The Atlanta Falcons spent one of their final draft picks on another linebacker who should help bolster their depth at the position in Yawin Smallwood out of Connecticut. The thumping middle linebacker compares well with former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton as a two-down pounder in the middle.
Smallwood will have to compete with Akeem Dent, Marquis Spruill and Joplo Bartu for a roster spot on this year's roster. How well he does on special teams will make a huge difference on whether or not he makes the team long term.
On the Field
Smallwood is a great run defender and isn't afraid to take on blockers. He's got great hand usage as he can stack and shed blockers with the rest of them. He's not someone who over-pursues, and he always moves with a purpose.
He's not very good in man coverage, but he's an awesome zone defender and can bait quarterbacks effectively into throwing into his area. He has great functional strength and plays fast because of how instinctual he is. He's also a top-level pass-rusher for all inside linebackers and doesn't get fooled by misdirection.
On the flip side, he wasn't dominant in college because he's not very quick. He has just an average burst and will get beat sometimes by routes run directly behind his zone. He's also not used to taking on big interior linemen because of the massive combination always in front of him.
Off the Field
As a redshirt junior, Smallwood played all three years of his eligibility as a starter in the middle of the Connecticut defense. He's known as a highly coachable team leader and someone his teammates respect on and off the field.
Smallwood was never arrested nor was he suspended during his time in Storrs. The Falcons are getting an ideal fit for their Comrade Filter here. Smallwood should be able to compete early on, and his off-field life won't be anything close to a hindrance.
Why Yawin Smallwood instead of Anthony Steen or Tiny Richardson?
Atlanta could have bolstered its interior offensive line depth with Anthony Steen at either offensive guard or center. He was part of a two-time national championship offensive line and one of the best college football teams in the past decade.
Tiny Richardson is known as the guy who gave Jadeveon Clowney the most fits in college. However, injury conditions throughout college caused him to slip out of the draft completely. Atlanta could have used him for offensive tackle depth on either side of the line.
However, the Falcons felt it made the most sense to bring in the talented middle linebacker for their 3-4 and 4-3 looks. Smallwood fits with the Falcons on and off the field better than either Steen or Richardson do, and he should be able to earn a roster spot for special teams at a minimum.
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 of 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.
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