2014 NFL Draft grades: Atlanta Falcons

May 9, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith and first round draft pick tackle Jake Matthews (with jersey) shown during a press conference at Falcons Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The 2013 NFL season was anything but what the Atlanta Falcons were expecting.  Coming off a solid playoff run, and knowing that Tony Gonzalez was going to ride off into the sunset, the Falcons were a team with their sights set on the Super Bowl.  Unfortunately, age and misfortune crept in and left them with a 4-12 record settling for the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft.  With injury concerns at wide receiver and running back, the offense never got it going.  The defense showed it had plenty of issues and the Falcons had to come into the draft with a clear focus to right the ship.  Making nine picks in total, Atlanta was looking to address the defensive side of the ball.

Best Pick: Ra’shede Hageman

With Jake Matthews being the obvious slam dunk and arguably the best tackle in the draft, the Falcons made an even bigger impact move on day two.  Hageman, a guy many thought was going to New England in round one, fell to day two due to consistency worries.  The Falcons snatched him up with the 37th overall pick and effectively shored up question marks on both sides of the line.  If the birds can tap into Hageman’s full potential, this will be a pick 31 other teams will be kicking themselves for not making.

Worst Pick: Devonta Freeman

Steven Jackson is getting older, and last year he had injury issues, so running back was definitely a position needing to be looked at.  The question here though, is what did the Falcons see in Freeman?  He split carries most of his career at Florida State, and while both of the Falcons recent running backs (Steven Jackson and Michael Turner) are downhill bruisers, Freeman lacks ideal size to excel at the position at the NFL level.  On the positive side, due to splitting carries, he doesn’t have the mileage other running backs may, and offers a nice change of pace to Jackson.

The Falcons addressed a safety need with Dezmen Southward, who should immediately come in and replace Thomas DeCoud.  Southward comes from the Big Ten and should be able to plug and play right away.  In Prince Shembo and Marquis Spruill, Atlanta gets two quality linebackers that should be knocking on the door of playing time relatively soon.  Spruill is a very solid value pick considering where he was taken in the fifth round.  Ricardo Allen may struggle to play outside due to his size, but it’s hard to deny that his athleticism and drive should play, at least in the nickel, at the next level.  Both Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr are more in the developmental category.  While Smallwood’s football IQ is lacking, Starr struggles with strength at the line.  Both could have the opportunity to turn into rotational players for Atlanta.

Final Grade: B

The Falcons made their splashes at the front end of the draft.  Jake Matthews will be able to protect Matt Ryan and secure the edge for years to come.  With the lineage he has coming into the NFL, the pressure is no doubt on.  Hageman could turn into one of the steals of the draft and also should help correct many of the issues the Falcons faced on defense up front last year.  Getting depth throughout the rest of the draft was key for the Falcons.  Atlanta understood where their weaknesses were and attacked them.  My one issue with this draft for Atlanta; who replaces Tony Gonzalez?  The 2014 draft was so tight end rich, and they failed to take even one.  Look for Atlanta to maybe take a flier on UDFA out of Oregon, Colt Lyerla.

Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Atlanta Falcons