- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Both Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith were all smiles on the first two nights of the NFL draft as they corralled a pair of players capable of helping the team win the line of scrimmage: offensive tackle Jake Matthews and defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman.
By Saturday evening, Dimitroff and Smith appeared to be spent as they concluded discussions about their nine draft picks, including four linebackers and seven defensive players, total.
"Really pleased with what we ended up with after three days of serious evaluating and acquiring," Dimitroff said.
Of course the Falcons never made the mega trade some thought they would to move up in the first round for a pass-rusher such as Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack. In truth, that type of trade wasn't really an option, with the focus being on securing an offensive tackle.
Dimitroff did pull off a deal on Day 3 when he traded a sixth-round pick (182nd overall) and seventh-round pick (220th overall) in exchange for Minnesota's fifth-round selection (168th overall). The Falcons used the pick to select Syracuse outside linebacker Marquis Spruill.
"[Smith] was busting on me a little bit saying, `You just couldn't go through the draft without making a trade, huh?'" Dimitroff said. "We kind of joked about that."
Dimitroff and Smith couldn't stop gushing over Matthews and Hageman. Here is how they broke down the seven players drafted on the final day. And by the way, Dimitroff gave his draft class an "A." What else would you expect?
DEVONTA FREEMAN, RB, FLORIDA STATE (fourth round)
Dimitroff: "He's a versatile back. He has the ability to tote the rock as a lead back. He's a strong guy. He runs with some authority and some anger to his running style. He can catch the ball well. And for us, we thought he was just a real versatile addition to our running back group.''
Smith: "Very impressed with his running ability. I think if you look at his size, the first thing that comes to your mind is he may be a change-of-pace back. That is not the case. You said it in terms of being able to run between the tackles. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's a very strong runner. He is shorter in stature, but he has great strength. If you really study him, he's probably more effective running with the ball between tackles then he is outside. But when he gets outside, he's able to make people pay because he's got some good speed.''
PRINCE SHEMBO, OLB, NOTRE DAME (fourth round)
Dimitroff: “I’m going to pass it over to Smitty from a scheme standpoint, but this guy is explosive off the ball. He’s strong and stout. ... He’s really, really just a fired up football player. Everyone feeds off of his energy with that team. We really liked that side of it. Again, he’s an up field guy, but also has the ability to make quite a few plays behind the line of scrimmage as far as his tackles for loss. So he’s been productive that way.”
Smith: "He’s been very productive: 24.5 tackles for loss and 35 quarterback pressures, which I think is a Notre Dame record. Again, I’m going to go back to our flexibility. We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as ‘this defense’ or ‘that defense.’ I think when you really study how people play defense, and how we play defense you don’t know what we are, and that’s the key. You got to have guys that play the different roles as I mentioned earlier. I believe Prince can do that. Prince can rush the passer. Prince can drop into coverage. Prince can match up. ... We really like the energy that he plays with. He’s a guy that when he gets going up the field, slices in the backfield, he can make some plays. He’s got big, strong hands and an upper body.”
RICARDO ALLEN, CB, PURDUE (fifth round)
Dimitroff: "He's an aggressive guy and has been very productive. He started a lot of games. He's been very productive not only tackling, which you normally don't see from a corner spot, but as well with his interceptions. I think he ran back four interceptions for touchdowns."
Smith: "He was a four-year starter at Purdue. Started every game, I believe. So he was a very productive player."
MARQUIS SPRUILL, OLB, SYRACUSE (fifth round via trade)
Dimitroff: "We added a guy that we were kind of honing in on him. We knew there were some teams involved that were interested in him. There was a run on a lot of those ‘backers that were of his stature and his caliber, as far as fast guys that can cover a lot of ground. Again, back to the versatility thing, we just felt like instead of sitting on our hands once again, let’s deal a seventh-rounder for a guy that we wanted. We went after him, and we think he’s going to be a nice addition. He was marked as one of our most highly-rated special-teamers out there from the college ranks by our staff, by our special-teams staff with Keith Armstrong and such. We liked that addition as well."
Smith: "He will be an inside linebacker, playing inside. Again, with the different looks he’ll line up anywhere from head up on the center to line up on an offensive tackle. It will be dependent on how we're displacing our front in front of them. He will be a guy that will line up on the inside, won’t be an edge player. He will be a guy that has good speed and has good ability to rush the passer. I think if you saw some of the highlights that they put up on one of the shows today that you can see that he is a guy that can get up the field as well. That gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of what you want to do with your linebackers.”
YAWIN SMALLWOOD, ILB, CONNECTICUT (seventh round)
Dimitroff: "Smallwood’s another highly aggressive guy. Team captain type of guy, where everyone is just behind him on that football team. He’s been very productive, very active. He comes in here as the Mike linebacker for us. He was injured at the combine [hamstring]. That’s a very slow time [5.01] from the combine. We recognize that. As a football player he’s one of those guys that plays faster than he timed.”
TYLER STARR, OLB, SOUTH DAKOTA (seventh round):
Smith (in general on Starr and other linebackers): "I think it gives us a lot of flexibility, and as I said when we started this offseason, we want to be as flexible as we can on the defensive side. We did need to replenish at the linebacker position, and the guys that we’ve added, we’ve added four, all four of them have special traits. I think at playing the linebacker position you have to have a lot of flexibility. You have to have the ability at times to rush the passer. Sometimes you got to be able to put your hand on the ground. Sometimes you got to be able to drop, and as you know, as exotic as we try to be in third- down situations, we got a lot of guys standing in two-point stances and they’re going to have to do different jobs. That was the thinking behind that, and I really like the guys that we’ve added. Even though it was the second day, these are guys we felt were going to give us a lot of flexibility on defense.”