Breaking Down the Atlanta Falcons' 5 Biggest Training Camp Projects
Every NFL team has projects, and the Atlanta Falcons certainly have their fair share. Their five biggest projects come mainly from the defensive front seven. However, a new free safety and a second-year tight end also fit in as big projects for the Falcons to develop.
When thinking of projects, there are different points of development for each project. Every single player listed here is a project of sorts, and we will include where each is in his development. Some are ready, while others are just having their surface scratched.
DE/OLB Stansly Maponga
Stansly Maponga was part of the 2013 draft class that already looks very successful. He, on the other hand, struggled quite a bit as a rookie in his limited snaps. He’s a project in that he didn’t have the proper technique as a rookie and needs to develop there.
He does have the physical tools to be an effective strong-side pass-rusher in Mike Nolan’s schemes, though. The second-year player out of Texas Christian needs to spend as much time as possible learning from Kroy Biermann and Bryan Cox in the event Biermann departs after this season.
Maponga has all the potential in the world to start at strong-side linebacker in the 3-4 and at strong-side defensive end in the 4-3 if the Falcons build him up properly. As he sits right now, he’s nothing more than a rotational player, but the potential he possesses makes him worth keeping.
Stage of development: still a year away from competing for the starting role.
DT/DE Ra'Shede Hageman
Ra’Shede Hageman comes into Atlanta as one of the 2014 NFL draft's players with the most potential. However, he’s one of the biggest projects as well. Sure, he’s 6’6", 315 pounds and extremely quick for someone his size. He’s also able to play the 1-technique through the 6-technique.
But his potential is that of Richard Seymour or Marcus Stroud if he fully develops. The Falcons love his abilities and should be willing to bring him along slowly with low expectations early. He shouldn’t have to worry about producing big numbers until he’s been behind Tyson Jackson a few years.
Early on, he should contribute to the rotation, but Hageman’s just getting started as a defensive lineman. He’s been playing defensive tackle just four years. And while his aggression and grit will be welcome along the lines, he needs to work on his technique and leverage quite a bit.
Stage of development: just scratching the surface.
TE Levine Toilolo
Levine Toilolo has a lot of things to like about him. He’s big at 6’7", 265 pounds. He’s got soft hands and doesn’t drop many balls. He learns from his mistakes quickly and understands how to run routes effectively even if he rounds them off a bit at times.
More importantly than that, he’s a willing blocker who isn’t afraid to mix it up with any defender in a one-on-one situation. The problem is that technically, he has a lot of issues to work out. He needs to get better leverage in his blocks.
He needs to learn how to box out defenders better in short-yardage and red-zone situations. He needs to have even softer hands than what he has now so that he brings in almost every ball. And he needs to run more efficient routes to create more separation than he does. Toilolo is good, but he’s not ready...yet.
Stage of development: starting before he's ready.
FS Dezmen Southward
Dezmen Southward is a very raw, physical specimen at safety. He’s played both safety and cornerback and saw some time in the nickel at the Senior Bowl. At 6’0", 211 pounds, he’s got the body of a strong safety, yet he runs a 4.38-second 40-yard dash and has a three-cone time of 6.50 seconds.
The combination of long- and-short area speed to go along with his massive size for a free safety makes him a dominating player physically. However, he needs to really get his instincts to show up on the field. He doesn’t make a lot of plays and isn’t a great tackler.
As he sits right now, he’s what Thomas DeCoud was last season. That’s not entirely bad, but the Falcons wouldn’t have cut DeCoud if they felt like he wasn’t going to be upgraded upon. Dwight Lowery will start this season, but Southward should see some snaps. He’s still at least a season away from starting, though.
Stage of development: a season or two away from starting.
DE/OLB Jonathan Massaquoi
Jonathan Massaquoi was drafted with the intention of developing him slowly. He was the perfect Mike Nolan athletic prototype coming out, but he was very raw as a player his rookie season. It led to very few snaps along the line and even less production as a rookie.
As a second-year player, he started to develop as a multiple defender, showing talent as both a 3-4 outside linebacker in some sets and a 4-3 defensive end in others. The Falcons got great run-stuffing production out of him and some solid pressure.
However, he really needs to step up his game as a pass-rusher. And this season should give him the perfect storm of outside factors to show he’s not a project anymore. Bryan Cox as his defensive line coach and Mark Collins working with him as an outside linebackers coach should help develop his game.
Add in bigger defensive linemen either in front of him or right next to him who can eat double-teams and free him up to attack more one-on-one situations, and Massaquoi could be primed to break out with a double-digit-sack season.
Stage of development: ready.
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.