cameron Fleming can come in and compete.
At 6’5” and 323 pounds, Fleming is a behemoth of a lineman who should not only develop into a solid, pass-protecting right tackle, but also an asset as a run-blocker, an area of need for the Falcons.
Round 4, Pick 39 (139): Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State
Needs: FS, TE, RB, OLB
Joke all you want that the Atlanta Falcons won’t miss free safety Thomas DeCoud. But heading into the draft, Atlanta’s options at safety are very limited.
Someone that should put a smile on your face is former North Carolina State free safety Dontae Johnson, a big (6’2” and 200 pounds), speedy (he ran a 4.45 second 40-yard dash at the combine) defensive back with experience at free safety and cornerback with the Wolfpack.
The Seattle Seahawks started a trend last season in this copycat National Football League. Everyone seems to be enamored with size in the defensive backfield, as NFL Network analyst Charles Davis told Reid Ferrin at the Senior Bowl:
I think Dontae Johnson (North team), the cornerback safety from North Carolina State, he’s exactly what we just saw in the NFC championship game in Seattle, those long corners, big guys with the long arms that can get on top of you.
Johnson isn’t a finished product yet, but he’s got enough upside to be a steal here for the Falcons.
Round 5, Pick 7 (147): Michael Sam, Missouri
Needs: TE, RB, OLB
Nate Silve, of the blog FiveThirtyEight gives former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam a 50-50 shot at being drafted.
That's a shame, but also a harsh reality.
In February, Sam told the world he was gay, making him the first openly gay athlete to go through the NFL draft process. This announcement could negatively affect his draft stock because teams will have to consider what impact a distraction like this could have on the locker room. But once a forward-thinking team forgets about the off-the-field media sideshow and considers the fact that Sam is an outstanding football player, the decision should be easy.
The Falcons have recent experience in handling a sideshow atmosphere.
Brian Banks was signed prior to the offseason workout schedule, and while his story of wrongful imprisonment isn’t nearly the same kind of distraction Sam’s could be, it was a huge off-the-field story that didn’t go away until Banks didn’t make the team.
This is why the Falcons might consider Sam’s six sacks, 19 tackles for loss,and his SEC Defensive Player of the Year Award as a reason to add him to a defense that sorely needs a guy like Sam to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Round 6, Pick 6 (182): Storm Johnson, UCF
- Steven Jackson is on the wrong side of 30 and was a disappointment in 2013.
- Jacquizz Rodgers is a good change-of-pace back, but three years in the league have shown he’s not an every-down back.
- Jason Snelling retired.
Needs: TE, OLB, OL
There are four reasons the Atlanta Falcons will likely select a running back on Day 3 of the NFL draft.
First, and this is the easiest reason, the Falcons finished dead last in rushing yards last season with a paltry 77.9 per game. Some of that is the responsibility of an offensive line that couldn’t open holes, but that’s not the entire story.
The other three reasons are as follows:
The Falcons need to add someone to the mix that could help in 2014, but more important, be the guy that takes the reins in the near future.
Former UCF running back Storm Johnson rushed for 1,139 yards last season and 14 touchdowns. He also caught 30 passes. He’s got the size to run in the middle of the field and the hands to be effective as a receiving option out of the backfield.
Round 7, Pick 5 (220): Yawin Smallwood, Connecticut
Needs: TE, OLB, OL, ILB
The depth in the middle of the Atlanta Falcons defense has been found wanting. Injuries showed that last season.
Even when healthy, Akeem Dent hasn’t materialized into the middle linebacker the team thought it was drafting in 2011, and as great as Paul Worrilow was last season, it was only part of one season. He is far from an established presence at this point.
With that said, and the idea that Atlanta might be moving to more 3-4 looks on defense, it’s going to be necessary to add more parts at middle linebacker. Former Connecticut standout Yawin Smallwood can be a good late-round find.
Smallwood has both coverage skills and an always-around-the-ball mentality. He was a team captain and is extremely athletic.
Round 7, Pick 38 (253): Xavier Grimble, USC
Needs: TE, OLB, OL
Those of you expecting the next Tony Gonzalez to come walking through the doors at the team’s facility in Flowery Branch need to pay attention to this next sentence.
There is no replacement for Gonzalez; not this season, likely not ever.
Gonzalez was arguably the greatest tight end to ever play in the NFL, and he established a new way to play the position. His pass-catching skills won’t be seen on the Falcons roster in 2014. In fact, Atlanta might use the tight end to be more of a blocker this upcoming season anyway as the team looks to find ways to protect quarterback Matt Ryan.
Former USC tight end Xavier Grimble could have utilized another season of college football to bolster his stock into a Day 2 draft pick. But Grimble came out early, and the Falcons could pick him up to let him learn on the job and see if they can pull that upside out and onto the field.
Round 7, Pick 40 (255): Ken Bishop, Northern Illinois
Needs: OLB, OL, ILB
The Atlanta Falcons are pretty set at the defensive tackle position.
Atlanta added nose tackle Paul Soliai in free agency and brought back Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, who both shined at times in recent years.
Atlanta’s head coach Mike Smith loves to utilize a rotation along the defensive line. It keeps players fresh and allows defensive coordinator Mike Nolan the opportunity to use the different skill sets of the players in this rotation to the betterment of the team.
Former Northern Illinois defensive tackle Ken Bishop is stout against the run. He’s not going to provide anything more than depth early on, but could shape himself into form as a piece in Smith’s defense in the near future.
Latest Draft Buzz
- According to SportsRadio 610 in Houston, the Atlanta Falcons are not interested in moving up to the No. 1 spot in the draft.
- Here's a healthy list of the players that spoke with, visited or worked out for the Atlanta Falcons during the months leading up to the NFL draft, provided by Walter Cherepinsky of WalterFootball.com.
- Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun cites sources that say the Falcons are one of the teams that has displayed the most interest in former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.