The Atlanta Falcons took the conservative route on Thursday in the first round of the NFL Draft, holding steady to the team’s #6 overall pick and selecting Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
Rumors swirled for the better part of the offseason that Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who is no stranger to trading picks, would be more than willing to move up to chase a player like Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, or Kahlil Mack, but either the asking price for one of these five slots was too steep or the front office was simply enamored with Matthews.
There’s plenty of reasons to already be in love with Matthews, a 6-5, 308-pound tackle who blocked for an Aggies squad that won 20 games over the past two seasons. The two-time All-SEC lineman delivered time and time again for Texas A&M, finishing last season as the second-highest graded lineman in the country with 116 knockdowns and 22 touchdown-resulting blocks, according to AtlantaFalcons.com writer Jay Adams. Matthews’ play on the field was partially aided by his commendable durability on the field, as he started his last 45 collegiate games.
Draft picks are certainly never guaranteed to pan out, but it does not hurt that the Falcons selected a player whose family tree features several NFL players. In all, Jake Matthews has six relatives that have graced an NFL roster: Clay Matthews, Sr. (offensive tackle 1950; 1953-1955), Clay Matthews, Jr. (linebacker 1978-1996), father Bruce Matthews (offensive tackle 1983-2001), Clay Matthews III (linebacker 2009-present), brother Kevin Matthews (center 2010-present), and Casey Matthews (linebacker 2011-present).
Having such a considerable amount of family that have played fairly well in the league does not necessarily mean anything for the newest Matthew to the NFL, but it definitely is advantageous knowing that playing professionally is not exactly a foreign concept to him. Matthews also has a bit of common ground with new teammate and Atlanta’s first round pick from 2013, Desmond Trufant, whose older brothers Marcus and Isaiah have both played in the league.
A popular opinion amongst many Falcons fans involved the team going all in for the first overall pick in order to add a superstar player like Clowney, but the fact of the matter is that the team made the best move in selecting Matthews for many reasons. The major factor in adding Matthews to the team is that it should immediately allow quarterback Matt Ryan to rest easier, considering he led the NFL last year by getting hit 203 times.
Ryan was hassled due to an inefficient line that needed major overhauling, which was done partially through free agency by adding offensive guard Jonathan Asamoah and former Chicago Bears first round pick Gabe Carimi; selecting Matthews simply adds another new and improved piece to the puzzle that head coach Mike Smith and new offensive line coach Mike Tice must carefully construct.
The decision to hold serve at six also meant that the team would not forgo its second round, #37 overall pick, which would have most likely occurred had the team tried to move up in the first round. As much as fans wanted to see some of the other top prospects grace an Atlanta Falcons jersey, the team’s staff understood that one piece alone would not suddenly make Atlanta a highly dangerous playoff contender, therefore resulting in no trade at all.
That being said, there was plenty of thoughts surrounding the Falcons moving up late in the first round in order to address some of the glaring needs on defense, perhaps chasing after a player like Auburn defensive end Dee Ford or Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Although the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Vaughn McClure reported that Dimitroff had made discussions concerning a jump up into the early 20s, the deal never happened, leaving Dix to land with Green Bay, Ford to head to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Falcons waiting to make their next pick on Friday night.
Did the Falcons make a mistake in not acquiring a second 1st round pick on Thursday night? The knee-jerk reaction is to say that Atlanta missed out the golden opportunity of swooping in and making a deal with a team looking to move back like the Arizona Cardinals, but once again the theory that all ten of Atlanta’s picks are valuable comes into play. Yes, it is foolish to think that all ten selections are untouchable and must remain in the Falcons’ possession, but as I mentioned earlier this team has several needs to address. Unless you find a prospect that simply blows the others out of the water and is followed by a considerable drop-off at his position or a trade that is simply too good to turn down, it is not a bad idea to hold serve and wait patiently for your turn.
With much consideration, I give the Falcons a B+ for the handling of the first round. The team settled one of its glaring needs by selecting Matthews, yet the night featured a chance to sneak up that was ultimately shot down.
Friday night features the second and third round of the draft, meaning at this point in time the Falcons will have two picks at #37 and #68 overall. While predicting which players will still be on the board so deep into the draft is about as likely as winning the lottery on your first attempt, five players that may grab Atlanta’s attention in the next twenty-four hours include Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, Florida State safety Terrence Brooks, Georgia Tech outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, LSU safety Craig Loston, and Baylor offensive guard Cyril Richardson.