FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons had a plan all along, and the plan worked out in the end.
For all the talk about possibly trading up to the No. 1 overall selection to pick coveted pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney, I don't believe that was truly ever in play. Of course the team wouldn't admit it because general manager Thomas Dimitroff never wants to proclaim himself closed for business, but the Falcons knew what the priority was.
They knew they needed to get tougher along the offensive line. They knew protecting Matt Ryan and improving the league-worst rushing offense had to be the focus of their attention.
So I have no doubt the Falcons went into Thursday night's NFL draft intent on drafting an offensive tackle, and they might have secured the best of the bunch. Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews and the cousin of Green Bay Packers pass-rush demon Clay Matthews, is now a member of the Falcons family. He was available at No. 6 as the Falcons stayed put.
"We talked throughout this process about improving our team with tough, rugged football players and Jake Matthews epitomizes exactly what we were looking for," Dimitroff said. "He is a solid finisher and has good pass protection skills. He is the type of player that we are always looking for here in Atlanta -- guys who are willing to work and those who come in and embrace the team concept."
The Falcons, with an offseason theme of getting bigger and stronger, made it a point to address some of their offensive line concerns via free agency, bringing in Jon Asamoah to start at right guard. Now bringing in a tackle capable of playing on either side should help the offense flow a little more smoothly.
Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times last season and was banged up a lot more than he let on by season's end. The deep ball was missing because Ryan never had much time to throw and he lost top receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending foot injury five games into the campaign. Turning to the run game wasn't an option, as Steven Jackson was slowed out the gate with a hamstring injury and the Falcons, as a team, averaged just 77.9 rushing yards per game.
Matthews is known as a technician, so it shouldn't take him long to adapt to the NFL. Of course, he'll go up against speedy and powerful pass-rushers in the NFC South with Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy from Carolina, Michael Johnson from Tampa Bay, and Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette from New Orleans. But he already vowed to work on some aspects of his game, including getting stronger in the weight room.
"As a coach, you always want to work with guys who love football and Jake Matthews loves football," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "As we were doing our due diligence, we had a number of people tell us about Jake's work ethic, his study habits and his passion for the game. He fits the bill for the kind of player we want on our team.”