Atlanta Falcon's NFL draft draws mixed reviews

Atlanta Falcon's NFL draft draws mixed reviews

May 13th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Jake Matthews, left, greets Falcons coach Mike Smith today during an NFL news conference at the team's headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga. Matthews, an offensive lineman from Texas A&M, was the selected 6th overall in Thursday's NFL draft.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

The Atlanta Falcons had a productive draft, according to Todd McShay, but fellow ESPN analyst Mel Kiper believes they could have done better.

Atlanta used its first-round pick to snag Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews and selected Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round. The Falcons took Wisconsin defensive back Dez Southward in the third round and Florida State tailback Devonta Freeman with their first of two fourth-round picks.

"I really liked the Falcons draft," McShay said Monday on a teleconference. "Jake Matthews makes all the sense in the world. I don't know if their plan for him is right or left tackle, but he brings that versatility and gives them options. He was one of the five best players in the draft, and they got him at No. 6, so they didn't have to trade around or give up other picks to get a player that they desperately needed in order to protect Matt Ryan.

"With Hageman at No. 37, they get a player who was a first-round talent, but there is some baggage there. He had a brutal upbringing, and what he went through early in his life you wouldn't wish on anybody. He's got a ton of potential and is one of the physical freaks in this draft."

McShay believes tackle was a bigger need for Atlanta than a pass-rusher, but Kiper wasn't so sure on his teleconference.

"They really need pass-rush help," Kiper said. "[Boise State's] Demarcus Lawrence could have been an option at No. 37, but Dallas moved up and grabbed him. The question for me is whether they did enough to really help the pass rush, which was a big need, and I also think a tight end made sense given the departure at that position."

Kiper said Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo, the second of Atlanta's fourth-round picks, could aid the pass rush and considers South Dakota seventh-round linebacker Tyler Starr a pass-rushing sleeper.

"Shembo can go from point A to point B," Kiper said. "He's a designated pass-rusher, but they did not get that impactful pass-rusher unless Shembo is the guy. They did get help for Matt Ryan with Matthews and Freeman, and the defense had seven of the nine picks.

"I guess I have no issue overall, but I would have liked a proven entity as a pass-rusher, but they went Hageman over that guy."

The big gamble

McShay was asked Monday if he would have pulled the same first-round move as the Buffalo Bills, who were slotted to pick ninth but traded up to fourth and grabbed Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. As part of the deal, Buffalo gave Cleveland its No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft.

"I understand, because Sammy Watkins is an elite player," McShay said. "You're sitting there at No. 9, and you're worried that you're not going to get one of the four elite players in this draft -- Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Sammy Watkins and Khalil Mack. It was highly unlikely you were getting up to No. 1 or No. 2 regardless, and at the end of the day, I think the Bills just wanted to get the best player possible to put around E.J. Manuel.

"If I had E.J. Manuel as my starting quarterback, there would be a similar focus. That's the best way I can put it."

Gushing over Gurley

No tailback was selected in the first round for a second consecutive year, but that could change next year due to Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon.

"Those are your two top guys, and they are going to be big-time prospects, particularly Gurley," Kiper said. "He's going to have a grade similar to Trent Richardson [the third overall pick in 2012], and we'll see if he goes in the top five or 10 overall. He's got that kind of ability."

Seattle's security

The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks have a recent history of getting the most out of third-day selections, most notably fifth-round defensive backs Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.

This year's steal for Seattle could be Alabama receiver Kevin Norwood, who went in the fourth round.

"He's probably never going to be great, as a No. 3 or worse receiver, but he's a smart guy who is ready to play in the league right now," McShay said. "He's very consistent catching the football, and he was probably at his best off-script with AJ McCarron. You look at Seattle and where they have to excel, and it's when Russell Wilson gets outside the pocket and works off-script.

"He's a smart receiver with a smart quarterback who likes to create when the initial play breaks down, and I think he has a chance to become a security blanket for Russell Wilson."

Tiny's big tumble

Tennessee Volunteers left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson had been projected as high as a late first-rounder in the weeks leading up to the draft but went undrafted. He agreed Saturday night to a free-agent deal with the Minnesota Vikings.

"It was a combination of things," Kiper said. "There was the performance, and there is always the medical part of this equation that people don't factor in enough. He's going to have a chance as a free agent, and sometimes you can pick your team and be a little bit better off than if you were a late-rounder."

Looking ahead

McShay will have a mock draft for 2015 later this week and was asked about next year's quarterbacks.

"I've looked at tape of [Oregon's] Marcus Mariota, and I'm glad he went back to school," he said. "I've studied [Florida State's] Jameis Winston and have a good feel for him. He's obviously loaded with talent as well, but he has work to do. He has a long delivery, and I thought he regressed a little bit with his accuracy as the season regressed.

"Those are the two quarterbacks you look at, and I don't think there is nearly the depth out there."

Kiper believes UCLA's Brent Hunley and Baylor's Bryce Petty could develop into early picks as well.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524.