Grading the Atlanta Falcons Draft
With the Falcons 2017 draft square in our rearview mirrors, everybody with an opinion and access to the internet is quick to give out letter grades for a bunch of prospects who haven’t stepped one foot on a professional football field, either in practice or a game. Though there is nothing wrong with the process of grading the most current draft, it is hardly an exact science. The NFL draft is, year-in and year-out, my absolute favorite televised sporting event. I love playing armchair GM, speculating on all the “what if’s” and “if only’s”. Another reason I love the draft is it’s the perfect time of year for reflecting.
It is said that you can’t truly know how good a draft is or isn’t for 2-3 years. I prefer 3 years. A player’s rookie season is all about learning. Schemes, verbiage, speed, not to mention a complete culture shock. It’s difficult for rookies to make much of an impact (in general). A player’s second season is when they tend to make the biggest jump as far as on field production. With all of the “new” worn off, 2nd year players are able to do more reacting on the field rather than thinking. By a player’s third year in the league, the player and his team pretty much know who they are…starter, reserve, rotational, situational, special teamer, whatever. So, to me, this is the perfect opportunity to go back in time and re-grade an older draft.
So, without further ado, I give you…..
He coulda been a contenda…
THE ATLANTA FALCONS 2014 DRAFT
Round #1, 6th overall-Jake Mathews, RT, Texas A&M
Jake was brought in to solidify the RT spot until such a time that he could take over for another 1st round pick, Sam Baker, at LT. Well, the future came all too quick as Sam Baker suffered a season ending knee injury (surprise!) forcing Jake to the LT spot early in his rookie career, a spot he has not relinquished since. And, although Jake has been steady at LT, he has not been spectacular. Technically sound with brains to spare, Jake can still get bullied from time to time and has been developing a penchant for untimely penalties. One starts to wonder if Jake wouldn’t be better off at another position, RT, G or maybe even C one day. Every season seems to have the same story line for Jake, “He wasn’t all that impressive, but he played through nagging injuries all season.” That’s all well and good, except for 2 problems, (1) he wasn’t all that impressive and (2) he played through nagging injuries all season. It’s time for Jake to either start being impressive or stop with all the nagging injuries. Having just had his 5th year option on his rookie contract picked up, Jake will more than likely be given the chance through the 2018 season to prove he was the 6th best player in the 2014 draft
Round #2, 37th overall-Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Baby ‘Shede came in to the Falcons with all the size and potential in the world, but with a less than stellar work ethic. Flashes of brilliance are often disrupted by long periods of “where the hell is Hageman?” The beginning of the 2016 campaign didn’t start too well for Hageman as there were reports of domestic violence along with being inactive for early season games, flaming speculation that Hageman’s days in a Falcons uniform were numbered. A light came on for Ra’Shede in the second half of 2016 and he started to resemble the player we’d all envisioned when he was drafted in April of 2014. One thing has always been true for Hageman going back to his rookie season…if he’s properly motivated, Hageman can be a major force to be reckoned with on the football field. Fortunately for Falcons fans, not much inspires Hageman more than going face to face with Cam Newton or Drew Brees. Something about those 2 guys brings out the nasty in Hageman. It’s contract year for “Shede, so I can expect we’ll be seeing his best game in and game out in 2017. If not, we’ll be seeing him in another uniform in 2018.
Round #3, 68th overall-Dezmen Southward, FS, Wisconsin
Oh deary. Who’s to blame for this horrible pick. Ex-coach Smitty who never seemed to have a handle on what type of players or what type of defense he wanted? Thomas Dimitroff, who seemed to have an affinity for the “measurables” and players from the Midwest (particularly Wisconsin)? Going into the 2014 draft, the Falcons had no real FS on the roster, but seemed fine with letting this position wait until the 3rd round of the draft, and choosing a player that was rated by most “draft experts” as a 5th rounder at best. Lightning speed with incredible quickness and reach, Dezmen never got his feet on the ground under Smitty. Enter Dan Quinn who tried a position change to CB in an attempt to harness all that God given talent. It was to no avail. Dezmen was released in November of 2015 having played in just 3 games that season. Later signed to the Colts practice squad, Dezmen was released with an injury settlement in September of 2016. In December of 2016, Dezmen landed on Carolina’s practice squad where he was granted a futures contract.
Round #4, 103rd overall-Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
There’s no need to go into all of the accolades of the diminutive RB with the Big heart. If you don’t know them,shame on you. 2 pro-bowls, back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons, 29 total touchdowns already, etc., etc., etc. Tailor made for the zone blocking scheme Atlanta now employs, you really couldn’t ask for much more from Devonta than what he has produced during his 3 years in Atlanta(except possibly better representation at the contract table).
GRADE: 99 (taking off 1 point for a horrendous missed block at the most inopportune time)
Round #4, 139th overall, Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
Prince had his troubles before he ever became a Falcon. Accused of sexual assault on a female student at Notre Dame who eventually committed suicide. He was also suspended his Senior year of High School for throwing a desk at a teacher who took away his cell phone. Prince came into Atlanta under ideal conditions. Not a lot of talent or depth at the LB position. Prince got to play and did pretty well for himself. Even being counted on as a probable starter for the 2015 season. Then, in May of 2015, Prince was viscously attacked by his girlfriends dog. Fearing for his life, Prince bravely, valiantly fought off the onslaught by kicking the dog until the dog had ceased living. The dog was a Yorkshire Terrier. For those of you unfamiliar with Yorkshire Terriers, they are about as big as a grown man’s foot. Prince was gone the moment the story broke. No one would touch him after that. End of story.
Round #5, 147th overall, Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
What a ride for Ricardo. Allen spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. Exit Mike Smith. Enter Dan Quinn. Mix in a position change to free safety and voila…instant starter. That’s pretty much how it went for the smallish Ricardo. He has shown the ability to stick his head in and make a tackle, break up passes and even pick off a couple. A very smart player with a fabulous work ethic and study habits, and becoming more of a defensive field general each year, Ricardo Allen might not be the best FS in the league, but what he offers you is steadiness. Game in and game out you pretty much know exactly what you’ll get from Ricardo. Everything he’s got.
Round #5, 168th overall, Marquis Spruill, LB, Syracuse
I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that Marquis blew out his knee and we never got the chance to see what he could do, or the fact that Thomas Dimitroff traded a 6th and 7th round pick to move up and acquire him. Marquis was a head scratcher for most Falcons fans. Too small to continue at MLB, too slow to be an OLB or SS. After Marquis lost his rookie season to reconstructive knee surgery, he came back under rookie head coach Dan Quinn and didn’t make it through pre-season before being cut. In 2016 he signed on with the Toronto Argonauts in April but was released in June. Talk about a tale of “what might have been?”. What if Marquis hadn’t blown out his knee? What if the Falcons hadn’t traded up for him and he was drafted by another team? Does he still blow his knee out? Sad really.
Round #7, 253rd overall, Yawin Smallwood, LB, Connecticut
I know I wasn’t the only one excited when we snatched up Yawin in the 7th round. I had seen projections with him going as high as the 4th round. Big bodied middle linebacker, Smallwood was going to be the diamond in the rough that we always look for. One small problem though. Yawin was slow…I mean really slow. Slow to move, slow to recognize, slow to react, just all around slow. Oh, he could hit you, and hard. He had to catch you first, and that was difficult. If you ran the ball straight up the middle, you didn’t have a chance to get by Yawin, 3 feet to the left or right, and a RB was home free. Yawin was cut at the end of August that year, signed on to Tennessee’s practice squad for 2015 & 16. He’s currently a free agent.
Round #7, 255th overall, Tyler Starr, LB South Dakota
I remember thinking 2 things about Tyler when the Falcons drafted him at the tail end of the draft, (1) damn, his fiancé is hot, and (2) I bet of all the LB’s we drafted in this draft, Tyler ends up having the biggest impact. Turns out I was correct on both counts, sort of. Tyler’s fiancé now wife was and still is hot and by making the 53 man roster in 2014 and the practice squad in 2015 (later promoted to 53 man roster), Tyler at least outlasted any of the other LB’s drafted in 2014. Career stats: 1 game played, 1 tackle. Tyler was injured in the preseason in 2016 and was waived/injured. He is currently a free agent.
Grade: 10(for his wife, Megan)
Using my very scientific grading system, that comes up to 354 points divided by 9 players chosen for an average score of 39.33 per pick. By all rights, that’s a failing grade. However, There are currently 3 starters from this draft, including 1 two-time pro bowler plus 1 rotational player who is a major contributor to this young, up and coming defense. So that’s 4 main contributors out of 9 picks, which is outstanding after 3 years, and under the Smitty/Dimitroff regime, quite possibly the best draft they had together.
Tune in next year when I spotlight the 2015 draft (the first under Dan Quinn).
Thanks for listening.