By Walter Bergeson on May 11, 2014
The Falcons had a lot of needs to fill in the 2014 Draft. With nine picks in all, they had no shortage of opportunities to fill all of those needs. Two of the first four players selected by the Falcons play on offense, but the team drafted only defensive players with their final five picks. It will be years until we know exactly how well GM Thomas Dimitroff did with this class, but here are the post draft grades for each draft pick.
The Falcons' biggest need going into the draft was finding an offensive tackle to protect Matt Ryan, and they found it right away with Matthews. They were lucky that Matthews was still on the board at six, as Matthews was the most polished offensive lineman available. A two-time All-SEC lineman, Matthews will start immediately at right tackle and help give Matt Ryan some time to get the ball downfield.
The Falcons' selection of Hageman was a little surprising. It's not that he isn't talented, as he looked dominant at times and was selected as a third team All-American. But Hageman played defensive tackle in college and the Falcons already have Paul Soliai, Jonathan Babineaux, and Perry Jerry to play the middle of the 3-4. The team will probably move Hageman to defensive end, but they really needed a pass-rushing linebacker here.
Southward made 30 starts for the Badgers, including playing with a broken wrist for most of the 2013 season. He should start right away at free safety with Thomas Decoud now playing for the Carolina Panthers. Southward is athletically superior to Decoud, but still needs to prove he can handle anchoring the back end of a very young secondary.
Freeman was the featured running back for the National Champion Seminoles, rushing for over 1,000 yards last year. Atlanta needed an every down back to take over for Steven Jackson, but Freeman is a quick, shifty back like Jacquizz Rodgers. Freeman can be a versatile option out of the backfield, but the Falcons still need a back who can run between the tackles when Jackson moves on.
One of the biggest pieces the Falcons needed to add this offseason was a pass-rushing linebacker, so it's a little strange that the Falcons waited until the fourth round to get one in Shembo. The outside linebacker finished his career with 19.5 sacks, and the Falcons hope he will be able to get in the backfield frequently at the next level.
Allen started all four years at Purdue, finishing with the school record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. He is undersized, but has great ball skills and will likely compete for the nickel corner spot on defense. Comparisons to former Falcon cornerback Brent Grimes indicate that he could end up being a steal down the road.
A four-year starter at Syracuse, Spruill picked up 12.5 sacks in his college career. He will need to gain some weight if he's ever going to be a regular contributor on defense for the Falcons, but he has the athleticism to make an immediate impact on special teams.
Smallwood declared for the draft after his junior season at Connecticut. He started every game for the past three years and was twice named first team all-conference. He doesn't have great speed and would be a liability against the pass, but he could come in on run situations or play on special teams.
The second to last pick of the entire draft, Starr was the fourth linebacker selected by the Falcons. Of the four, Starr may have the best combination of size and speed, but he will have to prove he can compete on the professional level over the summer.
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