Many years in the National Football League we see a team with high expectations have their hopes come crashing down, usually due to the dreaded injury bug. Last season this was the Atlanta Falcons. A popular pick to make a Superbowl run, the Falcons were struck with injuries all over the roster. They needed to draft capable players who could come in and provide depth and impact immediately. This is the continuation of the rookie impact projections across the league. The Atlanta Falcons selected nine players in this years 2014 NFL Draft. Every player will be graded on a scale of one to ten, one being little to no impact this season, 10 being an irreplaceable presence.
Jake Matthews (Offensive Tackle) – 1st round (Pick 6)
Matthews was touted as the best pro ready tackle prospect throughout the entire draft process. The Falcons knew what they were getting when they selected him sixth overall. Matthews will immediately come in and contribute, likely starting at right tackle on day one. His strength and incredible mechanics should vastly improve the protection of franchise quarterback Matt Ryan. Do not be surprised if Matthews makes a serious push to become the anchor of the line at left tackle early in his career. Matthews will be a key cog on this offensive line for years.
Impact projection: 9 out of 10
Ra’Shede Hageman (Defensive Tackle) -2nd round (Pick 37)
Hageman was drafted as a tackle but is listed as a defensive end on the team roster. Reports from camp say that he has been learning fast and picking up the new position quickly. The Falcons need an edge rush desperately in a quarterback heavy division. Hageman’s unique blend of size, speed, athleticism, and intelligence should have him making plays for the Falcons in short order.
Impact projection: 7 out of 10
Dezmen Southward (Safety) – 3rd round (Pick 68)
Southward has the size and athleticism (ran a 4.38 40 time) to play either corner or safety for the Falcons. The secondary has struggled to stay healthy and effective over the last few seasons, and Southward gives them good depth. Expect Southward to fight for snaps in nickel and dime packages, as well as a spot on the special teams unit. If an injury occurs to the secondary, at corner or safety, expect Southward to make the leap.
Impact projection: 4 out of 10
Devonta Freeman (Running back) – 4th round (Pick 103)
Freeman is a little shorter than most would like, but he makes up for it with impressive burst and power. Freeman will come in and immediately compete for the backup job with Jacquizz Rodgers. Freeman has the upper hand already, as Rodgers has been underwhelming so far. Veteran workhorse Steven Jackson isn’t getting any younger either. They need someone to help keep him fresh. Look for Freeman to wow people this August as he fights for playing time.
Impact projection: 5 out of 10
Prince Shembo (Linebacker) – 4th round (Pick 139)
Shembo is a tough as nails defender, with a tenacious nature on the football field and is a natural-born leader. That being said, he isn’t exactly and phenomenal athlete, and still struggles in coverage. It may be a few years before Shembo is transitioned to a full-time starting role at outside linebacker, but expect him to make a noticeable impact on the special teams unit starting day one.
Impact projection: 4 out of 10
Ricardo Allen (Cornerback) – 5th round (Pick 147)
Allen is comparable to a former Falcon cornerback, Asante Samuel. Allen has a nose for making the big play and going after interceptions. However, that leaves him open to mistakes and leaving the big play wide open. Allen must do a better job of reading the quarterback and not being dominated by bigger receivers. He is a very durable player with a good amount of experience ( a four-year starter at Purdue) and a ball hawk is nice to have. However they don’t usually survive long if they give up a number of big plays. Look for Allen to fight for his roster spot and to fill in during nickel and dime packages.
Impact projection: 2 out of 10
Marquis Spruill (Inside Linebacker) – 5th round (Pick 168)
Spruill, like Shembo, is tough as nails and a great team leader. His size leaves a little to be desired (6’1”, 231 lbs) but he more than makes up for it with his flashy, sideline to sideline ability. He still has a lot to learn in dropping back in coverage as well as sharpening his mechanics and fluidity. Spruill will become an immediate contributor to the special teams defense this year in hopes of making the leap to starting defense.
Impact Projection: 4 out of 10
Yawin Smallwood (Linebacker) – 7th round (Pick 253)
Smallwood was considered a mid round prospect and saw himself fall all the way to the compensatory picks in round seven. That should certainly light a fuel to his fire. Smallwood is a great hitter, but that is about it. He doesn’t wrap up tackles, and has a difficult time shedding blocks. Other than his vertical, he is a little too stiff and seems to end up a step behind the play. Like Shembo and Spruill he will like likely make his living on the special teams unit, and hope to battle his way up from there.
Impact projection: 3 out of 10
Tyler Starr (Linebacker) – 7th round (Pick 255)
Starr has very similar measurable and attributes of the other three linebackers that the Falcons selected, making the fourth a bit puzzling. They do need depth, especially with Sean Weatherspoon out for the season. Starr is a decent athlete though, but will still likely fight for a roster spot as well as a spot on the special teams unit.
Impact projection: 3 out of 10
The Atlanta Falcons have done a great job sustaining team success via the draft process. This year they were able to grab two high impact players in Matthews and Hageman, focusing on their two weakest points of pass protection, and pass rush. They also did a great job picking up some valuable prospects that provide immediate depth especially on the defense. While you may not see all of these names making plays next year for Atlanta, you can certainly expect to hear their names in the years to come.
Look forward to the Baltimore Ravens rookie impact projections coming soon. Joe Kleine is also co-host of the finsradio.com show The Direct Snap, alongside fellow Phin Phanatic and Rant Sports writer Tyler McMullen. Please check out our facebook at www.facebook.com/theofficialdirectsnap or check us out on Twitter at the handle, @Direct_Snap