Guerry Clegg commentary: Falcons did what they needed to do in draft

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMay 10, 2014 

There's a widely held belief that NFL drafts cannot be accurately measured for at least two years. Perhaps that's true if the only measurement is the bottom line of results.

But results aren't the only measurement. Just as important is the process of evaluating and prudent decision making. Considering their needs and available options, the Atlanta Falcons just assembled an ideal draft.

The only need greater than building a defense was protecting quarterback Matt Ryan. So the Falcons resisted the temptation to mortgage their future and trade up for South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or even the most athletic offensive lineman in the draft, Auburn's Greg Robinson. Instead, they played it smart and drafted the most NFL-ready offensive tackle in Texas A&M's Jake Matthews.

Robinson has rare athleticism for an offensive tackle and thus might have more upside. But the knock on Robinson is his pass protection needs work. So even if Robinson had dropped to sixth where the Falcons were drafting, Matthews still would have been a better fit because he's a better pass blocker.

The fact that Matthews is a third-generation NFL player does matter, at least some. No, it doesn't make him a better athlete. But he does know what it takes to be a professional. His learning curve should be brief. He doesn't need much development. The only question for the Falcons is whether to play him on the left side and move Sam Baker to the right, or let him ease into the lineup by playing on the right side.

That would be the ideal scenario because Matthews is probably the better run blocker right now. Having him on the right side should significantly boost the running game, another one of their glaring problems last year.

If Baker can come back from injuries and play at the level he did two years ago, then great. If not, Matthews can. Either way, Ryan's protection should be considerably better.

The offensive line was a mess last year. Poor pass protection and inability to open holes for the running game gave Ryan little chance. Since the season ended, they've signed guard Jon Asamouh from Kansas City and now drafted Matthews. Mike Johnson returns after missing all of last season with a broken leg. Joe Hawley beat out Peter Konz late in the season and the running game improved.

Having addressed the offensive line, the Falcons turned to their next biggest concern -- the defense. They had already signed tackle Paul Soliai and end Tyson Jackson.

They drafted end Ra'Shede Hageman, an impressive athlete from Minnesota.

"(We) continued with the theme of getting bigger and stronger and continuing to build from the inside out," said Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.

There are questions about Hageman's consistency, but no debate about his ability.

"Shede is a very big, strong, passionate football player," Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Players picked in the first two rounds should provide immediate help. After the second round, it's a crap shoot. The Falcons might have landed a steal in the third round in Wisconsin defensive back Dezmen Southward. With Thomas DeCoud gone, free safety is wide open. Southward could come in and win a starting job.

"This is a guy who's big and fast, really good agility and natural movement for a bigger safety," Dimitroff said. "He had one of the best three-cone times, which is usually an indicator of body control and movement. He has cover skills and very good range so we think he's got some real upside to bolster the secondary group."

Southward fits another criteria the Falcons have sought to add -- toughness.

"Everybody is going to play with some nicks and bruises, some things are going to hurt, but I pride myself on being out there every single day, every single snap for my team," Southward said. "It is something that I truly plan on continuing at the next level and it is something that you have to do if you want to be a good player. Good players don't play half the game, they play every snap they can possibly play."

Gotta like that attitude.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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