By Andrew Schuster @ShootsMcGavin on May 16, 2014
The Atlanta Falcons seem to have made a nice little splash in the 2014 NFL Draft, but can these players find success at the next level? Collegiate and professional football are two different games. With that said, let's go ahead and predict the impact of each draft pick.
Matthews was a no-brainer at No. 5 overall. The Falcons needed to find protection for QB Matt Ryan and they got it. The former Texas A&M tackle comes into the league NFL-ready and should no doubt have a phenomenal career in Atlanta. He is a franchise player with serious Pro Bowl potential and will have a positive impact from day one.
Hageman plays with intensity as both a run stopper and pass rusher. He is a converted TE, so the athleticism is there. The Minnesota defensive tackle was a second-round choice with first-round potential. The Falcons were in need of some intensity on defense and now they have it. Hageman could be a big part of that defensive line in Atlanta, and very soon. A Pro Bowl appearance here and there would be no surprise.
It was a smart move by the Falcons to address their need for a safety, but I'm not sure if Southward is the right guy. He runs a nice 4.3, but his coverage ability is far below average. He lets receivers get behind him to make the big play. Unless Southward steps it up and improves his coverage skills, I don't see him faring too well in Atlanta.
I think Freeman was a steal for Atlanta in the fourth. They needed to address their running back situation and they did just that. He is one of the most physical backs in his class and plays with some serious intensity. Who not better to learn behind than Steven Jackson? Freeman could make an immediate impact by giving the Falcons a one-two punch with Jackson, eventually becoming a starter.
There were better linebackers available when the Falcons made their pick, but like Ra'Shede Hageman, Shembo plays with hardcore intensity (Atlanta needs that). He is a bit undersized for the pro level, but his power, strength and explosiveness are far above average, which could help him develop into a solid pass rusher after a couple of years.
I think Ricardo Allen was a horrible draft pick, even in the fifth round. He is undersized at 5-foot-9, and lacks the burst and quickness to make up for it. After the Panthers brought in Kelvin Benjamin and Tampa Bay drafted Mike Evans, I don't see what Atlanta was thinking bringing in such a small guy to the NFC South. Allen has a complete physical disadvantage in that division and should not be a factor as long as he's with the Falcons.
Spruill lacks the ideal skills to be a factor on the inside (coverage ability, size, strength, power, etc.). However, he does play with leadership and intensity, which could land him a roster spot in Atlanta. His excellent tackling ability may even help him find a starting gig on special teams.
Smallwood was a good, productive linebacker in college, but he lacks the speed and athleticism to excel at the next level. Grabbing him in the seventh round was still a steal. Smallwood was a tackling machine at UCONN. Maybe those skills can carry over to the NFL, but college and the pros are two different games. Regardless, I still see him landing a spot and becoming a factor on special teams like Marquis Spruill.
South Dakota's outside linebacker was a steal in the seventh round. He has excellent size, athleticism and pursuit skills to be a quality pass rusher in the NFL. He does lack overall strength to compete against the bigger, stronger and faster players, but there is always room for growth. Starr should be able to find himself as a solid backup in Atlanta's linebacker corps, possibly developing into a starter after a few years.
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