Football Is Won Up
There was talk leading into the draft that Atlanta was very much trying to acquire the No. 1 overall pick from Houston so the Falcons could take South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the Texans' demands were apparently too much. Also, Atlanta attempted to move up to No. 3 overall so it could be sure to get Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, but the Jaguars decided to stay in that spot and took Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. It worked out quite well for Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff as Matthews fell in his lap at No. 6.
Matthews' bloodlines are about as good as you can ask for, as he's the sixth member of that family to be drafted, but he went the highest. His father Bruce (No. 9 overall pick in 1983 by the Oilers) was one of the best offensive linemen ever and is in the Hall of Fame. Cousin Clay is a Pro Bowl linebacker for the Packers -- Green Bay plays Atlanta on Monday, Dec. 8. Jake is 6-foot-6, 308 pounds and could start from Day 1 at right tackle before moving over to left tackle eventually and protecting Matt Ryan's blindside. Or the Falcons may put Matthews at left tackle immediately and move incumbent Sam Baker to the right side. Ryan was sacked 44 times last year and hit often -- he was the league's most pressured quarterback. Matthews was considered the most technically sound and polished lineman in the draft even though Auburn's Greg Robinson went four spots higher. Mathews is considered more NFL ready now, while Robinson has a higher ceiling.
Meanwhile, with their second-round pick the Falcons got what many thought was a first-round talent in Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Atlanta made it a point to get "tougher" and more physical this season and Hageman, a converted tight end, certainly fits the part as he bench-pressed 225 pounds a whopping 32 times at the combine. He will line up along with free-agent pickups Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, giving the Falcons a new look up front. The Falcons view Hageman as an end in their 3-4 scheme. Hageman was Minnesota's team MVP last season. He led the club with 13 tackles for loss and also batted down eight passes and blocked two kicks.
Atlanta was last in the NFL in rushing last season and Steven Jackson was often injured, so perhaps fourth-round pick Devonta Freeman will get some early playing time. He rushed 173 times for 1,016 yards last season, becoming Florida State’s first 1,000-yard rusher since former Falcon Warrick Dunn in 1996.
About the only thing Atlanta didn't address was the pass rush. The Falcons tried to trade back into the first round to take Auburn pass-rusher Dee Ford but couldn't find a deal. They had targeted Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence in the second round, but Dallas jumped ahead of Atlanta and took him. According to ESPN, the Falcons sacked or put quarterbacks under duress on only 22.4 percent of dropbacks last season, second worst in the NFL.
Full List of Draft Picks
Jake Matthews, offensive tackle, Texas A&M (Round 1, No. 6 overall); Ra'Shede Hageman, defensive tackle, Minnesota (2, No. 37); Dez Southward, safety, Wisconsin (3, No. 68); Devonta Freeman, running back, Florida State (4, No. 103); Prince Shembo, outside linebacker, Notre Dame (4, No. 139); Ricardo Allen, cornerback, Purdue (5, No. 147); Marquis Spruill, outside linebacker, Syracuse (5, No. 168); Yawin Smallwood, inside linebacker, Connecticut (7, No. 253); Tyler Starr, outside linebacker, South Dakota (7, No. 255).
NFL Free Picks: The Falcons finish second in the division to New Orleans but contend for a wild-card spot.