While it's hardly unanimous, I'm seeing a number of fans warm up to the 2014 Falcons draft class. Nothing will help that process along more than multiple picks being on the field and succeeding early.
To that end, I've decided to take a closer look at likely 2014 roles for every Falcon rookie, in brief. Bear in mind that this is my powerful football mind going to work, not anything official. We'll keep these capsules brief so you can debate each one, but I am including brief guesses at statistics for each player.
Another note: Starting at noon today, we'll have profiles for every draft picks. These profiles will not be in any particular order, but you'll be pleased to know I called Yawin Smallwood.
Role: Starting right tackle
Sam Baker's going to be healthy and powerfully motivated to hold off his young competition for one more year, and I he's got a decent shot at holding off Matthews. Instead, the future left tackle will lock down the right side in 2014, where he'll be a potentially massive upgrade over the Jeremy Trueblood/Lamar Holmes duo that ruined
Christmas 2013 for all of us.
I expect him to be a 16 game starter.
Role: Rotational lineman
Hageman may not start many games in his rookie season, but he could see a huge number of snaps before all is said and done. He projects as a 3-4 DE who kicks inside at other times, and if he develops quickly in the pass rushing department, he'll likely earn himself a spot on the field on third downs.
Look for something along the lines of 40 tackles, four sacks and hopefully rapid development. If he takes to the NFL more quickly than I think he's going to, he could well blow those numbers out of the water.
Role: Backup safety/nickel back
Barring an injury to Dwight Lowery, I expect Southward to enter the year as a reserve. With his athleticism, I think he'll get opportunities on both special teams and in nickel packages as a third safety. Whether he's ideally suited for that role or not is an open question, but the Falcons will find a way to get him involved.
I see Southward being thrust into starting free safety duties once or twice, finishing with about 40 tackles, an interception and a couple of forced fumbles.
Role: Backup running back
The Falcons want to get Freeman involved and will unquestionably find ways to do so. He should have an easier go behind a rebuilt offensive line, Jacquizz Rodgers will likely cede early-down work to him and hey, he can catch! If Steven Jackson is healthy and Rodgers is handling third-down duties, as I'd anticipate, the Falcons won't be able to give him more than 150 touches this season, however.
Look for 100-plus carries, 450 yards and a couple of touchdowns, plus 15-20 receptions.
Role: Rotational pass rusher
I fear we may be underrating Shembo's impact. There aren't a lot of proven pass rushers on this roster today, so Shembo's athleticism and well-rounded skill set could earn him playing time right out of the gate. I would expect Jonathan Massaquoi and either Osi Umenyiora or Kroy Biermann to "start," but as was the case with Hageman, you'll see Shembo on the field plenty.
I wouldn't bet against something like 30 tackles, 4 sacks and a forced fumble in his rookie season.
Role: Fifth cornerback
Allen is the rookie I believe is likeliest to have virtually no impact in his rookie season. I have to think he'll be buried behind four other cornerbacks, making him a frequent gameday inactive. The Falcons will look to develop him into something more with Javier Arenas, Josh Wilson and Robert McClain all playing on one year deals.
I see him getting into maybe four or five games and not recording any meaningful stats.
Role: Reserve inside linebacker, special teams ace
A part of me wants to project Spruill as a starter inside in 3-4 sets. The team seems very high on the Syracuse product, who isn't the strongest athlete but is a fast, intelligent defender. I can't quite get there, though, and I'm willing to bet the Falcons will prize what he can offer on special teams, a beloved hobby horse for Mike Smith.
Expect some snaps inside and plenty of special teams work, with about 60 tackles under his belt by season's end.
Role: Reserve inside linebacker
Chances are pretty good Smallwood won't see the field much in 2014, and he may be a gameday inactive for much of the first year, assuming he makes the team. I can't imagine the Falcons will expose him to the practice squad, though, because there may be other teams interested if he has a nice summer. At best, I'd ticket him for special teams duty and rotational duty later in the season.
Role: Reserve outside linebacker
It's no secret that I think Starr and Smallwood both have good chances of sticking on the roster, and I actually think Starr could have a more prominent role in his rookie season. While it's possible he, too, will be inactive, his speed off the edge may earn him some chances to rush the passer. I don't expect a revelation in the snaps he gets, but hopefully he'll build on his first year.
What roles do you envision for these nine rookies?