I was loud and persistent when it came to my predictions leading up to the draft. I was absolutely certain the Falcons were going to make the big trade for Jadeveon Clowney and I was not shy about sharing my opinion. Even when the word started to leak out that the Falcons were out of the race for the first pick I didn't waiver an inch. When Roger Goodell stepped up to the podium I still half expected to hear him surprise everyone by announcing that the Houston Texans had traded the first pick. Then he opened his mouth and a funny thing happened. The Texans drafted Clowney. Despite the months of rumors and the weeks of posturing from both front offices a trade had not come to fruition.
I had guessed wrong!
Normally I abhor being wrong. Who doesn't? This particular incident was a new experience for me though. I knew I had a heavy serving of crow to eat in my future but instead of being disappointed I was relieved. Sure, I had talked myself into liking the idea of trading up for Clowney but my first love had always been Jake Matthews. In my mock draft I had selected Matthews in the "no trade" scenario. After the 2013 season I felt like Dimitroff owed Matt Ryan a favor or two. Every time Ryan attempted a seven-step drop in I held my breath convinced it might be the last time I saw him on the field. I may be prone to exaggeration but I legitimately feared for Matt Ryan's life at times last season. Dimtroff owed it to Ryan to find him some help along the line. Signing Jon Asamoah was good first step and drafting Jake Matthew was a great finishing touch. Those two will give the Falcons a much more talented front five this season. The best part about drafting Matthews? When Sam Baker goes on IR because he blew his back out vacuuming under his couch we will have a back-up plan.
With one major need addressed surely TD would check off the need as pass rusher in the second right? Cue the nefarious music, kick on the fog machine and send in Jerry Jones from stage right. That tight skinned, big screen buying, no-good hornswoggler went and jumped us for Demarcus Lawrence. No big deal right? Attaochu is probably the best pure pass rusher left and he isn't too big of a stretch at #37 right?
Wrong again cupcake!
In my mock I had us taking Marcus Smith here. Unfortunately I wasn't the only person who was high on him and he was long gone by the time #37 rolled around. Right before day two of the draft kicked off I was looking at the big board I built based off of the Falcons private workouts and noticed Hageman's name sitting on top of the list of players still available. I gave him a moments consideration but shrugging it off. Dimitroff didn't dismiss him so easily and after a little reflection I'm completely on board with the pick. You don't have to look far to see the impact a game wrecking defensive end can have in a 3-4 defense. Justin Smith, Cameron Jordan and JJ Watt are the three examples that leap to mind. It's premature to say Hageman will burst into the league playing on their level but he has all the physical tools necessary to be a difference maker in the NFL. He should boost our pass rush by both collapsing the pocket and tying up blockers. His presence should aid Osi, Biermann and the rest of the gang in getting to the quarterback. Before the draft I had convinced myself the Falcons could survive a few question marks at offensive tackle if they added a difference maker on defense. Looking back now I see Dimitroff was able to accomplish adding both.
A trade up for Clowney wasn't the only bold prediction I made prior to the draft. I had proclaimed over and again that the Falcons were likely to draft a receiver in the third round. The Falcons focused a surprising amount of attention on the wideouts in this draft and I was sure that would translate to a draft pick. After Dimitroff selected Hageman the stars were aligned for me to finally get one right. When Donte Moncrief, Bruce Ellington and Martavis Bryant were available in the third I knew for sure Dimitroff would make the controversial decision to select one of them. Most people were screaming for Terrence Brooks but Dimitroff cares as much about cries from the fans as he does my silly predictions. Which is to say he doesn't care at all.
Dezmen Southward? Who is Dezmen Southward?
Those were my first thoughts. Well not exactly. The first thing to spring to mind were the opening notes of Southbound by the Allman Brothers. If he doesn't use that as intro music at some point in his life I'll call it a terrible missed opportunity. His name was vaguely familiar from the write-ups I had done on reddit covering the Senior Bowl squad the Falcons coached earlier in the year. I didn't give him much attention in my write-ups and had nearly forgotten about him altogether. After going back and rewatching the videos draftbreakdown.com has on him I can see why I'd passed him over. He looks average at best in those videos. His speed is apparent and I like the fact that he wraps up when he tackles but he doesn't jump off the film. He looks like a jack-of-all trades type but you can see he has yet to mastered any one aspect of being a defensive back. I know I sound critical here and that's not my intention. I think Southward has plenty of potential. His versatility will be a huge asset to build on as he develops. In a division full of big, fast receivers the Falcons desperately need someone with the size, speed and leaping ability to man up on them. Anyone who can run a sub 4.4 40 at 210 pounds is welcome on my football team. I do think we should temper our expectations though. He isn't likely to be our savior in the centerfield but anyone who expects a third round pick to play like a pro bowler as a rookie is being unrealistic. Foolish is another word for it too. Southward has everything he needs to be a very good starter at safety but we will have to be patient. Hopefully Lowery can stay healthy and hold down the fort while Southward learns the ropes.
By the time the second day had wrapped up I'd given up hope on guessing anything correctly in this draft. I was consoling myself with the idea that I had earned at least partial credit on the Matthews pick. I'd grown comfortable with the idea that I would be surprised with each pick of the draft. No sooner than I'd come to terms with my inaccuracies I was thrown another curveball.
We drafted Devonta Freeman! I actually got one right! Well sort of...
I cheated when I made my mock and included two different scenarios figuring it'd roughly double my chances of guessing something right. Is that taking an easy way out? Sure, but I am not ashamed. In my "trade up" scenario I had us taking Devonta Freeman at the top of the fourth and somehow I turned out getting one right. I'm a Seminole fan so I'll admit to a certain level of bias but I'm thrilled to have Freeman on the team. He looked good in FSU's system and I don't think it used him to his full potential. At Florida State he was asked to start most running plays moving parallel to the line of scrimmage before cutting upfield. His excellent vision and burst suited him well on plays like this but I think he can be even more effective in plays that allow him to run inside more. Mike Tice is bringing his inside zone running scheme with him to Atlanta and Freeman is a perfect fit. He may not be a big back like Stephen Jackson but he has more than enough toughness to succeed as an inside runner. His vision and lateral agility will make him a dangerous cut-back runner. What I like most about him is how quickly he gets upfield after he cuts. He is not the type to dance in the backfield. He could very well be the most well rounded back in the class. He is not as powerful as Jeremy Hill or Carlos Hyde and he isn't as explosive as Dri Archer or DeAnthony Thomas but he is very polished as a runner, blocker and receiver. Give him a year or so in a NFL training program and he could start earning all of the Frank Gore comparisons he has been drawing.
As the rest of the draft unfolded my trend of guessing wrong only continued. I was thrilled by drafting Freeman but I was terrified at the idea of not addressing the need for an edge rusher. It wasn't until I switched over to my big board that noticed there was still a name I liked still sitting there undrafted. Jackson Jeffcoat had some injury problems and wasn't super productive at Texas but his measurables were comparable to any defensive player in the draft. Surely Dimitroff would end his slide right?
Noooope! Its Prince Shembo! Apparently a cool name gets you points now?
And the crowd goes mild! I was mystified in the moments after this pick. It wasn't until a few kind Falcoholics clued me in on details of Jeffcoat's injury that I began to see why he was falling so far. Torn pectorals are no joke and that's especially true for guys that have to wrestle 325 pound linemen every down. Shembo was the next highest rated outside linebacker on my big board and I had a fifth round grade on him so it didn't take me long to get behind this pick. I've seen and heard several fans that think he's going to take Biermann's job in camp and though I admire your fervor I fear you could be disappointed. Shembo has promise and I believe he can and will contribute this season but it may be a bit far fetched to expect him to start. If a late fourth round draft pick can easily take a starting job that's not really a good thing. Its true that teams unwittingly let good players slip deep into the draft but those guys are exceptions to the rule. It could do us all well to remember that. I went back and watched what film I could find on Shembo and I love the guys motor. He doesn't take plays off and he plays hard to the whistle. He was better in coverage than I expected but I think it will be a mistake leave him manned up on Jimmy Graham too often. I wonder if he wouldn't be better suited to play inside in a 3-4. He does not shy away from taking on linemen and he is strong enough to win against interior blockers. I'm not sure he has the speed to get around the edge on a regular basis but if he expands and polishes his pass rush repertoire he could overcome his athletic limitations. I won't count on him to be more than a rotational player this year but that's all any of us should expect from a late fourth round pick. He could surprise us but I'd rather set myself up to be pleasantly surprised than unjustly disappointed.
After adding Shembo I figured Dimitroff would spend the remainder of the draft selecting the best player available. I loved the emphasis Dimitroff had been placing on athleticism and I was hoping he'd add another secondary player to compete with Southward at safety. I had my gaze fixed squarely on Antone Exum and after his private visit with Atlanta I figured he was a logical pick in the fifth round. Wrong again.
Ricardo Allen? The short, slow guy from Purdue?
I can't lie to you. I'm still not sold on this pick. I feel a little better after spending an hour reading up on him but I'm still on the fence. I've seen his interception totals and I've looked at his film and saw his willingness as a tackler and I love that. I've also seen him allow faster wideouts to run right by him and I've seen him look slow out of his breaks and bite hard on play action. I'm probably being too hard on the guy but I call it like I see it. I do find comfort in the fact that our coaching staff has a history of developing undersized cornerbacks into solid, sometimes special players. Allen has good instincts and ball skills which are much harder to coach than technique. Considering the depth the Falcons have a cornerback after bringing back McClain and signing Arenas and Wilson in free agency they won't have to depend on Allen to play significant snaps this year. If he earns more playing time that will be a bonus but the team doesn't necessarily have to count on him. That's a good thing too. If a team depends on a fifth round corner to play major snaps they probably won't be winning many games.
By the time the fifth round had begun I'd given up hope that Dimitroff would extend his streak of trading up in the draft. True to form as soon as I believed it wasn't happening Dimitroff pulled the trigger on a trade.
Marquis Spruill? Didn't he choke a guy in the NBA?
I only half expected the Falcons draft class to consist of nothing but players that appeared on the visit list I had compiled. Technically Dezmen Southward didn't appear on the visit list either but he was on the Senior Bowl squad. I had not seen Spruill's name mentioned a single time leading up to the draft. I had never looked at a single draft profile or one second of film on him and I hated the pick at first. I didn't understand what use the Falcons had for another weakside linebacker with Weatherspoon and Bartu already on the roster. At the urging of my fellow Falcoholics I looked into him deeper and I began to see what the fuss is about. This guy loves to hit people. He doesn't hesitate to smack any opposing player in the mouth and you can never have too many guys like that on your roster. Mike Smith wanted to get tougher and Spruill has no shortage of grit and aggression. I wonder how much weight he can put on without sacrificing quickness because he looks small-ish but I have confidence that Nolan will find a use for him. At absolute worst he should be a special teams demon while he gets the hang of playing in the pros.
The wait between the Spruill pick and the Falcons next selection in the seventh was long but it afforded me a much needed break from the draft. By the seventh round I think even the most die hard fans grow weary of hearing Mel Kiper jabbering away. Even Mike Mayock, my absolute favorite talking head, seemed like he was one "draft grade" segment away from hopping over the table and slapping Rich Eisen around just to break the monotony. My patience was rewarded late in the seventh round when Dimitroff selected two of my favorite linebacker prospects in the draft.
Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr! We now have the coolest named LB group in football!
In my "no-trade" mock I had us taking Yawin Smallwood in the sixth so I'm calling this a win. Whether I deserve it or not I'm claiming I got three picks right. For my excellence I shall receive the fitting reward of absolutely nothing...aside from a few raised eyebrows that I'd care so much about mock drafts in the first place. Seriously though, I think Smallwood could be a baller here. After climbing on my soapbox and preaching about patience and low expectations for late round picks I'm about to be a complete hypocrite. I think Smallwood could sneak into the starting lineup by the end of the year. The Falcons didn't have a true 3-4 inside linebacker before the draft and Smallwood changes that. He is going to have to work hard in camp and fulfill his potential earlier than most rookies but I think he has it in him. Of all the prospects at inside 'backer in the draft I thought Smallwood looked more athletic than everyone not named Mosley or Shazier. Maybe its an overstatement on my part but after watching his film I came away very impressed. His slow 40 time hurt him but I'm willing to write that off to his hamstring going gimpy on him at the combine. Unless Worrilow made significant gains in size and strength I don't see a ton of competition on the roster for Smallwood. I'm very curious to see how he stacks up in training camp.
Tyler Starr is a late round guy that I've had my eye on since before the combine. If anyone read my series of fanposts on late round gems his name should already be familiar. There are several reasons I like him. One, he has glorious flowing hair. Two, his last name is Starr so he is destined for fame right? Three, he was cocky enough to announce his plans on breaking the combine record in the 3-cone drill and he actually got closer to that than anyone thought he would. Had he not pulled a muscle running his 40 yard dash he could have matched the 6.29 second times he was reportedly posting prior to the combine. Instead he only ran in the 6.6s. Starr is incredibly raw so keep immediate expectations low but his agility and short area burst is freakish for a guy his size. It's hard to say how he would have fared against SEC caliber opponents but he looked like a man amongst boys at South Dakota. The only problem is he didn't always look like he knew what he was doing. If you watch his film his athleticism and motor are above question but his instincts and gap discipline are questionable at best. All of his issues can be solved with good coaching though. His work ethic is heralded by every scouting report I've read so I have no doubt he will respond positively to the coaching. I may sound like I've gone off my rocker but I think in a year or two Starr could challenge for a starting role as an outside linebacker and be a very productive player in the league. I guess everyone has to have a late round or undrafted guy to pour expectations into and this year Starr will replace Worrilow as my preseason all star.
After taking a day or two to look back on the draft each pick looks a little less surprising than they may have in the moment. Aside from Spruill and Southward the Falcons met with each of their picks privately before the draft. Southward was on the Senior Bowl north squad (along with Hageman) so the staff had a good long look at him too. Southward and Shembo seemed like reaches initially but upon further review it's not hard to see they were the best remaining options in a rapidly depleting pool of talent at safety and outside linebacker. I may not love the Allen pick but I can't deny his ability to come down with interceptions. Adding a future starter at running back and solid depth at linebacker is just the gravy on top of a very solid draft class from Thomas Dimitroff.
So what do we do now that the draft is over? I don't like baseball and it's two long months until training camp starts. Anyone up for some cards? Maybe a game of horseshoes?