Falcons get better with quality draft

sports@macon.comMay 10, 2014 

They did that, particularly with the home run they hit in the first round with the sixth overall pick. Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews is the perfect fit to take over at offensive tackle.

Why is Matthews perfect? Well, he comes from a football family. His dad is Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. He had to learn a thing or two from his old man through the years, right?

But it doesn’t stop there. His grandfather, Clay Sr., actually played at Georgia Tech and then four seasons as an offensive lineman in the NFL. His uncle, Clay Jr., played 19 years in the NFL, including three seasons for the Falcons in the mid-1990s. And Clay’s son, Jake’s cousin, is Clay Matthews III, the star linebacker for the Green Bay Packers.

Yes, that matters. Those guys are not just pro football players. They are or were great football players.

You almost want to ask, “How can this guy be a flop?” Matthews had success in college. He shined at the NFL combine, and there are few disagreements about his potential. Go to YouTube and look at his combine video and see how athletic and fundamentally sound Matthews is. As long as he stays healthy, the Falcons have their offensive line anchor for the next 10 years.

Who was the happiest guy on the planet Thursday when Matthews was selected? Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. He was abused last season with a leaky offensive line that gave opponents a direct route to bring him down. Heck, even Ryan’s wife, Sarah, sent a tweet to Matthews welcoming him to Atlanta. She definitely has an interest in his husband’s continued health.

Thankfully, the Falcons didn’t panic. Sure, they flirted with getting the top pick, but they allowed the draft to fall to them. And after Jacksonville shocked everyone by picking Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles with the third pick, it all but guaranteed Matthews would slip to six.

The Falcons then turned their attention to defense, with the need to pad the depth chart. They did a good job doing that, too, getting a lineman, two linebackers and two players for the secondary in five of the next six picks.

Second-round pick Ra’Shede Hageman from Minnesota will mix into the players set for the defensive line. We will obviously see multiple looks from Mike Nolan’s defense this season, and Hageman’s versatility will be needed. Hageman can play inside in the 4-3 and slip outside in a three-man front.

Third-rounder Dez Southward will get a chance to start at safety, but expect the Falcons to have veterans there as well to try and replace Thomas DeCoud. Ricardo Allen was drafted in the fifth round to provide depth at cornerback.

The Falcons added linebackers Prince Shembo in the fourth round and Marquis Spruill in the fifth round. If there is one criticism with the draft it is that Atlanta should have taken a linebacker earlier, but it’s obvious Nolan wants to have a lot of rotation on his defensive line, which will also impact where guys like Kroy Biermann and Osi Umenyiora play as well.

Atlanta might need a second full offseason to get back to where the team was 17 months ago playing for the NFC championship. But the offseason moves with free agency and now a quality draft has this team better -- at least on paper. And that has to be the first step in erasing a 4-12 season that exposed how far away the Falcons are from a championship.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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