The 2015 and 2016 draft classes have been lauded up and down for these Falcons, and they’ve been absolutely integral as the team has become a contender. The 2014 class, the last one with Mike Smith at head coach, has received no such accolades.
Sports Illustrated recently decided to re-visit that draft class for all 32 NFL teams, now that every player has had three years in the league with which to prove themselves. The upshot is that it’s a better class than it initially appeared to be, though the team still badly missed on a handful of players.
Here’s what SI had to say:
The top of Atlanta’s 2014 draft—OT Jake Matthews (No. 8 overall) and DT Ra’Shede Hageman (No. 37)—looks a lot rosier now than it did after Year One. Patience paid off with S Ricardo Allen, too, as the 147th-overall pick has started a combined 30 games that past two years after opening his career on the practice squad. No such luck with guys like Southward, Prince Shembo (No. 139) and Marquis Spruill (No. 168), but Freeman’s emergence in 2015–16 more than made up for those misses.
The logic behind drafting Southward was fundamentally sound, but he simply wasn’t the player the Falcons were hoping they were getting. Spruill’s injury ruined the career of a player who figured to be a speedy special teams asset at worst and pretty much wrecked it. Shembo was a so-so player and a person the Falcons quickly found themselves wanting to be rid of. Yawin Smallwood, despite his wonderful name, didn’t stick around and didn’t make an impact in the NFL. Tyler Starr hung around for a long time but has yet to contribute in the NFL. That’s five misses in a nine man class.
Fortunately for Atlanta, they largely knocked their other picks out of the park. Jake Matthews has developed into a very good tackle. Ra’Shede Hageman has yet to put all the pieces together, but was an improved player in 2016, and made a genuine impact down the stretch. Devonta Freeman is one of the NFL’s best running backs, and a terrific value in the fourth round. Ricardo Allen has turned into a multi-year, effective starter at free safety, making him a tremendous pick in the fifth round.
It’s a fair grade, in other words. The Falcons very notably whiffed on a couple of players, but the contributors they did get out of the class are integral ones. What grade would you give the class?