The Atlanta Falcons four biggest needs in the 2014 NFL Draft were help on the offensive and defensive lines, a tight end and some pass rushing help at LB. Three of those needs were knocked out with room to spare.
Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M) was an absolute no brainer for the Faclons at no. 6. He’s the best OT in the class (IMO) and he fills the biggest hole on the roster. Remember, this team gave up 44 sacks and were dead last in rushing yards per game, so help on the offensive line was absolutely critical, and the Falcons aced it with Matthews.
Matthews is equally sound in both run and pass blocking and has experience on both left and right sides of the line. Right now he should already be penned in as starting right tackle, but don’t be surprised if LT Sam Baker has another down year or isn’t recovered from his knee injury that Matthews slides over to blindside duties, as that’s where his future truly lies. Great value and a great need. If A++ was possible that’s what the grade would be here.
Ra’Shede Hageman (DE/DT, Minnesota) at no. 37 was another tremendous value.
Many, myself included, thought he would land somewhere between 15 and 30, so a great move by the Falcons to scoop him up without giving up any draft capital in the process. The Falcons figure to run a versatile hybrid 34/43 and Hageman projects very highly at both 3-tech and 5-tech. Hageman is a freak athlete at 6-foot 6, 310-pounds and offers tremendous upside, though he is raw and he’ll have to work on consistency.
The linebackers brought in were Prince Shembo (4th round, Notre Dame), Marquis Spruill (5th round, Syracuse), Yawin Smallwood (7th round, UConn) and Tyler Starr (7th round, South Dakota). Starr and Shembo offer the highest upside in terms of pass rush potential, while Spruill and Smallwood are interior thumpers with great range versus the run.
The camp battle at linebacker is going to be absolutely fascinating between the rookies brought in and Paul Worrilow (the undrafted hero from last year), Akeem Dent, Stansly Maponga and Joplo Bartu. Depth both inside and outside, whether it’s an even or odd front, shouldn’t be an issue whatsoever.
The Falcons didn’t take a single tight end, which many found odd, though they did sign undrafted free agent Jacob Pedersen. Pedersen is a typical Wisconsin tight end: good athlete, slightly undersized, playmaker in the passing game and a solid blocker. Why Pedersen wasn’t drafted in the tail end is a good question, though many will attribute it to poor testing times.
Overall, the Falcons did a good job addressing many of their needs. The absolute biggest need was at OT, and they got the best in the draft in my opinion. Tight end will still be a question going into the fall as will depth at WR, but overall this is a much deeper and stronger team than the 2013 version.