Selecting superlatives for the Atlanta Falcons draft class

Last week’s edition of the NFL Draft brought many new faces to the Atlanta Falcons’ organization. When it was all said and done, the team selected nine different players in the draft and also signed a whopping twenty undrafted free agents.

Matthews headlines the Falcons' latest draft class

Matthews headlines the Falcons’ latest draft class

Those drafted and those signed after the draft’s conclusion includes:

Round 1, Overall Pick #6: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas &M
Round 2, Overall Pick #37: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Round 3, Overall Pick #68: Dez Southward, S, Wisconsin
Round 4, Overall Pick #103: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Round 4, Overall Pick #139: Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Round 5, Overall Pick #147: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
Round 5, Overall Pick #168: Marquis Spruill, OLB, Syracuse
Round 7, Overall Pick #253: Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut
Round 7, Overall Pick #255: Tyler Starr, OLB, South Dakota

Geraldo Boldewijn, WR, Boise State

Brendan Daley, LB, Hawaii

Nosa Eguae, DE, Auburn

Devonta Glover-Wright, CB, Utah State

Maurice Hagens, FB, Miami (FL)

Julian Jones, WR, Arkansas State

Freddie Martino, WR, North Greenville

Jeff Mathews, QB, Cornell

Walker May, OLB, Vanderbilt

Kimario McFadden, S, South Carolina State

Roosevelt Nix, S, Kent State

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin

Bernard Reedy, WR, Toledo

Donte Rumph, DT, Kentucky

Jacques Smith, OLB, Tennessee

The most glaring characteristic in the Falcons’ draft board is the team’s focus on fixing the defense, a mission that was certainly necessary considering how disastrous it played one year ago. Along with the noted additions is the noticeable absence of a drafted defensive end or wide receiver, two areas that many believed the Falcons would target. The signing of four wide receivers and one end may be enough to satisfy general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s mind for now, but will it still remain satisfactory come the fall?

Should the Falcons have targeted a player like USC's Marquis Lee for their receiving corps?

Should the Falcons have targeted a player like USC’s Marquis Lee for their receiving corps?

Instead of breaking down each player listed above in scouting report-like detail, I’ve chosen to take the superlative approach in which I make predictions and react to the team’s selections. Without further ado, here are my responses to six superlatives:

Best Value: Hageman. Longtime Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux is on the wrong side of thirty and does not have much help alongside him considering the team has held onto former first round pick Peria Jerry. Listed by ESPN.com as the #3 DT in this year’s class, the 6-foot-6, 310 pounder was a fairly productive player with the Golden Gophers (recorded 91 tackles in career) and never had a health setback during his final three years with Minnesota. The Falcons genuinely need a defensive tackle who is strong, sturdy, and reliable against the run, and although nothing is assured with college prospects, Hageman looks ready to make an impact with the Falcons immediately.

Biggest Reach: Southward. Mock drafts are admittedly a dime-a-dozen and may not reflect accurately on the true opinions of NFL GMs, but most projections regarding Southward, a player who only has five years of football experience under his belt, had the former Badger being selected much later than the third round (Walter Football’s final mock draft said pick #195; I suggested pick #147). Atlanta is not set on a free safety for 2014 although they do have second-year players Zeke Motta and Kemal Ishmael, but the picture isn’t clearer with Southward. He has been knocked for not having up-to-standard instincts and a slow reaction time, which serve as two preliminary strikes against him. This appears to be a classic case of a team getting trigger happy and picking a player that may have very well been available in the middle of Day 3 of the draft.

Instant Difference Maker: Matthews. The Atlanta Falcons were home to undoubtedly the worst offensive line in football a season ago, but the addition and hopeful maturation of the 6-foot-5, 308 pounder. Matthews makes many hopeful that this year’s line will give quarterback Matt Ryan more time to breathe and make across-the-field connections like he had done in the previous years. Matthews should also immediately make a positive impact for the running game, two improvements that would surely make Dimitroff, head coach Mike Smith, and Falcons fans everywhere pleased and proud of the team’s first round selection.

Star in the Making: Freeman. There was not a clear perception going into the draft about the Falcons targeting a running back at any point, but the team may have found the perfect shot in the arm in Freeman, who accumulated 2,255 yards and a total of 31 touchdowns in his three years with the Seminoles. Although a tad undersized at 5-foot-9 (the same height as former Falcon & Seminole great Warrick Dunn), Freeman has the underrated play-making ability to assist Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, possibly making for a three-player tandem that is usually not common in the league. Given Freeman’s hard-work mentality coupled with a solid pass-catching ability that the Falcons have searched for ever since the release of Michael Turner last spring, it would be no surprise to see Freeman in a Falcons uniform for years to come.

Unheralded Playmaker: Starr. The Falcons made stars out of a pair of undrafted free agents from small schools in Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu last season, a trend that Dimitroff has established over the course of his tenure with team. In Starr, the Falcons have a dynamic linebacker who thrived at South Dakota (196 tackles in three seasons) and admittedly needs some work, particularly with his tackling skills. Starr will be a work-in-progress and may only be visible through special teams play for the foreseeable future, but given his size (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and established work ethic, he has the makings of making some noise while also creating a hairstyle following that will rival that of Green Bay’s Clay Matthews.

Most Impactful Free Agent: Reedy. Undrafted free agent signings are quite hard to gauge because of many reasons, the most important being that each player’s length with the team varies greatly depending mostly on ability and the depth chart. Atlanta’s wide receiver corps was revealed to be entirely too thin in 2013, making several additions necessary for the upcoming season. Reedy took a step back in his final season at Toledo and does not have the explosive speed that will have him held in the same breath as Julio Jones or Roddy White any time soon, but he has the consistent play that can help him earn one of the final roster spots for this year’s team. Expect Reedy to be held among the likes of Drew Davis and Darius Johnson once training camp adjourns.

In the end, I give the Falcons draft class and the undrafted free agents a B+. The team answered several key needs (particularly on defense) early on in the process while also adding several players that will either compete for jobs or make impacts on special teams immediately. It is easy to nitpick and plug alternative names in at any given pick number, but when it is all said and done, it sure looks like Dimitroff and his front office had a gameplan and calmly stood by it.