We've already seen which needs Atlanta sought to address with its front-line free agency signings: defensive line and offensive guard. There should still be room for another veteran signing or two, but I wouldn't expect anything earth-shattering.
That leaves a few major holes the Falcons should try to fill early in the draft: pass rusher, tight end, tackle and free safety. Those are the obvious weaknesses on the roster. But what about after that? What are some sleeper players the Falcons could look at in the mid-to-later rounds of the draft? Well, here's one for you all to ponder:
Yawin Smallwood, ILB, Connecticut
Weight: 246 lbs.
40-yd dash: 5.01
Bench reps: 18
Broad jump: 108.0
College scheme: 4-3 base defense
2013: 118 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 9 PDs, 4.0 sacks, 2 FFs, 1 INT
2012: 120 tackles, 15.0 TFLs, 4 PDs, 3.5 sacks, 2 FFs
Note: For the purposes of this scouting report, I looked at cut-ups from last season's games against Michigan and Maryland as well as the Louisville game from 2012. There was not a ton of tape out there, because UConn football LOL.
I'll start off by saying that while Smallwood had impressive showings against Maryland and Louisville, his game against Michigan was forgettable to say the least. He had plenty of trouble with the Denard Robinson-Fitzgerald Toussaint rushing duo and had some issues tackling. Bear that in mind.
(+) Solid size for a linebacker, though more of a long and lean type of build (32-inch wingspan, 9.5-inch hands)
(+) Fluid runner in space, great acceleration and has the speed to pursue most ball-carriers
(-) Has the strength to shed blockers, but not the sort of linebacker to make a ton of solo tackles or lay the big hit
(-) Change of direction and lateral movements leave something to be desired
(-) Not much room for growth or added weight, frame may be maxed out
(+) Great at maintaining position and forcing the play to take a different direction
(+) Tends to keep the ball-carrier in front of him and takes good angles, can cut through traffic
(+) Shifty enough to shed fullbacks or lineman advancing to the second level and will constantly fight to get off blocks
(+) Rarely overpursues the play
(-) Sometimes indecisive at the point of attack: blockers will catch him going one way and then suddenly wanting to change direction
(-) Doesn't possess that "downhill defender" factor that you look for in a run-stopping thumper
(-) Needs to show better form as a tackler and drive through the opposing player; too often winds up at their legs
(+) Very capable zone coverage defender with the speed to match up with tight ends and running backs; even found himself on a few receivers at UConn
(+) Has shown the ability to read the quarterback and get his hands on the ball (9 PDs last season)
(+) Good assignment discipline and won't get pulled out of position easily
(+) Quality read-and-react type of player who will flow towards the play in pass defense
(+) Used as a blitzer quite often with the Huskies and showed he could be productive (4.0 sacks)
(+) Can fly to the pocket, and quarterbacks and ball-carriers feel his impact on the play
(+) Has enough power to potentially overwhelm a chip-blocking running back or tight end
(-) Could do a better job of getting his hands up in passing lanes after being initially held up or using his hands to fight through blocks
(+) Productive, three-year starter who served as team captain and an emotional leader on defense
(+) No known off-field concerns
(+) Appears to give great effort on film
(-) Though disciplined, he's also not the most instinctive player when playing the run
(-) Will occasionally lose track of the play, leaving him susceptible to delayed handoffs and play action
In case you wondered...
"Yawin" is apparently a combination of the names of Smallwood's parents, Winston and Yasa. Hybrid naming: it's the next big thing (well, maybe in San Francisco or something).
As far as skill set goes, Smallwood seems to me like the anti-Akeem Dent: strong displays in coverage and as a blitzer but questions about his athleticism and ability to read the run. His measurables are average at best, but his tape shows he plays with more speed and strength than his 40 time or bench numbers suggest.
For what it's worth, Rob Rang of CBS said Smallwood reminded him of a talented former first-round linebacker:
Most have projected him as a third or fourth-round pick, but I'd put early fourth as his absolute ceiling in this draft given the above concerns and tendencies for inside linebackers to fall. However, teams won't let him fall too far because of the potential to excel in coverage, and it wouldn't surprise me if some front offices even view him as a 4-3 OLB on their boards or, of course, a 3-4 ILB.
But the pass-rushing skills make him an even more intriguing prospect with the potential to perhaps fit into a "sam" or strongside outside linebacker in a 3-4 (Kroy Biermann's likely position next season). Then again, maybe I'm projecting too much.
Regardless of where he fits, Smallwood ultimately looks to become anywhere from capable NFL starter to reliable backup, and Thomas Dimitroff knows full well that Atlanta could use more depth at linebacker. He's not the biggest nor is he the most athletic linebacker in this class, but perhaps the Falcons still give the UConn product a look.