The countdown to the 2014 NFL Draft is nearing a close, as we are now just down to a matter of days before the selection process officially kicks off at 8 PM in Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The draft, which will be televised on ESPN as well as NFL Network, is followed by a countless number of questions and concerns from analysts and passionate fans alike, which both serve as unpredictable even minutes before the selections are announced. While the answers are not very clear at this point, let’s take a look at the Atlanta Falcons and who may very well be calling the Georgia Dome home this fall.
The Falcons currently have ten picks spread out through the draft’s seven rounds, with the first pick serving as the sixth overall pick. Although there is a very high possibility that general manager Thomas Dimitroff makes a trade at some point (perhaps in the first round to nab Jadeveon Clowney), for simplicity’s sake let’s just ignore the trades and slot each spot as if it remained as scheduled.
Let’s get started:
First Round, #6 Overall – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
The Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line in 2013 was arguably the worst in all of the NFL, repeatedly allowing franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to get tossed around like a rag doll in what proved to be the team’s first losing season since 2007. Enter Matthews, the 6’5”, 305 lb. son of longtime Houston Oilers lineman Bruce Matthews who took on the tough task of protecting Johnny Manziel for the last two seasons.
Matthews has the size and strength needed to improve a unit that was incredibly subpar one year ago, and although some feel like his play is inferior to former Texas A&M teammate Luke Joeckel (taken by Jacksonville at #2 in 2014), he looks to have all the skills required to make a quality NFL tackle.
Second Round, #37 Overall – Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Most Falcons fans are pushing for the team to trade up and select Clowney, but keeping their picks and targeting a player like Ford in the second round appears to be the smarter line of thinking.
Ford, who recorded 10.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in Auburn’s 12-2 season, was impressive in his drills at the Combine, running a 4.54 40 yard dash and posting 29 reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press.
Despite not carrying the same type of flash as Clowney, Ford is ranked as the fourth-best defensive end by ESPN and may play a pivotal role in a Falcons’ pass rush that is headlined by aging veteran Osi Umenyiora.
Third Round, #68 Overall – Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor - Picking up Matthews in the first round may not solve all of the issues that plagued the offensive line a season ago, which would warrant selecting the 6’5”, 230 lb. Baylor Bear to take a stance alongside Matthews, Peter Konz, and the rest of the team’s line.
Richardson had the job of protecting quarterback Bryce Petty in a season that saw the Bears score 52.4 points per game and set a new NCAA record for points in a 13-game season. The high-paced spread offense that Baylor uses won’t be confused with the one that the Falcons use, but that doesn’t mean that Richardson–who Baylor head coach Art Briles said “has best feet of any big guy I’ve ever been around”–will not duplicate the success he experienced at the collegiate level on Sundays.
Fourth Round, #103 Overall – Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State - The struggles of Falcons’ offensive line in 2013 overshadowed the equally appalling play of the defensive line, which gave up 135.8 rushing yards per game (31st in NFL) and led to the dismissal of DL coach Ray Hamilton.
Atlanta, which is rumored to run a more 3-4 oriented defense, needs a big body to step in and do a better job than the likes of Corey Peters and Peria Jerry; At 6’0” and 300 lbs., Sutton has some maturity concerns surrounding him, but if he steps up to the task he has the potential to be a steal for the Falcons.
Fourth Round, #139 Overall – C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa – Tony Gonzalez’s retirement (sorry, guys, but he’s not coming back) leaves a lot of concern at TE, as Atlanta currently has second-year player Levine Toilolo and recent addition Bear Pascoe as the favorites to take over Gonzo’s spot.
The team may look at other positions this early, but there’s a lot to like in Fiedorowicz, who is 6’5” and boasts a 4.73 40-time. Noted as an above average blocker with big hands, another capable TE on the roster may help Ryan in the transition without Gonzalez on the roster.
Fifth Round, #147 Overall – Dez Southward, S, Wisconsin – Free safety Thomas DeCoud played his way out of Atlanta last season, which leaves second-year players Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael as the current on-roster favorites to be the defense’s last hope on deep passes.
Southward did not have a particularly eye-opening career with the Badgers (2 INTs and 152 tackles in four seasons) and is noted by ESPN as possessing “below-average anticipation and route recognition skills”, but his man-to-man coverage skills are what makes him a late round prospect.
Still learning a game he did not begin playing until his senior year of high school, Southward is not a player that will be capable of starting right away, but he could be a project that may be worth gambling on.
Sixth Round, #182 Overall – Mike Davis, WR, Texas - Atlanta’s receiving corps were decimated by injuries a season ago, leading to reliance on receivers Harry Douglas, Darius Johnson, and Drew Davis that were not exactly able to match the projection expected from Julio Jones or Roddy White.
Davis had a solid four-year stint with the Longhorns, including a senior season that featured 51 receptions with 727 yards and 8 touchdowns. Davis lacks incredible speed (4.5 40-time) but makes up for it with consistent play and a commendable ability to get going off the line of scrimmage, skill sets that should catch several GMs’ eyes as the rounds tick by.
Seventh Round, #220 Overall – Silas Redd, RB, USC - The Falcons’ rushing game last season was abysmal (last in the league with 77.9 yards per game), and the retirement of longtime back Jason Snelling means that either Antone Smith or Josh Vaughan will have to back up aging Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers or another running back will step in.
Redd, the former Penn State and USC powerback, rushed for 2,959 yards with 19 touchdowns in college but needs to make several adjustments in order to make it in the NFL, most notably in his receiving skills (averaged eight receptions per season). Redd is noted as a great team leader and a hard-working running back, two characteristics that may make him a wise choice by Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith.
Seventh Round, #253 Overall – Ray Agnew, FB, Southern Illinois - Fullbacks are a dying breed in the NFL (Atlanta only has Patrick DiMarco on their roster), but the Falcons may be in the market due to the aforementioned retirement of Snelling, who played both running back and fullback for the squad.
Statistics are never helpful for a fullback, but Agnew had a solid career with the Salukis, playing in 45 games over four seasons and blocking for a Southern Illinois squad that averaged a little over 150 yards per contest in 2013.
At 5’11”, 242 lbs., Agnew may prove to be a free agent signing at best, but Dimitroff has a history of targeting prospects from smaller colleges, which could give Agnew a shot at playing professionally.
Seventh Round, #255 Overall – Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame - Shembo had a disappointing 2013 season when the Fighting Irish needed him to step up due to the loss of Manti Te’o, posting 48 tackles with 5.5 sacks in thirteen games last year.
With a 6’2”, 253 lb. frame to work with, Shembo would very likely be a special teams player for the Falcons, who have done their fair share in developing underappreciated guys like Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu into highly capable starters in the NFL.