When looking back at last year’s draft, the Atlanta Falcons seemed to get it right – at least with the first pick. There was no doubt the team needed a franchise offensive lineman, and Jake Matthews still has the potential to be just that.
Matthews had an interesting first season, as he was pressed into action at left tackle after the preseason injury to Sam Baker. Then Matthews got hurt himself, but with all the players out the rookie had to play. After his first season, Matthews had surgery to repair a Lisfranc tear in his foot.
But there was still enough to see that Matthews can be a franchise tackle. It will be interesting to see where the Falcons play him in his second season. Do they keep him at left tackle, or with the return of Baker does Matthews move to his original expected position of right tackle?
The recovery from the surgery may be crucial in that decision. Atlanta is going to have enough questions on the offensive line as it is, so Matthews’ future may be a work in progress until we see how many of the linemen are healthy.
Second round pick Ra’Sheded Hageman was decent in his first season. The Falcons slowly worked Hageman into the rotation on the defensive line of scrimmage. Hageman played in all 16 games and did not make a start. He had one sack and 12 tackles. The expectation is Hageman will be a starting defensive end for the Falcons in 2015.
Dez Southward was the third round pick a year ago. The safety played in 257 snaps as a rookie as he missed significant time with a knee injury and a concussion. With Dwight Lowery gone, Southward is expected to get a bigger chance for playing time at safety this August.
FSU running back Devonta Freeman was the fourth round pick in 2014. Freeman rushed for 248 yards in his rookie season on 65 carries. The previous coaching staff did a poor job of getting Freeman more snaps, when it was obvious Steven Jackson was no longer productive at the position. But the new coaching staff, particularly new head coach Dan Quinn, has been very complimentary of Freeman’s ability.
The Falcons are expected to take another running back in this year’s draft, but unless it is a first or second round pick that player will likely be expected to battle Freeman for playing time in 2015.
With their second pick in the fourth round the Falcons took Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo. We saw glimpses of Shembo’s potential in his 16 games played, with three starts. It’s unclear what the Falcons plan to do with Shembo, particularly with the additions of Brooks Reed and Justin Durant at linebacker.
Atlanta had two picks in the fifth round, with Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen the first selection. Allen was released in training camp and that surprised many. The Falcons had him on the practice squad and had him active for the last two games of the season after Robert Alford got hurt.
Allen is only 5-9, and we’ve heard how Quinn prefers taller cornerbacks. So what might that mean for Allen? He will likely go to training camp to compete for a job, but it will likely be as a reserve.
Marcus Spruill was the other fifth round pick. The Syracuse linebacker tore his ACL in training camp and missed the entire 2015 season. Spruill will be brought back and given a chance to win a job as a reserve this summer.
The first of two seventh round picks did not stick, as Yawin Smallwood was released in training camp. The Tennessee Titans signed Smallwood in November to their practice squad.
Tyler Starr was the last pick for the Falcons. He was on the practice squad the entire season. The Falcons will likely have him back in camp this season and give him another chance.
Twelve months later this looks like a good draft, with Matthews obviously still having the potential of being a star. But the fact Hageman, Southward and Freeman could have more significant roles in 2015 make this a potentially significant draft for the Falcons. If Shembo emerges, or if Allen shows he can still play, this draft might be even more impactful.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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