The 2014 NFL Draft grades of The Falcoholic's editors follow, in roughly alphabetical order. Preambles are for suckers.
Plenty of fans were dissatisfied with how the 2014 NFL Draft turned out for the Falcons, and in some ways that's totally understandable. The team held off an adding an edge rusher until the fourth round. The selection of Dezmen Southward in the third round was the classic Thomas Dimitroff head-scratcher. The only tight end added at all this week was undrafted free agent Jacob Pedersen, leaving the position surprisingly thin.
First off, draft grades are stupid. I agree with Mike Mayock that grading classes immediately after the draft ends is kind of pointless.
But, to go along with this exercise, Matthews was an outstanding pick, especially since they didn't have to move up. I don't understand drafting Southward in Round 3 or moving up for Spruill. Freeman is a back with great vision and more to offer than many fans seem to think. I wasn't blown away by the 2014 class, but it was decent.
To me, this is one of Dimitroff's best drafts. We haven't been able to pick high in every round since 2008, and yet the year prior to '08 was filled with so much despair, it's a wonder we were ever able to get out of it.
What do you want from your draft class? The easy answers are "talent" and "filling needs," but what kind of talent are we talking about? Are we speaking of future or current needs? What leaves fans satisfied or dissatisfied after those exhausting three days wind up, besides knowing and already being predisposed toward the players selected?
The answers are always complex, but these are my guidelines. A good draft should inject youth and upside into positions of weakness, not be so wedded to those needs that it ignores best players available and
By those standards, this is a good draft, albeit not one that's particularly likely to go down as an all-timer. Jake Matthews is the potential standout here, Ra'Shede Hageman has a chance to make the class by himself if he reaches his full potential and Dezmen Southward has a box full of wrenches and hammers, even if he's not 100% sure why he's using them to fillet a catfish. The story is the same throughout the draft—the team filled positions of need for this year and in the years to come, and they did so with players who have upside but may not realize that upside.
On balance, then, I have to say I like the incoming class. Because of the uncertainty surrounding several of the players within it and the lack of an edge rusher or meaningful offensive weapon outside of Devonta Freeman, you wind up with a B-.
I think the team managed to address needs pretty efficiently. I was firmly in the "trade up for an edge rusher" camp, but Jake Matthews provides an instant upgrade to an offensive line unit that was shaky at best last season, and that is fundamentally important. I have a lot of confidence in the decision to draft Ra’Shede Hageman considering Bryan Cox’s up close and personal experience coaching Hageman at the Senior Bowl.
Dezmen Southward’s measurables are great even though it’s very unclear whether he’ll be at all prepared to start at free safety, so while I don’t dislike the pick, I certainly understand why some people do. Devonte Freeman will be a solid addition to the offensive backfield and the locker room. While I recognize Prince Shembo’s appeal as a potential situational pass rusher, and I fully support some deviation from the character standards the team has adhered to in the Dimitroff era, I’m not a big fan of this pick purely due to the off-the-field concerns.
The Ricardo Allen pick was a little confusing mainly because of his size, but he’s a decent player and a decent value. Marquis Spruill has the potential develop into a contributor. I loved the Yawin Smallwood pick—what a value to grab him in the late seventh round—and I also like Tyler Starr. He’s a project, but he’s got a solid work ethic and incredible athleticism.
Spoiler alert: I really dig this year's draft class. Look (I'm talking to the haters), I know the Falcons didn't markedly improve their pass rush. But they did add a lot of quality defenders, capable of competing in camp and I'm quite sure there's value there. All of a sudden we have a wealth of linebackers, ready and willing to kick butt and take names. We won't know what kind of talent is there until they all get on the field and get to work, but I'm pleased.
Dimitroff absolutely made the right call by not trading up for Clowney. Call it intuition or conveniently-framed hindsight, there's something just not right about that kid. And to be fair, I'm not even sure it's a personality thing. Jake Matthews will protect Matt Ryan until His Iceness retires. That's the kind of stability the Matthews pick brings. One ill-timed swim move and Clowney's a non-factor. The risk-reward just didn't make sense.
Was this the best draft ever? We don't know yet. It's that simple. James out! [drops the microphone]
The Falcoholic's Readers
You guys weren't that far off from us, really. With over 1,000 votes on our poll, the most popular choice was a B. While I have no doubt many of you were leaning toward a B+ or B- to skew that grade a bit, there were more A votes (186) than C votes (153), so on balance it's a solid B/B+ from our wise and likely beautiful readers.
Chime in on these grades in the comments. Draft profiles and more coming this week.