If you were to use one word to creatively sum up the Atlanta Falcons 2014 Draft "Un-Dimitroffian" would be a good one (as long as we're allowed to make words up.). There's the obvious point: The Falcons only made one trade during the draft, and that involved late round picks and failed to make a blip on any radar outside of hardcore Falcon fandom.
The other major shift was the drafting of a high-risk/high-reward player early in the draft and that should be a welcome change for Falcons fans. Much has been made about the positives and negatives of Ra'Shede Hageman as a football player. At his best he leaps off the page as a physical freak of nature dominating offensive linemen and disrupting plays in the backfield. At his worst he struggles with his pad level and his motor has been called into question. Critics say his production and level of play don't match up to his potential often enough.
If you watched the draft highlights of Hageman, which are designed to make players look good (in most cases, hello Teddy Bridgewater), Hageman looks like a monster on the field. Isn't that what you want as a Falcons fan? The hope is that your coaching staff can help him overcome his weaknesses and your veteran leaders can help motivate him to go hard if the effort is lacking. The Atlanta Falcons are putting trust in their system. It's about time.
It's understandable why the Falcons may have been hesitant to draft boom/bust players. Billionaires don't take failure too well and the images of giving Michael Vick $100 Million pushing him around in a wheelchair after he broke his leg prior to the nastiness of Vick's legal woes aren't images Arthur Blank is eager to ever re-live.
Of the first and second round picks in the Dimitroff era, which is also the post-Vick era, the only player picked who rated worse than above average in intangibles according to Scouts Inc. was last year's second round pick Robert Alford. Even Alford's "average" rating seems suspiciously low because Scout's Inc said of him, "Accountable and no off-the-field issues we are aware of." Which sounds like he was given an average ratings on intangibles because Scout's Inc. didn't know anything about him.
Ra'Shede Hageman was given a below average ratings in intangibles. At the end of his bio Scout's Inc says, "Needs structure in his life." That sentiment was echoed by his college coach Jerry Kill, who by the way, says Hageman has made strides in that area. However, assuming that Scout's Inc. is spot on in their analysis, that is proof why this is a departure for the Falcons and why it's a good thing.
It's time the Atlanta Falcons trust in their system. The only coach in the NFL that has been with his current team longer than Mike Smith has been with Atlanta without winning a Super Bowl is Marvin Lewis (who likely wouldn't still be the coach if it was any organization other than the Bengals.) At a certain point you have to trust that Mike Smith, his coaches and the veteran players in that locker room are a strong enough group that they can make sure everyone in the locker room is working as hard as possible to the common goal of winning a Super Bowl.
The Patriots have been lauded for that very thing for years now. The Ravens, Steelers and Giants have operated that way as well without as much fanfare. The great organizations in the game trust their systems. Those who can't survive are gone. Those who can, thrive. That is what sets great organizations apart the others.
It's important to note that Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox worked with Hageman at the Senior Bowl and wasn't afraid to get after Hageman on and off the field. Cox wasn't known to take crap as a player and doesn't take crap as a coach. He's a great mentor for Hageman. The Falcons also have Jonathan Babineaux, who will be one of the longest tenured Falcons of all-time when his career is over, and two-time Super Bowl winner Osi Umenyiora on the defensive line to help motive Hageman every day.
Prior to the Arthur Blank era the Atlanta Falcons were one of the most unstable, unreliable organizations in football. Blank's tenure started off rocky; the early highs were quickly replaced by a divided locker room and underachieving teams finally hitting rock bottom in 2007 with Vick's arrest and the coach who shall not be named.
2008 was the re-birth of the re-birth. The Falcons are currently in the most successful period of their existence even if 2013 was a disaster. 2014 is already going to be better because the offensive line is significantly better. The defense is still a question mark. Atlanta wasn't able to land the dynamite pass rusher they sorely lack.
That said, Ra'Shede Hageman is the type of boom/bust player that can be a difference maker if he pans out. Given the success of the coaching staff over the past six seasons and the quality of leaders in the locker room you should feel good that Ra'Shede Hageman will be a monster for the Falcons defensive line.