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Falcons Rookie Update: Snaps and Performances

The Falcons 2014 offseason was... interesting, but we are finally seeing some early returns from the rookie class. Who is a future superstar and who is a terrible bust that is potentially the worst pick in franchise history?

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

That would be a whole lot to figure out after 15 games, but some of these guys are pretty good.

Jake Matthews

The hopeful future franchise left tackle started off the season looking pretty strong, starting for the oft-injured Sam Baker, before dealing with an injury that kept him out for one game.  He then "tweaked" that same ankle yet again, but the Falcons continued to play him. The Falcons are never terribly open about their injuries, but Matthews visibly struggled week after week.

Matthews has steadily improved, and has now only given up one sack in the last five games. ONE sack. This has been a tough stretch against Cleveland, Arizona, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but Matthews has given up ONE sack.

That statistic would be pretty inspiring if he just played the Atlanta Falcons for five games, but he matched up with real defenses.

It is not a surprise that the Falcons have improved along with Jake's ankle. Matt Ryan can be one of the best if he is kept clean, and Matthews has been doing exactly that. His pass blocking is already some of the best the Falcons have seen in quite some time, and on nearly 900 snaps, has shown he can be a great tackle when healthy.

Give him a few years and this man could be a perennial Pro Bowler.

Ra'Shede Hageman

Does anyone remember when the Falcons drafted Hageman? And he was going to give the Falcons pass rush off the edge as a 3-4 defensive end? Instead, the Falcons decided the only 3-4 they were going to run was rushing three defensive tackles on third and long.

But I am getting away from Hageman. His early season has not been full of great things, or even good things. This was to be expected, and his effort was a big reason Hageman was available in the 2nd round. He has some fantastic measurables, but has admitted himself he needs to make some improvements with his effort.

Hageman has made some flashes. A bit of a problem is the Falcons for (unknown reasons) also signed Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai. Hageman has been tasked to earn snaps over well paid free agents, a near impossibility under Mike Smith. If Mike Smith coached the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson would still be the impressive preseason backup to underperforming Matt Flynn.

With only 200 snaps, Hageman has easily outperformed other similarly drafted defensive rookies on a snap-by-snap basis, such as DeMarcus Lawrence and Dominique Easley. All three could use more snaps, but Hageman gets the most stops, hits, and hurries per snap.

Hageman, who finally earned his first regular season sack, has shown a knack for blocking field goals and extra points in between blasting through offensive linemen. It will take more snaps to find out what Hageman can provide, but he has flashed elite athleticism and an ability to manhandle opposing players when he wants to. Why he does not play more over Jackson and Soliai, Mike Smith I cannot say.

Dezmen Southward

A very surprising pick at the top of the third round, Southward, a known project, has not been able to unseat impressive free agent signing Dwight Lowery. And for good reason. Lowery has been fantastic. How has Southward looked on only 227 snaps at safety?

Not great but not nearly Thomas DeCoud. Free safety has a pretty big learning curve, and Southward was not a master at his craft in college. He was drafted for his crazy athleticism and speed, not his quick adaption to the NFL.

Southward has gotten a few shots at safety and has not been an embarrassment, but it will likely be another season before we can expect a whole lot from him. He has gotten very limited opportunity to make any plays.

Devonta Freeman

Are we noticing a trend with rookies under Mike Smith? Freeman, who is competing with the bones of Steven Jackson and the shortest running back in the league, has only received 201 snaps. Despite a better YPC, Freeman has under a third of the carries as Jackson and just a few more carries than Atlanta's third down back, Jacquizz Rodgers.

Freeman, in shamefully few snaps, has shown great burst, a quality that has been lacking from Atlanta outside of Antone Smith. Freeman has held his own in pass protection and is likely slotted to lead a running back committee next year. He is a versatile player who can play special teams, block, run the ball and split out as a wide receiver.

Prince Shembo

Stop me if you have heard this one: Shembo has looked like a quality player but has only 321 snaps. I was very impressed with him early in the season while he slowly earned more snaps. Shembo played 58 snaps and 59 snaps in weeks 4 and 5, before inexplicably dropping to 1 and 3 snaps in the following weeks. He has failed to play more than 23 snaps since week 5, but I stopped making sense of Mike Nolan's ideas for the entire year.

Joplo Bartu had somehow earned those snaps, before seceding playing time to more nickel and dime formations. Shembo was thought to provide some inside pass rush opportunities, but has instead looked like a quality run stuffer who has 18 stops through his limited snaps.

It is hard to say that Shembo has been played to his strengths, but he has looked like a good player that should be starting this year, if not next.

Ricardo Allen

This could have worked out better, but Allen did make the roster after Robert Alford was placed on injured reserve. So, not terrible for a fifth round pick? 0 snaps.

Marquis Spruill

I feel like I've bonded with Spruill, because I have seen his ACL. Fingers crossed he comes back strong in 2015. 0 snaps.

Yawin Smallwood

One of the best names of the NFL draft, Smallwood failed to make either the active roster or the practice squad. Not a great sign based on the team's total lack of inside linebacker depth. The undersized Smallwood (snicker) has signed on to the Titans practice squad. 0 snaps.

Tyler Starr

Lacking the necessary strength to play in the NFL, to start off with, Starr appears unlikely to have an impact or even play at all on one of the league's weakest pass rushing teams. Like most 7th round selections, Starr needs some work, and is far from a safe bet from so much as making the team's active roster in 2015. 0 snaps.

James Stone

Stone is an undrafted free agent who was unceremoniously thrust into the starting position... and has done better than Falcons former top draft selection Peter Konz. He has a crazy 610 snaps, playing every single offensive snap since week eight. Stone has been Atlanta's weakest offensive lineman, but has looked good enough to be quality depth along the inside offensive line.

In Conclusion...

This is still way too early in the process to come to a conclusion on the draft class, but some guys have looked better than others. Seriously, Jake Matthews has nearly half of the 1849 drafted rookie snaps. And I'm pretty sure he was hobbled for about 400 of those.

I like what I have seen, but I have not seen nearly enough. How do you like the rookies so far? What am I totally wrong about? Who should be getting way more snaps? Do you enjoy football?