Despite the Atlanta Falcons choosing highly talented offensive lineman Jake Matthews as their first pick in the draft to secure Matt Ryan from opposing defenders, building a stronger and faster defense were the major issues of presidency for the team.
Overall, with the offseason in full effect and draft over, the Falcons have a lot of talented young athletes who are truly eager to compete for a starting position. Not only will the rookies compete against each other, incoming free agents will be competing for spots as well, in which should create a great sense of competition, yet mentoring for the rookies.
Many would say Matthews was their best selection overall in draft because he was chosen in the first round. However, with defense being the main issue during the draft, taking into consideration the conference the Falcons play in and the dynamics of NFL offenses changing, seventh round pick Tyler Starr could be a diamond in the rough.
Drafted in the seventh round and 255th pick overall from South Dakota, Starr has an enormous amount of talent that can be honed and perfected as he begins his quest at the next level. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound linebacker is very athletic and accelerates well to the point of attack. Although coming from a small school in South Dakota and only playing a total of three years (2011-13), he produced noteworthy stats on the field, compiling a total 196 tackles in which 41 one them resulted in a loss and 27 sacks in three years. Not to mention, he is pretty consistent in terms of him not missing games.
Beyond the stats however, Starr’s main speciality is pass rushing. Due to his great acceleration skills and athletic ability, he will be a perfect for the Falcons in improving their pass defense, which finished 21st last season. Though draft critics knocked him for his inadequate hands usage, limited core strength, knockback power and issues of technique with pass rushing, numbers do not lie and I feel he will have a lot to prove and show for himself during summer camp.
Yes, he was drafted as a pass rusher, but he has the ability to defend against tight ends in coverage. This is one of his major attributions, and if he can perfect it, it will be a major bonus for the Falcons in the upcoming season and years to come. Case in point, the tight end position has changed from its traditional position of a pass or run blocker or receiver at times. Today, in the NFL, tight ends serve as major targets for passing receptions and fourth and fifth receivers in some offensive formations, forcing linebackers to play more in coverage instead of in the middle of the field.
With the Falcons playing in a NFC South division that features highly-profiled New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, Starr could become a great asset in defending them in coverage if given the time to develop more as a player. As he continues to get stronger and adapted to the durability, strength and pace at the NFL level, Starr has the opportunity to emerge and become a great linebacker for the Falcons.